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A Passage and A Prayer 1/24/19

“So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: ‘Men of Athens, I perceive that you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I will proclaim to you.’” Acts 17:22-23
 

They had so much and yet they worried about what they had missed. The people of Athens had many altars to the many idols they had created. Their lineup of the gods they had imagined was impressive. Paul said that they must have been very religious because they had so many altars. But for all that, they worried about the one that they missed. What if they had omitted a god, and by this neglect they’d made him mad? So to cover all the bases, they made an all-purpose altar dedicated to the no-name god, the unknown one. The more they had, the more they worried of what they missed.

That could be said of many today. The more they have, the more they worry about what they missed. It could be more money, or the perfect home, or the best vacation, or the overflowing garage. But for all the getting, there is still the wanting and the dread that what’s needed won’t come.

We can be Paul to those who feel this vacuum in their lives. Paul said that he would tell the Athenians of the One they were seeking. He would fill their vacuum by telling them that the unknown god was the one and only true God, Jesus. He came, not as an idol of stone, but as the living man who was also God. Paul told them the story of Jesus, living, crucified on the cross, and risen again, a story beyond any imagination. Emptiness they could feel on their own, but they needed someone to tell them of the God who fills that void.

Imagine how we can be Paul to those who feel something missing in their lives. We don’t have to stand in the middle of the street. Sitting in a friend’s kitchen, sharing lunch at work, running into someone at the store will probably work better. Imagine how you can tell in the simplest way the story of how Jesus has given you peace, promised to carry your worries, and given you hope. Tell someone simply that we can all pray and He hears us and that he cares for us more than we can imagine. Empty lives, filled with clutter, wait for us to say simply, “Let me tell you a bit about the One you’re looking for.”

Our heavenly Father, give us the words to say to those who feel empty without you. Send us at the right time to listen to them and then to point simply to you. Fill the vacuum they feel and be the God they can truly know. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.


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A Passage and A Prayer 1/21/19

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in every one.”  1 Corinthians 12:4-6
 
Dream big. That’s the advice you’ve heard for years. Dream big—your teachers in high school told you that when you were planning your future. Dream big—that was the advice you got when you started your first job or dared to begin your own business.  Dream big—that was what you thought as you held your new-born child for the first time.  That’s all good and I hope that you went to the school of your dreams, got the career of your dreams, and have the family of your dreams.

But our text might also invite us to dream small. Dream of your part, even if it appears small. Consider how your part fits in the whole body of God’s people. Dream of the gift that you have, the gift that you are. But the good news is that you don’t need to be the one and only way God moves the world. You are that one part of the body that God has intended you to be.

The good news of dreaming in the size that we are is that we find that we’re not alone. I might be the left little finger in the body and so I know that I can’t lift a whole lot. Don’t have me, the left little finger, carry the gallon of milk from the back of the store by myself! I’m glad to help but I’ll also be looking for help in about five seconds. So dream of what you can do as the gift you are as a part of the whole. This week, our devotions will focus on the impact our congregation can make on our community and the world. That’s a wonderful, big dream. Start this dream-filled week by focusing on the part of the dream, the part of the body that you are. We are all part of God’s variety of gifts, as our text said, and that can be the start of our prayers this week. Lord, where is my small part an important part of your much bigger dream and plan? Your small part is a crucial part and without it, the whole body that we are at FIL won’t be able to do all God has in mind. So dream on, both big and small.

Our heavenly Father, thank you for making us each gifted people within the whole body of the Church. Help us each to dream both big and small. Show us the plan you have for each of us as a small part of the body. Help us dream big of what all the gifted parts of the body might do. Complete your purpose and plan through the use of each of us. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.


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A Passage and A Prayer 1/18/19

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”  Revelation 7:9-10

Do you see yourself in John’s vision?  That’s you in the white robe of Jesus’ righteousness, cleared of all you did wrong and freed from the ugly impulses of your sinful nature.  That’s you with a palm branch in your hand, worshiping your glorious God without inhibition, totally focused and engaged.  Jesus died to place you into this vision.  His Church is driven by the purpose of surrounding you in this vision with family, friends and foreigners.  Look around.  It’s a huge crowd, all those who trust and follow the Savior.

Do you think it will matter then who did what to hurt you, or how much pain you endured because doctors couldn’t diagnose what was wrong?  Will you care that you were saleswoman of the year for your company, or that hundreds showed up at your funeral?  How significant will the politics or the Oscars of 2019 be when you stand before the throne of God?  John’s vision creates perspective.

