September 30

September 30
by Pastor Jim
What man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?  If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
Matthew 7:9-11
 
But what if I ask for a serpent?
 
Prayer is such a simple, wonderful thing … until we start trying to overthink it.  Like, “What if I pray for the wrong thing?”  “What about when I pray for things that are selfish or even foolish?”  Sometimes, worries of this sort can lead us to pray very tentatively, or to end every prayer — even prayer for the healing of a loved one — with, “Not my will but thine be done” … just to be “safe.”
 
Ole Hallesby, a Norwegian pastor, writer, and theologian from a century ago, wrote more than five dozen books, a number of which are still in print.  The most well-known is his wonderful book on prayer.  In it, he gives an excellent example of how we can come simply and confidently before God in our prayers.
 
He tells how, as a father, he always encouraged his little children to come to him with their requests — whatever they were, whether wise or foolish.  Did they sometimes bring foolish requests?  Of course they did, but it didn’t matter.  If the request was foolish — if they asked for a serpent! — he was wise enough as their father not to grant it.  The important thing, he says, was the relationship — that they were assured enough of his love for them that they could come to him confidently and without reservation.
 
So too with God.  We need not fear because our prayers are sometimes selfish or unwise, and that we may at times pray for things which are not for the best.  If we do, God is loving and wise enough to say “No.”  He would never give us something that would be bad for us.  Only once in the Bible do we find someone praying, “Not my will but Thine be done” … and that was a very unique situation!
 
Again, the important thing in God’s eyes is that we come to him — that we trust him and depend upon him — that we feel confident enough of his love for us that we can approach him with the assurance that he will deal wisely with our requests.
 
So pray boldly, confidently; pray as if God really wanted to hear from you and to give you the very best.  Because he does.
 
Heavenly Father, your Son taught us to come to you boldly in his name.  Help us to do so.  Help us to pray wisely for things that do accord with your will, but at the same time to pray confidently, knowing that you will, in the end, give us only those things which are good for us and for others.  For we pray in Jesus’ name; Amen.


September 29

September 29
by Pastor Judy

God’s Craftsmanship

Have you ever thought about God’s artistry?  I think of creation – the marvelous craftsmanship of this world, from the beauty of land and sea to the magnificence of the heavens.  And I think of how God has given us gifts of creativity as well – in song, art, sculpture, dance – you name it.  When I was a new mother, I marveled that he even chooses us to be co-creators with him in bringing new life to birth.

But there is more. We ourselves are God’s craftsmanship for the good of this world.  Paul says, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10).  In his letter to the Corinthians Paul refers again to the world of art, to describe what God is creating in our lives: “You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” (2 Corinthians 3:3).  In Christ, fashioned by the Holy Spirit, we ourselves are changed to be more than we are, God’s art in this world – not just to be admired, but to bring about good.  To bring about change, for the better.

You know, God could have brought goodness into this world all on his own.  But instead, he has chosen us to partner with him.  Jesus called us salt and light, and so we are – not because we are so perfect (because we aren’t), but because he is crafting us to be so.  He is shaping us – like the potter does at his wheel – to be functional art – a tribute to himself as well as to do his work on this earth.  What a privilege!  A humbling privilege.

Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem that takes God’s craftsmanship to the next level.  A pastor (who writes one of my devotionals, Rev. Alvin Rogness) first heard this poem from the lips of a dying teenaged girl.  I share it with you here:

When Earth’s last picture is painted and the tubes are twisted and dried,
When the oldest colors have faded, and the youngest critic has died,
We shall rest, and, faith, we shall need it — lie down for an aeon or two,
Till the Master of All Good Workmen shall put us to work anew!

And those that were good shall be happy: they shall sit in a golden chair;
They shall splash at a ten-league canvas with brushes of comets’ hair;
They shall find real saints to draw from — Magdalene, Peter, and Paul;
They shall work for an age at a sitting and never be tired at all!

