Archive for April, 2014

1 Corinthians 15:29-34

April 25, 2014

Otherwise, what will those people do who receive baptism on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf? And why are we putting ourselves in danger every hour? I die every day! That is as certain, brothers and sisters, as my boasting of you—a boast that I make in Christ Jesus our Lord. If with merely human hopes I fought with wild animals at Ephesus, what would I have gained by it? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” Come to a sober and right mind, and sin no more; for some people have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame. 1 Corinthians 15:29-34

 

Emma’s surgery was completely successful. The cancer is gone. The tumor is gone. The after effects will fade. She comes home later today. We couldn’t have asked for a better outcome. In fact, we got exactly the outcome we were praying for.

 

Yesterday was an emotional day. It began with a sense of quiet confidence that all would be well. The closer the clock drew to noon, the more anxious I was feeling. There was elation and gratitude when the doctor let us know that all was well. But, not long after that, I began to feel survivor’s guilt.

 

I was just a bystander in all of this, just one in a crowd of bystanders. I went home last night with good news and a bright future. Others went home without loved ones. Still others are still living on that razor’s edge of hope and determination. This is the drama that is played out every single day of the year, every single year, in every single community of people.

 

So it was that Paul wrestled with the Corinthians and the impact of the resurrection. Paul, consumed by hope yet dogged by doubts, certainly the doubts of others, perhaps his own nagging doubts, wondering if it was all worth it.

 

Of course it was! That is what kept him in the fight. Day and day, Paul understood his life as a daily dying in Christ and being raised to new life as a messenger and sign of the life to come. For this is the drama beneath, behind, below, and above the daily drama of our life. This is God’s story being written in daily life, penned by our thoughts, words, deeds, and hopes.

 

Emma had a bunch of friends show up at the hospital. They waited for hours to see her. They decorated her room before she arrived. They kicked out the adults, closed the doors, and probably sat around texting each other. They are Emma’s community. They are her “good company”. Emma’s Dad received word from his Unitarian friend that he would be “thinking good thoughts for Emma.” Church members and Facebook friends offered prayers on her behalf. We all received good news. Today, Emma will be back at home.

 

But others will still be fighting the good fight, wondering how it will turn out, wondering if it is worth it.

 

I believe it is.

 

Let us pray: Dear Lord, caught up as we are in the mundane and the mysterious, again and again we can do little but fall back into your arms. Hold us there until we are ready and then thrust us back into the game, encouraged and empowered to do what we can to make real the promise of the life to come. Thank you for your presence through those all around us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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1 Corinthians 15:20-28

April 24, 2014

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.”

 

But when it says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is plain that this does not include the one who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all. 1 Corinthians 15:20-28

 

I’m writing this morning from a waiting room at MD Anderson Hospital here in Houston. It is perhaps – OK, right now we are hoping absolutely and inconclusively – the best place to be treated for cancer in the world. My 16 year old stepdaughter is in the operating room as I type and we all wait.

 

I hear the sounds around me. My wife Kelley, allowing me to distract her from her tears with an episode of the Daily Show that I cued up for her. Emma’s dad just fired up his laptop. Emma’s brother, her grandma, her aunts, her cousin, and a bunch of her friends will join us later this morning.

 

Behind me a volunteer is checking families into the waiting room. As early as it is, family after family after family is filing in. Off in the distance I hear bits and snippets of conversation. One lady was crying loudly just a minute ago but is quieter now, still crying on the inside.

 

I feel like we are in the middle of a war zone.

 

On one side is this massive institution, the best researchers and doctors, all having earned prestigious positions that allow them not only to help the patients they see each day but also to share what they learn with the world. Nurses, support staff, custodians, construction workers, valets, food service people, security staff – how long would this list be? – have all shown up today to stand on the side of health, restoration, recovery, and hope.

 

On the other side are regular old human cells that have gone just a little crazy. For whatever reason, they get off track, they mutate, they over function. Left to their own devices, the natural human state that seeks survival is overwhelmed by these distorted cells that threaten self-destruction.

 

Caught in the middle is Emma and all of the other patients in the place. The war zone is very personal, hand to hand combat at the cellular level.

