From Ashes to Easter: A Lenten Devotional from the Rev. Dr. David Wendel
Jesus finds himself being challenged again about the habits and behaviors of his disciples. This time concerning washing hands before meals. We stop our “dirty” work and “wash up” for dinner. The dirty work is the God-given assignment of taking care of creation. We stop and remember God’s gift of food and drink to sustain us in this holy, dirty work. “Washing up” is a way for us to present our bodies and our hearts in thanksgiving to God, a way to worship.
Sometimes when we work, we grumble about the work God has given us to do. We even find ways to convince ourselves it is not necessary, as the Pharisees did about caring for their parents—giving money instead. We are helping when we give our hard-earned money, but God needs our time and talents and caring hearts for his work. When we needed redeemed from our sinful lives, God did not send gold and silver. Instead, he came here among us and loved us. He spoke words of love, both law and gospel, both forgiveness and judgment—whatever was needed to draw us closer to the Father.
Prayer: Gracious Father, fill us with your grace that we may bring glory to your name as we live for you. Amen.
Today’s devotion was written by David Hefner,
Pastor of Shiloh Lutheran Church in Hickory, NC.
How does my storing up prevent me from witnessing God? If I have a long busy week, I try to store up energy, emotions, and time. At times, I calculate if this person or activity is going to burn up too much of my resources. Then, I hold back from spending everything. I store up time to spend on my things, believing that those things will recharge me. Rest however, can only come from God.
The days I feel overwhelmed and totally spent are when I realize that by turning to God, he will provide for me. In his providing, I will grow and become a richer person towards him. When I store up for myself, it prevents me from being dependent on God and experiencing the peace, refreshing, and provision that God wants to give me.
Thinking about other things that people store up—money, promotions, hours at work, clothing, gadgets—takes brain power, calculation, and actual time.
All this takes away from time to spend thinking about God, reflecting on his messages, devotion, and prayer. All we store up will amount to nothing on the day we stand before Christ.
Prayer: God help me to focus more on my conversation with you than storing up for nothing. Amen.
Today’s devotion was written by Dieter Punt,
Pastor at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Troutman, NC.
God loves us. Period. The magnitude of his love is seen in Christ dying for us while we were still sinners. (Rom 5:8)
God hates sin. Period. This also shows his great love for us. When we understand this we want to stop sinning. We can’t 100%, because we are still sinners; but our love and appreciation of God bids us to try.
“No one who abides in Him keeps on sinning.” (1John 3:6) The Greek word for “abide” is the same verb John used about branches abiding in the vine (John 15:1-8). As a branch lives connected to the vine, it receives life from the vine. It is only as we live in Christ that we are free from the power of sin. Living in sin and living in God are two different things, like darkness and light.
If we keep on sinning we are of the Devil and Jesus came to destroy the Devil’s works. (1John 3:8) Clearly, God teaches us not to go on sinning. Thanks be to God for His Spirit who empowers us to abide in Him so that we do not want to sin, but when we do, to repent and seek His forgiveness.
Prayer: Dear God, grant that I may abide in you and you in me that I may not sin, but live for you. Amen.
Today’s devotion was written by Carl Haynes,
Dean of the Carolinas Mission District, and the
Pastor of Christiana Lutheran Church in Salisbury, NC.
How many times does Christ make himself known to us, and we still doubt? Jesus’ ministry was well underway when he fed the five thousand. Scripture says that the people had been following him, and witnessed what he had been doing, disciples included. Jesus asked Philip how the five thousand would eat, and the response was not what was hoped for: human action, not Godly action.
Had not Philip seen the healings and miracles; had he not been a firsthand witness to Jesus’ works? Yes, and just like Philip, we get wrapped up in what is happening around us, and we lose sight of what Christ has already done. If Jesus had been performing miracles, and healing people, would not multiplying bread and fish be a simple matter?
I often think of the boy’s bag lunch that fed the five thousand. He did not know that day that his simple meal would be a feast for thousands. So, just like the boy, we need to simply bring what we have to the Lord, and he will do the rest. Scripture says there were twelve baskets of leftover food. Amazing. With God, just a little goes a long way.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, we bring before you our gifts, that they may be multiplied for your service. Amen.
