Monday, January 23, 2017

January 23, 2017

4th Sunday after Epiphany

Scripture: Micah 6:1-8

Micah is one of the “Minor Prophets,” but his message is anything but minor. He proclaimed God’s Law and Gospel to the people of Israel, and indeed, to us. In this passage, Micah speaks God’s indictment against idolatry and describes the life of faith. The passage causes us to examine our lives for idols and to consider how to live rightly with God and others.

Teaching

Balak was the king of Moab who feared the Israelites and Balaam was a prophet of sorts who he hired to curse Israel. [1]  God would not allow Balaam to curse his people. However, Balaam advised Balak to tempt the Israelites with false gods and pagan worship – which was highly sexual. Many Christians fall into the same snare. We are drawn to false gods and earthly pleasures (including sex) in contempt of God’s mercy and grace.

What God desires from his people’s lives is described in Micah 6:6-8. Our relationship with God has never been about sacrifices or offering, but is rooted in his salvation for us. We are called to do three things in response to God’s saving acts. First, do justice. We are called to do what is just and right in the sight of God. Second, to love kindness. This is more than just being nice, it is loving that which is good, merciful, and full of grace. Finally, to walk humbly with your God. This means that we live by faith in the God who saves us.

Life

Just as Israel was reminded of the saving acts of the Lord, we do well to remember them, too. God gave his only begotten Son to redeem the world (John 3:16). He made him who had no sin to be sin so that, in him, we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21). Jesus suffered for sins once for all the righteous for the unrighteous to bring you to God (1 Peter 3:18). How does knowing you live in God’s forgiveness because of Jesus’ death and resurrection impact our desire to obey God’s will?

As a forgiven Child of God, how might you do justice? Who are the vulnerable around you? The hurt? The overlooked? The victimized? How might you love kindness? Who are the marginalized? Who are the sinners in need of forgiveness? Who stands guilty and needs mercy? How might you walk humbly with your God. How do you display faith? Is it by speaking out for justice? Acting in kindness? Serving another? Forgiving someone? It might even be by receiving God’s mercy, love, and forgiveness for your own sin.

Prayer

O God, we are your people because you had mercy on us and performed a mighty saving act in Jesus’ death on the cross. In that moment Jesus satisfied your justice by punishing sin in his body, showed kindness by bearing our sin’s punishment for us, and humbled himself even to the point of dying for us. Thank you for the salvation we have in Christ! Forgive us for not living faithfully, doing justice, loving mercy, or walking humbly with you. Grant us your Spirit so that we may walk with you by faith in Jesus. Make us agents of your justice and mercy for our neighbors and help us to show them your salvation in Christ. Amen.



[1] See Numbers 22-24

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Friday, January 20, 2017

January 20, 2017

Scripture: Matthew 4:12-25

Having had this reading earlier in the week, please resist the temptation to skim it over (although if you have time for nothing more, please skim!) and take your devotion time to re-read the Gospel Lesson slowly.

What is the message of this reading?

Which lines convict you?

Which lines comfort you?

Does this passage prompt us to act in a certain way?

What should we pray for in light of what we read here?

What should we give thanks for?

Prayer

On Fridays you will be encouraged to pray for a variety of prayer requests. The hope is that through these prayer requests we will, obviously, intercede for those need prayer, and that we will learn to think more broadly in our prayers. If time is short, you could simply pray the Lord’s Prayer.

For the Holy Spirit to teach you to pray and to guide your heart and mind as you pray.
For God’s Word to be proclaimed around the world and for all to trust in Jesus.
For pastors, Directors of Christian Education, teachers, deacons and deaconesses, vicars, and all who are charged to teach and proclaim God’s Word that they do it in truth and purity, love and compassion, and faithful courage.
For the United States at the inauguration of a new president, for the administration to lead with wisdom, for safety and for people to obey the law, for those who are fearful, for the preservation of God-given rights, and for justice and righteousness to prevail.
For the sick, that their faith would be strengthened, that medical professionals would treat them with wisdom and compassion, that they might be healed, and that they be encouraged.
For the dying, that they might remain strong in faith, give the good confession in Christ, and have a blessed end.
For the unborn and the neglected elderly, that life would be cherished at all stages, care given to the most fragile and vulnerable, and for recognition of the gift God has given all people in giving us life.

For the joy of the Lord to be our strength. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

January 19, 2017

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 1:10-18

Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church was written in response to troubling news. This letter addressed the divisions that were in the church of Corinth. In many ways the Christians there had become more influenced by their culture than by Christ. Paul expected that his message would be unwelcomed and upsetting to these people whom he loved. Nevertheless, he wrote because he loved them. In this section he confronts them, urges them to be united, and to remember the impact of the cross of Christ upon them. This reading causes us to consider the divisions in the Church and calls us commit ourselves to the “folly” of the cross.

