Pastoral Devotion – James 1:12

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

James 1:12 (ESV)


The tests and trials of life can sometimes be overwhelming. There is phrase that I often heard growing up: “God won’t allow you to go through more than you can handle.” Hmm . . . is that so? I know that God does not tempt us to sin nor does He dump trashcans of moral evil on our heads. He is holy and good. Yet He does test us in His omniscient love. And if rely on our own strength during any divine tests, we will certainly fail every time.

God tested Abraham by asking him to offer up his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice on Mount Moriah. Moses endured testing when he went without food. The children of Israel were tested in the wilderness for 40 years. The prophet Elijah ran from Jezebel and experienced thirst and hunger out in the wild.

How are you being tested during this special season of life? And how do you overcome trials that are overwhelming?

I find great comfort in the fact that long ago; Jesus lasted in the wild for forty days. It is easy to picture the landscape if you live in the Intermountain West. He lived among the wild animals—jackals, cougars, dogs, etc. And during all this time, with nothing to physically satisfy his hunger and thirst, he battled the full strength of satanic opposition. Thank God for ministering angels. And thank God that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God who is victorious and the suffering Servant who completely overthrows the power of the enemy.

When facing your tests and trials, do not try to do it alone through your own strength. Go forth this day in the power of Christ’s might. He has won the victory for you! And be encouraged by this promise: “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12).

Pastoral Devotion 8

Callings and Needs

Did you know that every date beginning 1-20-21 through 1-29-21 is a palindrome?
Did you know that won’t happen again for a century?
Does any of this matter to your calling?

Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest is one of my go-tos when it comes to devotionals. The devotionals included in this book were actually class notes of his that his wife put together after his way-too-young death at the age of 43. These notes came from talks Chambers did for seminary students in Cairo and as such, many of the devotionals in this book speak directly to young people who have felt a call into ministry. In other words, they are written for you and I!

My Utmost for His Highest is a yearly devotional and March 5th is one of my favorites. I asked the organization that oversees Chambers’ work for permission to post it here. They appreciated me asking, but rather than allowing me to rewrite and post it, they gave me this link for you to read his words:

In his brilliant way, Chambers states, “If you have received a ministry from the Lord Jesus, you will know that the need is not the same as the call – the need is the opportunity to exercise the call. The call is to be faithful to the ministry you received…”

Chambers’ words were a warning to his students, a warning to not confuse their calling with a need they might happen to see in their communities. I was called to Idaho in August of 2014 to dialogue with others about God’s Son. I am now doing that through an online medium because the virus presented me with an opportunity to exercise my calling. You all know your personal call story; a deep, close, intimate story between you and the Lord himself. Oh, you have probably shared it with others, but if you are anything like me, you can never explain it in words in quite the same way that Jesus imprinted it upon you. Praise be to God!

Chambers’ words of March 5th help to bring you and I, pastors who are years out of seminary, back to our calling. They act as a check point, a signpost along the road, reminding us why we are here, who we are working for and what it is we are to do. Use this devotion time to remember why you are here. Feel the movement of the Spirit today, as you did years ago. Then, smile and know that you are loved, you are wanted, and you are His! Amen?

Pastor Patrick Jones
UR His Church

Pastoral Devotion 7 – 1 Corinthians 1:10-17

Now I encourage you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: Agree with each other and don’t be divided into rival groups. Instead, be restored with the same mind and the same purpose. My brothers and sisters, Chloe’s people gave me some information about you, that you’re fighting with each other. What I mean is this: that each one of you says, “I belong to Paul,” “I belong to Apollos,” “I belong to Cephas,” “I belong to Christ.” Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you, or were you baptized in Paul’s name? Thank God that I didn’t baptize any of you, except Crispus and Gaius, so that nobody can say that you were baptized in my name! Oh, I baptized the house of Stephanas too. Otherwise, I don’t know if I baptized anyone else. Christ didn’t send me to baptize but to preach the good news. And Christ didn’t send me to preach the good news with clever words so that Christ’s cross won’t be emptied of its meaning.

1 Corinthians 1:10-17 (CEB)

Splitting Christ

I think we can all safely agree that we are living in incredibly divided times. We are divided by political party; we are divided by sports teams; we are divided by race; we are divided by gender. We are divided by so many things we are even divided by what Jesus we follow: a Lutheran Jesus, a Baptist Jesus, a Catholic Jesus — all these different divisions are everywhere we look!