Today’s devotion was written by Seminarian Joshua Morgan,
Vicar at Mayer Memorial Lutheran Church in Newberry, SC.
“If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write.” — Martin Luther
A Word for Today – Peggy Mericle Hoppes
Awakenings – Pr. Eric Jonas Swensson
Beam’s Bible Bounty – Pr. Thomas Beam
Diakonia – Pr. Allen Schoonover
Holy Trinity – Pr. Mandy Grimmer
In the Wilderness – Pr. Judy Mattson
Motorsage – Pr. Thomas Beam
My Lutheran Roots – Pr. David Nuotilla
Possessing the Sacred Cross – Pr. Ian Wolfe
Reflections – Rev. Dr. Rick Capezza
Theodidacti – Pr. Mark Ryman
We welcome St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Lexington, SC, to the NALC and our Carolinas Mission District. Pastor Leon Rawls informs us that their second vote to leave the ELCA passed by 96% and their vote to join the NALC passed by 98%. We look forward to working with them to fulfill the Great Commission and meeting at St. Peter’s for our 3rd Annual Carolinas Mission District Convocation on May 17 and 18 of this year.
Please come and celebrate with the people of Shiloh Lutheran Church, Bethlehem, NC, as we install our newly called pastor, Rev. David L. Hefner. He comes to us from Lancaster, PA, and with 30 years in the ministry. The service of installation will be Sunday October 14 at 4:00 PM at Shiloh Lutheran Church, 1011 Shiloh Church Rd, Hickory, NC 28601. Clergy are invited to vest and sit together. The color is green, the color of the season. A reception in the parish hall will follow the service. Come join us as we step into God’s future together.
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:4-7)
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
In his pastoral letter this past Friday, Bishop Selbo enjoined us to pay attention to the advice of medical professionals concerning this health emergency. With that in mind in this developing situation, our council at St. Martin’s convened on Sunday and asked for guidance from two of our parishioners with medical callings. Each of them – a pediatrician and an ER nurse practitioner – voiced the concern that our medical system may become so overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases of varying severity in the coming days that some with life-threatening conditions will fall through the cracks. They also reiterated that our many elderly members are particularly vulnerable to this illness. Every little bit helps when it comes to slowing down the spread of infection; therefore, they recommended that we put all services, classes, and fellowship events on hiatus for at least the next two weeks. Our council complied. Shortly thereafter, the Center for Disease Control intensified their guidelines for large groups along the same lines: from gatherings of 100 people or more to 50, then on Monday to 10. [Although our council made allowance for the church doors to be open on Sunday with the pastor present to offer prayer, we may need to revisit that provision, as well.]
Recognizing the contextual variances among our congregations, I humbly encourage your respective councils to consider similar preventive measures this week if they haven’t already done so. To be clear, this is not a directive, and to say that I do not ask this lightly is an understatement. The gathering of the faithful around the Word in proclamation and the sacraments is the heart of what it means to be Christ-centered. I – we – made the promise at our ordinations “to be diligent in [our] study of Holy Scripture and [our] use of the means of grace.” Conventional, biblical wisdom frames this diligence to include regular worship, especially the weekly feast of the Resurrection on the Lord’s Day in keeping with the Third Commandment.
In that same ordination liturgy, however, we pray for “all members of the church, that they may serve you in true and godly lives,” as well as for “… the sick, the lonely, the forgotten, and all who suffer… that they may be relieved and protected.” These prayers reflect both the confessional doctrine of vocation and Jesus’ commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves. While the gathering of the faithful together in the Word is at the “heart” of discipleship – where the branches meet the vine, if you will (John 15:5) – the holy calling of the Body within their “varieties of service” is the circulation of Christ’s abundant life pumped into the world: Mission-Driven works of “daily bread” offered in the name and through the love of the Bread of Life, that our branches might bear fruit for Him.
Given these extraordinary times, I believe the emergency measures described above are consistent with our task “to equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12) by assisting our healers in facing the challenge ahead. Such steps on our part will likewise help those in authority carry out their God-given responsibility to protect the weak and uphold the common good.
