Archive for April, 2018

Acts 9:15-19a

April 30, 2018

Throughout the Easter Season, the daily devotions have been written by members of Faith Lutheran Church. Today’s writer is Laura Swanson.

“But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.” Acts 9:15-19a

Dear friends of Faith, I think today’s scripture is filled with good news about second chances and doing what God has called us to do through his Son, Jesus Christ. It was miraculous that Saul’s sight was restored by the healing hands of Ananias. It was miraculous that Saul, who was once a persecutor of Christians, came to believe in Jesus as the Messiah and was baptized. It was miraculous that Ananias and Saul heard Jesus and acted on his instructions.

My life at the moment is filled with noise. On some days it is joyful noise, like the voices of family and friends.  On other days the noise is crushing, like when I turn on the news or the “committee” inside my head tells me I am not enough today.  There is a lot static and noise when I over-commit then under-deliver. With all the noise in my life, I wonder if I could hear God?

In the recovery community, one hears that willingness (to be honest) is the cornerstone of sobriety. And, if one is “willing to take certain steps” he can live a life free from the bondage of addiction.  I think willingness in the life of a Christian is just as powerful.  It takes willingness on our part to open our ears and hear. It takes willingness and courage to begin a new journey; one that may not feel comfortable because it is new and different.

In closing, Saul was chosen by Jesus to be an instrument.  Saul heard the call and followed instructions.  Ananias was chosen to be a messenger and to heal Saul.  Each one did his part. How can I do my part today?

Let us pray: Dear Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, thank you for Faith Lutheran and your many blessings. Please open my ears and my heart so I might hear you today.  Please fill me with compassion, joy, insight, energy, optimism and willingness to do your will.  Praise be to you, oh God. Amen.

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Acts 9:10-14

April 27, 2018

Throughout the Easter Season, the daily devotions have been written by members of Faith Lutheran Church. Today’s writer is Luetta Allen.

“Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” Acts 9:10-14

As a disciple from Damascus, Ananias would be exactly the type of person that Saul was hunting in order to persecute.  Even though Saul was blind at the time, he was still potentially very dangerous to Ananias personally, as well as to his community of Christians.  It is interesting that Ananias knew immediately that he was communicating with God himself.  A first response of “Here I am, Lord” implies eagerness to hear and serve.  However, he learns that the call is to minister to Saul.  Then instead of eager obedience, he pointed out the evil of Saul.  He even references Saul by the phrase “this man” instead of by name.  He knew Saul’s name.  If not by Saul’s reputation which seems to have preceded him, then by God calling Saul by name when he ordered Ananias to go to him.  And yet Ananias would not acknowledge him as a person with a name.

It would appear that Ananias was less than eager.  It would appear that Ananias was questioning not only God’s plan to send him to such a person and put Ananias in a dangerous situation, but was also questioning that it was a good plan to save Saul and use him of all people to advance God’s will.   He responded to God with fear.  Ananias shows himself to be very…human.

Let us pray: Dear God, you know our hearts; our desire to be what you want us to be, as well as our fears and frailties that sometimes get in the way.  Help us to remember that you are in control and we can trust you. Amen.

 

April 26, 2018

Throughout the Easter Season, the daily devotions have been written by members of Faith Lutheran Church. Today’s writer is Jeannette Sebesta.

“Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and 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. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” Acts 9:1-6

There are several times throughout the Bible where the Lord had appeared to someone and asked them to do something they were not sure they could do.  God said to Moses at the burning bush to go and tell his people “the Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God Jacob has sent me to you…” This was before the great exodus out of Egypt. Even back in Genesis, Abraham is told to take his son, Isaac, up into the mountains to be a burnt offering.

