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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.


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.


God Has Done All For Us

gold-colored cross decor
“Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’” Acts 2:37-38
“Look what you’ve done!”

You don’t want to look, do you? No. No need to look because you already know what you’ve done. In fact, you’ve been avoiding that look as hard as you can. But now you’re caught. Look what you’ve done.
That was the situation of the people Peter was speaking to in Acts 2. This was Pentecost and he was telling the people of Jerusalem that they had killed God’s Son and that He had been raised from the dead. This is the ultimate “look what you’ve done.” You’ve killed God’s only Son.  What do you have to say for yourselves?
They did all they could, and all that we can do. They asked, “What shall we do?” The good news is that it is not what we can do. For, having killed God’s Son, how are you going to make up for that? No, the good news is that God has done all for us. Baptism for the forgiveness of sins is God’s answer and his gift. What peace-giving news for them and for us. God’s promise and washing cleanses them from their guilt and it is the same for us.
Notice how Peter says, “all of you” when he tells them to be baptized and forgiven? It is not the answer for a spiritual elite. It is not marked for a certain age or experience. Here is the answer for everyone then and now. What an answer for all our moments of “Look what you’ve done!”  We can look at what we’ve done and repent of it. But it is not our sorrow that forgives us or our promises to not do it again. Baptism is the answer as it has brought God’s lasting forgiveness to us and continues to do so each day.
Our Heavenly Father, thank you that you have given us an answer for all that we’ve done wrong. Draw us out of our hiding and remind us that baptism has brought us your forgiveness and the answer to our frightened hearts. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.


Rooted in God’s Love

brown tree trunk with green moss
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

Some people have no roots.  They’re adrift, with no place to call home, no reason to stay and no place to go.  They’ve been hurt badly or disillusioned completely.  Their body language shrugs “so what.”  Some people never put down roots.  They may be on an endless journey, looking for something intellectually convincing or spiritually satisfying, hoping they’ll recognize what they’re looking for but not really expecting to.  They may be too busy to think about big questions and right reasons.  Their life is simply the composite of hundreds of little things.

The apostle Paul prayed that you would be “rooted in love.”  You are, you know.  Your roots in God’s saving love will keep you from being blown away by tornados of trouble and hurricanes of heresy.  You’ve been planted in the love of God.  To have roots means that you draw nourishment from the love in which you are planted, so that you give glory to God like a beautiful flower and produce fruits of faith that make God’s love real for others.  “Roots” is also an identity term, family history.  You are your heavenly Father’s child, your Savior’s brother or sister, an heir of everlasting life. You come from a long line of Christians who’ve stood up for the faith and spoken it to others.

To the word “rooted” St. Paul’s prayer adds “established in love.”  “Established” talks about the givens that shape your outlook on life, your attitude about people, the way you approach decisions and handle problems.  You live with givens like 100% forgiveness and the certainty of eternal life, like no-fear and no-doubt confidence in God’s providing love, givens like the absolute moral will of God so that you don’t have to make life up as you go along.  “Established” describes truth you can bank on, continual reminders of God’s love, because we can sometimes get scared and forget.

Look at your feet, solid Christian feet.  They know how to STAND.  They’re not nervous feet because you’re not worried that life will knock you on your behind.  They’re not dancing feet because you’re not ducking issues or compromising values.  Look at your feet, bold Christian feet that STRIDE. They don’t stumble around looking for footing or jump from one goal to another.  They move purposefully into a life of mission.  Your feet, Christian, are a reminder that you are rooted in God’s love.
PRAYER:  Loving Father, secure my identity as your child with Word and Sacraments.  Hold me fast when trials and temptations threaten to tear me away from you.  Give me boldness and confidence in opportunities to stand up for you.  Love me today, just as you have always loved me for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.


The Wise Men

Christmas bauble
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem. Matthew 2:1

The birth of Jesus was a decidedly closed affair by most measures.  He was born a Jew to Jewish parents in the Jewish town of Bethlehem in the Jewish nation of Israel.  He was visited at His birth by Jewish shepherds and was destined to live by Jewish laws.  By appearances, there was not a whole lot about Jesus’ entry into this world which signaled that it was for the world, outside of a small, homogenous region.

Then the Wise Men came.  Many scholars believe that they were from Persia, perhaps modern day Iran or Iraq.  The term “Magi” has those kinds of linguistic origins, and the earliest renderings of the Wise Men picture them with Persian clothing.  They were not Jewish, nor from a Jewish nation, nor did they have any connections with Judaism.  And yet, God summoned them.

The visit of the Wise Men indicates the global scope of this birth of Jesus.  Are you German?  The visit of the Wise Men demonstrates that Jesus came for you.  Are you of African descent?  The visit of the Wise Men demonstrates that Jesus came for you.  Are you Middle-Eastern?  Asian?  Native American?  Of course, the Bible frequently says that Christ is for all people.  “For God so loved THE WORLD that He gave His only Son.”  So even if the Wise Men didn’t come, we would know for sure that no matter who we are, we are included in God’s plan of salvation.  “Make disciples of ALL NATIONS…baptizing…teaching…”  Again, even if the Wise Men didn’t come, God has assured us that we are all loved and invited into His family.

But thank God the Wise Men did come.  It’s visible, personified evidence that what was unfolding in Bethlehem was worldwide in reach; reaching, in fact, all the way to 2021 America and you and me.  This is the church, after all.  It is diverse, borderless, colorful, and broad.  This is how vast the love of God is.  It is a love which sent Jesus to be born, die on a cross, and rise from the dead.  It is a love which reached out to Persian Wise Men and Midwestern Americans alike!

Prayer: O Lord God, we thank you that the visit of the Wise Men further assures us that your sending of Jesus was for all people…most importantly…even me.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.