GRACE UPON GRACE
Tuesday, April 18, 2017
Tuesday, April 18, 2017
Saturday/Sunday, April 9/10, 2016
…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:3-5
As many of you know, or don’t because I mentioned it in a sermon or two and that’s when you read the Good News, my “journey to pastor” was not how guys normally do it. I was sitting in the Dean of Student’s office at the seminary (the first time I was there) and we both agreed that a break was necessary. I walked out of that office knowing that the right decision had been made, but extremely scared because of the uncertainty of what was going to happen next. That fear was nearly debilitating. I was suffering.
Now my suffering was not the same suffering as what Paul is talking about in those verses at the top, but it did, and still does the same thing. I suffered through failure. But that suffering produced endurance for me. I thank God that He kept me in ministry both at a fantastic camp, Lutheran Valley Retreat in Colorado, and as Youth Director at a church in the Denver area. It took over three years, a patient God, and a tremendous woman to get me back to the seminary.
As I drove away from the seminary campus that first time I hoped I would return. But it took that suffering and that endurance to bring that hope to reality. But my “journey to pastor” pales in comparison to the journey Christ took to give us real hope, a hope that sustains us through the debilitating moments of life.
Hope in Christ does not disappoint!
THE PRAYER: Lord God, thank you for hope, hope that is found only in the resurrection of Jesus. Pour out Your Spirit into my heart and remind me of your presence always, but especially in my moments of uncertainty. Amen.
THE AUTHOR: Rev. Jason Reitz
Friday, April 8, 2016
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6
October, 1994, found me a single parent of a beautiful little toddler. When I married, I never dreamed that within a year and a half, I would be divorced and raising this little boy alone.
Growing up as an only child of divorced parents, with a dad I never saw, I was so fearful that my sweet little boy would face the same future. It was such a difficult time.
I never let my faith falter, though. I prayed that God would bring someone into my life that would be a Dad to my little boy. More than anything, I wanted a Godly man to teach my son how to love God. I will never forget the night that I met my husband. My mom forced me to attend a ‘matched and unattached’ group at our church. “You might meet a great guy”, she said. Having grown up in that congregation, I remember my response. “I know all the guys at church and they are all dorks.” What I didn’t realize was that God had led someone to move to St. Louis from Arkansas, for a reason he really couldn’t explain – other than that it was a little closer to his family in Rolla. On top of that, he also skipped a Cardinal game that he believed might be historical to go to this ‘matched and unattached’ group at church. He couldn’t really explain that either.
I had no idea that God had prepared us to meet and would not only provide a Godly man to raise my son as his own (even adopting him), but that he would become a father to our other 5 kids and a wonderful husband to me and a spiritual leader in our family. God taught me to lean on Him in hard times. When we put our faith in God, and let Him do the rest, His will is done.
THE PRAYER: Dear Lord, when we struggle with the hard times in this life, help us to remember that not just in the good times, but also in the hard times, we should lean on You. AMEN.
THE AUTHOR: Cheryl Bates, a busy mother of six children, Juice Plus Distributor, Harvester Township committeewoman and Troop Coordinator of American Heritage Girls.
Thursday, April 7, 2016
…for we walk by faith, not by sight. 2 Corinthians 5:7
During our study of “The Story,” the Upper Story and the lower story have been a central theme. It gives me cause to reflect about how God has been at work in my life, furthering His Upper Story through my lower story. Hearing about the Old Testament Hebrews’ roller coaster ride relationship with God has been comforting to me. Those people could never seem to stay on track; they wandered off, only to be pulled back into a close relationship with God. He loved them so much and just wouldn’t give up on His chosen people.
My life has been a series of ups and downs. Coming from a strong Christian home did not prevent me from wandering off from God. There are times when it is hard to get out of bed and go to church. My prayers become infrequent and shallow. This happens when I feel powerful and self-assured. I just don’t feel the need to depend on God and even wonder if this faith thing is just a man-made idea. Martin Luther said “The heart of man is empty and he must rely on someone.” We all believe in something. That something has often been a belief in myself.
God never withdraws His love from me. He finds ways to bring me back. At times when health fails, I disappoint someone, relationships fall apart, or friends have proven not to be friends, I become painfully aware of the gap inside me. Paul reminds us that as God’s children, faith guides us, not a dependence on ourselves. Our senses fail us, God does not. Paul tells us in Hebrews 1:1, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for; the assurance of things not seen.” God loves you. You are His. That’s the way it is and always will be. He gives us all the strength to walk in faith, not having to trust our own failing reason or bodily strength.
THE PRAYER: Lord, your love is overwhelming. I would have given up on me long ago if I were you, but you stay close, even when I am not aware of your presence. Thank you for loving and redeeming me as your own. Grant me the strength to be close to you today. AMEN
THE AUTHOR: Don Hugo and his wife, Cherie, have been members at Zion since 1988.
Wednesday, April 6. 2016
You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. 2 Corinthians 3:1
Have you ever thought about what a follower of Jesus clings to when he seemingly cannot cling to anything himself?
