Category Archives: Devotional

House of Mercy

house of mercyAn article in winter 2018 Lutherans Engage magazine highlighted the work of Rev. Eddie Hosch in Lima, Peru. Part of this ministry there includes a Casa de Misericordia (House of Mercy), a safe place where children can come after school or at other times to be with other children and learn more about Jesus.

Hosch says, “I love the kids. The opportunities here are huge to share the Gospel in a simple way: a lunch, a hug, friendship. All allowing us to teach the children the Word of God.”

This house of mercy works with the prayer that the Word of God will produce faith in these children and their parents and will help them to see Christ’s mercy at work in their lives.

This Casa de Misericordia is a wonderful model for us to follow in our own lives. How can each of our homes be houses of mercy to show others the mercy of Christ? How can we establish our churches as being houses of mercy for those who are in need in our community/

Many programs already exist along these lines with food pantries and clothing drives in many parishes. But what I think is important to foster is the sense that our homes and our churches are safe and loving places to come for help. God in his mercy did not turn people away from his love in Jesus, and we should convey our willingness to be of service to those around us who are truly in need.

I like Hosch’s idea of sharing mercy in simple ways. Maybe it is a wave at your neighbor or an invitation to chat on your front porch. Maybe it is just putting your arm around someone you know is struggling at church. Perhaps it is just saying “You are safe here” to someone who is living in fear.

Several years ago Pope Francis declared a year of mercy, and my recommendation to you this week is to declare this a week of mercy in your own home and see what happens.

Use this as your theme verse:

God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ. —Ephesians 2:4-5

Be alive with Christ’s mercy this week!

 

Is the Coffee Hour Dead?

coffee hourIn a recent conversation with my cousin, she was telling me about the elaborate coffee hours they have at her church with cakes, punch, finger sandwiches, cheese trays, fruit salads, doughnuts and the like. My brother’s church has something similar between worship services at his church, and it got me to thinking that I don’t hear much about the coffee hour anymore in church.

I have a feeling that my cousin’s and brother’s churches may be the exception rather than the rule. And I wonder why that is.

Perhaps 20 or 30 years ago the coffee hour after church was something to be expected, a time to just sit and chat with fellow members over coffee and snacks about your week or about the service or about upcoming events in your life. It was am established time to gather as the family of God.

But ever so slowly and ever so slightly, the established practice of a coffee hour has dwindled away. Perhaps that is why for a time several years there was a surge in “coffee house” church in which worship took place in an actual coffee house or churches set up coffee houses inside their walls for people to gather to worship and drink coffee at the same time.

The reality, unfortunately, in our culture today is that Sunday mornings are prime real estate for a myriad of activities and events, including church. In families I have talked to, church attendance remains very important and the hour of worship is very established in their schedule, but what time may once have been set aside for the coffee hour is now eaten up by sports practices, school events, dinners with relatives, work schedules and the like.

My fear in all this is that fellowship loses out. Without an established coffee hour in church anymore, when can the brothers and sisters in Christ gather for fellowship with one another?

The answer lies in many arenas, but one way that fellowship happens is through small group ministry, where people gather in members’ home for coffee and Christian conversation. Another way I heard of recently at a conference is through what essentially could be called a “flash mob” coffee hour at a neighborhood eatery. Taking place especially among young Christians, a message is sent out through Facebook or Instagram to meet at a certain location a day or so later to chat about a topic important to the Christian community. Since people are so often looking at their phones, this practice has been incredibly effective.

So is the coffee hour dead? Not really, I say. It just looks and feels a lot different these days. As long as fellowship is happening, I am OK with any form it takes. As the Bible says, “How good and pleasant it is for God’s people to dwell together in unity” (Psalm 133:1).

The Gift Economy

gift economyThe concept of the gift economy recently came up in a meeting with fellow editors. Apparently the idea of the gift economy is gaining traction and interest again in our society, particularly among Christians, with speakers discussing it at various religious conferences.

What is the gift economy exactly? It is the practice of giving items to people without any expectation of anything in return. This is in contrast, of course, to our market-based economy and even the barter system in which goods and services are exchanged for money or other items in return.

Anthropologist Marcel Mauss studied these various types of economies within a range of cultures and introduced the terms reciprocity (the expectation of something equal in return), inalienable possessions (things that can only belong to an individual person) and prestation (a cultural offering of a gift or service). The type of an economy that a culture uses tends to say a lot about them as people.

So why is the concept of the gift economy trending in our world today? My hunch is that we, especially as Christians, are recognizing more and more that our culture today is driven largely by money, the stock market, sales and profits. And we in our Christian culture recognize that our life should be less about the bottom line and more about sharing love.

