Friday, October 30, 2020

Today’s reflection is written by Deacon Karen Katamay.

“Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest.” —Exodus 34:21

Are you able to keep a Sabbath day, where you rest all day and don’t do any work, except maybe just attending worship services? I have trouble doing this. I can maybe set aside part of a day, but a whole day? Ask any mom if they are able to do this. After all, people need to be fed, children need to be taken care of, dishes need to be washed, etc. Even if you are not a mom, I am guessing you have a lot of things that need to get done. The world doesn’t stand still just because it is a Sabbath day!

Jesus understood this, so he reminded us that “the Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). God knows how hard we work and what we deal with every day, so he wants us to take time for ourselves to refresh and recharge. He wants us to rest in him and find inspiration in his word that will carry us through our days and our trials. God wants us to find time to slow down and rest because he cares about us and doesn’t want us to burn out.

So the next time you feel overwhelmed, take a few moments of Sabbath rest. Pray. Read your Bible or a devotion. Sing a hymn or a praise song. Or just sit and center yourself in God. You may find these moments so calming that you will want to do them more. And maybe once in a while you can take a half or whole day for rest.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). May you find your rest in Jesus.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Who is a rock besides our God? Psalm 18:31

I can’t tell you precisely when it occurred or what was going on, but I have a deep emotional memory of walking through the door of my house and feeling completely at ease. Like whatever was weighing on me that day was just left right outside the door. Whatever had been bothering me prior to getting home didn’t vanish. It would likely still be there needing to be dealt with on the next day, but for the next 16 hours, I was at peace. I felt safe.

Where was that place for you? Your home? A friend’s house? School? A grandparent’s house? That feeling I’m describing taps into what the Psalmist is saying about God.

Attributed to David, this Psalm is a response to God delivering David from his enemies (including King Saul). The Psalmist is describing God as ”the inaccessible rocky crag or mountain hideaway in which the beleaguered psalmist can rest secure from all attacks.”

The feeling of peace I described earlier is accessible to us no matter where we are when we develop our relationship with God. We can “rest secure” in God, in all times and in all places,  even while the troubles of life remain.

May each of us grow closer to God today. May we find peace, even while under attack from the enemy.

Monday, October 26, 2020

“I, I am he who comforts you; why then are you afraid of a mere mortal who must die?” —Isaiah 51:12

My guess is that if I could see a report of the percentage of my thoughts that are rooted in one way or another in fear, I wouldn’t like the results. I don’t think of myself as a particularly fearful person, and yet it’s so easy to be consumed by fear of what might happen in the future, or fear of what I might miss out on, or even fear of who I might become.

Fear is a powerful emotion, but it rarely has positive long-term effects. Fear may allow for incredible feats when our fight-or-flight response kicks in, but ongoing, chronic fear makes it very hard to live as we truly want to live.

God knows we will encounter things that frighten us. There are things in this world that are stronger than we are, forces that are beyond our control. A healthy fear of a rip current might save your life if it leads to a wise decision to stay on the shore. But God calls us again and again to be courageous. Courage doesn’t mean stupidity. And courage doesn’t mean not feeling fear; courage means not allowing fear to become your master, not allowing fear to become your lord.

We can be courageous because we already have a Lord, and our Lord is stronger than any of the things we’re afraid of. We can have courage because our Lord is stronger even than our sin, our Lord is stronger even than our death.

So may we be people who remember that our Lord makes us brave and courageous and strong. So why should we have anything or anyone to fear? The one who comforts you and loves you and holds your life in his hands is greater than anything you might fear today.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Today’s post is written by Deacon Karen Katamay.

“I will make with you an everlasting covenant.” —Isaiah 55:3

“Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will, working among us that which is pleasing in his sight.” —Hebrews 13:20-21

Both of the passages for today talk about God’s covenant. The verse from Isaiah tells of God’s covenant with Israel, and the verses from Hebrews refer to the covenant that God made with us through Jesus. We may remember from Jesus’ words at his last supper with his disciples that he shared with them the new covenant: “For this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28).

A covenant is a binding agreement or a promise. When you make a promise to someone, are you always able to keep it? I know I certainly try to keep all my promises, but I know there have been times when I have failed to do so. I sometimes forget the saying that we shouldn’t make promises that we cannot keep. There have been times when I made promises that I would have liked to have kept, but for one reason or another, I was unable to do so, such as promising to call someone then forgetting to do so. As much as I always want to be honest and trustworthy, I have to remember that I am only human and will sometimes fail. I would say the majority of the time I am able to keep my promises, though.

But with God it is different. We can trust God to always keep his promises. God will never fail us or let us down. And if it feels sometimes that maybe God has failed us, we have to stop and ask, “Am I asking God for my will to be done, or God’s will?”

God’s covenant with us is one of love and grace that both stands with us and forgives us at the same time. God’s covenant comes to us through Jesus and saves us. We are so lucky to have a God we can trust all the time and who will never fail us. Thank you, Lord! Amen.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not belong to us. – 2 Corinthians 4:7

I had a professor in seminary who once said that you can tell the health of a church by how willing people are to name their own sin. His point was that if a person truly believes in the redemptive power of God’s grace, they should be free of the shame and embarrassment that often accompanies sin. Unfortunately, it’s that shame that makes us want to keep our sins hidden and keeps us from truly experiencing the freedom God’s forgiveness is intended to bring.  

