Archive for May, 2018

Acts 20: 17-24

May 18, 2018

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

“From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church. When the arrived, he said to them: “You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. I served the Lord with great humility and with tears and in the midst of severe testing by the plots of my Jewish opponents. You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.

“And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me — the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” Acts 20: 17-24

It seems as if I were sitting with the group of elders in front of Paul when reading this passage of Scripture, I can feel the fruit of the Holy Spirit – joy and long-suffering, from the bottom of his heart through his words. Because Paul had met the resurrected Jesus and had strong faith that the judgment of God and the kingdom of God would eventually come, he could discern and enjoy the joy from sufferings in the real world.

Joy does not mean feeling happy all the time or with everything, on the contrary, suffering and pain often accompany with us for most of the time and contribute to achieve the final joy. Then, what can we do? The answer is – What would Jesus do?

Since we could find guidelines in God’s words through the Holy Bible, we need to confess and focus on refreshing ourselves, and do everything under the guidance of God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. At the same time, pray for others and pray for the coming of the kingdom of God. Thus, others will notice the image of God inside you and they will be attracted by God. We will have fulfilled the way of delivering Gospel from God via both actions and words, just like Jesus Christ and Paul did two thousand years ago. Finally, we will gain more fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Let us Pray: Our heavenly father, please give us strength and courage to overcome each temptation and suffering. Give us wisdom while delivering your Gospel and love to the world. With your guidance, we’re filled with joy. In your name we pray, Amen!

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Acts 18:24-28

May 17, 2018

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

“Now there came to Ephesus a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria. He was an eloquent man, well-versed in the scriptures. He had been instructed in the Way of the Lord; and he spoke with burning enthusiasm and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the Way of God to him more accurately. And when he wished to cross over to Achaia, the believers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. On his arrival he greatly helped those who through grace had become believers, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the scriptures that the Messiah is Jesus.”   Acts 18:24-28

I picture Apollos as being the young, college grad type who goes around sharing his knowledge of the Messiah with the uneducated masses. Apollos was from Alexandria, which was the second largest city in the Roman Empire. Alexandria’s library was the largest in the world at the time. Before being destroyed by fire, it contained 700,000 scrolls. Apollos was an educated Jew. I suspect he had the equivalent of a masters degree. Because Apollos had the gift of eloquence, he could take old scriptures and breathe new life into them by articulating them so well.

As a scholar, I think Apollos found for himself what the scripture told of the coming Messiah. The suffering servant coming to bring redemption. It seems Apollos had ample credentials, passion and energy to be a missionary to the Jews.  He used the scriptures to prove Jesus Christ was the Messiah. Apollos spoke boldly in the synagogue, though he primarily knew only the baptism of John . When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more completely. While Priscilla and Aquila may have felt inferior, they never let the intellectual differences between them and Apollos prevent them from having a fuller understanding of God.

I believe everyone who hears and accepts the good news of Jesus Christ is qualified to share what they know with anyone. Christians should always maintain a teachable spirit. No matter how much formal education or experience one has, there is always something new to learn.

Let us pray: God, through your only-begotten Son, you have overcome death on this day and have opened unto us the gate of everlasting life. Bless us to pursue, with your aid, the good resolves you have inspired, and by your constant help make them eternally effective. Through the same Jesus Christ, your Son, who is living and reigning forever and ever. Amen.

Acts 16:25-34

May 16, 2018

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

“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.”

The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.

At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.” Acts 16:25-34

It is amazing how God’s timing can be so relevant in our lives.  Upon receiving a request to do an Easter devotional from John Vickery, we had just returned from visiting a falsely accused Faith Choir member in prison.  He also leads prayer with other prisoners as Paul and Silas were doing.  Unfortunately, there have not been any earthquakes in Teague, Texas to open all the doors of the Boyd Unit.

This passage is the story of a prison release, but more importantly, of the conversion of a jailer who asks what he must do to be saved.  Paul and Silas tell him to “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”  After cleaning their wounds, the jailer and his family were baptized and the jailer became a believer in God.  As we journey through the season of Easter, we look forward to our release through forgiveness with our resurrected Lord.

Let us pray: Our heavenly Father, thank you for our release from the prison of sin through your Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Acts 15:6-11

May 15, 2018

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

“The apostles and the elders met together to consider the matter.  After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “My brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that I should be the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the message of the good news and become believers.  And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us. 

Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither out ancestors nor we have been able to bear?  On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” Acts 15:6-11

Each day in the news or on social media, there always seems to be someone, or some group that feels that they are better than another – a “them vs. us” world. This was also true in the early days of the Christian church, when Gentiles were being actively converted to the Christian faith.