It’s almost as though we humans are so good at creating divisions that we start to care more about them than we should! Oh wait, that’s exactly what happens! Look at the sheer number of expressions of Lutheran-style Christianity in American alone, not even counting the innumerable expressions across the world. We are disturbingly divided.

When Paul writes to the church in Corinth, he expresses his dismay at all these divisions saying, “Has Christ been divided?” Note up above, when I talked about the different Jesuses we follow; of course I don’t mean we all follow a different God, but in practice — whether intentionally or not — we act as though we do. Like the Corinthians, our divisions become more important than what unites us..

We see this in almost every area of our lives: politics, economics, race, gender, sports, video games, hobbies; we build up communities that allow us (and even more worryingly, compel us) to create in the “other” a villain of the worst standing.

(I do want to be clear, there are times in our lives when we encounter someone who actually is a villain to us. If you are in a situation where someone is causing you harm or abuse, that is absolutely an appropriate “division” to make; there are friends and services out there who will help you in that situation. Wisdom comes in helping us discern who is actually a villain, and who we are vilifying unjustly.)

So when Paul expresses dismay at the divisions in Corinth, I don’t think he’s saying to throw out Apollos’ distinctives, or throw out Peter’s (Cephas’) or throw out Paul’s; I think he’s instead calling us to remember that we have a higher unity — that which is found in Christ. Or to put it in modern terms, we don’t need to be rid of Luther or Calvin or McPherson or Wesley, but instead remember that, while we choose to be Lutheran Christians, we are above all chosen by Christ.

But this plays out in more than just the church. We can celebrate differences even while refraining from divisiveness. No matter our race, gender, class, or whatever else; we can almost always find unity together, celebrating that which makes us different, to work for all of our good.

Pastor Mike Galica
Holy Cross Lutheran Church

Pastor’s Devotion 6

I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Philippians 4:13

The name of the Lord is a fortified tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.

Proverbs 18:10

It may seem like it is getting more and more difficult to find peace in the midst of chaos surrounding us this year. As we seek to find peace it is important to note that peace is not found in the circumstances of our lives, but rather in the relationship we have with our Savior Jesus. The Bible tells us we are able to find peace through Jesus because He is our Prince of Peace. The title, Prince of Peace, was given to Jesus by the Prophet Isaiah who foretold about the birth of Jesus in Isaiah 9:6 writing, “For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called, Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

In her book, Jesus Today, Enjoying Hope through His Presence, author Sarah Young invites us as readers to imagine being in the presence of Jesus and praying for peace. She uses the following illustration as a way to seek Jesus as our Prince of Peace.

Learn to live from a place of resting in Me. Since I – the Prince of Peace – am both with and within you, you can choose to live from this peaceful place of union with Me. This enables you to stay calm in the midst of stressful situations, by re-centering yourself in Me. We can deal with your problems together – you and I – so there is no need to panic. However, the more difficult your circumstances, the more tempting it is for you to shift into high gear and forget My peaceful presence.”

It is easy to get distracted by the talking heads on the nightly news, by the posts found on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets. When this happens and the world gets us down as Satan comes to steal our peace, I pray we may turn to Jesus and realize we have, as Sarah suggests, wandered from our place of Peace with Jesus. When this happens, instead of becoming frustrated I pray we can return to Jesus immediately and cry out to Him, for in so doing we are able to reconnect with Jesus who comes to help us feel safe.

I agree with Sarah that often when chaos and uncertainty comes we look inward for answers instead of looking upward toward heaven and Jesus. It is tempting to ask, wonder, doubt, God’s faithfulness and His promises when the world seems to be out of control, but as Sarah suggests in her devotional, Jesus is the true source of peace in the midst of all types of adversity.

So as Sarah writes,

“Don’t be discouraged by how often you wander from Me. You are endeavoring to form a new habit, and this takes time plus persistent effort. The rewards, though, are well worth your efforts. The more you return to Me – to our resting place – the more peaceful and joyful your life will be.”

Pastor Susan Westland
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church

Pastor’s Devotion 5 – Matthew 2:1-12

“Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”
When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.

Matthew 2:2,10 (NRSV)

Following the Star (an Epiphany reflection)

Following the stars is something that we humans seem to think that we know a great deal about.  We read tabloid gossip pages, watch Inside Edition (or even 60 Minutes), follow the coolest people on Twitter and Instagram and generally seek out celebrity and novelty wherever we can find it.  We seek to be on top of the latest trends and connected to the most important people.  In this obsessing over the latest star, we have come need to establish gradations of stardom as well.  There are stars, superstars, megastars and greatest of all time stars.  We have a whole hyperbolic language that seeks to establish a greater stardom with every new star that we see.

