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Your Faith Journey

white ceramic teacup with coffee
 

I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day.As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.  II Timothy 1:3-7 (ESV)

I woke up each morning as a child and made my way to the kitchen where my mother sat reading her Bible with a cup of tea.  I remember as a child, visiting my grandparents, where grandpa offered the most amazing prayers at the dinner table.  I recall a conversation about heaven that our family had at the dinner table when I was young.  My father simply and clearly said he was going to heaven because he had a faith in Jesus.  Mrs. Fleugel, my 4th grade Sunday School teacher impressed upon me the joy of reading the Bible.  My wife loves to study her Bible and live out its truths in her daily life.  These and many other people, were a definite influence on my faith journey.

The Lord established our relationships in such a way that we have such ample opportunity to share our faith in both words and actions.

Who are the people who influenced you in the Christian walk?

Let me keep today’s devotion short and to the point.

  • Take a moment to offer the Lord a prayer of thanks for those He placed in Your life to provide encouragement and direction in Your faith walk.
  • Make contact with these people and thank them for the influence they had on you.
  • Pray that the Lord would use you to make a positive difference in the lives of those within your circle of influence.

Heavenly Father, You are so good to me in so many ways.  I thank You for the gift of faith You have given to me through the power of Your Word by the working of Your Holy Spirit.  Allow me the privilege to be an influencer through my relationships.  I ask this to Your glory and the benefit of others.  Amen.  


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Wait, Wait, There’s More! (Part 1)

Don'T Give Up, Motivation

Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing Jesus, he fell at his feet and implored him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her so that she may be made well and live. And he went with him. Mark 5: 22-23

I love those TV commercials that sell the miracle chopper, the amazing tube of caulk, or the fantastic set of knives. They’re usually priced at $19.95, plus shipping. But wait, wait, there’s more!

There’s always something more. That’s the fun of watching. I don’t want the chopper, the caulk or the knives, but I like betting on what the “something more” is going to be. A second chopper, another tube of caulk, or maybe the extra paring knife. No matter if I guess right or not, there’s always something more.

The Gospel of Mark could be called the Gospel of Something More. Mark often begins a story, such as the healing of the daughter of Jairus. But before we get to the climax of the story, another story comes and Mark tells us that account. Then, he returns to the first account and tells us the ending that we were expecting all along. Instead of rushing forward, Mark trains us to be patient and to trust that the conflict will be resolved and the healing done.

As we start the new year, maybe we’re at the beginning of a story told slowly and in parts. We might want to rush forward and find out exactly what’s going to happen to us. After all, we might, like Jairus, have serious needs. Couldn’t God just get to the ending now and tell us how this year will turn out?

But God isn’t only about the ending but the journey he takes with us. Jairus would have loved if Jesus had said, “No worries, I’ve just healed your daughter.” But that didn’t happen and Jairus had to take the long journey home, wondering what he would find. But don’t despair, Jairus. Wait, walk, there’s something more coming. And the same advice might come to us. Don’t despair. Don’t give up if you can’t read the end of the story from here. Wait and keep walking and remember that there is more. The greatest “More” is Jesus himself who walks with us and will tell Jairus and us, “Do not fear, only believe.”

Our heavenly Father, thank you for giving us the promise that life has more than what meets the eye. Give us patience and trust in you and continue to walk with us, hearing our prayers, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen


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God Loves You

heart shape book page close-up photography

I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  Ephesians 3:17-19

There are things I know that I can’t explain, like why my wife loves me or what makes chocolate so addictive.  St. Paul prayed that you would “know this love that surpasses knowledge.”  See, I can’t explain it adequately.  Even the Holy Spirit ran out of words for your head; he worked in your heart a faith that is more than confessing a creed.  The Holy Spirit gave you a deep down conviction that God loves you even when it doesn’t feel like it and maybe doesn’t look like it.  That love of God got you through some pretty bleak days this past year, times when your heart was breaking and you wanted to be angry at God, times when you head was bursting because you couldn’t figure out what God was doing.  Somewhere way down inside of you, where your spirit and God’s Spirit are united, you just knew that God loved you.  That God’s love is more than a fact, more than a feeling, invites you to have a relationship with him that is more than a sermon.  Your devotional life is where you experience especially the love that surpasses knowledge: reflecting on an especially comforting passage from Scripture, agonizing over an issue in prayer, praising God from somewhere down in your soul, trusting God in a peace that is incomprehensible.