This vision of eternity explains why you and I are still here.  THIS is where our faith culminates.  And THIS is the reason our church is serious about truth and passionate about sharing that truth.  St. John’s vision of eternal life drives our vision for First Immanuel’s ministry – bringing people to know Jesus, surrounding them with brothers and sisters in faith who will encourage them, and confirming their faith with biblical teaching for the day they meet Jesus face-to-face.  May we be bold enough to dream what St. John saw in his vision.

The song “I Can Only Imagine” by the band Mercy Me expresses the awe of that day when we join the multitudes before the throne of God and worship the Lamb.  Ask Alexa to play it for you.  The movie “I Can Only Imagine” tells the story of how God brings even a reluctant disbeliever into that multitude before his throne.  Watch it.  And put your life into eternal perspective.

Thank you, dear Savior, for giving us a vision of the eternal life you won for us.  Thank you for the privilege of sharing this good news with others.  Recommit our church to making this vision reality for more and more people as we proclaim the gospel and nurture faith.  In you alone we trust and to you we give our praise.  Amen.


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A Passage and A Prayer 1/16/19

They (Paul, Silas and Timothy) attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas.  And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”  Acts 16:7-10

Since the end of the apostolic age, we wouldn’t expect God to give a pastoral team a vision in the night to direct the future of a church. 
American Lutherans would probably be skeptical about that anyway.  We should, however, expect our God to direct our church’s future.  How?  Well, when God’s people spend serious time in God’s Word, the Spirit of Jesus prepares them to recognize and accept his leading.  Knowing God’s will is essential to following God’s will.  When God’s people are passionate about bringing God’s love and forgiveness to people who are lost in their own ideas and desires, the church will see opportunities and discover strategies.  Expect that.  When believers pray earnestly for God’s direction, God answers them.  His answer may be an unexpected possibility for reaching a new audience with the gospel or it may be a renewed commitment to love hurting members and spiritually re-connect with drifting friends and relatives.  When Christians are united in faith and purpose, the Holy Spirit brings them together around a focus for their church’s future.  A congregation’s vision is a shared direction. 

There are a few insights for us in St. Paul’s experience at Troas.  God has a way of closing some doors and opening others.  When we can’t get past multiple obstacles in our planning, maybe we should look for another direction, as Paul did. In my experience, God finds it easier to redirect churches that are aggressively pursuing their mission than to get self-satisfied churches off their pews.  Don’t wait for the perfectly crafted game plan; get going. The word immediately in Acts 16 deserves attention.  The author of The Purpose-Driven Church wrote: “Don’t ask God to bless what you’re doing; do what he’s blessing.”  The apostle’s mission team had seen the Spirit bring people to faith as they proclaimed forgiveness and eternal life in Jesus through relationships they developed in Jewish synagogues and Gentile marketplaces.  They were eager to take that strategy to new communities in the Greco-Roman world.  How can our church build on what God is blessing in our midst?  Be bold enough to dream.

Root us so deeply in your Word, Lord, that our hearts mirror your heart in love for others.  Create in us a passionate sense of purpose, so that we recognize opportunities to share your truth.  Overcome our reluctance and unite us in goals that give you glory and fulfill your mission. And in our personal lives, give us purpose and guidance, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.


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A Passage and A Prayer 1/11/19

“For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 2:2-5
 
Did you make any resolutions for 2019? If you are like most Americans, the answer is yes. And the top resolutions for most people? Save money and lose weight or get in shape.
 
How do you think most people do with these? You probably guessed it, before January is over, most people will have lost their resolve and continued with their same old habits. Change is hard when we depend on our own will-power.
 
But there is a change that is not dependent on our ability. It is the change that God works in our hearts by the power of His Holy Spirit. Out of His great love and mercy, God gives to us forgiveness and new life and begins a transformation that changes everything. Paul experienced this change and resolved to know nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. This was not done by his own strength, but by the power of God that works in us also.
 
As changed people of God, we are now free to dream boldly about how God will use us to apply the gifts that He has poured into us for the furthering of His kingdom. Go ahead and dream, dream boldly. How will YOU use God’s gifts this year to impact others for Christ? Whatever you dream, know that it is not a matter of your own will, but the power of God at work within you that will make even the boldest dreams come true.
 
Heavenly Father, thank You for sending Your Holy Spirit to transform my life. By Your great power, help me to dream boldly about how I might use the gifts that You have given me to bring glory to You and share the love of Jesus with others. In His name I pray. Amen.


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