This culture of celebrity produces its own light pollution – if you will.  The shear number of over-hyped celebrities cause us to invent new hyperbolic descriptions to try to distinguish between authentic stars from those who obtain a few minutes or even years of fame.  In the process we keep hoping to find something true, something genuine.  We hope to find the star that never loses its brightness.  The star that can be trusted to have enduring worth.

Tomorrow [January 6] is Epiphany; that is the revealing of the light of the world.  It is the day that the church commemorates the arrival of Magi in Bethlehem.  (They are better known as the “three wise men” although they are not enumerated in scripture.)  Their story is told in Matthew 2:1-12.  They are the first non-Jews to recognize Jesus as the Messiah.  They come from the “East” – east is the traditional direction of earthly illumination (from the rising sun) and enlightenment (from the great cultures of Persia and Mesopotamia)  – to seek their own illumination in a minor city (Jerusalem) of a far away empire (the Roman Empire).  Moreover, they are uninterested in the local luminary, a.k.a. King Herod, a truly minor star who barely deserved the title “king.”  As it turns out, they find the one who will unambiguously be called King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  They find him lying in a manger, in a minor hamlet, of a minor country, far from the flickering lights of civilization and human celebrity.  Then they offer priceless gifts, likely everything that they have of value, for the enduring honor of their presence in his life.

By the grace of God, they see past the light pollution of their day.  (It is worth noting that the hyperbolic term “king of kings” was used of the “great” human kings of the east in Babylon and Persia, and later borrowed into Jewish and Christian use to refer to God.)  They invest their lives and fortunes in the one who is found far from the earthly lights that often blind us.  In giving their lives to this true light, who is still shining brightly today, they find overwhelming joy!  (See also Mt 13:44-46.)  Maybe we should consider making the same investment.

Pastor Neil Arnold
Grace Lutheran Church

Pastor’s Devotion 4 – Isaiah 40:3 & John 1:23

A voice cries out; “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord…”

Isaiah 40:3 (NRSV)

I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord…”

John 1:23 (NRSV)

Preparing the Way

Both Isaiah and John (the baptizer) seem to be saying the same thing. We need to prepare the way for the Lord. This is an ancient custom that is still practiced today. In times of old, as a king was making his way to a village, people would literally run out into the wilderness, and clear the dirt path making it smooth for him to travel on. The way was prepared. Today, we do the same thing, albeit in a different manner. For example, when the President of the United States visits a city, the way is prepared by the Secret Service, the Mayor, and the Chief of Police. Different actions, same reasons.

But I wonder if Isaiah is telling us something different, something the Desert Fathers instinctively understood. In order for the Lord to enter our hearts, we need to prepare the way for him. And to do that, we just might need to be in the wilderness. Allow me to paraphrase Isaiah, “If you want to prepare the way for the Lord, go do it in the wilderness.” When we remain in our busy internet-driven lives, it is really difficult to prepare our hearts for God’s grace to enter. This is why our Youth Pastors always teach our kids about quiet time. Somehow, we adults tend to forget this.

The wilderness, your wilderness, is all around you. It can be as simple as your sofa at 5:30 a.m. It can be a walk along the irrigation canal flowing out of the Snake River. For some of us, it may be a much-needed sabbatical from the work of ministry; not to recharge batteries so we can do more, but to prepare the way of the Lord so we know why we’re doing what we’re doing. Whatever your wilderness is, my prayer is that you carve out time measured in minutes, hours, or weeks, and go find your wilderness place so that your heart is prepared to answer the Lord as he draws near. God bless you all.

Pastor Patrick Jones
UR Online

Pastor’s Devotion 3 – Luke 2:10-11

Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find the Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.’

Luke 2:10-12 (NKJV)

Remarkable King

Who is this baby? He is the Savior, the Christ, and the Lord of all creatures. Believe these three descriptions of Jesus. To not believe is to not have any true understanding of Christmas. Jesus is the Savior who can free us from our sins and save us to the uttermost. He is the Christ who begins to fulfill the Old Testament prophecies regarding the Jewish Messiah. And He is deity. Not merely a human lord, He is Emmanuel—literally God with us.

