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.

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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.

Acts 2:1-4

April 9, 2018

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

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” Acts 2:1-4

What a miracle!  Imagine that you are in that room and suddenly you (and all those around you) are able to communicate and understand using all different languages.  Now, imagine you are three years old and you just moved away from your home to a new city, state, or country,  and your parents are bringing you to a new school where you don’t understand the language and you can’t communicate your wants and needs.  Sounds frightening, doesn’t it?  The miracle in this situation is that in only a few weeks, this child is understanding and speaking a new language!  I absolutely know that God is here with this child.

Sometimes I think about the story of Pentecost when I welcome the new, non-English-speaking children to the Day School.  Right away, they start learning about God when they attend our school.  Even though the stories are not told in their language, soon enough the Holy Spirit comes to them in the language of love.  Perhaps the people in that room long ago may have had some of the same trepidation as our new students until the Holy Spirit came upon them.

In both scenarios, God has sent the Holy Spirit to be among us, comforting, encouraging and teaching us all to spread the message of God’s love.

Let us pray: Heavenly Father, thank you for your gift of the Holy Spirit.  Please help us to recognize the many glimpses of You that surround us.  Amen.

Acts 1:21-26

April 6, 2018

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

So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection. So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles. Acts 1:21-26

This passage of scripture picks up after Judas is no longer an apostle, so there is a spot open that needs to be filled. In the grand scheme of the Bible 11 is not a holy number, and the disciples must strive to remain 12 in number so that they can be a whole number. Therefore, Peter establishes the essential criteria for the person who will replace Judas as an apostle.

The criteria was he must have been an active disciple from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (his baptism) to the end (his ascension). There were two options to pick from so the disciples decided to cast lots.

Casting lots was a process of divination by which participants sought God’s guidance with regard to important decisions or problems.

The overall message of this scripture is that they prayed to the Lord for guidance when they were unsure what they should do. When the disciples had questions and doubts on their next course of action, they did the one thing they knew is possible at all times of the day – pray.

Prayer is something you can do no matter what is happening or where you are. The disciples prayed to the Lord when they were incomplete and as a result he helped the disciples through their problem. I think this can be applied to all of our lives. When we feel incomplete in any facet all we need to do is pray, and the Lord can help us through that problem.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, You, who know the hearts of all men, can help us all to take part in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas fell away. Please be with us as we continue our journey through your love. Amen.

Acts 1:12-14

April 5, 2018

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

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers. Acts 1:12-14

One of my favorite part of going to church every Sunday is to pray with all my brothers and sisters in Christ, just as what the disciples did after they returned to Jerusalem, waiting for the Spirit’s promised coming.  They had not been commanded by the Lord to pray. They were only asked to wait. However, they were all engaged and united in prayer because they learned to pray by looking at the prayer life of Jesus.

Jesus provided his disciples with enough guidance on how to pray alone, and how to pray with others, as well as being persistent in prayer. This is the example that I continue to learn from.

In praying, I see and I feel the power of prayer. It is the power of God, who hears and answers prayer. In praying, I build my love relationship with Jesus. I have conversations with Jesus every day in my prayer.  I carry to God my worries and my sorrows. I ask God to guide me when I come upon important decisions. I thank God for giving me the strength to win the battle against various temptations.

My son, a very inquisitive five-year-old, has been constantly praying to God since he became a Christian one year ago. He turns all his little thoughts and worries to God. I sense his calmness after he talks to God, just as I did. Prayer is powerful and should never be underestimated. God listens, God answers and God responds to prayer. I’m so thankful to be a Christian and realize the importance and power of prayer.

Let us pray: Father, I come to you to give thanks for giving me direction in my prayer life. And at this very moment I ask that you continue to guide me in ways that only you can do. In Jesus name…Amen.

Acts 1: 6-8

April 4, 2018

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

“So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”  He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or the periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you shall 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.“ Acts 1: 6-8

At this time the disciples were expecting an earthly king, not a heavenly king so they wanted Jesus to take action.

As believers we are called to be Jesus’ witnesses wherever we are, by telling others that God the Father loves us so much that He gave His only Son to die for our transgressions so that we might have everlasting life.

We can witness by inviting friends, neighbors or even strangers to come visit our church.  Welcome them, introduce them to fellow members, tell them about our learning groups and outreach ministries. Through our deeds of love and kindness they will see what it means to be a child of God and walk in His ways.

There are so many wonderful hymns.  Two of my favorites are “Amazing Grace” and “I love To Tell the Story”.  I do love to tell the story and have been sharing it for many years with the little children I have taught in Sunday School.  Children love to sing, and as I was writing this, a song they learned came to mind – “The Whole World Ought to Know About Jesus.”

We’re never too young or too old to witness.  They will know we are Christians by our love.

Let us pray: Heavenly Father, Being your witness is not always easy. We want to tell others about your amazing love but there are times when we are fearful and feel inadequate.  Help us to be bold and give us the courage to share our faith with others.  Amen.

Acts 1:1-5

April 3, 2018

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

In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” Acts 1:1-5

This is the introduction to Luke’s second book, Acts.  His first book is the Gospel of Luke.  Both books are written for “Theophilus” perhaps a new initiate to the faith since Theophilus means “one who loves God.”  Luke’s stated purpose in writing the Gospel of Luke was to chronicle a carefully researched account of the life and ministry of Jesus.