Each time after the encounter with God, they do what He has asked them to do and helps each of them with how to tell the people what to expect and then do. Saul was converted after just such an experience with God. Before his conversion, Saul was threatening and even killing the disciples of the Lord. As Saul and several men were going to Damascus, a light from heaven flashed around him and he became blind. His friends had to lead him to Damascus where for three days he was blind and did not eat or drink anything. Ananias, a disciple, was then also called by God in a vision to go to Saul. He did as he was told and when he placed his hands on Saul, scales fell from his eyes. Y

ou never know when God might call you. You just have to be ready and accept that God will help you with whatever that might be.

Let us pray: Dear heavenly Father, help us to be ready for whatever you need us to do and grant us the wisdom to respond where and when needed. Amen.

Acts 8:32-38

April 25, 2018

Throughout the Easter Season, the daily devotions have been written by members of Faith Lutheran Church. Today’s writer is Dave Gohlke.

“Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.” Acts 8:32-38

This story recounted in Acts begins with Philip being commanded by God to go to the road leading from Jerusalem to Gaza.  There Philip encounters an Ethiopian eunuch – a dark skinned, powerful person, essentially the finance minister of Ethiopia, in charge of all the treasure of the queen. He was riding in a chariot and reading from a scripture of Isaiah he had likely purchased in Jerusalem – near the beginning of the long return journey to Ethiopia after having come to Jerusalem to worship in the temple.  As a eunuch, by Jewish law he would have been denied entry to the Temple itself, even after making the ardous journey (likely 2 months or more) from his home country far to the south in Africa. Still, he is pious, reading from scripture and open to learning more about God.

The Old Testament passage the eunuch is reading describes one who is silent, humiliated, denied justice and led to execution.  When the eunuch asks Philip to interpret the scripture, Philip shares “the good news about Jesus,” the lamb who was humiliated, denied justice, and slaughtered, and by whose grace we are gifted with salvation.  Upon hearing the Good News, the eunuch asks to be baptized, and Philip welcomes him into the body of baptized believers.

Who are you in this story?  Are you Philip, called by God to share the Good News, to baptize and welcome new believers into the Church, no matter where they are from, what color their skin is, or what their immigration status is?  Are you the Ethiopian, denied entry to the Temple because of your status?  An outsider, humiliated and denied justice?  Or are you all of these, sometimes hurting, feeling outside the circle, feeling as if we are denied justice, but still always called to be on the lookout for others who are hurting more and with whom we can share the Good News, by treating them as Jesus would, by feeding them, clothing them, or visiting them in prison?

Let us pray: God most holy and high, Jesus humiliated and denied justice, guide us through the Holy Spirit to share the Good News in service to others, and let us be open to receiving the Good News when we are hurting.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

April 24, 2018

Throughout the Easter Season, the daily devotions have been written by members of Faith Lutheran Church. Today’s writer is George Amundson.

“Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him.” Acts 8:26-31

I am so like Philip. He is pushed and shoved to do something that is out of his comfort zone. How difficult do we find talking about God’s Word and our belief in those words. I continue to blame it on the fact that I am a Lutheran and we just have a hard time stepping out onto that ledge.  What an embarrassing excuse.

Our Church wide goal this year is to “increase the number of first time guests” and once we get them here how do we “make them feel that they belong.” We will get together as a congregation in August to evaluate how successful we were.  We are told and we know deep down, the best way to get someone to come to Church is by a personal invitation.

Maybe we could replace our deteriorating stained glass wall with a wall of glass so that as people drove by on Bellaire Blvd they could see in and want to be a part of what they saw. Maybe we could start a Mother’s Day Out Program or a Day School; how about calling a Pastor that speaks Mandarin and start a Chinese Ministry; what about some apartments that offer reasonable fees for people who need affordable housing while they or their loved ones  are being treated at our Medical Center. Then, people would be standing in line to visit us. Well, these are all programs that we should be proud of but, the reality is, we need to personally invite our friends and neighbors to “Come and See.”

If we could just open our hearts and minds and listen to the Holy Spirit we could be like Philip and “Go over to this chariot and join it.”