 

We are not alone. I hope that doctors have the eyes to glance over their shoulders and see the mighty wall of prayers that are surging behind them and into their hands. No one is praying for anything less than a successful surgery and a complete recovery. No one questions who the good guys and bad guys are in all of this.

 

Emma’s doctor assured us that he has performed hundreds of these surgeries over the past 20 years. Every patient a little different, every patient teaching him a little bit more. But someone, way back there, was his first patient.

 

Someone always has to go first.

 

Which is Paul’s point today. Jesus wasn’t the first to die, to suffer the brokenness of the sin that distorts God’s intentions for our lives, the cancers of hate, fear, greed, and the whole idolatrous bloody mess. But he was the first to be raised from the dead.

 

Emma’s doctor is good…but he isn’t that good. Today we trust the doctor but we know where our ultimate trust lies.

 

Here is what Emma said about her surgery today: I’m young, I am in good health, I take care of myself. I will get better. And whether or not I get better, my life is in God’s hands. She was more nervous last night about how long it will be after the surgery until she gets to wash her hair than the surgery itself. Now someone tell me that faith in God isn’t real, powerful, and helpful!

 

I’m betting on the good guys today. And I am so grateful that Jesus went first on our behalf.

 

Let us pray: Hold all who hurt in the palm of your hands, O Lord. Draw near to all who live in fear, in pain, in anxiety. All who hunger for good and thirst for water and need the help of others. May your Spirit of hope, the living presence of our living Lord, enliven us, encourage us, and enable us to live fiercely and hopefully. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

1 Corinthians 15:12-19

April 23, 2014

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.

 

For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. 1 Corinthians 15:12-19

 

I don’t know who first said the line, “I spent my whole life climbing the ladder only to discover that it was leaning up against the wrong building”, but I appreciate it. It captures the angst of middle age. And, at least it seems to me, is an idea that crossed the Apostle Paul’s mind a time or two.

 

If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

 

We’ve heard the arguments before. We’ve heard it from both ends – those scientific materialists who say that dead bodies do not rise (as if the resurrection was just some kind of Frankenstinian cosmic shock wave that re-volted Jesus’ cellular activity back into action), and from the spiritualists who echo (without understanding) the Bultmanian idea of Jesus rising in the kerygma of the early church. Both miss the point.

 

We’ve also heard it said that, “Even if we are wrong about everything in the Christian faith, it is still a great way of life.” Well, I’ve been a Christian a long time and I still wonder what measurement stick one would use to really solve that one.

 

The mystery of the resurrection will ever remain mystery. But as we ponder it, let’s keep a couple of points crystal clear. The resurrection is God’s doing, not ours. The resurrection is not something to be understood by us (therefore falling under our control), but something to be confessed (thereby acknowledging again that God is God, we’re not, and God has broken into life to remind us anew that that is the way that works.)

 

In the cross, something old was declared done, and in the resurrection, something radically new was declared begun. God’s work of new creation is afoot and we’ve been caught up into it. I don’t know whether or not that is a better way of life but I trust that it is the hope of the world.

 

Let us pray: Renew, resurrect, re-create us, God of power and majesty and infinite love. Shed the light of your love on our paths, that we might be about your will, in your time, through the humble moments of our lives. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

April 22, 2014

Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain. 

 

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 

 

Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe. 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

 

It was such a blessing for me to walk through the season of Lent, posting devotions each morning that had been written by people from Faith Lutheran Church. Young people and older people. Men and women. Newcomers and old-timers. Each day I felt a little rush of encouragement, not merely from what they wrote, but from the opportunity to see the people I serve sharing their faith with others.

 

That is how the church came to be. The explosion of the resurrection sent shock waves down through history which continue to work their way through people’s lives. That is what the Apostle Paul told the Corinthians. Jesus appeared and then continued to appear through eye-witnesses and then through I-witnesses, people who had been so captured by the Holy Spirit working through the witness of others that they too found themselves caught up in the story.

 

I don’t remember when I read 1 Corinthians 15 for the first time, but I will never forget how these words hit me somewhere along the way, “Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain.” Those words made Paul real for me because those words describe my life. And I’ve come to learn that I would rather be the least of the followers of Jesus then to be blindly doing life on my own.

