Encouraging words to soothe our souls

With many people still facing uncertainty or grief two years into the COVID pandemic, plus the devastation of floods and bushfires close to home and war overseas, we can all benefit from reading or hearing some encouraging words and uplifting Scripture and experiencing a sense of God’s closeness. Nurturing our faith at home through regular devotions strengthens our relationship with Jesus and helps to open our hearts to the work of the Holy Spirit. We pray that you will be blessed by the devotional materials here and in the Church@Home resources collection online at www.lca.org.au/churchhome

Lisa

Zephaniah 3:17

The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you.

DEVOTIONS FOR HOME WORSHIP

These reflections are adapted from a collection of devotions written for our LCANZ family and friends to help us to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus no matter what we face. You can find these and many others on the LCA website at www.lca.org.au/daily-devotion and you can subscribe to receive them daily via email by clicking on the link on that same page. 

Great expectations? by Faye Schmidt

I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief! (Mark 9:24).

Read Mark 9:14–29.

During the 1980s, a popular publication for those in business was In Search of Excellence by Thomas J Peters and Robert H Waterman Jr. I always liked this title because it didn’t demand that I actually attain excellence but continue to strive towards it. What a relief! Not only was I relieved of expecting excellence within myself, but I was relieved that others would not be expecting excellence from me. It is about the journey, the striving, the search.

There are many times in our lives that we have failed to meet the expectations of others. We are also at fault when we have expectations of others that they may not be able to meet. I recall on one occasion someone saying to me, ‘I didn’t fail you – I failed your expectations’. Was I wrong to place my expectations on another?

Our humanity and imperfections result in us regularly failing to meet the expectations of others and ourselves.

In our text today, Jesus sets out his expectations regarding our faith. He doesn’t expect perfection in us. The text tells us that upon hearing the father’s statement of faith (and doubt), Jesus immediately healed the boy. Jesus didn’t rebuke the father for his doubt. Instead, he rebuked the demons in the boy so that they left him.

Faith grows in us as we live under that grace, be open to the Holy Spirit serving us through the word and sacraments, and demonstrate God’s love for us through others. Faith is the gift of the Holy Spirit, and our trust is in his providing sufficient for our needs, not to meet our expectations.

We are made perfect in God’s eyes only through Jesus’ own life, death and resurrection. Through Jesus’ perfection, we can be assured when he makes a promise, we can trust it and know such expectations will be met.

Dear Heavenly Father, I pray that you send your Holy Spirit to lead me closer to you and trust in your promise of salvation through your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Because we bear your name by Dianne Eckermann

You are among us, Lord, and we bear your name; do not forsake us (Jeremiah 14:9).

Read Jeremiah 14:7–9.

The three verses of today’s reading provide great insight into the human character. Verse 7 acknowledges human sinfulness. In fact, it is emphasised not once but twice. However, by opening the verse with the phrase, ‘Although our sins testify against us’, the writer is already preparing an argument that perhaps we are not totally responsible for our sins. He demands action – not his own action but a demand that the Lord do something.

He continues with several questions, essentially suggesting that if God had been more present and less of a stranger, God would have been better prepared and these great transgressions may have been averted.

I have listened to many complaints of this nature during my working life. For example, complaints beginning by acknowledging the complainer may have done something they should not have. But they end up suggesting that their poor behaviour was actually caused by the system or by other people not doing their job correctly, all the while talking themselves out of taking responsibility for their own poor choices.

Verse 9 turns this mode of complaining on its head. Whether the confession of sin was sincere or not, the writer pleads with God for help. By its very nature, his plea acknowledges his sinfulness and that it is God alone who can provide the assistance he needs. Most importantly, it also mentions a significant reason why only God can help him; it is because the writer bears his name. It is not for himself that he is pleading for help: it is because he is the image of God. Whether the confession of sin was sincere or not, the plea not to be forsaken or separated from God seems absolutely genuine.