Let us pray: Sundays are game day where we try to make everyone feel that they belong, Monday through Saturday, when we are at work and/or play is when we ask that you open the eyes of our hearts and help us invite our friends and neighbors to “Come and See.” In Jesus’ name, amen.

Acts 8:4-9

April 23, 2018

Throughout the Easter Season, the daily devotions have been written by members of Faith Lutheran Church. Today’s writer is Ashley Moody.

“Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them. The crowds with one accord listened eagerly to what was said by Philip, hearing and seeing the signs that he did, for unclean spirits, crying with loud shrieks, came out of many who were possessed; and many others who were paralyzed or lame were cured. So there was great joy in that city. Now a certain man named Simon had previously practiced  magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he was someone great.”    Acts 8:4-9

This sounds like an interesting time to have been part of the church. People were eagerly sharing the message, and it sounds like the crowds were eager to hear it. It’s kind of hard to imagine someone today having this kind of success. At Texas A&M, different groups often come and preach, but very few people actually take them seriously. Rather, people who stop to listen mostly just question their ideologies and try to tear them down. I think there are plenty of people who are Christians, especially at A&M, but not very many people are willing to stand up in public and proclaim their faith.

I think the world would be different if more people were willing to share their faith. That’s one thing I love about working with kids during the summer at Faith Camp. Our staff works hard to make sure the kids have fun and know that talking about God is an okay thing to do. Most of the kids are still young enough to not worry about peer pressure, and hopefully they haven’t experienced any kind of bullying or negative reactions to their faith. They just want to have fun, learn the stories, and share their faith with others.

Let us pray: Dear God, help us remember what it’s like to hear the message of Jesus with the faith of a child. Let us not be afraid to share our faith with others. Amen.

 

Acts 7:54-60

April 20, 2018

Throughout the Easter Season, the daily devotions have been written by members of Faith Lutheran Church. Today’s writer is John Lacy.

“When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.

“Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him.

Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.” Acts 7:54-60

Stephen had just finished preaching in the synagogue where he had fearlessly accused the members there of the same crime (blasphemy) that he was being accused of, and they were angry, angry enough to kill him.  Then, what happened to him very much parallels what happened at Christ’s crucifixion, even down to Christ’s prayer, “forgive them, for they know not what they do,” and Stephen’s “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Until now, I had not really associated this passage with the Easter story per se, but yet it surely is. Just as Christ’s crucifixion is really the necessary start of the true Easter story (ie. Christ’s Resurrection).  He had to die to live again.

This brought to mind one of my favorite gospel hymns, “Because He Lives.” (Written in the 1970’s by Bill and Gloria Gaither.)  The lines in the refrain “Because HE lives, All fear is gone, Because I know HE holds the future,” seem to fit Stephen’s situation exactly.

I’m writing this devotion on the day Billy Graham died, and a line from one of his sermons somewhat captures this idea. Graham once said “Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”

Today, most Christians are not martyred for proclaiming their belief in Jesus Christ and His resurrection. (Though some, in some parts of the world, indeed are).  So, let us be thankful that, “Life is worth the living, Because HE lives.”

Let us pray: Thank you Lord for Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, and thank you for martyrs such as Stephen.  Amen.

Acts 6:1-6

April 19, 2018

Throughout the Easter Season, the daily devotions have been written by members of Faith Lutheran Church. Today’s writer is Kate Faulkner.

“Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables. Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.”

What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.” Acts 6:1-6

In this passage, the twelve disciples choose seven men to lead the physical and social ministry of the growing church so that they can continue to focus on God’s word. The idea of discipleship was foreign to me for a long time. I assumed that disciples were only the guys that walked around with Jesus.

When I finally thought to look up the definition of disciple, it just said, “pupil, or student of a teacher.” I can definitely get behind the idea that I have a lot to learn from Jesus, but even then, the word disciple still felt a bit strange. How could I claim to be a student of Jesus? I felt far too inadequate to describe myself like that.

