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God’s Protection

person holding Holy Bible
 
10 “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.  12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”  Ephesians 6:10-17
 
Do you know the story of the mythological Achilles?  The story is that his mother wanted him to be protected in all the battles he might face.  So when he was a baby she grabbed him by the heel and dipped him in the magical waters of the River Styx and thus protected him—except for the one little part that wasn’t touched by the water—his heel.  It was eventually a poison arrow that struck him in exactly that spot of vulnerability—the heel—that killed him.
 
We sometimes speak of someone’s “Achilles heel” to mean the vulnerability or the one weakness that someone has when all of the rest of their character or person seems strong or invincible.  When it comes to faith, every bit of us is vulnerable to the schemes of the devil.  When we are born, we are helpless to defend ourselves in any way.  The passage above speaks of a spiritual battle going on that we’re caught in the middle of and sometimes can’t even see as evil would try to defeat us.
 
But God has dipped us in the waters of Baptism—something that doesn’t just protect most of us but every bit.  It’s not magic but a miracle of God’s protection.  Paul made the image very visual in the description of our “spiritual armor”—a breastplate, helmet, shield, etc.  And for a weapon?  The sword of the Spirit is God’s Word.  That’s all we need to do battle.  God’s gifts protect us and His Word defends us!
 
Are you equipped to venture out in the world today?  In Jesus, you absolutely are!
 
Gracious Father, we thank You for Your protection and love.  Thank You for equipping us to live in a world of sin and danger by the protection of Your truth and righteousness and peace and faith and salvation.  Thank You for the power of Your Word which can defend us at all times.  Guard us each day in our Savior Jesus.  In His name we pray. Amen.

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Show the Goodness of God

selective focus photography of person holding white clustered flowers

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10

One of the best known and often quoted passages in scripture is Ephesians 2:8-9. This two-verse passage makes it clear that it is not our good works that save us, but rather God’s grace through faith. Many people are satisfied to leave it there, but in so doing they neglect an important result of our salvation.

“Faith alone” has been one of the pillars of the Church since the days of the Reformation, especially in the Lutheran Church. But we ought not forget a quote that is often attributed to Luther that reads, “We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone.” Connecting this to what Paul writes we understand that good works will naturally follow God’s gift of faith. We are not saved by our good works, but rather, we are saved for good works that God has planned for us.

In the previous devotion, we considered the fruits of the Spirit that Paul lists in Galatians 5. As we think about these fruits, people can see them through the good works that God has prepared for us. The good works that we do, according to God’s plan for us, are another example of the fruit that His Spirit will bear in our lives.

What does this mean for you today? Will you passively receive God’s love and forgiveness without any response? Or will His immeasurable gift transform you and compel you to share His love and grace with others? Will your life bear the fruit of His goodness and serve as a blessing to others?

God may not put you in a position to change the world, but your actions today, small acts of grace and kindness, could change the day for just one person. Keep your eyes open today for that opportunity to show the goodness of God in the works you do and the actions you take. In doing so, you honor your Father in Heaven, and glorify His Son Jesus.

Loving Father, You have done all that is needed for my salvation through Your Son Jesus Christ. There is nothing that I can add to it. Today as Your redeemed child, may the goodness that You poured into me flow out to others in acts that are a blessing, even to just one other person. Walk with me today as I show Your love for Jesus’ sake. Amen.


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Walk in Love

heart-shaped white Love decor
 
1 “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.  2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 5:1-2
 
Some people are really good at doing impressions of people.  Comedians have made a career of impersonating presidents or other celebrities. Students sometimes imitate their teachers or children their parents.  We can imitate bosses or others, sometimes to highlight humorous characteristics or traits.  It can all be done in good fun or can turn mean-spirited.
 
But to imitate God?  That’s an interesting charge!  It’s important, I think, that our call to imitate God mentions children and puts it in the context of love.  Young children are often amazing in their ability to be unhindered in showing love—they don’t know any better (think about how that sounds!) than to be loving and kind when that’s what they see.  Babies, children, and all of us are sinful and in need of God’s grace and forgiveness.  None of us can love perfectly or on our own.
 
But the passage reminds us that we are beloved children and because of that we can imitate our Heavenly Father.  “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us,” the passage tells us.  God started that relationship with each and every one of us—He loved us first and lets us learn how to love from Him.
 
The better we know someone, the better we can imitate them.  Surrounding ourselves with others who know and love God and getting to know Him better through His Word help us to show Christ’s love to all.  So, today, do your best impression of God and see who doesn’t smile as they see it!
 
