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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.


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.


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.


A Passage and A Prayer 1/9/19

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.” Jeremiah 29:11-12
What does God have planned for me? I’m sure that was a question on the minds of the Jewish exiles in Babylon when Jeremiah spoke these words from God. Because of their continuous sin and rebellion against God, the Promised Land was stripped from them and even the temple was eventually burned. All seemed lost. As a people, it seemed that they had no hope, no future.
But even at their lowest point, God offered a word of promise. After a time, God would return them to the land He had promised over a thousand years ago to Abraham. Even though they had forgotten God, God would not forget them. He would remain faithful, and through the family of Abraham, God would send a Savior to the world.
God still makes plans and gives promises to His people, to you. As He declared through Jeremiah, He declares through His word to you that He has plans for your good and not for evil that you would have a future and hope. Our sin is no less significant than those who lived at the time of Jeremiah. And yet God continues to forgive and show mercy.
Because of God’s grace, we can boldly dream about the future that He has planned for us. With hearts filled with gratitude to Him, we commit all that we are and have to His purposes and glory.
Almighty God, we stand in awe of Your faithfulness through all generations. Grant us the boldness to use the gifts that You have given to further Your kingdom now and into eternity for Jesus’ sake. Amen.


A Passage and A Prayer 1/8/19

“But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God.” Genesis 6:8-9
As we begin a new year of God’s grace, our worship together will focus on the theme “BOLD Enough to Dream” during January. That theme will ring a bell for many as it reminds us of our campaign to raise funding for the construction of new school facilities and reconfiguring of some of the office space. The campaign was a bold initiative, but it was also one that God blessed abundantly.
God often has plans for us that are beyond what we might ever expect or imagine. The bible is filled with such examples, including in the early chapters of Genesis, when God called Noah to build the ark. Talk about a BOLD plan. God would preserve His creation through Noah, his family, and the ark. We can only imagine what went through the mind of Noah as God revealed this plan. But whatever he thought, the most important thing is that Noah followed God’s plan.
What do you have planned for 2019? More importantly, what does God have planned for you? How will God use you and the gifts that He has given to further His kingdom? The same God who took a simple believer like Noah and saved the world may have great plans ahead for you. Or perhaps His plans are for you to be a blessing to just one person this year, someone who right now is a long way from God.
Whether we consider God’s plans for us great or small, He calls us to stand ready and follow where He will lead us, using the gifts that come from Him. In this new year of God’s grace, may our hearts and eyes be always open to His leading.
Gracious Father, Noah could never have dreamed what You would have in store for him, but yet You provided all that he needed to save himself and his family. Lord, grant us such trust and confidence in You that we will follow Your plans, wherever they might lead us. Grant this for the sake of Jesus in whose name we pray. Amen.