In today’s verse, Paul is trying to communicate that the power of God’s grace is exemplified in our messy and (likely) hypocritical lives. When we strive to make our lives look picture perfect, we obscure the redemptive work that God has done in us. Just imagine what the New Testament would look like if the people who encountered Jesus’ forgiveness were never willing to share what God had done in their lives! 

May each of us live this day fully embracing God’s forgiveness and taking steps toward sharing our own story for God’s glory and the good of those around us.

Monday, October 19, 2020

“So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” —John 8:36

In 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt laid out four essential freedoms that he argued should be universal: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. No doubt we all agree that these are important goals. And no doubt we all lament that we’ve yet to see these freedoms be guaranteed to every person in this broken world.

But even those of us who are more or less free to speak and worship, free from want and fear, experience bondage. In John 8, Jesus says that “everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” Not only that, he says that “a slave has no permanent place in the family.” So we, who are sinners, are not only in bondage but also without permanent family.

Or we would be, if it were not for Jesus’ intervention. Jesus, the Son of the Living God, has invited us into his own life, has claimed us with his own identity. So we are forgiven and set free from sin and joined to the family of God. The freedom of Jesus is true freedom, lasting freedom, freedom from the ultimate enemies of sin and death and destruction. You have been made freed by the Son, and you are free indeed.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Today’s reflection is written by Deacon Karen Katamay.

“He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” —Psalm 121:4

Are you a worrier? I tend to be. Even though Jesus reminded us not to worry (“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life …” [Matthew 6:25]), I find it difficult sometimes not to worry. I worry about my son’s health with his diabetes. I worry about the COVID-19 virus. I worry about many of the things I see happening in our world, especially the hatred, the violence, and the division.  

So whenever I feel worried, I find Psalm 121 to be a comfort. It reminds me that no matter what is going on around me, and especially the things I have no control over, God is always with me. We may need to sleep, but God doesn’t. God is there, day and night, each day and every day. God is my protector and keeper. God listens to me and comforts me. God knows my very heart and everything that concerns me. Thank you, Lord!

“I lift my eyes to the hills—from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” —Psalm 121:1-2

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

“Then Peter said: I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” Acts 10: 34-35

No matter how old I get, the first time I enter someone’s home it’s always a little awkward. Is this a shoes on or shoes off house? If I give the person my coat, will it go into a nearby closet which is easy to access when I’m ready to go or will it be taken into a room that resides in a part of the house that I may or may not see (especially raising the stakes when it’s a large gathering and I’m ready to make a polite exit)? Are other people already there? Do I know them? Do they look happy to see me or indifferent? How I’m welcomed goes a long way in knowing that someone is happy to have me around.

Today’s verse takes place right after the passage where Peter has a vision from God that makes it clear that, through the resurrection, adhering to strict Jewish laws that determine what is clean and unclean is no longer necessary. In effect, for each person who wants to come and know God, the door is open and God is waiting to warmly greet each person who walks through it. Today, may each one of us look for when God can use us to invite someone inside. 

Monday, October 12, 2020

“And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” —John 17:3

I’ll be honest: There are times, especially late at night when I’m having trouble sleeping, and I start thinking about death, about loved ones who I’ve lost, about loved ones who are in their final years, about how quickly life goes by and how soon death will come for me, that all I want from God is for death not to be the end. In those moments, the contrast between death and life is so stark, so severe, that all I want is to know that death has not had the last word, will not ultimately be victorious.

And there’s good reason for this. Death is an enemy. Death destroys. Death is not a benign force. In 1 Corinthians 15, the apostle Paul wrote of Jesus, “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” Death is an enemy to be defeated, and our hope in Christ is in no small part rooted in our confidence that he is the one who has conquered death.

But these words of Jesus that we read today from John 17 remind us that the news is much better than simply undoing death. The world as it is, the world as we live in it, is not as it should be. Even when we are still breathing, our lives are not as they should be. To be sure, life is a gift, and the destruction of life is part and parcel of the brokenness of our world. But simply having breath in our lungs is not all there is. Jesus came to provide eternal life. And here Jesus helps us to see that “eternal” doesn’t just mean going on forever. It means real life, life in its fullness, life in which we know our Heavenly Father and are known by him.

And this is exactly why we are able to start experiencing eternal life right now. Life knowing the God who loves us doesn’t have to wait. Because Jesus is ours and we are his, we can live, really live, right here and now. So, in the midst of the death and decay that surrounds you, in the midst of the brokenness that is in your own heart and soul, may you, today, know real, eternal life, because you know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he sent.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Today’s reflection is written by Deacon Karen Katamay.

“I said, ‘I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my cause is with the Lord, and my reward with my God.’” —Isaiah 49:4

As a Lutheran, I know that I am saved by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ alone, apart from works. Yet, even as I know that I cannot earn my salvation through good works, it is my faith that inspires me to do God’s will whenever I can. But if I am doing those good works just to be noticed and rewarded, then as the Bible verse says, I am laboring in vain, and spending my strength for nothing but my own reward. 

So where does my true reward come from? It comes not from anything I do, but rather from being a child of God, and from knowing that Jesus cared enough about me to die on the cross and rise again for my salvation.  My true reward is being in relationship with a God who loves me and all people. My true joy comes from loving God and loving neighbor.

The second verse for this day provides us with the best ending for this devotion: 

“Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”  —1 Corinthians 15:58