And only the Master shall praise us, and only the Master shall blame;
And no one shall work for money, and no one shall work for fame,
But each for the joy of the working, and each, in his separate star,
Shall draw the Thing as he sees It for the God of Things as They Are!
http://www.thepoetsgarret.com/2005/051125.html

This next clip is a feast to the eye as well as to the ear.  Praise God as you watch and listen – and sing along!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j1hVY7bmqsA



September 28

September 28
by Terry Abel
Glorifying God
 
“Let the Lord be glorified.” – Isaiah 66:5
 

There are many ways to glorify God.  I feel like sometimes our pastors do it when they deliver an especially outstanding sermon that touches our hearts and inspires us to change our lives.  Because we are all different, there are varied ways that we individually can bring glory to the Lord.  I can remember Anna-Marie Valles once commenting during a confirmation service that you can even bring glory to God by taking out the trash.

 In Corrie Ten Boom’s Tramp for the Lord, she meets someone who glorifies God in a most unusual way. After being released from a Nazi prison, Corrie spends years traveling to over sixty countries and speaking about the Lord. She recalled one trip to Russia where she met an old crippled woman who was confined to a sofa and a bed and had only one finger on one hand that worked.  This person spent her life translating Christian books and stories into local dialects so people could understand them.  She did all this typing with her one good finger on an old typewriter until the day she peacefully passed away. 

I felt this was a wonderful example of glorifying God despite physical limitations.  She did extraordinary things with just one finger working.  Corrie was puzzled as to why this zealous Christian was never healed by God.  The crippled lady’s husband felt like the reason was because all the other Christians in the city were monitored by the secret police.  However, because this woman had been suffering with multiple sclerosis for so long, no one ever checked in on her, so she was free to do translation work that would likely cause others, if caught, to be imprisoned.  

Heavenly Father,

It’s not about the limitations we may or may not have, but the effort we put forth with the gifts we possess that matters to you.  Help us to utilize these gifts to glorify you. In the Loving Shepherd’s name we pray.   Amen

 



September 24

September 24
by Pastor Jonna
 
“Why Is There Evil in the World?”
Job 42:1 – 6
 
Job is one of those fascinating stories in the Old Testament, wherein the common
notion of retributive justice is severely challenged (the expectation of good for good
and evil for evil). It is amazing how many times we hear in Scripture that God
doesn’t work this way, yet we still expect Him to. We expect, and perhaps demand,
that God perform the good that we have in mind, and at the time that we think is
best.
 
One of the reasons I have heard for someone not believing in God is because of the
problem of evil. You know the question: If there is a God, why would this God allow
evil? This God must therefore not be good, because of the evil in the world.
To those who may be reading this and are stuck on this very question, I want to
affirm your question. This question is a challenge to all people – even believers. And
Christians frankly don’t have a simple response. One answer is that God created
humans with free will – to live in a way that promotes life or death. From the
beginning, death was chosen, and we live with the consequence of a sinful world.
Because of the sin in the world, all creation suffers. Another answer is that God does
not will the evil that happens in the world, but He does allow it. A third answer is
that God’s purposes are often outside our purview; what we think is best may not be
what God desires.
 
When someone is in the midst of pain, it is wise not to try to reason with them.
Reasoning and a more thorough theological conversation can come later; friendship
is what is longed for now.
 
If you are not in a place of great pain, I encourage you to explore a little more with
me. In a book of sermons, entitled Strength to Love, Martin Luther King Jr. writes, “I
do not pretend to understand all of the ways of God or His particular timetable for
grappling with evil. Perhaps if God dealt with evil in the overbearing way that we
wish, He would defeat His ultimate purpose. We are responsible human beings, not
blind automatons; persons, not puppets. By endowing us with freedom, God
relinquished a measure of His own sovereignty and imposed certain limitations
upon Himself…God cannot at the same time impose His will upon His children and
also maintain His purpose for man. If through sheer omnipotence God were to
defeat His purpose, He would express weakness rather than power. Power is the
ability to fulfill purpose; action that defeats purpose is weakness” (83 – 84).
 
Who am I in the face of an almighty God, to claim to know how He desires to unfold
His plan? Who am I to know what is best more so than Him?
 
This is the place Job comes to at the end of the book – a place of utter humility in the
face of a God whose plans are beyond what Job is able to comprehend. This man,
who challenged God and was confronted by this living God, is brought to humility,
because Job recognizes that he is not God and does not know God’s purposes.

What an incredible example and reminder for us! Job is a reminder that you and I
are not God and likely have shortsighted solutions to God’s ultimate purpose. There
is no simple answer to the question of evil, but the reminder is simple: God is
present and His ways are not often our ways.
 
