Archive for April, 2018

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.

 

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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.

Acts 4:7b-12

April 16, 2018

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

“By what power or by what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’

There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”  Acts 4:7b-12

The good act and healing performed by John and Peter, was done publicly, to a man who was overshadowed by a gate defined by beauty, in a time when they faced hate and an unprecedented eagerness to eradicate the name, Jesus Christ. Their message of salvation and healing through Jesus still rings true today.

How do we heal in our current state of affairs? My mom was one of nine. Every summer we gathered at my Grandmother’s house and oh was it glorious! We spent our days outside, climbing trees, walking to the corner store and making up new types of games. Around lunch time, our mothers would encourage us to walk across the street to the local high school for free lunch. I remember asking my mom and aunts to join us, but they never would. “Oh, no. You guys go together. It will be more fun that way,” they would say.  Either way, I loved it because it meant food that was not commonly found in our kitchen, different types of people and new experiences.

It wasn’t until several years later when I was in college, that I opened up the local Modesto Bee, and to my surprise read the headline, “Modesto High School Summer Feed the Homeless Lunch Program.” Go ahead, it’s okay to giggle. I can’t help but chuckle myself.

The thing is, I never felt like a homeless person eating lunch nor did I realize that we were sitting next to “the homeless.” They were just people. People who want to be seen regardless if you had silver, extra change, or some spare food. I often wonder if it was a miracle that was performed or if the man sitting by the gate was just finally acknowledged and welcomed into a relationship of love. How often to do we find ourselves buried in our own political views, opinions, smartphones, agendas, work, extracurricular activities and fail to see others?

Healing or salvation comes through Jesus. Jesus promises a Kingdom and the kingdom is here today in the people you pass everyday. In a country that’s divided on the political spectrum, I challenge you to go against the grain as Peter and John did. Lean on the foundation of your faith. If able, open your eyes, say hello, give a blessing, say a pray, give a warm embrace, smile and heal. Heal the hate and the injustice.

Let us pray: Jesus help me open my heart and act on my faith to build relationships and heal those around me through grace and love. Amen.

Acts 4:1-4

April 13, 2018

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

“While Peter and John were speaking to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came to them, much annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming that in Jesus there is the resurrection of the dead. So they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. But many of those who heard the word believed; and they numbered about five thousand.” Acts 4:1-4

Art museums all over the world are filled with centuries old paintings showing scenes from the Bible and countless images of Christ.  Old churches are covered in frescos, stained glass, tile mosaics, and statues of the life and death of Jesus.

People are visual – “A picture is worth a thousand words” and  “Seeing is believing” are common expressions.  But when we hear about something making the news, we immediately pull out our smart phones.  We need to see the words and look at the pictures to fully assimilate what we’re being told.

Now imagine hearing about the resurrection of the dead and believing it sight unseen!  What a miracle of the Holy Spirit!  What could happen in our faith lives if we allowed ourselves to be open to the unseen?

Let us pray: Dear Lord, let me hear you in my heart and encourage those who struggle to believe. Amen.

Acts 3:1-9

April 12, 2018

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

“One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o’clock in the afternoon. And a man lame from birth was being carried in. People would lay him daily at the gate of the temple called the Beautiful Gate so that he could ask for alms from those entering the temple. When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked them for alms. Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them.

But Peter said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. Jumping up, he stood and began to walk, and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. All the people saw him walking and praising God,” Acts 3:1-9

Do you remember the Sunday school song based on this text?  I remember being a little bit nervous that someone would see my clumsiness when we came to the “walking and leaping and praising God” part.  Peter says, “Look at us,” as if to say, “Look how we’re dressed; we’re also poor—but we have something better for you.”  Recall Jesus telling Peter and the apostles, “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these.” (John 14:12)

Note that Peter takes the man by the right hand to help him up.  This is no impersonal event, but a hands-on act of miraculous healing.  Many people of Faith Lutheran work in the healing professions, and they have had a hand in the still-miraculous healing of persons with once-deadly diseases.  They have studied long and practiced diligently, working with others past and present, to perform hands-on healing miracles.  Like Peter, they do not point to themselves to say how great they themselves are, but point instead to Jesus, to other colleagues, to their educators and mentors, all of whom have collaborated to give a cancer-free diagnosis, to repair a damaged heart, or to correct a congenital defect within the womb.