While traditional financial exchanges are important and necessary in a culture, of course, ultimately life should not be about a running tally of who gave what to whom and did those items match up monetarily. Life, in the Christian model, should be at its most essential about giving to others with no conditions. It should be about caring for others as people and not as customers.

The Bible even says, “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). Giving should be about our hearts and our love for others, not about tracking numbers or keeping score somehow.

Our lives should first and foremost be modeled after Christ, who gave his life as a free gift for us that we can never repay. He gave his life on the cross out of love for us that we might show that same love to others unconditionally and live with him together in heaven one day.

Each day is a gift because of Christ, so we are called to give as freely to others without exception.

 

Sermon Trends

sermon trendsTrends in sermons are changing fast. The traditional approach of preaching on a biblical text in a lecture format through deductive reasoning is being replaced more and more by what is being called in seminary circles as “the new homiletics.”

New homiletics, broadly speaking, looks at the preaching of a sermon more as an event or an experience. Those in the pews often become part of the conversation through question-and-answer formats or personal stories that are shared.

Much of what is behind this shift in homiletics has to do with the rise of social media and our increased comfort level as a society in engaging in a dialog about any number of topics.

The challenge for pastors and other church workers is how to direct and control that conversation within the context of a sermon in order to achieve the spiritual goals they have in mind for their message and for their audience.

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Gospel Goodbyes

gospel goodbyesI must admit that I am not very good at goodbyes. After spending time with my family or friends at a holiday event or summer vacation far from home, it is hard for me to bid farewell to these people I love so much.

Pastor Matt Chandler of The Village Church in Texas talks about the difficulty of leaving colleagues at a church he ministered at to begin work at another parish. What has helped him get through it, he says, is remembering the what he calls the “gospel goodbyes” that happened in the Book of Acts {“Multiplied + Divided,” Christianity Today, December 2017, 49).

The way that Paul framed his goodbyes to the church members he loved so much was to connect them to the good news of the gospel, that we will be together in the end in heaven with our Lord, who died and was raised that we might have eternal life with him. So it is never “We will never see you again,” but “See you next time, either here on earth or in heaven.”

Consider this “gospel goodbye”:

Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the believers (in Antioch). After spending some time there, they were sent off by the believers with the blessing of peace to return to those who had sent them.  —Acts 15:32-33

This gospel goodbye was characterized by a blessing of peace. The people of Antioch knew that Barsabbas and Silas had to move on from them to spread the word about Jesus. Barsabbas and Silas’ goodbye was made with encouraging words to those in Antioch to continue the faith there.

What a great example for us to follow to incorporate blessing, peace and encouragement in our goodbyes in the name of the Lord.

Now take a look at this “gospel goodbye”:

When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers and sisters encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. When he arrived, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. —Acts 18;27

Those Apollos was saying goodbye to helped him to get settled in his new place and made sure he would be welcome there. They did not stop him from carrying out his calling by asking him to stay with them. They made sure to support him in his new venture.

I think it is good for us in our own gospel goodbyes to realize that God’s plan for our loved ones is often beyond us and that our loved ones are doing their best work in the Lord in places that are not near us, but that that does not diminish our bond with them.

One of the most compelling goodbyes is this one between Paul and the elders of Ephesus as he leaves for his mission to Jerusalem:

When Paul had finished speaking, he knelt down with all of them and prayed.They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship. —Acts 20:36-38

You can feel the pain, but you can sense the overarching love among them. I like that the goodbye is accompanied with prayer. It is prayer that will continue to bind them together. And though they will not see Paul’s face again on this earth. They have the faith that they will see him again in the courts above, singing praises to the Lamb, who will wipe every tear of parting sorrow from their eyes.

I am reminded that even the word “goodbye” is a shortened version of “God be with you.” So each parting we experience in the end is a reminder that God is with us wherever we may be and he always will. Thanks be to God.

 

 

A Zacchaeus Moment

ZacchaeusI tend to sympathize with Zacchaeus. He was interested in  Jesus, but he had trouble seeing him in the crowd. He was resourceful, so he climbed a tree to see him. But he didn’t really want to be seen himself.

But Jesus pointed him out. Jesus made it clear that he wanted to talk to him and spend time with him, even go to his house. Zacchaeus must have been mortified. I know I would be. I, like Zacchaeus, am curious about things but like to stay in the background.

But Jesus brings Zacchaeus to the forefront. Why? We find out in Luke 19:10 when Jesus says:

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.

Bible scholars call that verse the heart of the Gospel of Luke. Located toward the middle of the Gospel, it is the hub on which the wheel of Christ’s mission spins. Everything before and after this verse is driven by this goal.

The Son of Man came to seek … He looks out for us. He searches for us.

… and to save … He is here to deliver us from sin, death and the devil.