Heavenly Father, You are good and Your ways are good. We are often quick to
believe that You should act in certain ways and are prone to be angry with You. We
thank You for the reminder that You alone are God. Help us to know You as You
truly are and to be transformed into the likeness of Jesus. In his name we pray.
Amen.


September 23

September 23
By Susan Lovelady
 
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness,
faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV)
 
So what happens when we live God’s way?
 He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an
orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity.
 We develop a willingness to stick with things
 A sense of compassion in the heart
 A conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people.
 We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in
life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.
 
Imagine if everyone looked at Christianity not as a religion, but as a “movement”, a
movement to “Live God’s Way” empowered by the Holy Spirit. The invitation is
inclusive. The benefits are universal. The attractiveness is contagious. This is a
“cause” that defends the weak, recognizes equality, encourages respect and kindness,
praises individuality and the success from the unique gifts that are in each of us, and
believes in the good of humanity. And as a very wise leadership council member
shared just recently… can you imagine if we could harness the energy and passion of
our young adults with getting involved in a movement for Christ? Especially now, with
people that are desperately looking for the right “cause” to fight for, to better our world,
and to be a part of. The impact would be limitless.
 
And to think we already have the mission statement in place and even a handbook
(translated in over 3,000 different languages I might add). The words are right there in
front of us, written by the ONE who started it all, the ONE who continues to lead us and
march right along side us; “the royal Master, who leads against the foe…we are not
divided; all one body we, one in hope and doctrine, one in charity.” (lyrics from
one of those very classic hymns written back in 1871).
 
There are many destructive paths that can pull us in so many different directions.
 
“But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the
same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance
about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of
compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and
people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way
in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.” Galatians 5:22-23 (Message
translation).
 
How beautiful is this.
 
Dear Jesus, thank you for always being present in our lives, never leaving our side, and
empowering us with the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. Help us to follow you and walk in
your ways as we march together towards a unity of love, joy, and peace. In Your Name
we pray, trusting in your faithfulness. Amen


September 22

  September 22
By Pastor Judy 

Psalm 103:1-5

Praise the Lord, O my soul. With all that is within me, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, O my soul. Do not forget all his kind deeds.
He is the one who forgives all your sins, who heals all your diseases,
who delivers your life from the Pit,
 who crowns you with his loyal love and compassion,

who satisfies your life with good things, so your youth is renewed like an eagle’s.

When I was little, our parents taught us to memorize Scripture. This is one of those passages, one that makes me happy whenever I hear it. I don’t know why that is, because I memorized it so young, that I don’t remember doing it.  But I do know that it has helped to shape who I am today.

Praise the Lord, O my soul. With all that is within me, praise his holy name. Your soul is your whole being. It’s not a separate part of you. In praying the first 2 sentences, you are saying the same thing twice. (A very common feature of Hebrew poetry, by the way.)

Why praise God with my whole, entire being?  Because he is the source of
·         kindness,
·         forgiveness,
·         healing,
·         deliverance,
·         love and compassion,
·         renewed energy and life.

I guess that’s a good enough reason!  And maybe it’s why I feel happy whenever I hear these words.

Parents, grandparents and other mentors – it is important to help your children memorize key verses.  These verses get lodged in your child’s memory and become part of their very being.  It shapes them to be who they are.  They can never lose this kind of treasure; it is always in their data bank.

We used to memorize together when doing dishes.  Maybe there are other times you can do this: in the car, for example.  Make it a game; set up a reward system (stars on a chart, whatever).  The Holy Spirit uses this data bank to help them understand God; to console another person; to talk about what they believe.  It is available whenever they need to draw upon that bank.  And when they come to know about Jesus, he will already be recognizable to them.

Scripture is a precious gem of a resource.  Make it your own.

Pray as you sing.  Bless the Lord, O my soul!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0nl28QQXlvU


September 21

 
  September 21st
by Emily Hindenes

Good news can be hard to come by these days. It seems that whenever we turn on the tv or look on social media we are flooded with negativity. Instead of focusing on what is going wrong let’s focus on what is going right..that is our relationship with Jesus.

Check out the attached devotion about the Good News God has for us! This is a great devotion for families or a quick reminder of the goodness God has for us.

