“There’s A Wideness In God’s Mercy,”

"There's A Wideness In God's Mercy," ELW 588
 
There's a wideness in God's mercy,
like the wideness of the sea;
there's a kindness in God's justice
which is more than liberty.
There is no place where earth's sorrows
are more felt than up in heav'n.
There is no place where earth's failings
have such kindly judgment giv'n.
 
There is welcome for the sinner,
and a promised grace made good;
there is mercy with the Savior;
there is healing in his blood.
There is grace enough for thousands
of new worlds as great as this;
there is room for fresh creations
in that upper home of bliss.
 
For the love of God is broader
than the measures of our mind;
and the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.
But we make this love too narrow
by false limits of our own;
and we magnify its strictness
with a zeal God will not own.
 
'Tis not all we owe to Jesus;
it is something more than all:
greater good because of evil,
larger mercy through the fall.
Make our love, O God, more faithful;
let us take you at your word,
and our lives will be thanksgiving
for the goodness of the Lord.
 
"Make our Love, O God, more Faithful."
An Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) congregation created a mission statement that commits it to "sharing Christ's love with the greatest number of people." As those who have experienced a mercy "like the wideness of the sea," can we pledge ourselves to anything less? Think of just some of what happens when people come to know Jesus' way of life and love. Those who thought they didn't matter much to anyone discover a God who really does care what happens to them. People who thought they were unworthy before God, come to know a Christ who forgives and makes them acceptable. Lonely persons who thought their aloneness was incurable realize that God is always there for them. Saddened ones recover their joy. Confused ones find a sense of purpose. People who have given up on hope determine that there is absolutely nothing that they and God can't somehow handle together.
 
Lord God, help us hold on to the conviction that all will be well. All. And forever. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

His Yoke Is Easy

His Yoke Is Easy
by Joni
 
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
Matthew 11:28-30
At times we feel that our yoke is just too heavy to bear. That's when Jesus says, "Here, take my yoke. It's easy. The burden is light." Oh yeah? we think. What yoke could possibly be light?
Tired Christians feel this way. They get up in the morning and are overcome by exhaustion before the wearisome routine even begins. Sometimes they feel pressured to perform up to God's expectations. Or they add to their list of religious duties as proof of their righteousness before the watchful eye of the Lord. Then when they hear that God wants to step in and relieve them of all this, it seems unbelievable.
It's sad, but some Christians prefer to hoist on their shoulders the yoke of painful self-sacrifice and religious duty. Sure, it feels burdensome and heavy, but they prefer the route of self-sacrifice. It's something they can "do," something that involves "my effort," and "my faithfulness." It's easier (although heavier) to bear burdens that are "mine" rather than cast one's self on the Lord in utter despair, weakness, and helplessness. The wearisome rule-keeping exalts self, while coming to the Lord empty-handed gives self nothing to glory in.
What makes the yoke of Christ easy? What makes His burden light? Love. Daily, we move in His spirit... pray unceasingly... look to Him for grace. These are the disciplines of love that make our daily tasks light and full of ease. If we fail to move in His love, the tasks seem tiresome.
Lord, it's not my faithfulness that counts. May I move in Your love and power today and find Your yoke... light.
Blessings,

“There’s A Wideness In God’s Mercy,”

"There's A Wideness In God's Mercy," ELW 588

There's a wideness in God's mercy,
like the wideness of the sea;
there's a kindness in God's justice
which is more than liberty.
There is no place where earth's sorrows
are more felt than up in heav'n.
There is no place where earth's failings
have such kindly judgment giv'n.

There is welcome for the sinner,
and a promised grace made good;
there is mercy with the Savior;
there is healing in his blood.
There is grace enough for thousands
of new worlds as great as this;
there is room for fresh creations
in that upper home of bliss.

For the love of God is broader
than the measures of our mind;
and the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.
But we make this love too narrow
by false limits of our own;
and we magnify its strictness
with a zeal God will not own.

'Tis not all we owe to Jesus;
it is something more than all:
greater good because of evil,
larger mercy through the fall.
Make our love, O God, more faithful;
let us take you at your word,
and our lives will be thanksgiving
for the goodness of the Lord.

Frederick Faber (1814-1863) wrote some 150 hymns, including the familiar "My God, How Wonderful Thou Art," and "Faith of Our Fathers." In this hymn, "There's a Wideness in God's Mercy," Faber invites us to stretch our awareness of God's grace as far as imagination can take us--and then some. God's mercy is wider than wide, broader than broad. God's heart is most wonderfully kind. God's love spills out in welcoming grace.
The woman's faith in Sunday's gospel reading (Matthew 15:21-28.) waited out silence and     rejection in pursuing healing for her daughter. She discovered that God's heart of love is not about to let go of anyone. A well-known story has a chaplain asking a patient going through a time of struggle, "Have you carried the Christian faith within yourself during your lifetime?" The reply came, "Yes, I believe I have." "Then," said the chaplain, "at this difficult point in your life, let the Christian faith carry you."