Teaching

There is only one Church. It includes everyone who believes in Christ the Crucified as their Savior and Lord. There is only one kingdom of God. It is the one that Jesus, himself, proclaimed saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mat. 4:17). This truth is foundational to the call to “agree” and to have “no divisions” and to be “united.” He is calling them to return to the unity we have in Christ. We are to be of the same mind and same judgement – not agreeing to disagree or to be nice for the sake of niceness, but submitting ourselves to the Word of God and the good news that Christ died and rose to atone for our sins. We have been incorporated into Jesus. He (and his Spirit) are our unity.

The heart and core of our unity is the Gospel: the message that Jesus, the Son of God, was crucified to atone for our sins, rose from the dead, was seen by witnesses, ascended into heaven, and will come again. This message is “folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Folly and power stand in contrast in Jesus’ cross. It looks like folly, and that is why many reject the cross and why we are often tempted to add something to it – a good work, our reason, our self-denial. In reality such things are powerless. It is only faith in the crucified and risen One (which is what is meant by “the cross”) that we are reconciled to God, forgiven for sin, and saved from death and damnation.

Life

Sometimes in conversations I have heard people say, “We’ll just have to agree to disagree.” In some parts of our lives this can be helpful and even healthy. In the unity of the church it is not. We live as people under Christ and in his forgiveness. He calls us to love one another. Does love overlook that which harms someone, as false doctrine and unfaithful behaviors certainly can? At the same time, is love harsh, demeaning, and judgmental? How might you display love to those who are not acting in unity with Jesus’ gospel?

Take some time to ponder the cross of Christ, and its impact on your life. Are there times when it seems like it is insufficient? Are there times when you are empowered by your trust in Jesus to act in faithful and loving ways? How might humbly submitting ourselves to the cross of Christ impact our relationship with others?

Prayer

Lord God, we have been baptized into Christ and made part of the great fellowship of all who are saved by your grace. We thank you for your salvation, and we humbly praise you for the cross of Christ. Forgive us for adding to your gospel and for subtracting from it. Grant us your Holy Spirit so we may live in unity rooted in the mind and judgment of Christ. Amen.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

January 18, 2017

Scripture: Psalm 27:1-9

This psalm is a psalm of David. Parts of it sound like an inner dialogue and other parts are clearly prayer. The first six verses speak of David’s confidence and faith that God is his defender. Verses 7-10 are a plea for God to hear David’s prayer. If you read the rest of the psalm verses 10-11 are another prayer; this time for guidance and protection. The psalm ends with statements of faith and encouragement to wait for the Lord. Psalm 27 may have functioned as part of the liturgy of the temple, in any case it urges us to put our confidence in the Lord and to call upon him as the source of our salvation.[1] 

Teaching

People sometimes ask, “If God knows everything, why do we need to pray? Doesn’t he already know what we are going to ask? What is the point?” God does indeed know what we will pray for, but we should ask ourselves who prayer is for. Psalm 27 is a beautiful example of how prayer functions in a way that supports our faith and encourages us to hold tightly to God’s promises. God commands us to pray, not because he is unaware of our need, but, at least in part, so that we can call out to him in faith and find him faithful.

Notice the way that David recounts the things God has revealed about himself. God is light, salvation, the strong hold of life, a defender against enemies, and one who builds up his people. God’s character and his gracious deeds form a kind of foundation for prayer. As David prays for God to hear him, to keep him, to not abandon him, and to teach him, he also recount how God has done many of those things already and will continue to do so.

Life

What do you fear? Too often we are plagued by anxiety, fears, neuroses, and doubts. How does Psalm 27 speak to your fears? How might praying this psalm impact your day? Your conflicted relationship? The choice you need to make? How might you use v. 1-3 as you pray about your fears?

David states in verse 4, “One thing have I asked of the Lord … that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.” In other words, he prays that God keep him in faith through his whole life and bring him safely home to heaven. When was the last time you prayed about God keeping you in faith? Do you pray for a blessed end to your life and the joy of gazing upon the beauty of the Lord when you are in his presence?

Prayer

Use Psalm 27 to guide your prayer today.


[1] Lutheran Study Bible, p. 868

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

January 17, 2017

Scripture: Matthew 4:12-25
Teaching
Life
Prayer

This reading takes places at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry. He has been baptized, and he has fasted and been tempted by Satan in the wilderness. Now he begins preaching – proclaiming God’s Word. He also calls his first disciples to follow him. In this passage we see Jesus proclaiming the reign of heaven – a reign that continue to this day – as he goes about his work as the savior of mankind.

