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!

Psalm 67

Psalm 67
Later in the week, we'll glance at the hymn, "There's a Wideness in God's Mercy." Today's reading from Psalm 67 suggests (twice) how far God wants that wideness to extend:
Let the peoples praise you, God,
let all the peoples praise you.
This psalm is a prayer that all come to know and experience what God is up to in the world--bringing about universal justice, offering a "saving" health care plan with universal coverage! The psalmist sees God's action in the world as the way for all nations. It's a way where everyone finds justice, where grateful people come to recognize God's mercy and God's blessings in life. As just one example, check out how God operates through mother earth to sustain the blessing of life. The psalmist's hope is that "all the ends of the earth" will acknowledge the breathtaking blessings of a God like this. It's the perfect place for a word we like to use--awesome!
Gracious God, We thank you for our world and everything that lets us live, move and have our being. May all experience the awe and the wonder at being God-blessed. Amen
Psalm 67 (NRSV)
1 May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, (Selah)
2 that your way may be known upon earth, your saving power among all nations.
3 Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.
4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. (Selah)
5 Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.
6 The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, has blessed us.
7 May God continue to bless us; let all the ends of the earth revere him.

The Power of God

The Power of God
by Joni
"I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead."
Ephesians 1:18-20
God has incomparably great power in store for those who believe, the same power He exerted when He raised Christ from the dead. In other words, the sky is the limit when it comes to the display of God's mighty strength in your life.
The usual word for God's power in the Greek New Testament is dunamis, from which we get the word "dynamite." What a display of God's dynamite power it would be if, let's say, people in wheelchairs, like me, were raised up. Such explosive miracles would be a powerful witness of the mighty strength of God.
But wait. We also get the word "dynamo" from dunamis. A dynamo is just as strong as dynamite, and maybe more so. But the power of a dynamo isn't as obvious. Its power is quiet, controlled, and steady, unlike the explosive "bang" you get from sticks of dynamite. This is the kind of inward power that is displayed by God in the lives of saintly Christians who may never experience a rising up out of their suffering, believers who may never know an outward miracle.
It takes God's power to be a faithful spouse, a conscientious parent, or a responsible office worker. If you're struggling, remember that His power for you is incomparably great. If the Father could raise His Son from the dead, He can raise you above your circumstances.
Lord, by Your power, I ask You to do dynamo miracles on the inside of me and, as You see fit, dynamite miracles on the outside.

Isaiah 56:1, 6-8

Isaiah 56:1, 6-8
In the musical, "1776", Jefferson, Franklin, Adams and the rest of the signers of the Declaration of Independence are in Philadelphia, debating the future of the colonies. A courier delivers a dispatch from General George Washington pleading for support for his wearied troops. A wistful song asks: "Is anybody there? Does anybody care?"
There's a pre-school called Open Arms. A name like that suggests presence and caring. Since God's vision for the House of Prayer is inclusive, it's crucial that we let all people know they matter to a God who is there and who cares. For those already within, it means willingness to offer prayers side by side with rejects, foreigners, those who might be on the other side of a spiritual fence. Ours is a gathering God, welcoming all sorts of people into the joy of praise and service. From God's perspective, diversity is not a problem without a solution.
Lord, remove any barriers that keep us from opening our arms to others, without reservation or hesitation. In the name of our welcoming Savior. Amen.
Isaiah 56:1, 6-8 (NRSV)
1 Thus says the Lord: Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed...
6 And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant--
7 these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.
8 Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.

“Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me,”

"Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me," ELW 755

Jesus, Savior, pilot me
over life's tempestuous sea;
unknown waves before me roll,
hiding rock and treach'rous shoal;
chart and compass come from thee.
Jesus, Savior, pilot me.

As a mother stills her child,
thou canst hush the ocean wild;
boist'rous waves obey thy will
when thou say'st to them: "Be still."
Wondrous sov'reign of the sea,
Jesus, Savior, pilot me.

When at last I near the shore,
and the fearful breakers roar
twixt me and the peaceful rest,
then, while leaning on thy breast,
may I hear thee say to me:
"Fear not, I will pilot thee."

She was terrified. This was many years ago when surgery was very uncommon. It was an emergency and a long train ride all the way to the original Abbott Hospital in Minneapolis, Minn. She confessed to her close friend, also a pastor's wife, "I'm ashamed to admit even though I'm a pastors wife and have a strong faith, before my surgery I suddenly became so afraid." The surgeon came into her room whistling the tune, "Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me." Hearing that old familiar tune, a calm peace came over her. Our Lord and master was with her. When they took her down the hall for surgery, she whistled all the way, "Jesus, Savior, pilot me over life's tempestuous sea; unknown waves before me roll, hiding rock and treach'rous shoal; chart and compass come from thee. Jesus, Savior, pilot me."
Child of God, fear not. The Savior is in your boat. No matter how strong the storm or high the waves, Jesus, the Lord and master, is your pilot. Go ahead, whistle!