The healed man responds by entering the Temple with unbridled joy, walking, leaping, and praising God, not caring who watches, laughs, or criticizes.  May our praise of God be like his, unafraid, thankful and free.  May our lives be living testimonies to what we have seen and heard—the goodness and mercy of God.

Let us pray: Gracious and loving God, remind us, though the results may not be immediate, that loving you and serving others is our grateful, honest response to all you have done for us.  Remind us to be involved, sometimes physically, in the lives of all your children who cry to you and to us for help.  We may not have silver or gold, but we do have your life-changing love within us.  Help us to make it real in others’ lives.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Acts 2:43-47

April 11, 2018

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

“Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” Acts 2:43-47

How appropriate that I sit down to write this devotion after a morning serving on Faith’s Christian Community Service Center – Southwest Food Pantry Team.  Today we distributed a trailer-load of fresh food from the Houston Food Bank.

I serve as an interviewer. That means I get to talk to clients about their family relationships and health and financial struggles. Some families come every month like clockwork, relying on the pantry for their ongoing needs. Some come only occasionally, between times of regular employment. Some are seniors on fixed incomes. Some are homeless. Many are struggling to support extended families including grandchildren and adult relatives. Many first-timers tell us they’ve lost homes or jobs to Hurricane Harvey.

The pantry clients that touch me most deeply are those who are new to this country. They are amazed to learn that 40+ Christian churches come together to generously provide food and other services to all in need, regardless of their language, religion, country of origin, or even the ability to write their name. They are relieved that we don’t check residency status. The Holy Spirit is not concerned with international boundary lines or language barriers.

On Food Fair days we see lots of new faces, but today was different from most. Early in the morning, a couple of Afghani women from a nearby apartment complex came over with their children. Though the women spoke only Pashto, we were able to communicate with them in sort of a universal sign language to complete a bit of paperwork and they joined the food line. That first group walked home, arms laden with fresh fruit and vegetables. They started spreading the word to their neighbors that the Christians across the road were offering free food, and soon a steady stream of grateful Afghani mothers and children began appearing at our table. One of the women who spoke a little English told me she and her family had been in the USA just one month. She was overwhelmed by the welcome she was receiving.

What a blessing it is for those of us who have so much to come together to provide for the newcomers and needy among us, just as the early Christians did.

Let us pray: Heavenly Father, creator and provider of all, we are blessed beyond measure. We thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit that compels us to look beyond ourselves and our own households and consider the needs of the strangers among us. Thank you for the gift of neighbors from near and far who teach it is as much a humbling experience to give as to receive. Amen.

Acts 2:37-39

April 10, 2018

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

“Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” Acts 2:37-39

Learning to say sorry for mistakes and trying to make up for them is an important part of life. So is forgiveness. Back when I was still in elementary and my sister was in preschool, I had a favorite shirt that I absolutely loved. Because she didn’t know any better, my sister cut up the shirt because she wanted to use it as a dress for her doll. I was devastated that my shirt was ruined and threw a giant fit. My sister tried (with my mom’s help) to make it up to me, but I didn’t want to accept her apology. It took a while, but eventually, I realized that no matter how much I loved my shirt, I valued my relationship with my sister more. I forgave her for her unintentional mistake.

The people in this story had a big mistake to make up for: they had sent Jesus to be crucified. When Peter told them that they had to repent and be baptized to be forgiven and receive the Holy Spirit, everyone was relieved. This statement from Peter is very comforting to think about. God is a lot more forgiving than a fourth grader who had her favorite shirt destroyed. He wants the best for all of us. These verses are just another reminder of how great His mercy is.

Let us pray: Lord please forgive us for wrongdoings we have committed towards others, ourselves, and You, both intentional and unintentional. We pray that we can be more considerate of others and that we can spread the word of your mercy and love and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit through our belief in You. In your name we pray, Amen.