Here is a story of how God made this more evident to me. I’ve been a diabetic for over 20 years. While on vacation, I misjudged my activity level one day. My blood sugar took a nose dive after we’d gone to bed. I was totally unaware of my surroundings and of what was going on. My wife, Delores, was aware, however, and offered me a banana. Then, all I was aware of is a forearm and hand offering me the banana. In my mind, I saw it as the hand of God and received the food. I was aware of nothing else until my cognition returned. Then I became aware of a number of things all at once.
At that moment, I was aware of being in bed, in a hotel room, and the furnishings in the room. At that same moment, I was aware of my thoughts being focused on my Father in heaven, His loving kindness, His mercy, His patience, and other attributes. I came to, talking to Him, praising Him, and thanking Him for giving His Son, Jesus, over to death so a rotten derelict like me could have life.
Our Father is a work in us even when we are unaware and regardless of our physical circumstances. Paul says in Romans 10:8 that His Word is in our mouth and in our heart. How’d it get there? Jeremiah says of God in Jeremiah 31:33, “… I will put My law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.”
In 2 Corinthians 3:3 it is written, “And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” WOW!
THE PRAYER: Our Father in heaven, we praise You that with Your Son and with Your Spirit, You are always at work in Your children. Bless us that we may treasure the words of Your mouth even more than our necessary food. AMEN.
THE AUTHOR: Bob Desemone
Tuesday, April 5, 2016
“It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” John 20:31..but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. Matt 4:4
Our daughter Melissa was an infant and I was taking a year’s absence from teaching to enjoy being a new mom. Three older women at Chapel of the Cross Lutheran Church (Florissant, MO) took special efforts to invite me to come into their homes for Bible Study. It was a pivotal time for me as a beginner in the study of God’s Word: I was taking Melissa along for her afternoon nap and listening to the wisdom of these three older women share their faith. God drew me to him through His Word and through the mentoring of these three sweet, retired nurses. He used these ladies to draw me into their web of love as Sisters in Christ and as Daughters of the King.
Two years later, God placed us in the state of Michigan. Being on our own, we joined St. Stephen Lutheran Church and began to assimilate into that congregation. Through some short-term Bible studies offered by the LWML society, God again stirred my hunger for the Word. Two babies and a traumatic surgery for Greg later, we were back in Missouri. This time we were in St. Charles.
During our early years as members of Zion Lutheran of Harvester, I attended a non-denominational Bible study which provided the in-depth, demanding inquiry into the Bible for which I had yearned. I was hooked! My love for the Word and joy in studying the Bible were a sweet experience. Through Zion’s Bethel Bible Study, Witness Workshop, Lifelight Bible Study, and many other short- and long-term Bible Study classes, God has trained me to be ready for the plans He has for me.
With a thankful heart, I continue to study alongside my pew sisters at Zion. I love to study the Word that God so lovingly provided for us.
THE PRAYER: Dear Father above, you are the source of all, the creator of all, the wisest of all. In your wisdom you have provided the history of our Christian ancestry in the pages of your Bible. Thank you for being so caring that you gave us “your story” at our fingertips so that we can read about Christ our Savior and his sacrifice for our salvation. I ask that you maintain a hunger for your Word in me always. AMEN
THE AUTHOR: Angela Gielow, Daughter of the King
Monday, April 4, 2016
Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God, Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.
Refrain: This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long;
This is my story, this is my song, Praising my Savor all the day long.
Blessed Assurance by Frances J. Crosby
If you walk past the door of Mrs. Amy Bernhardt’s classroom on Monday morning, you will see a group of first graders gathered on the rug by the worship center. With the help of Mrs. Bernhardt, the children write names of people who need prayers on their white board. In addition to people in their families and their friends, they add the names of those from the Sunday bulletin who are in the hospital or recovering at home. Then they pray.
Once a month, the first graders make ‘thinking of you, get well cards’. They busily add flowers, rainbows, sun shines, and of course, crosses, to the little cards with their favorite markers. They may write “God loves you”, or “Get well soon”, on the small, decorated cards. Mrs. Bernhardt then has a new supply of cards to mail to those whom they have included in their prayers.
Have you ever received one of these cards? We have. Of all the cards received after my husband’s surgery, that little white, decorated card meant the most and was displayed on our shelf the longest. What a blessing prayer is. What a gift prayer can be. What a meaningful act of faith these children perform.
God reminds us to pray for the sick and suffering in body and soul. He reminds us that the prayer of a righteous person has great power. How long is your prayer list? Do you think to pray for those on Zion’s prayer list? Have you taken a look at Zion’s Prayer Wall, accessible on Zion’s web site? Maybe, as Mrs. Bernhardt’s first graders do each Monday morning, you could set aside one small time each week to bring prayers to our heavenly Father for members of Zion’s family needing God’s care and healing.
Thank God for the Christian education taking place at Zion Lutheran School, the teachers, and the children who live out God’s love every day. May we learn from their example to ‘Praise our Savior, all the day long’ by acts of kindness, concern, and prayer.
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up…. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. James 5: 13-16.