In this chapter of Acts, a certain group from Antioch was trying to impose rules that would make it difficult for Gentiles to join the church. They argued that Gentiles could not become Christians unless they accepted certain Jewish laws, such as circumcision.  So Paul and Barnabas, and other believers, were sent to Jerusalem, to remind the elders of God’s promise, to make disciples of all people.  “We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are”.

Paul and Barnabas told them of the signs and wonders that God had done among the Gentiles, declaring it as proof of God’s love and acceptance. In a world which often seems filled with negative forces that seek to divide us, let us always remember the all-inclusive strength and power of God’s love and mercy.

Let us pray: Heavenly Father, never let us forget that we are all God’s children.  Help us to reach out and embrace all people, sharing the message of love that comes from the Holy Spirit and our dear Savior, Jesus Christ. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Acts 10:39-43

May 11, 2018

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

“We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” Acts 10:39-43

Earlier in Acts 10, we read that Peter and the centurion Cornelius had prayed and received visions. Because they both took action (praying, listening, acting on the visions), then Peter had the opportunity to tell Cornelius and his family and friends what he had seen and heard. Peter was an eye witness, and he tells of Jesus’s healing acts, His suffering, resurrection, and His appearances to the disciples. Peter tells of being commanded by Jesus to testify that everyone may receive forgiveness of sins through His name.

Cornelius’s group is familiar with the words of the prophets, and now they hear that those prophecies are fulfilled. What a powerful new message Peter has for them, that by believing in Jesus they receive forgiveness in His name.

Fast forward to now, most people we encounter in our daily lives have already heard of Jesus in some way. But what have they actually seen and heard from the world about Jesus? What have they seen or heard from me?

I am reminded of the song lyrics – “this little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.” I can practice kindness and service with those that God puts in my path. The sharing of my faith in words is harder to do. I can pray for boldness on that.

Let us pray: Dear God, thank you for the message of forgiveness we can share. Help us to be a blessing to others. Give us courage to share our faith story with those You send our way. Amen.

Acts 10:30-33

May 10, 2018

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

“Cornelius replied, “Four days ago at this very hour, at three o’clock, I was praying in my house when suddenly a man in dazzling clothes stood before me. He said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon, who is called Peter; he is staying in the home of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.’ Therefore I sent for you immediately, and you have been kind enough to come. So now all of us are here in the presence of God to listen to all that the Lord has commanded you to say.” Acts 10:30-33

“Your prayer has been heard.” If only we had an angel appear to us and confirm that God was indeed listening every time we bring our struggles and sorrows. Unfortunately, precious few of us have been blessed with such a clear sign of God’s presence as Cornelius was in this passage. Often, the most challenging times of our lives are those moments when God just doesn’t seem to hear us.

Our need to be assured of God receiving our petitions is ingrained in our liturgy when we ask “Lord, hear our prayers.” But how do we know that our prayers have been heard?

In the larger context of this story in Acts, a small community of believers, Peter and some other Jewish Christians, meet Cornelius and his Gentile associates in fellowship. The Holy Spirit comes and unites this diverse group of people in faith in Jesus in response to Cornelius’s prayers. How many times has an answer to your prayers come in the form of God sending a fellow believer to comfort and console you in your time of need? In Christian community, God provides us the answers that the world fails to give.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, Thank you for hearing our prayers, and thank you for sending people into our lives in response to our supplications. Help us to tell others about the ways in which you have made a difference in our lives. Amen.

Acts 10:23b-29

May 9, 2018

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

“The next day he got up and went with them, and some of the believers from Joppa accompanied him. The following day they came to Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. On Peter’s arrival Cornelius met him, and falling at his feet, worshiped him. But Peter made him get up, saying, “Stand up; I am only a mortal.”

 And as he talked with him, he went in and found that many had assembled; and he said to them, “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. Now may I ask why you sent for me?” Acts 10:23b-29

This passage clearly builds off of the message of “tell them what you saw.” In the text, Peter travels to another land to meet a gentile who had called for him. As the text highlights, during this time it would have been unlawful for a Jew like Peter to associate with a gentile like Cornelius. However, Peter lived his life as Jesus had shown and commanded.

Peter was not bound by the laws of men, rather he was bound by the will and the love of God. Peter lived his life as a testament to the Jesus he had come to know and love as a disciple. Peter lived his life to spread the good news, and to “tell others what he saw,” even when that meant associating with an “unclean gentile.”

This is how God calls us to live our lives. We are called to be examples of God’s radical love personified to the world. We are called to live our lives spreading the good news and telling everyone what we have seen. We do this by living out the love of God in our everyday lives, and Easter is as good a time as any to reflect on the selfless love of a father sending his son to die for the sins of the world. As such it is our mission to tell them what we have seen, and live our lives rejoicing.