Lord Jesus, make us truly thankful that you have placed goodness and mercy at the heart of our universe. Amen.

The Meaning of Encouragement

The Meaning of Encouragement
by Joni
 
"Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing."
1 Thessalonians 5:11
Ken warmed my heart the other evening when he hugged me and said, "Joni, you may not be able to wash my shirts, but I just want you to know that I really feel your support."
Ken considers encouragement to be one of the best ingredients in our marriage. And it's not because I tell him he's a nice guy, a good teacher, or a great husband. For instance, as faculty advisor for the student government organization at his school, Ken recently had to organize an awards banquet. I decided that at the banquet I would not sit on the sidelines and just smile admiringly when he looked my way. I made a point of wheeling to each table to introduce myself to the parents of all his students. It was a special ministry to his kids, but mostly, it was an encouragement to my husband.
Later on when I congratulated him, he knew I meant it. Why? Because he saw me join him in the effort. Encouragement that builds people up is the kind that is not content to sit on the sidelines at a polite distance. Bodybuilding encouragement will always roll up its sleeves and put words into action.
When you give encouragement to your spouse or friend, give more than pleasant words. Take the initiative. Be creative. Look for a way of supporting your loved one in his or her efforts. With up-close and personal encouragement like that, you'll be doing more than lifting spirits, you'll be helping to build another's faith.
Let me encourage with Your healing touch, Lord, those who are wounded. Let me encourage those in grief with Your hope. And let me find ways to put this prayer into practice as I serve others in Your encouraging love.
 
Blessings,

Matthew 15:21-28

Matthew 15:21-28
 
The "Not yet" place is not a fun place to be. It's that place where I'd like to believe God has something good in store for me, but I haven't come across it--yet. Despite the "not yet" things that hadn't materialized for the woman in our story, she remained convinced that Jesus could and would help her. When she kneels down and says, "Lord Jesus, help me," his silence must have seemed like the ultimate put-down. Instead, she's asked to identify with the scenario where food is thrown to the dogs instead of given to children. Yet she holds on and manages to be pretty quick on the uptake, "Yes, Lord, even little beggar dogs get in on the crumbs from their master's table."
Jesus seems amazed: "Great is your faith!" We're not told that he ever said the same of Peter or John or anyone else who had left everything to follow him. A great faith, indeed. Greater still, her Lord's ultimate faithfulness to her.
 
God, Grant us wisdom, courage and faith to face each hour. Amen.
 
 
Matthew 15:21-28 (NRSV)
 
21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon.
22 Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, "Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon."
23 But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, "Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us."
24 He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, help me."
26 He answered, "It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs."
27 She said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table."
28 Then Jesus answered her, "Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed instantly.

Experiencing Christ

Experiencing Christ
by Joni
 
"I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ -- the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith."
Philippians 3:8-9
In today's reading, Paul describes what it's like to know Christ in terms of being justified, of being legally positioned on God's side. Here, Paul is saying that God has done something for us on His books. It's wonderful to have the Lord impute His righteousness to us. But many Christians think that's all there is to Christianity.
There's much more. After verse 9 of Philippians, Paul discusses a different kind of knowledge of Christ. Paul no longer comments on his position, the fact that he has been "found in him... through the righteousness that comes from God." No, Paul talks about his experience of God...
"I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead" (Philippians 3:10-11).
Positioning may have been God's responsibility; but experiencing was Paul's responsibility. To experience God means to enjoy and realize, apprehend and understand the Lord in a deep, personal union. And, like Paul, this is your responsibility, too.
If someone were to ask, "Do you know Jesus?" what would you say? "Yes, I've been saved and I know I'm going to heaven." If that were your response, then good. You've just told everybody that you are justified and forgiven. But I hope you could also say, "Yes, Jesus and I are intimate with each other. Let me tell you about the kind of person He is and how much I love spending time with Him."
More than a head knowledge, I desire a heart knowledge of You, Lord.
Blessings,

Matthew 15:21-28

Matthew 15:21-28
 
Is there anyone who hasn't felt the hurt that comes from being snubbed? Rejection is the
unkindest cut of all. In our reading, a woman with an agonizing family problem steps outside her religious comfort zone and comes toward Jesus with the cry, "Have mercy!" Her plea is met with--silence! If there is to be any answer at all, she will have to wait. And wait some more.
What christian hasn't experienced this? You pray, but wonder if anyone is listening. You get the feeling that few if any of your prayers go anywhere but up into thin air. You wonder why God seems to be hiding from you. The silence this woman met didn't snatch hope from her soul. She let her faith carry her past uncertainty, past silence, past rejection, past humiliation and right into those words of Jesus, "Great is your faith!" Her daughter's inner torment found instant healing. God heard her cry, after all. Times of silence can let us know just how carefully God is listening.
 