 

Let us pray: Dear Lord, continue appearing to us. Continue coming to us through the words and deeds of those following you. Number us among those willing to carry your message to others in the new lives that you have given to us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Ephesians 2:8-10

April 18, 2014

During the Lenten season, members of Faith Lutheran Church have written our daily devotions. Today’s writer is Pastor Junfeng Tan.

 

8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. Ephesians 2:8-10

 

On August 2, 1943, John F Kennedy’s Patrol Torpedo boat, PT-109, was rammed by a Japanese destroyer. Despite the injury to his back in the collision, Kenney towed the injured McMahon Harris by a life-vest strap and swam four miles before they reached an island.

 

On Good Friday, Jesus Christ has done for all of us what Kennedy did for McMahon. Humanity is hurt and incapacitated by sin and becomes incapable of “swimming to the shore of safety” on our own. We are so self-centered and self-absorbed and have failed to live the good life that God intends for us. We do not and cannot love God with our whole heart, whole mind, and whole strength. Neither can we love our neighbor as ourselves. We are all “curved in on self”. We are all spiritually dead.

 

Jesus comes to rescue and liberate us from sin’s concentration camp. What is so amazing is that he accomplishes the mission through the Cross. Paul says, “One man died for everyone. That puts everyone in the same boat. He included everyone in his death so that everyone could also be included in his life, a resurrection life, a far better life than people ever lived on their own” (2 Cor. 5:14, 15, The Message).

 

Let us pray: Jesus our liberating King, my boat is shattered to thousands pieces and I am sinking. Pull me into your unsinkable boat and make me into a fisherman/fisherwoman in your Kingdom. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

1 Corinthians 11:17-26

April 17, 2014

During the Lenten season, members of Faith Lutheran Church have written our daily devotions. Today’s writer is Michael Farner.

 

17Now in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. 18For, to begin with, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and to some extent I believe it. 19Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine. 20When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s Supper. 21For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. 22What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I commend you? In this matter I do not commend you! 23For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”26For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 1 Corinthians 11:17-26

 

We all know that a house divided cannot stand. But what about a church? The role of the church is to fulfill God’s will here on earth. However, so often the church is used to put the needs of its members above the works of God. When the church becomes a self-serving instrument, it is in effect a house divided. A divided church is a quarrelsome church, and Paul warned against this. Only when the church comes together and acts out of the will of God and not out of the will of man, can it become an instrument for healing and godliness.

 

This is clear to witness in our own church when, every month, hundreds of homeless people are fed in Houston through our delivery of grace bags and homeless lunches, or clothed through a Family Service project. This is clear when people who would otherwise never hear the word of God, can hear it spoken in their native language, Mandarin. All of these things could not be accomplished by individual works alone. It takes a group of people, united in the common will of God, to have such far-reaching effects in the community. For only when God is number one can the church achieve its potential and truly serve Christ every day.

 

Let us pray: Dear God, help us value your will above our own desires. Please help us see that the church is about you, not us. Help us do your good works every day and reach our potential in your world. In your name we pray, Amen.

 

Acts 9:1-9

April 16, 2014

During the Lenten season, members of Faith Lutheran Church have written our daily devotions. Today’s writer is Dewayne Hahn.

 

Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”5He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. 8Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. Acts 9:1-9

 

When I was a kid in Sunday School, one of the most memorable Bible stories is this story of how God called Saul to serve him. It is almost a Star Wars event when an incredible light came from the heavens and flashed around him as he was traveling to Damascus to find those who belonged to The Way. He was armed with a letter from the high priest to bind them and return them to Jerusalem. What a powerful experience to be knocked your knees with the force of light (the Holy Spirit) then to hear a voice call your name.

 

Saul had a hunch it was the Lord. Think about that. You are on a mission to capture those who believe in Jesus and you are zapped by a force larger than life…who else could it be but the Lord! Completely decommissioned and blind he was told to go to Damascus. I would venture to say none of us have been called to serve God in such a dramatic way, but however we are called we are ready to receive instructions from God. Talk to him and ask, “What’s next-give me something to do.”

 

Let us pray: Dear Father, Son and Holy Spirit, extend your call and share with me how I might serve you best. Help me to be alert to the subtle and the forceful instructions and give me the strength I will need to follow thru on where you need me to serve. Use me every day as I carry out my vocation as I belong to The Way. As a servant of yours, Amen.

