Discovering Spiritual Truths & Celebrating God's Grace in the Every Day Happenings of Life.
Today’s devotion is from Lutheran Hour Ministries, their devotio from 1/25/22. It is a reflection on our upcoming Old Testament reading from Jeremiah for this Sunday. Take a few extra minutes to follow the link and read the scripture. It is a great, simple reminder to us all about the role we each play in the mission of the church. We are all loved, called, and sent. God is using every one of us to impact the world, to replicate the same love that He gives to us.
Jeremiah was nervous when God called him to be His prophet. "I don't know how to speak," he said. "I'm just a youth." Jeremiah was right—he wasn't up to the job, and he knew it. So far, so true. But he missed one thing—and God pointed it out. "I have put My words in your mouth," God said. It's as if God said, "Don't worry. It's not about you. It's about Me. You don't have to be smart enough or strong enough or good enough. I have put My words in your mouth, and they will do the job." And they did. Jeremiah spent the rest of his life speaking God's Word to the people. He did the job God had for him.
God has called you, too, to certain jobs. They may not be flashy jobs like being a prophet. More likely they are humble jobs—being a parent, a child, a spouse, a friend. You may be a caregiver, an encourager, a pray-er, a protector. You may even think that you have no job at all, because at this point in your life your role is mainly to receive care from others. But that's a job! And a hard one, at times.
What happens when you feel overwhelmed by your job, whatever it may be? You can turn to the same source of help Jeremiah did. "I have put My Word in your mouth," God said to him. "You aren't doing it alone." And to us He says, "I have put My Holy Spirit in your heart. You are not alone. I laid down My life at the cross to make you Mine, and I will not forsake you now. I will work through you, with all your faults and weaknesses, and I will bring glory to My Name."
Jesus never sends us out alone. He is always with us, and we can call on Him for help and strength and wisdom. Because He loves us and holds us up, we can do the difficult jobs we face—one step at a time, supported by Him.
“God's messengers come in all sizes, all colors, and all ages - male and female. We're all called to the ministry of reconciliation.” (Nan Jones)
Earlier this week an article was shared with me. It’s short and written for pastors, but the logic applies to us all. I’ll adapt it a bit, but I recommend you glance at it. You can find it here.
Go. Go. Go.
Run. Run. Run.
Busy. Busy. Busy.
Now that Christmas has long faded from the rearview mirror, we have likely settled back into some form of a work/school routine. But even with that return to a “normal” schedule, our lives have not necessarily slowed down. In fact, with the New Year we have also probably tried to start new habits and maintain workable resolutions that have unintentionally added more demands and more pressure. New professional goals at the office. The start of winter sports and activities in schools. Attempts to get healthy. As good and as enjoyable these things may be, they also often intensify the rat race we cannot seem to ever really get out of.
Today our rhythms of work and rest are broken. Hard work and independence are among the greatest virtues in many of our cultures. Rest is reduced to laziness. Laziness and dependence are seen as failures. We are encouraged to hustle and hurry, to keep pushing and driving until our hard work is rewarded with what we want.
Hectic. Tired. Stressed.
What is one to do?
Martin Luther talked often about rest and Sabbath, the importance of working hard but also balancing that with more recreational moments of life. He made sure to teach the value in taking time to enjoy a peaceful night’s sleep or a good Wittenberg beer in the company of good friends. The essence of the Sabbath is this: God wants to give you rest! He wants you to find rest in Jesus. Rest is good. It is God-ordained. It is necessary. Jesus himself said: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest…I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28, 29) Jesus is the heart and soul of the Sabbath! The word Sabbath literally means “rest.” This is Jesus telling you to slow down and rest in Him. Jesus declares that the only way to truly get rest in this crazy world, is to spend time time with Him.
Most importantly, Jesus wants you to rest from the hardest work of all. The work of trying to justify yourself. And that is hard work! And many people are engaged in the trade. We want to be justified. We want other people to justify us. We want people to declare, “That is a good man!” “That is a good woman!” And so we work to be called “good” people. People work and work and work to convince themselves they are “good people” before a fast-paced, ever-demanding world.
Friends, if that describes you even a little, take a break! Get some rest! Get some rest…in Jesus. Rest yourself in the Word of God, for that is where you find the beautiful good news of a God who loves you to the point of a cross and empty tomb. Come to worship, and find rest for yourself in the words of grace and in the sacraments of the church. Rest yourself at the altar and let Jesus do all the work, the work of serving you his given body and shed blood so that your soul can be at rest. There's nothing you need to do. No task to finish. Just simply be and let the God of all creation, come to you and take care of you. Imagine… Jesus works for you! Rest in that truth. Don’t allow your work—whatever that may be—to become an idol. Find a day, or even a few hours, where the time is holy, the time is different. Put away your phone, computer, and any other buzzing notifications in your life. Silence the rhythm of the busy world and listen to the rhythm of rest. Receive the rest Jesus gives you freely. Make room for rest; make room for play in your life.
“The spiritual rest which God especially intends in this commandment (3rd) is that we not only cease from our labor and trade but much more-that we let God alone work in us and that in all our powers do we do nothing of our own.” (Martin Luther)
Welcome to 2022.
What is your mindset heading into this New Year?