Gracious God, We ask that our courage not back up, nor let up, nor give up. Keep our faith grounded in your faithfulness. In the name of Jesus. Amen.
 
 
Matthew 15:21-28 (NRSV)
 
21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon.
22 Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, "Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon."
23 But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, "Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us."
24 He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, help me."
26 He answered, "It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs."
27 She said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table."
28 Then Jesus answered her, "Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed instantly.

Knowing Christ

Knowing Christ
by Joni
 
"What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things."
Philippians 3:8
In the early seventies, the country music of John Denver took the States by storm, and I was his biggest fan. When my sister and I learned that John Denver would be appearing in a concert nearby, I sent him one of my charcoal drawings, invited him to dinner, and asked if we could meet backstage. To make a long story short, the closest I got to him was row 57, seat DD. A year later I received a letter of three sentences thanking me for the drawing.
Looking back, I am amazed that I actually believed that John Denver was my friend. It was crazy to think that he would want to see me and come to dinner at our farm after the concert. How ridiculous! For although I memorized the fact sheets about John Denver, including all the words to every one of his songs, I did not know him. My knowledge of him was an illusion.
Saul of Tarsus excelled all his classmates and contemporaries in learning about the God of the Bible. He was able to quote Scripture at great length and leap tall doctrines in a single bound. He was faster in a debate and more powerful than any other Pharisee. Every time he persecuted a Christian, he thought he was fighting for truth, justice, and the excellent way of God. But Saul's knowledge of God was an illusion.
One day under the hot sun on the road to Damascus, the One about whom Saul had studied spoke from heaven. In that moment the man who knew all about God from his earliest childhood began to know God for the first time.
Lord, I confess that I know more about You than really know You. I don't want it to be that way. Never, never do I want my knowledge of You to be an illusion. Help me to consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing You.
 
Blessings,

Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32

Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
 
 
 
Romans 9-11 reflects a deep, internal struggle in the heart of St. Paul--how to regard his own people who do not acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah. Chapter 11 starts with Paul's bold affirmation: "God has not rejected his people." For us, that means that Judaism is not to be regarded as a faith that has outlived its usefulness, but rather as a living faith, standing side by side with us in a hostile world. There's a "wideness in God's mercy" that will never abandon the original covenant people. By grace it's a mercy that is extended to us, too!
 
(From the Bidding Prayer for Good Friday, where we "pray for the Jewish people, the first to hear the word of God"): Almighty and eternal God, long ago you gave your promise to Abraham and your teaching to Moses. Hear our prayers that the people you called and elected as your own may receive the fulfillment of the covenant's promises. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
 
 
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32 (NRSV)
 
1 I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin.
2a God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew...
29 for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.
30 Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience,
31 so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy.
32 For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.

Names of God

Names of God
by Joni
 
"Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name. Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice. Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always."
1 Chronicles 16:8, 10-11
When God invites us to call on His name, we should never be at a loss as to which name to use. I call the Lord my Shepherd and Friend during those times when God's tenderness melts my heart and I cry to think how rich and full His love is.
Then there are times when I'm battling pride or wasting hours in daydreams. That's when God's Word slices through my sinfulness. It stings. His hand seems heavy. That's when I call the Lord my Refiner, my Purifier.
There are times when I feel helpless and frightened, when no one, not even my husband or best friend, seems to understand. I hide under the shelter of His wings. I snuggle safely in the cleft of the Rock. These are times when I call God my Tower, my High Fortress.
When it comes to God, one name just isn't enough. And because Scripture is full of different names for Him, we can always know exactly how to relate to our Lord, whether we fall to our knees in awesome respect, or climb up in His lap to be held in His arms.
"The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe" (Proverbs 18:10).
Herman Bavnick said, "Fire does not change whether it warms or illumines or burns. In the same way, in addressing God, we use His various names because of the various effects of His unchanging Essence upon us." Dig through Scripture to find that name of God that best expresses your heart. He is your Rock. The Door. A Wall of Fire. Your Bread and Water. Your King and your Friend.
Your name is wonderful. How I love the name of Jesus!
 
Blessings,