If you would like to access the 7 day devotion series click here or go onto stlcsj.org/childrens
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September 18

September 18
by Pastor Jim Bangsund

ROMANS IN 5 BITES

BITE 5

I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:1-2

“Therefore.”  An important word.  You’ve no doubt many times heard pastors say, “When you see a ‘therefore,’ you need to check and see what it’s there for.” That’s because a “therefore” always means something has just been said that is the reason for what is about to be said.

In this case, Romans 12:1-2 begins a great turning point in the letter — a hinge, if you will.  In Romans 1-8, Paul laid out the wonder of all God has done in Christ on our behalf.  But then, after a momentary side journey in chapters 9-11, where he talks about the fate of his own people, the Jews, Paul returns to where he left off.  Because of all God has done for us in Jesus, therefore we should live lives of thankfulness to God.  “Do not be conformed to this world,” he writes; or, as J B Phillips put it in his 1958 paraphrase of the Bible, “Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold.”

That’s always the danger, of course.  We can so easily just give in to the “squeeze” of culture or to its cozy warmth.  Like the proverbial frog in the warming water, we don’t notice when we and our convictions have simply drifted away from the roots of our faith.  But the gospel is always counter-cultural; if the culture seems totally comfortable to you, it may be time to check the temperature of your surroundings.

In the early twentieth century, the church at large started a slow, almost imperceptible drift away from its anchoring in the gospel.  The waters slowly warmed and the outcome might have been devastating were it not for a young Swiss pastor named Karl Barth (1886-1968).  Several things started alarm bells ringing for Barth.

First, as the theology of Europe became more and more man-centered it provided less and less that he could preach to his people.  The second alarm was the most earth-shaking, however.  In August 1914, he read a statement in support of Kaiser Wilhelm’s war policy written by a group of German intellectuals which included almost all of his former theology professors.

Barth was shocked, numbed.  What did it mean that their theological foundations were so weak that they could so easily be compromised?  Barth started on a theological quest that brought him back to the Bible.  Again it was Romans.  Paul’s letter to the Romans hit him like a splash of cold water in the face.  He started to write, finally producing a commentary on this grand letter of Paul — a commentary which, when published, fell, it is said, “like a bomb on the playground of the theologians.”  The rest is history, as they say, and this young, formerly unknown Swiss theologian, Karl Barth, became perhaps the most influential theologian of the 20th century.  Once more, Romans had done its work.

Have you read the whole letter yet?  Perhaps this last “bite of Romans” can be the one that launches you into that adventure.  And if you end up with questions, or would just like to discuss what you encounter along the way, I’d be most glad to hear from you … as my days become more open in weeks ahead!

Heavenly Father, so many things compete for my time and attention; so many things seek to squeeze me into their mold.  Help me — as one justified by grace through faith — always first to listen for your voice, your direction, your transforming and renewing of my mind, that all that I do may be pleasing in your sight.  For I pray this in Jesus’ Name.  Amen.

 



September 17

September 17
by Pastor Jim Bangsund

ROMANS IN 5 BITES

BITE 4

Today’s reading is a bit longer — because many consider it the high point of the Bible.

    What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who is against us?  He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him?  Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies; who is to condemn? Is it Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us?

    Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, “For thy sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

    No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:31-39

What then shall we say to this, indeed?  As I was preparing this particular “bite” of Romans, Susan Lovelady sent out a devotional based on the last two verses of this passage (the single final sentence, above).  I have no problem with using it again.  Romans has been described as the most important book of the Bible, chapter eight its golden crown, and verses 31-39 the sparkling jewel in that crown.  Hearing them twice in one month is certainly not overkill.

So where are we at this point?  Romans began with a rather dark description of our broken relationship before God but then went on to describe God’s awesome response: giving his Son on our behalf.  The thought that we have been “justified” (one of those δικαιο- words) as a free gift from God which, in spite of what we have actually done, restores our broken relationship … this thought just overwhelmed Paul.  These final verses of chapter 8, above, are his awed response as he closes out the first major section of his letter to the church in Rome.