Let us pray: Dear God, please help us to live out your example in our daily lives. Help us live as you would want, spending our lives spreading the good news of Jesus to everyone, not just where it is easy. Make us strong in faith and bless us in this Easter season. Amen

Acts 10:17-23a

May 8, 2018

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

“Now while Peter was greatly puzzled about what to make of the vision that he had seen, suddenly the men sent by Cornelius appeared. They were asking for Simon’s house and were standing by the gate. They called out to ask whether Simon, who was called Peter, was staying there.

While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Look, three men are searching for you. Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation; for I have sent them.”

So Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for your coming?” They answered, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.” So Peter invited them in and gave them lodging.” Acts 10:17-23a

The timing of Peter’s visions in Acts 10 are of incredible importance. At the time, Jews were prohibited by law from associating with Gentiles. If it wasn’t for the vision and instructions to leave with the strangers, Peter may have allowed prejudice or fear to control him. Instead, Peter obeyed, and the house of Cornelius was baptized after hearing of the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

God’s timing is perfect. God provides us with the lessons, experiences, or hardships that we need to grow. God puts us in front of the right people at the right time to either give or receive what is needed. Our purpose at that moment may vary. We may be called to share the news of God’s grace, provide a helping hand for someone in need, or to just hear what someone has to say at that particular moment. No matter what God is calling us to do, that purpose is always significant in ways we may never understand. God knows what we need and when we need it.

So, we must remain open-minded to what God wants from us. We must recognize the gifts and opportunities God has provided us. Have faith and step out of your comfort zone. Do not let your opinions or fears prevent you from sharing or receiving what God has planned. God has not made one person all-knowing or gifted enough to survive alone. We are all children of God, and we need each other.

Let us pray: Father, please help us make the most of the opportunities and gifts you have given us. Give us the strength to be courageous in doing your work and unbiased in sharing your grace and love with others. Amen.

Acts 10:9-16

May 7, 2018

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

“About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds.

Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back into heaven. Acts 10:9-16

When reading a passage of scripture, there are key words and phrases that stand out and really make the scripture more than the sum of its parts.  Reflecting over this passage, the words that really stuck out were the ones delivered to Peter from the voice of God, saying, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”

In my opinion, this scripture can really be boiled down to these ten powerful words. Because you see, everything beforehand serves as a form of contextualization, a way of setting up the true message found at the end of the passage that was important when it was delivered, and is applicable now and forever.

I feel that we as humans have a bad habit of judging things or people that are different than us, under the pretenses that they are “unclean,” “profane,” or whatever other labels we give them. However, judging people or deeming who or what is acceptable is simply not our job. Many people have heard or used the catchphrase “only God can judge me,” which is an important phrase. But the reverse is equally true and that is “only God can judge the people who are not like me.” Everything God has created is beautifully and wonderfully made and we as God’s people have to know that it is not us that determines what is “clean” or “profane” but instead it’s God’s.

Let us pray: Lord, help us look beyond our personal judgements of what is right and wrong, or clean and unclean. Give us the strength and courage to trust in you and in your creation. Help us reach out to others and spread your love. In your name we pray, Amen.

Acts 10:1-8

May 4, 2018

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

“In Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Cohort, as it was called. He was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God. One afternoon at about three o’clock he had a vision in which he clearly saw an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius.” He stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” He answered, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa for a certain Simon who is called Peter; he is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the seaside.”

When the angel who spoke to him had left, he called two of his slaves and a devout soldier from the ranks of those who served him, and after telling them everything, he sent them to Joppa.”  Acts 10:1-8

Jesus says, “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” (Matthew 7:7) Cornelius, a Gentile and a Roman centurion, kept asking, searching, and knocking on the door for years. At last, his prayers had been answered on God’s timing. Through a miraculous dream, the angel of God made a plan to connect Cornelius to Apostle Peter, who later came to the house of Cornelius and baptized him and his whole household. This event was one of the church’s earliest missionary efforts to the Gentiles. It demonstrated in a powerful way that God shows no partiality, that the plan of God’s salvation is designed for people of all races and social status.

Faith Chinese Fellowship is Faith’s outreach ministry to the Chinese. Many attendees of Faith Chinese Worship hear the story of Jesus Christ for the first time. Some of them are baptized and become faithful followers of Jesus Christ. In a very real sense, the story of Cornelius meeting Peter is reenacted here at the corner of Ave B and Bellaire Blvd every Sunday and throughout the week.

All English speakers and Chinese speakers of Faith Lutheran are participants in God’s unfolding story of making all things new. Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: Gracious and loving God, purge me of prejudices against those whom I do not know.  Help me to reach out to strangers with the love you have shown to me. In Jesus’ name. Amen.