THE PRAYER: Dear heavenly Father, thank you for the example of Zion’s first graders who begin each day with prayer. Thank you for Your promise to hear our prayers, to heal us, and to forgive our sins. Bless each and every one of your children with your presence and love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
THE AUTHOR: Mrs. Edie Bernhardt shared the blessings of Zion’s first graders through their prayer ministry. May God bless all who bring their prayers, praises, and requests to God who has promised to hear.
Tuesday, April12, 2016
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations. Matthew 28:20
As a child, I thought that verse meant taking the Gospel to far away countries. However, as a young adult, God was going to show me that one does not have to travel far at all in order to be used by God to spread His story.
The congregation to which I was called already had a Sunday School class for special needs students. There were three or four young members in the class at that time, along with two teachers. I was asked to help teach as a substitute. I felt very unsure and unqualified, but I also felt that God was asking me to do this. I said yes, and I quickly fell in love with these special students and loved telling them the story of Jesus—a story they had already heard from their family members.
But God had bigger plans for this ministry. The state of Missouri opened a group home for about fifteen to twenty special needs adults. The home was located on the corner of the church’s property. Imagine our surprise when one Sunday we watched these very special children of God make their way across our parking lot, eager to come to Sunday school! They were older than our students—many of them in their thirties or forties—and most had never heard of Jesus. We were challenged in many ways—size of the classroom, number of teachers, appropriate curriculum at their level, enough supplies. But watching their faces light up when they heard God’s story made all of our concerns seem pretty small. They had been abandoned by their families and were wards of the state, they wore old clothes, they had medical problems, they did not always smell very good—in the world’s eyes they were not lovable people. For them to hear that Jesus loved them rocked their world! They cried when they uttered their heartfelt prayers. And we teachers learned so much about the love of our Savior by watching God at work in them. Two of them asked to be baptized.
After about two years, the state closed the group home and moved our students to other places. We sadly said our final goodbyes on that last Sunday together, knowing that God was not finished with these very special, very loved people. I do not know what happened to our students, but I do thank God for putting them in my life and for using them to teach me so many things. I am so very glad that I was given this part to play in God’s lower story. We never know when God will give each of us an opportunity, but we do know that He will equip us for the job.
THE PRAYER: Dear Jesus, Help me always be ready to do whatever you have planned for me so that all may come to know you as their Savior. AMEN
THE AUTHOR: Sally Hartman—retired Lutheran educator
Friday, April 1, 2016
“You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.” I say of the holy people who are in the land, They are noble ones in whom is all my delight. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, Because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay. You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. Psalm 16: 2, 3, 9-11
As a young adult, I was the epitome of the “Do-It-Yourselfer.” I reasoned that I should do what I could, and when I needed help I could always call on God to clean up my messes. This kind of attitude led me to alcoholism. As always, God uses evil for good. God sent others to guide, counsel, and encourage me to get help. It has been 26 years since I had my last drink. Through this, I am able to witness to others about God’s care and sufficiency for my life. I’ve learned that He is all I need.
We all are tempted to fill our hungry hearts with anything but God. But God is eager to fulfill all your needs according to the riches of His grace.
THE PRAYER: Father, help us to turn to You with our struggles, rather than attempting to fulfill our needs without You. Help us always to realize that You are all we need, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. AMEN
THE AUTHOR: Barbara Prince, a member of Zion since 1997. She is the mother of four sons, one adopted daughter, 13 grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. She rejoices in the comfort of Christ in all circumstances.
A NICE WALK
Thursday, March 31, 2016
He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself.” Luke 24:27
(Read Luke 24:13-35)
Jogging is no fun. My knees remind me of that. Hiking is better than jogging since I get to enjoy the natural beauty of the outdoors. But walking, especially with a good friend, is probably my favorite. The activity is invigorating, but not too strenuous to allow for conversation. I enjoy a nice walk.
Maybe that’s why I like the Gospel reading for the Sunday after Easter. Two disciples of Jesus are taking a stroll to Emmaus on that first Easter evening. It is spring and the trees are in bloom, yet their mood is dark. The tragic events of Good Friday had crushed their hopes that Jesus was the expected Messiah. The news from the women about the empty tomb surprised and confused them. What were they to think about all this?
Jesus falls into step with them. Like so many other times His presence brings answers – and peace. The walk to Emmaus is a Christian’s dream, Jesus explaining the connection between the Old Testament promises and Himself! The Word in the flesh was explaining God’s deepest mysteries. Yet, there is more, much more.
There is the fact of the risen Lord among us. There is evidence of sin being conquered for all. There is proof and promise of the resurrection of your body and life everlasting. Like those first two Easter disciples, our steps, once slow, grow quick. Like them, our hearts, once heavy, grow light. The image of the walk to Emmaus with friends and Jesus becomes an image of heaven itself. It’s a beautiful picture.
THE PRAYER: Thank You for walking beside us as we travel through life. Thank you for revealing Yourself to us through Scripture. Most importantly, thank You for conquering sin for us so we can always walk with You. AMEN.
THE AUTHOR: Pastor Schwab’s service at Zion began in 1986 and continues to the present among our hospitalized and homebound members. Sally and Pastor Schwab greatly enjoy and appreciate the community of Christ at Zion. The text for this devotion is one he has chosen for his funeral.