Category Archives: Devotional

Manger Scene

manger sceneWhen I was a kid, during the season of Advent we would always have a little manger scene out with the figures of Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, a shepherd and three wise men. It was a child-friendly set, with almost like a Lincoln Log stable and Fisher Price style figures (I know I am dating myself with these references).

I just recently learned that this manger scene was a wedding gift for my parents, who were married 50 years ago on December 27, 1967. What a wonderful wedding gift to give: the story of the birth of Jesus in tangible form to share with future children as part of a family tradition.

My parents still have those figures and they still put them out. And I am again reminded when I see them of the marvelous story of how Christ came to earth to save us.

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Even If

fiery furnaceA new song by MercyMe is getting a lot of air play on Christian radio lately. The song is “Even If” and it is based on this passage from Scripture from the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and the fiery furnace:

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” —Daniel 3:16-18

The faith of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego was so strong that they knew that even if God did not save them from the fiery furnace, God was still their God and loved them.

So often we think of God as some sort of genie who dispenses wishes. It is like we are saying to God sometimes, “Our wish is your command.” But that, of course, is not how prayer works and how God works. God knows what is best for us and he knows what we need more than we do and he knows what will impact the world in the most profound way. Sometimes the answer to our prayers is yes. Sometimes it is no. Sometimes it is not now, but later. And sometimes it is yes, but in a way you will not expect.

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Saying No to Naturalism

fearfully madeNaturalism is a system of thought and action which denies the existence of God and instead believes everything happens according to scientifically explainable laws of nature. In this construct, then, human life exists only because of a process of evolution and its value is only determined by its usefulness.

We as Christians must reject naturalism because we know from Scripture that human life is designed by God and that humanity is very valuable to him. This is not to say we reject science; it is simply to say that God has ordained the laws of nature and they are under his purview.

Consider these verses from Scripture:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26).

This verse reminds us that humans are different from animals and have a special place in God’s creation.

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Elephants

elephantWe all know the saying “An elephant never forget.” Christ Lutheran Church in Shreveport, Louisiana, used this saying to their advantage to start a program of sending elephant stuffed animals to sick children in the hospital. Each elephant can be colored and written on by friends and family of the hospitalized child. Each elephant also comes with a book with the message that “an elephant never forgets, and God never forgets you.” In the cold and sterile and often chaotic environment of the hospital, the elephant stuffed animal provides  comfort and  encouragement and a feeling of home. Approximately 800 children have received Forget-Me-Not Elephants through the program (“Forget Me Not,” Lutheran Woman’s Quarterly, Summer 2017, p. 28).

This story touched my heart because one of my sister’s favorite stuffed animals was a hand-made elephant named Ellie that she received as a baby from my mom’s best friend from high school. As the years went by, Ellie’s ears frayed at the edges, her nose was torn and stuffing pooched out from the sides. She even went through the wash a few times (sometimes by accident), which cleaned her up a bit. But nothing would stop my sister from keeping Ellie by her side when she went to bed at night—even into high school. Now Ellie has a special place in my sister’s daughter’s room.

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A Lightning Rod

lightning rodAt a conference at Concordia Seminary last February, professor Chuck Arand compared the cross to a lightning rod, something that takes on all the destructive force of nature and dissipates it.

I rather like that image because it captures so clearly the power that the cross has over the ferociousness of this world. We still jump when we see a flash of lightning. And we still are shaken up when we see the presence of evil in front of us in various forms. But we as Christians do not need to stay unsettled.

I think it is significant, therefore, to remember that at the time of the crucifixion, the sky turned dark, the earth shook and rocks were split apart. This sinful world itself was raging against Christ and the cross, but the cross and Christ himself withstood the terrible tumult. Nothing that the world tried to throw at him could stop the mission of Christ.

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A Ritual of Thanks

thanks ritual

One of our our most pervasive rituals of thanks is gathering for a feast with family and friends.

When we were little and someone gave us something or complimented us, our parents prompted us with, “Now what do you say?” We would dutifully say thank you (perhaps rather meekly and/or begrudgingly) and run away.

As adults, we often continue to need prompting from our heavenly Father to say thank you. As the Bible says, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Scripture itself is encouraging us to develop a ritual of thanks in our lives. We are called to make thanksgiving a regular part of our every activity.

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Being Humble

humbleThe Bible says, “Humble yourself before the Lord’ (James 4:10). But what does that really mean?

Mark R. McMinn, in “The Science of Humility” in the July/August issue of Christianity Today, gives us some guidance in this area, explaining that scientists point to three primary qualities of humble people (82-82):

Quality 1: Humble people have a reasonably accurate view of themselves (neither too high or too low).

Quality 2: Humble people pay attention to others.

Quality 3: Humble people are teachable.

The wheels in my head are turning almost immediately when I consider each of these qualities. One common thread that weaves through each of them is that humility involves fighting the internal tendency we have as humans to say, “I am the best. I am the most important. I know how to do this.”

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Cultivating Eulogy Virtues

virturesIn a recent article in Christianity Today on the increasing threat of automation in the workforce, authors Kevin Brown and Steven McMullen highlighted an expression from author and columnist David Brooks, who has talked about the difference between résumé virtues (marketplace skills) vs. eulogy virtues (human goodness and character) (“Hope in the Humanless Economy,” Christianity Today, July/August 2017, 36).

We as Christians are not to put all of our thoughts and energy regarding our lives and livelihood into the résumé virtues basket. Jobs change, skill sets become obsolete and our careers need not define who are at our very core. As followers of Christ, we, instead, need to focus on the eulogy virtues, those things that we have learned from our Savior about showing unconditional love to others, serving in humility those around us and being respectful and genuine toward one another.

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Blooming in the Dark

moonflowerOn a garden tour I attended this summer, I learned about a plant called the moonflower. Believe it or not, this is a flower that only blooms at night under the light of the moon. Here’s how it is described on the Better Homes and Gardens website:

Moonflower is one of the most romantic plants you can grow in the garden. It’s a statuesque, ideal evening-garden plant bearing large trumpet-shape flowers that unfurl in the evening (or on overcast days) and stay open until the sun rises. Some are sweetly fragrant when open.

For some reason, that flower got me to thinking about how some of our gravest and most fearful moments hit us at night. How many times have we woken up with a start in the night in a panic, worried about an approaching deadline or an unresolved issue of some kind?

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Attractors

butterfliesThis summer I attended a garden tour in my community and got to see many interesting plants and flowers. One of the interesting concepts that caught my attention was that there are particular plants that are called attractors because they attract butterflies. Not just any plant attracts any butterfly, but only certain plants attract very particular butterflies. For instance, black-eyed Susans are known attractors of Monarch butterflies, asters attract Painted Lady butterflies, and zinnias draw Swallowtail butterflies.

It strikes me that this idea could be applied to our Christian witness. First of all, are we living as Christian “attractors,” that is to say, are we people who draw others closer to know more about our faith by the way we live? Or are we living in such a way that we “repel” others from the faith and send them flying to other pastures of religion? I am reminded of Jesus’ words, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Our role is to attract others to the glory of God revealed in us. How can we go about that? I so often am personally attracted to the faith present in those who respond to a difficulty in their lives with hope and grace and confidence that God is in charge of the outcome. Our faith-filled reactions to the inevitable troubles that life throws at us serve as attractors to others who are intrigued and curious about such responses that are counter to what secular society expects.

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