Acts 1:6-11

April 15, 2014

During the Lenten season, members of Faith Lutheran Church have written our daily devotions. Today’s writer is Jean Slater.

 

6So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.10While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Acts 1:6-11

 

The disciples thought that the kingdom would be an earthly kingdom and Jesus would be the ruler much like David and Solomon were kings. At the time, the earthly kingdom that they knew was under the rule of the Romans. Jesus told the disciples that it was not their concern to know why or when, but that God is in control by his authority, he only knew the time and the season. Then Jesus told them that they would receive power from the Holy Spirit and they would be witnesses beginning in Jerusalem and then to the end of the earth.

 

How could this come about? There was no paper, internet, TV, e-mail, texting,

Facebook, trains, or plans to help the disciples spread the news. But the Holy Spirit that filled their hearts and minds gave them the power to spread the news.

Now that is power!

 

God has given us that same power and the message is still the same wonderful message that God loves us so much that He sent his son Jesus, to save us through his death and resurrection and empowered us with the Holy Spirit through repentance and baptism in the name of Jesus Christ. Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper while here on earth which gives us a means for repentance of our sins through bread, wine, and word of God. He gave us a model of how a church was organized so we can gather and worship him.

 

Lent helps us to take time to reflect and praise God for the means that He has given us to be one with him through daily repentance and forgiveness. A few minutes a day in prayer can change your attitude towards your family, friends, job, and future.

 

Let us pray: Heavenly Father, thank you for knowing what I need before it is needed. May the Holy Spirit guide me each day to live a life that I can share with others of the good news of Jesus Christ. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

John 20:19-23

April 14, 2014

During the Lenten season, members of Faith Lutheran Church have written our daily devotions. Today’s writer is Julie Grove.

 

19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” John 20:19-23

 

Fear is a powerful emotion. It has the ability to inhibit us from doing what we know is right for fear of how others will perceive us. The disciples were not together for fellowship, but because of fear of what the Jews would do to them. When Jesus came to them twice he said “peace be with you.” Their fear subsided and they were joyful because Jesus was with them.

 

Immediately after their fear had turned to joy Jesus gave them a commission that would intimidate most people “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” By going out into the world to spread the word of God they faced persecution and even death. But, Jesus reminds them that they will never be alone. He breathed on the disciples and told them to “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

 

We must remember that God is always with us. When we are fearful or disheartened we should turn to the Lord to help us overcome our struggles. The Holy Spirit is with us. He is the Encourager for the cowardly and those who have lost faith and hope.

 

Let us pray: Lord, help me to have the courage to do that which I know is right even when it is the more difficult path to take. Allow me the strength to share my faith with others in my life. I thank you for the knowledge that you are always with me and that I do not need to face my fears alone. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

Luke 23:44-49

April 11, 2014

During the Lenten season, members of Faith Lutheran Church have written our daily devotions.  Today’s writer is Wade Paulson.

 

44It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. 47When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent.” 48And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. 49But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things. Luke 23:44-49

 

The other day my daughter said to my wife “Mommy, sometimes I just don’t feel like I belong in this family”.  Now, that is a very hard thing to hear.  Hearing that my daughter feels this way makes me feel guilty and insufficient as a father. It also breaks my heart to have my child in pain. 

 

It made my wife and I take a step back and realize that our perspective, that each of us is a perfect fit together in our family and that Lucy is everything we ever hoped for as a daughter, is not the only perspective.  We are torn in what our response should be.  We don’t want to overemphasize these feelings, but at the same time, we don’t want to regret not taking her feelings seriously. 

 

We have always worked hard to create an environment in which celebrate Lucy’s adoption, but in doing so, we have also worked at crafting how we all, as a family, should view her story. I am realizing that no matter how hard I try, ultimately I cannot control how my daughter is going to perceive her story.  What I have to do is help guide her and allow her to find her peace in her sense of belonging and family. 

 

Let us pray:  I pray this Lenten season that I may be guided to keep an open mind and an open heart to search for answers and wisdom.  I pray for patience and understanding when faced with opinions and feelings which differ from my own. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.