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.

 

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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.

Acts 9:36-43

May 3, 2018

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

“Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs.

Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them.

 Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.” Acts 9:36-43

I did not have a positive reaction to this text the first time I read it. First, we don’t know much about Tabitha, except that apparently, she was a good person and well liked, but she got sick and died. When Peter arrives, he is surrounded by widows, who are weeping and grieving over the loss of Tabitha. They admired her so much that they showed off her fine seamstress accomplishments. Then Peter asks everyone to leave, and after praying, Tabitha is raised from the dead. Just like that.

Maybe I’m too sensitive. Maybe I’m skeptical. I’ve been widowed for three years now, and in the span of just one month this past summer, I lost both my grandmother and my father. I haven’t had one glimpse of hope that my loved ones will be raised from the dead. So, what am I to think about this text?

Well, if I’ve learned anything about grief, it’s that you don’t do it alone (or at least you shouldn’t). I’ve had lots of people show up in my life, just like the widows in this text, to grieve with me and help me keep going. And now I am much more aware of being sensitive to grief in other people’s lives.

As Christians, we are called to walk together. To care for the sick and lonely. And I feel that in my life every day. When I come to church, I know there will always be someone willing to sit with me if I don’t want to sit alone. And if I’m having a bad day, and shed some tears during the service, inevitably there’s someone near to give a hug and a word of encouragement.

So, do I believe in miracles? Absolutely! But I’ve come to realize that most miracles today aren’t the grand gestures we might hope for, but they happen every day in small acts of kindness and love. And I hold on to the hope that one day, we will all get to experience heaven, and then I will be reunited with the loved ones that I miss so much.

Let us pray: Lord, we don’t always react the way you would want us to. Help us to see beyond our own pain and wants in life, to the life that you would have us live. Help us to be present with those in need. And, when we are the ones hurting, teach us to reach out for help and be willing to be loved by those who do so in your name. Let us love one another, as you have loved us. In Jesus, name. Amen.

 

Acts 9:23-30

May 2, 2018

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

“After some time had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him, but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night so that they might kill him; but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket. When he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples; and they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him, brought him to the apostles, and described for them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken boldly in the name of Jesus.

So he went in and out among them in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. He spoke and argued with the Hellenists; but they were attempting to kill him. When the believers learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.”  Acts 9:23-30

In this passage of Scripture, we see Saul just after his encounter with Jesus in a vision – the encounter where Jesus famously says, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Earlier in this chapter, before the miraculous vision Saul has, he was threatening to seize and even murder the followers of Jesus.

Understandably, as Saul made his way to Jerusalem, the disciples were afraid of him because of all the terrible rumors they had heard about him. The disciples didn’t realize, however, that Saul was a changed man. Thankfully, one of the disciples named Barnabas was willing to look past the rumors and give Saul a chance.

I love how Barnabas saw something in Saul that the other disciples in Jerusalem didn’t see immediately. Despite the fact that Saul was formerly a fervent persecutor of the church and even a terrorist of sorts, Barnabas’ initial willingness to trust Saul is perhaps one of the main catapults that launched the great apostle to become one of the prominent figures of the early church.

In the book of 1 Samuel, we hear the Lord say to Samuel, “The Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). I would not be surprised if Barnabas was thinking about these words when he was willing to give Saul a chance.

How often do we make superficial judgments about others because of their race, gender, social status, or even their past? We all have a past, and we all have certain labels that are attributed to us through no fault of our own. Obviously, we do not choose the race, gender, or social class we are born into. And while we have certainly made some poor decisions in our past, hopefully we have repented and moved forward, just like Saul did.

Let us pray: Lord Jesus, may we show mercy to others as you have shown mercy to us, in spite of our sin and our shortcomings. Help us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Amen.

Acts 9:19b-22

May 1, 2018

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

“For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” All who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem among those who invoked this name? And has he not come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?” Saul became increasingly more powerful and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Messiah.” Acts 9:19b-22

Prior to this verse in Acts, Saul had converted to a Christian and had begun to become the Apostle Paul. We see this through his proclamation that Jesus is the son of God and his willingness to prove that when he was challenged. Paul has had an encounter with Jesus and had just become a Christian.

Although Paul has not yet experienced much of the Christian faith, he is sharing with the people what he knows to be true from his encounter with Jesus and the enlightenment it has brought him. We see through Paul’s willingness to proclaim Jesus as the son of God, that he is willing to learn and continue to grow in his journey of Christianity.

Our life in the faith of Christianity is a journey, we don’t always know the answers to why something happens or even how it happened, but we trust in God that it will turn out to be ok and that we will learn from the experiences we have. Paul’s trust in Jesus and willingness to follow him regardless of his lack of answers exemplifies what we as people of God do everyday.

Acts tells us in this chapter that God can take enemies and transform them into a powerful advocate. Before becoming a Christian himself, Paul persecuted Christians, but then turned out to be a person to spread the Gospel to the world. The conversion of Saul to the Apostle Paul reminds us that nothing is impossible from our God.

Let us pray: Heavenly Father, help us to remember as we grow in our faith, through you, nothing is impossible. Amen.