Lord Jesus, sometimes the winds and waves are overwhelming, even for me. Take hold of me, lead and guide me, give me faith and keep me safe. I know this day I am in your hands. Amen.


by Joni
"Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow."
Psalm 51:7
In my Bible, page 717 is dog-eared and dirty from years of use. That's because Psalm 51 is on that page, and I often flip to this beautiful passage to wrap words around my pain and remorse over sin.
I used to think that the intense and constant pain I felt over sin was a kind of punishment from God, a display of His wrath. But not so. Remorse over personal sin is the sign of a softened conscience. A conscience that is sensitive -- sometimes hypersensitive -- to evil. Such pain is a prologue to God's favor.
So when I feel the sting of remorse, I rush to Psalm 51 and find comfort. Especially verse 7 where it says, "Cleanse me with hyssop." Why is that so comforting? Hyssop, I've heard, was used by the Hebrews during the first Passover when they dipped the branch in blood and spread it on the doorposts. But the significance of hyssop doesn't stop there. For when you flail hyssop and strike it on a hard surface, it releases a fragrant perfume.
I invite the Lord to cleanse me with hyssop because when He flails His Word against my hardened conscience, a fragrant perfume of repentance rises to His throne. To me, that is a comfort. A prologue to God's favor.
Sin is anything that does not express, or that is contrary to, the holy character of God. Sin then is not merely what we do, but what we are. Praise God He has dealt with our sin finally and completely on the cross -- that's why nothing will soften a conscience more than a lively and buoyant love for the Savior.
Lord, according to Your great compassion, blot out my transgression and wash away all of my iniquity. Make me clean, O God!

“God Be with You Till We Meet Again,”

"God Be with You Till We Meet Again," ELW 536

God be with you till we meet again;
by good counsels guide, uphold you,
with a shepherd's care enfold you;
God be with you till we meet again.

Till we meet, (till we meet,)
till we meet, (till we meet again,)
till we meet at Jesus' feet; (till we meet,)
till we meet, (till we meet,)
till we meet, (till we meet again.)
God be with you till we meet again.

God be with you till we meet again;
holy wings securely hide you,
daily manna still provide you;
God be with you till we meet again.

God be with you till we meet again;
when life's perils thick confound you,
put unfailing arms around you;
God be with you till we meet again.

He was my friend. A well-known radio personality, he had fallen victim to A.L.S. or Lou Gehrig's disease. During the year of my internship, he warmly welcomed into his home our small-group Bible study on Job using Gerhard E. Frost's wonderful book, "The Color of the Night." He could relate. Five years later, I returned for a church anniversary. I was shocked to learn that he was still alive living at a nursing home. I had to see him right away. His body was gone, but his spirit was not. He lay in bed completely paralyzed, not able to move a single muscle. He read daily by having someone turn the pages when he blinked. We had a long deep talk. Painfully, it came time to leave. I shared a prayer and blessing. Knowing it was the last time I would ever see him, not knowing how to bring things to a close, crying as I touched him, I finally stammered lamely, "Well, I guess this it. Goodbye." His eyes stared at me and he said,"Dave, you know better than that! We're Christians. Until we meet again...." Until we meet at Jesus' feet, my friend.

Lord God, bless me today with a living hope and faith to believe and trust in your promise until that day when we all meet again. Amen.


Finding God’s Will

Finding God's Will
by Joni
"Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
There's hardly a Christian who hasn't looked into the future and questioned, "What is God's will for my life?" Today's verse may be short and sweet, but it's all the answer you need. Be joyful. Pray continually. Give thanks. For this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.
"But you don't know my circumstances," I hear you saying. "How can I be thankful for pain and heartache?" God is not asking you to be thankful but to give thanks. There's a big difference between feeling thankful and giving thanks. One response involves emotions, the other, your will. Trusting God has absolutely nothing to do with trustful feelings.
Also, God's not asking you to give thanks for the tough times -- only that you give thanks in them. Give thanks that He is sovereign... that He is in control... giving you grace and peace... and planning it all for your good and His glory.
Today's verse became my anchor when I was first paralyzed. I gritted my teeth, pushed aside feelings of despair, and willfully gave thanks for everything from the hospital breakfast of cold cornmeal mush to the grueling hours of daily physical therapy. Many months later a miracle occurred. I began to feel thankful. My brighter attitude enabled me to give thanks for greater things. Later on, another miracle happened: I was able to rejoice in suffering.
Finding God's specific will for my life was incidental. I happened upon it as I daily made 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 the anchor of my soul.
Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances and God will move heaven and earth to push you forward into His will. Whatever happens, whatever you decide, you will have every confidence that you are completely centered in His will for your life.
I want to find Your will for my life, O Lord. In other words... I want to find Your heart.

Matthew 14:22-33

Matthew 14:22-33
A great story draws the listener in so we are right there. We sense the feelings--the terror, fear, hopelessness and despair. We are the disciples. We are Peter. We are the lost ones. Yet the story is not about the disciples or Peter or us. It's about him--Jesus. Read again carefully and really hear the words. Notice the number of times the words "he" or "him" are used. Who is the story about? Not us. Not our feelings. The story is about Jesus. The story reveals this one as no ordinary man. This is THE Savior. Like the disciples, we have times of sheer terror and fear in our lives. With Peter, desperate for salvation, we reach up and cry out, "Lord, save me!" Jesus did. Jesus does. Jesus will. This is the good news. In Jesus, God reaches down into our world and saves us. With the disciples, let us fall down before Jesus and worship. Let us confess with our lips, "Truly this is the Son of God!"
Lord Jesus, I fall down before you this day. You are the miracle. You are the gift. You are the Savior, the one who saves me this day and always. With my life and with my lips, I confess, "Truly, you are the Son of God!"
Matthew 14:22-33 (NRSV)
22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.
23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone,
24 but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them.
25 And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea.
26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out in fear.
27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid."
28 Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water."
29 He said, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus.
30 But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!"
31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?"
32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased.
33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."