When reading the Gospel of Matthew we will find Jesus speaking of the kingdom of heaven when some regularity. What is this kingdom? Throughout the Gospel, Jesus tells parables that help us understand it. In a nut shell, it is this: that God comes to sinners to give them forgiveness, life, and salvation through faith in the One he sent; Jesus. So as Jesus proclaims, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” it is a call to experience his salvation from sin and death. This reign is still seen in action in the Church as we proclaim the Gospel and live in Jesus’ forgiveness together.

The other phrase that might jump out at us in this reading is Jesus’ call, “Follow me.” This is an appropriate response to Jesus’ reign in our lives. It is not merely that Jesus is God and we should obey him. As true as that statement is, the call to follow is Jesus is also rooted in grace. As those who live under Jesus’ reign, we are recipients of his mercy, love, forgiveness, and salvation. We follow Jesus not from fear or demand, but from joy, gratitude, and love, empowered by the Holy Spirit who gives us faith and changes us to live within Jesus’ reign by faith in him.

Sometimes we sing that, “Our God reigns.” In light of today’s reading what does that mean for you? How do you live under that reign of heaven? Does knowing that the reign of heaven is about God’s grace change your attitude about the call to repent and turn from sin? Where do you experience heaven’s reign? How might you be used to extend the reign of heaven?

There is also a sense in which Jesus’ summons to the early disciples, “Follow me,” is extended to us. How might seeing the call to follow Jesus rooted in the joy of his salvation change the way we feel about following his ways? How might it impact how we feel about being, “fishers of men,” or at least being those who live as a testimony of the reign of God in our lives and in the world?

Instruction, Thanksgiving, Confession, Petition
Lord Jesus, when you came you called all people to repentance because you brought the reign of heaven to earth. You also called disciples who would carry the message of repentance to the world drawing all people to you. Thank you for their ministry and for making us part of your reign. We do not always repent as we ought or follow you for the joy of your salvation, nevertheless we ask for your forgiveness and trust in your mercy. Grant us your Holy Spirit to strengthen our faith, teach us your ways, and empower us to follow you. Make us among those who joyfully point to Jesus’ reign as the hope for all people. In your holy name we pray. Amen. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

January 16, 2017

3rd Sunday after Epiphany

Scripture: Isaiah 9:1-4

Isaiah 9 is the chapter that gives us that great word, “For to us a child is born … and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” The passage for today sets the stage for those verses. It sets up a picture of relief for those who have lived in anguish and the gloom of sin and its consequences. The theme of light and darkness is a common thread for Epiphany. This text uses that theme to encourage us to wait for God’s salvation to burst through the gloom of a sin-filled word like light in the darkness, and to rejoice when we experience his redemption.

Teaching

As Isaiah ministered to Israel, one of the key issues he had to confront them about over and over again was their idolatry. In the verses before the reading for today (Isaiah 8:11-22), Isaiah describes the situation. He finds people who no longer wait for the Lord their God, but instead consult mediums and necromancers for guidance. They sought comfort and direction in the powers of this world instead of in the testimonies and teachings of the Lord their God.

In today’s reading Isaiah speaks of the breaking of the darkness for those who waited on the Lord. They suffered the anguish of living among those who disobeyed the Lord, but the day of their salvation would be like a great light piercing the darkness – a flood light shining on those treading water in a dark sea. Their salvation is like the removal of heavy weight from their shoulders; a glorious relief. The result of God’s salvation in the one who is saved is joy.

Life

In many ways we ourselves are tempted to search after hope and guidance from sources other than God’s teaching and testimonies. People find meaning and purpose in their politics, their scientific theories, and, for some, even in superstition. Where do you struggle to wait for the Lord? When do you lose patience with God or decide to use other means to give you hope?

We are also people who have experienced God’s salvation in Christ. When Jesus bore the cross it was like he bore the yoke of our burden, broke it, and set us free. There is joy in Jesus’ salvation. How is that joy displayed in your life? How is your joy like light in a dark place?

Prayer

Instruction, Thanksgiving, Confession, Petition

Father in heaven, you teach us that although we have walked in the darkness of our sin, the light of your salvation shines on us in Jesus. You have given us joy and set us free from the burden of sin. We thank and praise you for taking sin’s burden from us and breaking its hold on us. We thank you for enlightening our darkness. Forgive us for the times that we feel drawn to return to the darkness, and when we try to bear the burden of our salvation on our own instead of simply trusting in Jesus’ sacrifice and victorious resurrection. Fill us with the joy of your salvation. Make the joy you give us like light that shines for other so that they, too, may be drawn to you. Grant that all people may see your light and receive your salvation. We pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.