Also, it is remarkable to see that this messenger from heaven brought the greatest news at first to humble shepherds of low estate on terraced fields outside of Bethlehem. Secondly, the sign is stunning as it is the birth of the greatest King in human history. His first throne room happened to be a feeding trough with smelly animals in an adjacent shelter outside of where humans dined and slept. How can this even be? Being typically caught up during the Christmas season with ornate decorations, rich foods, and extravagant parties, let us pause for a moment and think of those earthly surroundings of this baby so long ago.

We pray that you all have a Merry Christmas during this Advent season in the year 2020.

Pastor Todd Wood
Shepherd of the Falls Lutheran Church

Pastor’s Devotion 2 – Philippians 2:5-8

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature [b]  of a servant, being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!

Philippians 2:5-8 (NIV)

The Sacrifice of Christmas

Sacrifice – we usually associate sacrifice with Good Friday and Easter, but I want to call attention to another day of sacrifice – Christmas, the birthday of Christ. You say, “He didn’t sacrifice himself for our sins on Christmas, Pastor.” No, He didn’t but He gave up everything to come and be the atoning sacrifice for our sins on Good Friday thirty-three years later.

You may be wondering what did He give up? Here in Philippians 2:6, Paul tells us He gave up heaven and all His glory there.

Why? Because he didn’t consider equality with God the Father as something that only He should get an advantage from nor did he consider it something to be held onto only for Him. He was fully God and felt no necessity to cling to the honor and privilege that were his as God’s Son. In other words, He left his glory in heaven and abstained from using his majesty except when it pleased him on earth. But He never lost his majesty. Rather, he “made himself nothing” in the service of others.

May we remember how He gave up Heaven and came for us this Christmas. Ultimately, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death on the cross. There he satisfied God’s wrath against our sins so that by faith in Him alone, we are justified. Now, our sins are forgiven and we will spend eternity with Him, God the Father and God the Holy Spirit and all believers who have gone before us.

May we, as He did, serve others this Christmas and not look to our own interests but to the interests of others.

Pastor Bruce Grentz
Our Savior’s Lutheran Church

Pastor’s Devotion 1 – Psalm 51:1-3,7-13

Have mercy on me, God, according to your faithful love!
Wipe away my wrongdoings according to your great compassion!
Wash me completely clean of my guilt; purify me from my sin!
Because I know my wrongdoings, my sin is always right in front of me.

Purify me with hyssop and I will be clean; wash me and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and celebration again;
let the bones you crushed rejoice once more.
Hide your face from my sins; wipe away all my guilty deeds!
Create a clean heart for me, God; put a new, faithful spirit deep inside me!
Please don’t throw me out of your presence;
please don’t take your holy spirit away from me.
Return the joy of your salvation to me and sustain me with a willing spirit.
Then I will teach wrongdoers your ways, and sinners will come back to you.

Psalm 51:1-3,7-13 (CEB)

Repenting Hope

While we generally think of Advent as a season of hopeful waiting, there’s another aspect to the Advent season that we often forget. Like Lent, the Advent season is a time of repentance as we prepare ourselves spiritually for the birth of Jesus. We take time to hear the words of the Law, convicting us of our sin and challenging us to change our hearts and lives – returning to the Lord we will see on Christmas Day as the Gospel is revealed in Jesus. One of the best examples of repentance in Scripture is Psalm 51, written by David when he was confronted with the terrible acts he committed regarding Bathsheba, abusing his power over her and murdering her husband to cover it up.

The beautiful thing about this Psalm is the progression it shows. King David acknowledges that he has done wrong, and cries out to God for mercy. He doesn’t just pretend he didn’t sin, or trust in potential future forgiveness, he says, “I know my wrongdoings, my sin is always right in front of me.” All too often, we ignore our own sins, never truly acknowledging them or changing the behaviors behind those sins. We count on others to be better than us, and forgive us even when we have not changed our hearts and lives. But that’s not what David is doing: he knows he is in the wrong.

And so he pleads with God to change his heart, through words that are familiar to us. He asks God to cleanse him from his sin and restore him to God’s presence. And then comes my favorite part of the Psalm: “Then I will teach wrongdoers your ways, and sinners will come back to you.” How can we share with others the good news of repentance and forgiveness when we haven’t repented ourselves? But when we do, we want to share; we want others to experience what we have experienced, through the combined efforts of God’s Law and Gospel, so that they may also return and be ready to experience Jesus anew at Christmas.

Pastor Mike Galica
Holy Cross Lutheran Church