The apostle prayed that “you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”  So, what little corner of your life does God still want to fill with that love?  Maybe it’s that corner where anger has mutated into bitterness and become a defense against ever being hurt like that again.  Maybe it’s that corner where you don’t really believe that anyone could love you, where you’ve hidden behind self-deprecating humor, that corner where you sometimes cry when no one else can hear.  Maybe God wants to fill with his love that corner of your life where pride has locked out other people, where indifference keeps you from hearing them and stubbornness keeps you from needing them.  With what fruits of the Spirit does God want to fill you?  Is it joy to replace your cynicism?  Is it peace to overcome your anxiety?  Is it kindness to soften your gruff edges or patience so that others don’t have such a hard time seeing Jesus in you?  God wants to fill you with his love.  See, when you’re filled up, you’ll overflow.  Then your love will be like God’s love – just because.  Not because people deserve it or situations require it, not because it makes sense or feels right. Just because.

The apostle Paul taught God’s love and lived that love among the Ephesians for longer than in any other church.  But he couldn’t stay with them; so he went one step further.  He prayed for them, that they would know God’s love.  Pastors and teachers come and go.  Family and friends are distanced by jobs and circumstances.  So let us go that one step further and pray for each other that we will all know, really KNOW God’s love.

PRAYER: Father, help me to know your love when I’m not sure of anything else. Fill my heart with your love, so that I have love to share.  I don’t want to be satisfied with just religion.  I want to know you and your love through your Son Jesus.  Amen.


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Family Resemblance

white cross under blue sky during daytime
“Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”  Ephesians 4:22-24
 
Have you ever been told that you look like your (fill in the blank, father, mother, brother, sister, etc.)? Many of us have. People are able to tell pretty quickly who my daughters are because they resemble their mom. One of my sons has a striking resemblance to me that most people can’t help but notice. While we all like to be unique, there is also something very special in being recognized as part of a family. I’m proud of my son and honored that people know that he is mine because of his appearance and other traits.
 
Through baptism we have been marked as children of God and are clothed with the likeness of Christ. His righteousness is ours through faith in Him. But how strong is the family resemblance in you? Because of our sinful state in this life we often think and act in ways that mask our family connection. But God does not abandon us. Even though we may be rebellious, He continues to draw us closer and invites us to imitate His Son and our Savior. Through His Word and sacraments, He strengthens our faith and makes us more like Jesus. Let it be our prayer today that by God’s grace people will see the family likeness and also be drawn closer to Christ.
 
Father, Your Holy Spirit has given me the gift of faith. By the power of the Spirit I pray that You would work in my life to imitate my Lord Jesus Christ more and more each day. It’s in His precious name I pray. Amen.

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Grasping God’s Love

people riding red and white roller coaster during daytime
 
I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  Ephesians 3:17-19

Do you remember the first time you were on a roller coaster?  Step one is to get a firm intellectual grip on whatever laws of physics explain how you and the vehicle you’re sitting in will arrive at the end of the ride at approximately the same time.  Step two is get a firm physical grip on the bar in front of you, so that it would take the jaws of life to pry you out of that vehicle until the ride is over.  If this is a date, step three is to get a firm romantic grip on the hand of the person sitting next to you.  That’s an illustration of the apostle’s prayer that you will have the power to grasp God’s love.

Grasp God’s love with your head.  You want a good grip on God’s grace because the virus of doubt with which Satan infected human nature insists that you hang onto some sense of SELF-worth, as though you can earn God’s love and that his blessings depend on your performance.  Grace will find you when guilt or shame leave you hiding from God.  You want a good grip on God’s promises, promises like he’ll be with you always, that he’ll work everything out for your good, that he’ll strengthen you to face trials and provide an escape hatch if necessary.  Without a good grip on God’s love and promises, you’ll be just grasping at straws when your heart aches and your head is pounding and you don’t have a clue.

St. Paul prayed that you would grasp God’s love with your heart. . . in his words, “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.”  Grasp that God’s love is so wide that you can’t have a problem larger than his love or a sin too big for his love.  Grasp that God’s love is so long that you can’t run out of it or fall out of it.  Grasp that God’s love is so high that heaven is necessary for you to experience all of it, so deep that when you’re falling into despair or depression, God’s love is still the safety net beneath you.

The apostle added “together with all the saints” because this love of God is also a group thing.  It’s easier hanging onto God’s love when there are other Christians around you doing the same thing.  Sometimes we may have to hang onto another Christian who is hanging onto God’s love, because we’ve momentarily lost our own grip on that love.  If First Immanuel Lutheran has been what God intends it to be, you understand the importance of Christian friends when life is hard and love is hard to come by, when we’re just hanging on.

Look at your hands, strong Christian hands that grasp the hand of God by faith and grasp the hands of brothers and sisters in faith.  Those aren’t groping hands, desperately searching for something to hang onto.  Those aren’t clenched hands of frustration or rage.  Those aren’t rigid hands, warding off people who want to get close to you or turning down opportunities to serve that might be intimidating.  God made your hands to grasp with love.

PRAYER: Help me to hang onto your love in Jesus, Father, no matter how hard life gets and no matter how great my fears.  Hang onto me when I let go of you, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.

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