By all accounts, we’re only in the initial stages of this crisis, and new developments will doubtlessly necessitate new decisions. Two weeks isn’t a lot of time. Holy Week is on the horizon – then the high feasts of the church year, followed by Convocation(s) soon after. We may need to incorporate a great deal of flexibility into our planning. If this crisis becomes drawn out, we will have to be creative in our ministry and administration by looking both forward and backward – continuing to take advantage of new technologies while at the same time reviewing the various ways the historic church dealt with the recurring challenge of sickness over the centuries. All the while, we must remember that these measures are emergency exceptions. The Traditionally-Grounded practice of meeting for worship is the God-given rule for our life together (Hebrews 10:25) – a norm we should resume as soon as reasonably possible.
I’m heartened to see a significant amount of communication going on between our pastors as we share thoughts, ideas, and concerns for the good of the church. In this spirit, please share with me if your congregation has plans to livestream services so that we can compile a list of online options for our parishioners. [Special thanks to Pr. Jason Dampier for this idea.] I have reached out to Augsburg Fortress to request that they extend their temporary permission (March 15-May 31) to include their liturgical texts and music copyrights in podcasts or livestream services to Carolinas NALC congregations. I will notify you as soon as I receive confirmation from them.
Another outstanding resource for our congregations, especially our families with school-age children, is the NALC’s “Holy Families: A Discipleship Resource for the Home”: https://www.
Please note the following calendar changes:
- The Congregational Safety and Disaster Response Seminars originally scheduled for March 20-21 has been postponed until Fall 2020.
- The Lenten Bible Study at New Jerusalem, Hickory, has been cancelled for the March 19th and 26th; Vicar Taylor Rister is looking into the possibility of streaming those events instead.
- The Service of Installation for Pr. Heidi Punt at Union, Salisbury, originally scheduled for April 5th, has been postponed; alternate date to be determined.
At this time, all other events remain as previously scheduled. I will notify you of changes or recommendations as they arise.
This “strategic retreat” we’re facing is not the most important way we can help the sick or those who work for their healing. One of the greatest responsibilities Christ has given us is to pray: to lift up every need to our Heavenly Father. These days will afford both the time and the context for practicing and teaching this holy discipline as the Body of Christ, together. I therefore leave you with the prayer for Monday of Lent 3 in ALPB’s “For All the Saints” lectionary devotional:
Almighty God, who didst send thy Son into the world to heal our hurts of body, mind, and soul: We pray thee to bless the work of all hospitals, especially those now caring for thy people. Give to all workers therein patience and skill, faithfully to fulfill their calling. We commend to thee all sufferers committed to their care: praying thee to still their pain, to relieve their anxiety, to companion their loneliness, and bid them cast their cares upon thee, since underneath are thy everlasting arms. Amen. – From a London hospital, ca. 1940.
The peace of Christ be with you all.
Rev. Dr. Nathan Yoder
Dean, Carolinas Mission District, NALC
In a July 8, 1530 letter to Lazarus Spengler, Luther interpreted his seal:
“Grace and peace from the Lord. As you desire to know whether my painted seal, which you sent to me, has hit the mark, I shall answer most amiably and tell you my original thoughts and reason about why my seal is a symbol of my theology. The first should be a black cross in a heart, which retains its natural color, so that I myself would be reminded that faith in the Crucified saves us. “For one who believes from the heart will be justified” (Rom. 10:10) Although it is indeed a black cross, which mortifies and which should also cause pain, it leaves the heart in its natural color. It does not corrupt nature, that is, it does not kill but keeps alive. “The just shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:17) but by faith in the crucified. Such a heart should stand in the middle of a white rose, to show that faith gives joy, comfort, and peace. In other words, it places the believer into a white, joyous rose, for this faith does not give peace and joy like the world gives (John 14:27). That is why the rose should be white and not red, for white is the color of the spirits and the angels (cf. Matt. 28:3; John 20:12). Such a rose should stand in a sky-blue field, symbolizing that such joy in spirit and faith is a beginning of the heavenly future joy, which begins already, but is grasped in hope, not yet revealed. And around this field is a golden ring, symbolizing that such blessedness in Heaven lasts forever and has no end. Such blessedness is exquisite, beyond all joy and goods, just as gold is the most valuable, most precious and best metal.This is my compendium theologiae [summary of theology]. I have wanted to show it to you in good friendship, hoping for your appreciation. May Christ, our beloved Lord, be with your spirit until the life hereafter. Amen.”
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