And then there’s John Wesley, hymn writer and founder of Methodism.  He started out as an Anglican priest with an evangelical spirit, but became discouraged when his enthusiasm for the Gospel was not well-received by his very stiff and formal Anglican brothers.  On May 24, 1738, he was near to giving up — even giving up his faith — when a friend invited him to a meeting of Moravians on Aldersgate Street in London.  Reluctantly, he agreed to go.  When he arrived at the meeting, someone was reading Luther’s Preface to Romans.  Yes, Romans strikes again!  And once again a life was changed.  Wesley later wrote:

“While he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

It can happen in each of our lives: familiarity with the gospel can breed, if not contempt, perhaps a loss of our first wonder and amazement.  Like Wesley, our hearts may need “rewarming.”  Or, like Paul even before the Damascus Road, and like Luther before discovering the true meaning of all those δικαιο- words, we may still struggle with legalism, with “works salvation” (which is no salvation at all).  If so, may these final verses of Romans 8 speak deeply to you.  Indeed, “if God is for us,” then “nothing else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Gracious God, in the giving of your Son — in the astounding events of the Cross and Resurrection — you have shown that “you are for us.”  Help us to live in the grip of that strong conviction … especially in those times when we may find doubts gnawing at the edges of our faith.  For we pray in Jesus’ Name.  Amen



September 16

September 16
by Pastor Jim Bangsund

ROMANS IN 5 BITES
 
BITE 3

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?  By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
Romans 6:1-4 
 
One of the greatest influences upon Martin Luther was St. Augustine (354-430AD).  Today, we’ll hear how Romans was also the turning point in the life of a randy young Augustine long before he attained the appellation “saint”!

Saved by grace through faith alone — our relationship with God restored purely through his actions and not ours; through his taking on flesh in the person of Jesus to take our sin upon himself; through his covering of our sinfulness with the righteousness of Christ.

This was a shocking, even nonsensical, message in the ears of some of Paul’s hearers.  Times haven’t changed; people haven’t changed.  Over the centuries, this glad message has brought forth not only great joy and relief, as in the case of Martin Luther, but also, in some cases, utter rejection or even mocking.

Already, by the time Paul wrote his letter to the church at Rome, there were those who took the message of the Gospel and twisted it — whether through true misunderstanding, or in order to mock it, we do not know.  What came back to Paul, however, was word that there were those saying something like the following: “Grace!  Good stuff!  When we sin, we receive God’s grace and our sins are forgiven.  So, let’s sin even more in order to receive even more of that good stuff!”

Paul’s response to such an appalling misconstrual is above.  “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?  By no means!”  German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who died for his faith under the Nazis, referred to such a shallow response to God’s great mercy as “cheap grace.”  No one who has come truly to understand and appreciate what it cost Jesus, and what he accomplished on the Cross, can ever respond in such a way.  The only possible response of one who is truly gripped by the power of this message is to give thanks and praise and to ask, “Lord, how can I now live in such a way to give thanks to you for all you have done?”

Perhaps the most famous case of living in debauchery in spite of knowing the Gospel was St Augustine — long before he became Bishop of Hippo and one of the church’s greatest teachers.  Living a wild life of wine, women and song, young Augustine had a faithful mother, Monica (for whom the city Santa Monica is named), who prayed for her son daily.

Once again, though, it was Romans that brought about the change.  In Augustine’s famous Confessions, he tells us of that event.  He had reached a point of despair in his life and found himself vaguely crying out to the God from whom he had wandered.
 
I was saying these things and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when, lo, I heard the voice as of a boy or girl, I know not which, coming from a neighbouring house, chanting, and oft repeating, “Take up and read; take up and read.” … So quickly I returned to the place where Alypius was sitting; for there had I put down the volume of the apostles, when I rose thence. I grasped, opened, and in silence read that paragraph on which my eyes first fell: “not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy; but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” No further would I read, nor did I need; for instantly, as the sentence ended — by a light, as it were, of security infused into my heart — all the gloom of doubt vanished away.[1]
 
In this case, Augustine had stumbled upon not Romans 6 but Romans 13:13 and following.  Yet the point of each text is the same.  The only proper and serious response of one who truly recognizes what has been accomplished in the Cross and the Resurrection is to seek to live a life pleasing to God, thankfully engaged in activities that further his will in the world.

Gracious God, we live in that grace by which you are known and addressed.  Forgive us when we take it for granted, when we treat it as “cheap grace,” forgetting what it cost you.  Show us those ways in which our lives can be living expressions of thankfulness to you, engaged in those tasks and challenges you lay before us and shining as a witness to those around us.  For we pray in Jesus’ Name.  Amen.

[1] The Confessions of St Augustine, book 8, chapter 12.


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