Dear Heavenly Father, we thank You for reaching out to us in love, for adopting us to be Your own dear children in Baptism.  Help us be comforted in Your perfect love today and each day. Let Your love shine through us to be reflected to others You have placed in our lives and around us.  In the name of our dear Savior Jesus.  Amen.

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Fruit of the Spirit

orange pumpkins on brown grass field during daytime

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”  Galatians 5:22-23

What’s your favorite season of the year? With the hot summer that we have had so far, many people are probably looking ahead and thinking about fall. The cooler temperatures, drier air, and beautiful colors make fall hard to beat.

Throughout Wisconsin, we usually have a choice among numerous Fall Festivals, Pumpkin Festivals, Harvest Festivals, and so many others. It seems likely that all of these festivals will look different this year because of Covid, but that won’t keep the abundance of the season from maturing.

Think back to past festivals, the pumpkins, squash, gourds, and other vegetables and fruits that have ripened and are ready for us to enjoy. Their many colors, along with those of the leaves, brighten our day even as the days themselves are becoming shorter.

Imagine though if you walked into a pumpkin patch and found not pumpkins, but bananas! Or what would you think if an apple tree had watermelons hanging from it? This simply isn’t possible. We know that from a pumpkin seed we will produce more pumpkins and from an apple tree we will harvest apples. In fact, you can often identify the plant by the fruit it produces.

It’s really not so different with people. The fruit they produce, meaning their words and actions, can tell us a lot about the person and what’s inside.

In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talks about trees and the fruit that they bear. He makes it clear that there is a strong connection between the tree and fruit that we see. A bad or diseased tree will only produce bad fruit. What’s more, we know a lot about the tree just by checking out the fruit that it is producing.

In Galatians 5, Paul provides a sample of the fruit of the Spirit that is evident in the lives of God’s children. These fruits are what one would naturally expect to see from a Christian. The Father sends His Holy Spirit to work in our lives and encourage us toward the good, to choose right over wrong, and show love instead of hate. We do good because of the good One who dwells within us. Let this be the fruit that others see today.

Heavenly Father, thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit who fills me with Your goodness. May that which You have placed in my heart, be fully expressed so that others may see You. Help me today to choose what is right and in keeping with Your will. Grant this Lord, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.


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An Antidote to Loneliness: Keeping Company with Others

man and woman holding hands

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!” Pray for the peace of Jerusalem! “May they be secure who love you! Peace be within your walls and security within your towers!” For my brothers and companions’ sake I will say, “Peace be within you!” [Psalm 122:1,6-8]

“How are you doing?” you ask someone. “Good and you?” they respond, and you honestly have no idea what that means or how it answers your question. What is supposed to be a bridge to community and conversation has effectively been a roadblock to anything meaningful.

Often, we approach conversations with closed hearts and minds. We have the appearance of wanting to connect, but no bandwidth to make it happen. God has hardwired us for community (“Let us make man in our image,” God said in Genesis 1), yet disconnection and loneliness are much more common in our world.

And it isn’t only people who are physically isolated who feel alone. When we don’t feel known and accepted, we feel alone and rejected. It doesn’t matter if we are surrounded with people, we want to be known and accepted.  

One of the most common prayer requests is for other people and relationships. These are of the utmost importance for us, and there is no better way for us to keep company with others than to be praying. Who knows another person better than God, the One who made them? Who accepts another person more than Jesus, the One who died for them? Who will unite people more effectively than the Holy Spirit, who fills all of God’s children? We keep company with others by praying for them and with them.

The single best indicator for if a couple will stay married “till death do us part” is if they pray together regularly. Not if they are Christians, or if they go to church, or if they read the Bible. Those are all great, but something happens when people pray together. They become known to the other person in a way that doesn’t happen otherwise in this world. They feel accepted and cherished in a way that isn’t present through any other activity.

If you desire to keep company with others, be praying regularly for them. And take the next step: pray with them. Ask them, “How can I pray for you?” And then pray. Maybe even tell them how they could be praying for you.

God has given us a beautiful connection in Christ; let’s keep company with others today through prayer.

Dear God, I pray along with (fill in the blank), giving you thanks for who they are, and that they are in my life. I ask that you would (fill in the request), and remind them how much they mean to me. They are a blessing in this world, and I pray that you would continue to make your love known to them and through them. Keep us united by the power of your Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ name we pray, AMEN

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