One night recently, I was watching a stand-up comedian speak about activism. He described the need to move forward together while embracing “imperfect allies.” The term imperfect allies immediately struck me—that is a disciple of Christ today.

I do not have to be perfect to follow Jesus. I do not have to always get it right to be a student of Jesus. But I do have to try. God asks all of us to find our gifts, our callings, our purposes, and go out into the world, filled with faith and the Holy Spirit, to use them. This can feel overwhelming. In order to make this tall order manageable, I started with an inventory of my gifts, and I began to pray about how those gifts can be put into use. As you reflect in this season, consider– what is God calling you to do?

Let us pray: God our Father, help us to find ways to turn our faith into action and use the gifts that you have given us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Acts 5:12-16

April 18, 2018

Throughout the Easter Season, the daily devotions have been written by members of Faith Lutheran Church. Today’s writer is Annika Becker.

“Now many signs and wonders were done among the people through the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. None of the rest dared to join them, but the people held them in high esteem. Yet more than ever believers were added to the Lord, great numbers of both men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on cots and mats, in order that Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he came by. A great number of people would also gather from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all cured.” Acts 5:12-16

Each year as the Houston Rodeo nears, there’s always a lot of excitement building up at our house as we plan which entertainer we want to see. The rule is that we all have to agree as a family. Sometimes it’s musicians we are familiar with, other times we end up with those we just know by reputation. Either way, it’s one of the few opportunities we have of seeing a celebrity perform “in real life.”

It is this kind of excitement and anticipation that I think about when I read these verses in Acts. I can see the people crowding around to see the apostles with the same eagerness. Some may be there out of hope, and others out of curiosity, but they all look for something from the experience. They were expecting “many signs and wonders” and they were not disappointed.

We see in verse 16 that the “sick and tormented by unclean spirits” were all miraculously cured. The healing done through the apostles was the attraction; the event that drew attention and gathered the crowd. More importantly, it served as an unmistakable demonstration of God’s healing power. A demonstration that was witnessed by many, who in turn will naturally want to share what they have seen with others so that “more than ever believers are added to the Lord.”

Let us pray: Dear God, we see your goodness all around us. Help us to be more willing to share this with others who may not yet see it. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Acts 4:32-37

April 17, 2018

Throughout the Easter Season, the daily devotions have been written by members of Faith Lutheran Church. Today’s writer is Evangeline Dai.

“Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”). He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.”  Acts 4:32-37

This property sharing story seems so much like Communism that it reminds me of the “People’s Commune” that took place in China in 1958. Without Christian faith as a foundation, many people work as little as possible but eat as much as possible. Without love and mercy, the governors oppressed people, together with the horrible rules, it terribly failed at last.

Inspired by the scriptures, many Christians have since tried to follow their example of having a  community of goods and common ownership. One Anabaptist group began a community of goods in 1528. By 1793, property had been made a “consecrated whole” in each Shaker community. Sir Thomas More described a fictional society of equality in economics, government and justice in his 1516 book “Utopia.” Karl Marx popularized the slogan “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” in 1875. However, the Bible only affirms “from each according to his ability” (Matthew 25:15), but not “to each according to his needs.”

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

A Chinese saying goes, “Money is just an external thing that is not part of your body, you were born without it, and you can’t bring it with you when you die.” And Jesus told us “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, … but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, … For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-20) After all, everything we have is from God’s work of creation.

Do you remember the five missional marks of Faith Lutheran Church? The 5th is “Faith Blesses – Extraordinary Generosity and Service.” So do not hesitate, hurry up and contribute your possessions, your abilities, and your time to God!

Let us pray: Dear Lord, thank you for teaching us to love one another and to offer what we have. We shall not only keep our possessions for our own use, but also to share with others especially those who are in need. Blessed be God, who is our bread; may all the world be clothed and fed. In the victorious Jesus’ name, Amen.