Luke ends with Jesus leading his disciples out to the vicinity of Bethany where he blesses them.  “While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.” (Lk. 24:52)

The book of Acts takes up where the first book leaves off with Jesus’ disciples returning to Jerusalem, as Jesus had commanded, to wait for the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  Acts is the chronicle of a small band of believers, empowered by the Holy Spirit, continuing the work Jesus had assigned them.  “…repentance and forgiveness will be preached in [my] name to all nations beginning at Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.”  (Lk. 24:45-48)

In the remaining chapters and verses of Acts we follow them as they quickly begin to grow and establish the church.  We meet heroes of this movement as they persist despite hardships and persecution.  Luke’s second book ends with Paul telling the leaders of the Jews that the word of God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles “and they will listen.”

And now a sequel is being written—not by Luke, but by those who came after including saints like Martin Luther, Dietrich Bonhoeffer,  Corrie ten Boom, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and many more.  Such a book would include many lesser known saints, witnesses to all that God has promised and to the love and provisions and mercy of God—witnesses like you and me.

Let us pray:  Oh God, fill us with your Holy Spirit.  Show us how to love and serve all those to whom you send us.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

 

Acts 4:16-20

April 2, 2018

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

They said, “What will we do with them? For it is obvious to all who live in Jerusalem that a notable sign has been done through them; we cannot deny it. But to keep it from spreading further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” So they called them and ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Acts 4:16-20

This text begins with the high priests and elders in Jerusalem conferring about how to handle Peter and John after they have been healing and teaching in the name of Jesus.  The response of the powerful is predictable: they try to silence and contain the Jesus movement, even as they cannot deny the miracles being performed in His name.  It is the response of Peter and John that strikes me here: they stand up to the elders and refuse to be silenced.

Yes, these are the same disciples who scattered and hid when Jesus was arrested, unwilling to stand with Him in His time of need.  Yes, this is the same Peter who denied Jesus three times on the night He was betrayed, refusing to even acknowledge Jesus.  How much their faith has grown, how certain they are of their calling, on the other side of the cross.

While these Biblical times can seem distant and remote to us, are they really?  Are we not still confronted with societal pressures today to keep silent about our faith and deny the true power of Jesus and the cross?  How do we respond?  Do we scatter and run like the disciples on the eve of the crucifixion?  Do we remain quiet about our faith life, keeping religion in church on Sunday and going about the rest of our week like any non-believer?  Do we conform to the expectations of our day, following in the secular path our society cuts for us?

Or have we seen the risen Lord and do we respond, “we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard”?

Friends, if you, like me, have acted more like the scattering disciples, take heart in the power of the cross.  Take heart that even the disciples who lived and followed Jesus scattered; but that was not the end of their story.  Jesus was not done with them, and He rose to return to them and guide their paths.  Let us allow Jesus to act in our lives, let us be open to His call.

We may not be called to perform miracles or confront the powerful of our times, but we may be called for equally important tasks.  We may be called to befriend the lonely, to invite a neighbor to church, to start a ministry for the hungry, or to sing in the choir.  These are all important jobs in the kingdom, as we spread the word of God’s love.  So friends, be open to the call and look for God’s path.  I believe it is there waiting for us all.

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, continue to come to us, as You came to Peter and John. Embolden us to speak what we know to be true of You and your love for us all.  Guide us as we seek to follow your will, and help us be passionate in telling others of your love.  In your name we pray.  Amen.

Matthew 24:45-51

March 27, 2018

“Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions.

But if that wicked slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ and he begins to beat his fellow slaves, and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know. He will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Matthew 24:45-51

In the church we call this week, the week before Easter, Holy Week. Together we remember the events of the last week of Jesus’ earthly life. Today, Tuesday, we remember him teaching in the temple in Jerusalem.

Who was there to listen? Visitors from all over. People whose lives had long included regular trips to Jerusalem for various religious festivals. People there perhaps for the first time. Jews, of course, but also Gentile traders, many doing brisk business in and around the temple. And, also of course, the religious leaders. The lawyers (the scribes), the pastors (the Pharisees), the priests (the Sadducees), the opportunists (the Herodians). And the Roman guards who corralled the crowds and kept the peace.

Each, it seems to me, would have heard these words of Jesus in their own circles of influence. Each had a daily calling they could use to do good or to only serve themselves.

We all know the difference between following our daily callings in the best interests of those we serve or in using our daily work only to serve ourselves. Jesus applauds and encourages the former and he harshly criticizes the latter. One is blessed, the other cursed. Eventually.

And that is the word that hangs in the air. Eventually. Because, for the time being, in the real world, the self-serving types are the ones who succeed, who advance, who make their mark. The scribes who twist the words of scripture to justify anything. The Pharisees who use religion to manipulate and control people with demands that they themselves cannot fulfill. The Sadducees who treat the temple as their own personal piggy bank. The Roman guards who treat their charges like animals to be threatened, harassed, and tamed rather than human beings who deserve respect, safety, and freedom.

That is the world then. How does the world today look? Have we really come as far as we think we have? Are we as enlightened, educated, and sophisticated as we imagine ourselves?

By the end of the week, it is going to look like the powerful win. Jesus, their agitator, will be safely in the tomb. The crowds will thin. The temple will empty. Business will go on like usual without that pesky religious/political/social reformer stirring up trouble. Just about everyone will go to sleep peacefully.

But just wait until Sunday morning….

Let us pray: Dear Lord, you call each of us to serve our neighbor in our daily lives, in our daily callings, in the places where we live our lives. Help us serve well. To love our neighbor. To practice justice, to live with integrity, to serve humbly. And in that, to be your hands and feet in the world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.