It is good to make personal goals—exercising more, eating healthier, reading more books. It is good to ponder and implement things that can better our lives and those of our families. But what about having a few spiritual goals of lasting value? Efforts with an eternal impact? To this end, I wanted to share two of the “goals” I have for our congregation as we head into this New Year: (1) to average 100 people weekly in worship; and (2) to add five new families to our membership. These goals provide an overarching challenge question to all of us here at King of Kings. How can we, as a church body, encourage people in their walk with Jesus and invite them into the spiritual life of our congregation? We as a congregation must do more than just exist in our community; we need to make a difference in it. We as people need to do more than just co-exist with the people around us; we need to be intentional in our relationships with them to share the love of Jesus.
Of course, these are not goals that I can achieve on my own. No pastor can. I need your help! We are, after all, a body of believers here in this place. God does call us to gather each week not just for our own spiritual nourishment, but to also equip and push us out into the world we live to bring the light of the Gospel of Jesus. Being forgiven and redeemed ourselves, we then walk alongside our Savior in His mission to seek and to save the lost. In other words, how can we shine the light of our faith wherever we go—at work, at home, at play?
After 10 long seasons, and the recent most four especially putrid seasons, the New York Football Giants have finally cleaned house. They got rid of their disastrous General Manager and fired their less-than-successful head coach. Listening to local sports radio the last two days, you can hear the renewed sense of optimism and hope among the represented long-suffering fanbase. People from all over are calling in to express how, for the first time in a long time, they’re excited about the direction of their favorite football team. Of course, there are no guarantees. This won’t be a quick-fix or immediate turn-around. But at least, there is a reason to think that things could improve. Now we wait to find out who the new group of leadership will be to (hopefully) lead the team into a new era of success—or at least give us one day above .500 (which hasn’t happened once in five years!).
Whether it is in their professional lives, their family relationships, or in the fandom of their favorite sports team, people of today are craving hope and good news. No one wants to see loss. This is true for everyone. Fortunately, within the Christian church, we have that in abundance to share! Even better, there is no waiting period or uncertainty in the church. The hope we have in Christ is as immediate as it is impactful. We know now that Jesus is alive and with us, that He will never leave us. This won’t ever change. A faithful pastor and evangelist once said of the church’s job in comparison to the world: “Let others talk about the bad news. We will share the good news.” Let it be so among us. Thus, the job of our church is defined and set before us. Our goal and our mission is clear: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matt. 28:19-20)
100 people each week in worship… will you be there?
5 new families… will you help me recruit?
“If we understand what lies ahead for those who do not know Christ, there will be a sense of urgency in our witness.” (David Jeremiah)
“His voice leads us not into timid discipleship but into bold witness.” (Charles Stanley)
Today is an oft-forgotten day in the church year: the Epiphany of Our Lord. But what does this mean? In December we celebrated Advent, a time where we look forward to Jesus’ coming—both on Christmas morning and on the Last Day. Now we move into the season of Epiphany. “Epiphany” means literally “to manifest or appear.” Epiphany is a word that communicates a sudden appearance or a showing forth. It is a word that communicates that something has been presented… that God has emphatically and incarnationally shown up into the very world He created. No more waiting. God is here, now and in the flesh. And although this season might not receive as much commercial (or religious) attention as Christmas, the church has been celebrating Epiphany since the 2nd century. Epiphany is one of the oldest seasons in the Christian Church Year, second only to Easter. This season of light emphasizes Jesus’ manifestation (or epiphany) as both God and man. When the Gentile magi come to worship Jesus, they show that everyone now has access to God. Now all people, Jew and Gentile, can come to God’s holy temple to worship because Jesus is the new temple: the Word made flesh.
The Epiphany season begins with the celebration of the visit of the Magi—an acknowledgement of the arrival of the Lord’s great King of kings. Throughout the season Epiphany stresses the “why” of Christmas. It is not enough to know about the birth of Jesus; this season declares that the reason for Christmas is God coming to reveal His great love and plan of salvation for you. All of the incredible stories emphasized throughout Epiphany season (the Magi, the Holy Innocents, Jesus in the temple, Jesus’ baptism, Transfiguration) remind us that the Almighty and powerful Creator of the world steps down from His lofty throne as an act of compassion and mercy. Epiphany essentially sets the stage for the Lent. He comes down to redeems us. He comes down to showcase His love.
That’s why today is an important day. Epiphany reminds us that Jesus comes for everyone. Not just the religious elite. Not just those with the proper last name or ethnicity. When the wise men show up; they are just as unexpected guests as those shepherds and stable animals who met Jesus that first Christmas night. They were not Jewish. They were Gentiles, outsiders from pagan nations. They were not part of the chosen people of Israel; they were not part of the covenant community. Yet immediately after they arrive at the house, they bow down and worship before Jesus. Author Chad Bird wrote: “In these worshiping Gentiles, we begin to see the true flowering of a promise that was made many centuries before. God had told old Abraham that, through him, God would bless all nations: "in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Gen. 12:3). The rest of the Old Testament, however, seems narrowly to focus upon only one nation, Israel. But God had a plan—a plan that was finally coming to fruition. These Gentiles are the first fruits of many other Gentiles (including me and you) who will bow before the King of the Jews, be adopted into the new covenant community, and be heirs of the promises made to Abraham.”
Epiphany vividly reveals the reason the Son of God came among us, as one of us. He has come as the fulfillment of God’s promises to send a Messiah who would save all people—without any kind of exception—from sin, and its condemning and life-controlling power. He came to restore all kinds of people everywhere to the presence and power of God. He came to restore you. It all begins beneath a star, with Gentiles from the east, confessing that the son of Mary is the Son of God. We echo that confession. In him, we are blessed by the Father. In Jesus, we see the epiphany of the heart of our God.
“Arise, shine for your light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” (Isaiah 60:1)
Pastor Steve Vera