… the lost. He knows we are lost in our waywardness and need to be found by him in order to gain eternal life.

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Podcast Preaching

podcast

Many of my friends say that instead of listening to the radio in the car anymore, they are listening to podcasts. While I have heard of podcasts, I am not as well-versed in them as I am other technology outlets. Believe it or not, podcasting is having an impact on the Church.

For those who may not know, the word podcast is a combination of the words iPod and broadcast. Though most people do not use iPods for mobile listening, the use of the word has stuck. Simply put, a podcast is an audio segment downloaded to your smartphone that you can listen to wherever you are whenever you want

Even in the Entertainment Weekly magazine I subscribe to, there is now a podcast section for subscribers to read about the latest podcasts out there to listen to, as you would your favorite streaming TV show.

Since listening to and looking for podcasts is becoming such a common practice in our current culture, it is a perfect opportunity for the Church to offer something in this arena as well. Worship, Bible studies, sermons, Sunday school classes, devotional reading and prayer petitions can all become podcasts that people who cannot make it to church on Sundays or those who are homebound can access when they have time available.

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Be Ready

cockcrowIn an article in the December 2017 Living Lutheran, Pastor Brian Hiortdahl points to the word cockcrow in Jesus’ words to his disciples in Mark 13:35:

Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn.

Cockcrow is Mark’s tell,” Hiortdahl says. “Sooner than anyone is ready for it, Jesus will be betrayed, arrested, denied (cockcrow), crucified and raised. The arrival of the kingdom—in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ is sudden and surprising” (“Ready or not … Christ is coming,” Living Lutheran, December 2017, 27).

There is great foreshadowing in this verse. We know that Peter denied Jesus at cockcrow. In essence, he was not ready for the salvation of Christ to come. He was caught off guard and spoke against his Lord when pressed. But the realization hit him immediately, Matthew 26:75 records:

And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

Which begs the question: Will we be ready when Christ returns? We know it is coming, but as the Bible says again and again, we do not know when. I find it interesting that in some translations of Mark 13:35, it says “at 3 o’clock on the morning” instead of “at cockcrow.” Most people would probably consider 3 a.m. the most unexpected time of day for something startling to happen, when most of us are fast asleep.

But the reality is that any time of the day or night is a possibility for when Christ could return. There are many times in life when I think “Now would be a good time for Christ to come back.” But it is not up to me. It is up to God and we are called to respond immediately whenever it happens. I am reminded of the words of the apostle John’s vision in Revelation:

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9-10)

Our immediate response to Christ when he comes is to praise and worship him for his salvation. No fear, no worry, no tears, no pain—just joy.

 

Protection

protectionOn Dec. 24 last year, on the way to Iowa for Christmas in the snow, the car in front of me started spinning out, causing me to start spinning out. I ended up facing the opposite direction of traffic on Interstate 270 in St. Louis.

But I did not hit a single car and I was able to turn the car around and pull off to the side of the road unhurt.

After pulling myself together, my only thought was that God was protecting me.

There are moments in our lives when we wonder if God is watching over us, but in that moment I knew for certain that he was. There is really no other explanation for how I (and my car) escaped that situation unscathed.

The words of Psalm 20:1 were fulfilled in my life that day:

May the Lord answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.

Now I find myself much more grateful for safe travels and much more aware of the small blessings God grants to us every day out of his sheer mercy and love for us. He is always looking out for us and I found that out firsthand. Thank God today for all the ways that he protects you!

Treasures in Heaven

damaged packageIn an article in October 22, 2017 St. Louis Post-Dispatch, reporter Aisha Sulton relayed the story of how her father had shipped several boxes of her childhood memorabilia from his basement, but how only one tattered box actually arrived at her home. The note inside from the post office said, “During the processing of your package the contents became unsecured and required rewrapping in order to forward it.”

All that was left of her childhood possessions were a couple elementary and high school yearbooks. All the other papers, ribbons, trophies, journals, personal letters and photos that were in those boxes originally were gone forever.

Sulton said she felt a pinch in her heart for the lost items for several days afterward. But then Hurricane Harvey hit and she witnessed on the news how hundreds of thousands of people lost everything they had in the rising waters. She was able to put her own small loss into perspective and recognize the fact that, as Henry Havelock Ellis write, “All of the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.”

Which called to mind for me Matthew 6:19-21:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

For us a Christians, we need to always remember that we need to loosen our grip on our earthly possessions that will one day be destroyed, but to hold fast to the treasures of heaven of forgiveness, life in Christ, and salvation in him that will never pass away, but will be with us forever.

Think of ways this week that you can start letting go of some of your earthly possessions and ways you can begin to hold on more tightly to the things of heaven that really matter.