As Christians, we bear the name of Christ. If we are honest, there are times we have not acted as though that is the case, and we need God’s help as much as the people of Jeremiah’s time, perhaps even more so. It’s not easy being a Christian in a post-Christian environment, but through Christ, we are not forsaken but saved.

Lord God, no matter how challenging it may be, help us always remember that we bear your name and that through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we are not forsaken but have the gift of salvation. Amen.

PRAYER

THE STONE HAS BEEN ROLLED AWAY

When the broken come to wholeness,
when the wounded come to healing,
when the frightened come to trusting,
the stone has been rolled away.

When the lonely find friendship,
when the hurt find new loving,
when the worried find peace,
the stone has been rolled away.

When we share instead of taking,
when we stroke instead of striking,
when we join around the table
the stone has been rolled away.
The stone has been rolled away!

In you, Christ Jesus,
love breaks through hatred,
hope breaks through despair,
life breaks through death.
Hallelujah, Christ is risen!

– ‘Prayers Encircling the World’, Francis Brienen, Westminster John Knox Press, United Kingdom, 1999, p57, sourced from justprayer.org

Habakkuk 3:18

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour.

Repent by Mark Schubert

Do you think that these … were worse sinners? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish (Luke 13:2,5).

Read Luke 13:1–9.

When bad things happen to someone, is God punishing them for their sins?

Some people told Jesus about the Galileans killed by Pilate when sacrificing to God. Jesus responded to their unasked question, ‘Do you think that these… were worse sinners? … No …’ (Luke 13:2,3a).

No, they were not worse sinners than anyone else – the same for those killed by the collapse of a tower. No, they were not more guilty than others.

All of us are sinners. None worse than any other.

We can all say with Paul, ‘the good that I want to do I can’t, instead I do the evil I don’t want to do’ (Romans 7:19).

All are sinners inside – some can hide it better than others, but we are all turned in on ourselves, egocentric, hard-hearted – building walls, cutting ourselves off from each other by our thoughts and actions, working towards the final separation, death. ‘The wages of sin is death’ (Romans 6:23).

‘But unless you repent, you too will all perish’ (Luke 13:5).

To repent is to be sorry, to admit your selfishness and inability to change. Jesus started his mission with, ‘Repent and believe the good news!’ (Mark 1:15). Confess your sinfulness, and turn to the good news that you have been forgiven.

Jesus came to die for you – to take your death, to forgive you. And he rose again to live in you. He gives his goodness, holiness and love for all helpless, hopeless sinners.

This is the time of grace, the time to decide – stay in the power of sin and perish, or receive what Jesus has done for you, so his Spirit can produce good fruit in you.

Lord, we admit that we sin – we hurt others, ourselves, and you. Have mercy on us, for Jesus’ sake. Amen. 

Confronting fear by Pastor Greg Fowler

The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? (Psalm 27:1).

Read Psalm 27.

The great American president Franklin Roosevelt said about the Depression, ‘All we have to fear is fear itself’. This classic piece of oratory put the troubles of the time into perspective. Of course, there was unemployment and a lack of income. There was uncertainty about the future, but there was always a reason to hope. Roosevelt called upon the nation to not let the emotion of the time overtake the events. There were ways to combat the problems, which his famous New Deal showed. The president was saying don’t make the problems big and the solutions small.

Centuries before Roosevelt, the psalmist similarly encouraged the people of God. If God is my light, then what problem could possibly put me in the shade? We do not need to fear events or people because our God is bigger than all these things. We need to hear this truth because our eyes can focus on the problem, and our minds can fixate on worry rather than the promise of God.

Today, we face many threats. We know what it is like to live with a global pandemic. We know what it is like to live with geopolitical uncertainty in our region and war in Europe. We know what it’s like to live in a society more polarised than before. Yet we do not fear these things. We have faith in God, who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. We trust in the salvation of the creator and sustainer of the universe. Diseases come and go; nations rise and fall. Public opinion is constantly changing. These things are not bigger than our God.

Lord God, may we see you in your majesty and power. May we recognise you are more than any problem we face. Take away our fear and give us your peace. Amen.

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