Growing Together in God's Word - Weekly Devotions

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The Beloved

In his little book, Life of the Beloved, Henri Nouwen writes personally and directly to his good friend Fred, responding to Fred’s desire for Nouwen, a Catholic priest, to write words that could be heard and understood by Fred, a secular Jew, and Fred’s friends. Nouwen begins the book like this:

Ever since you asked me to write for you and your friends about the spiritual life, I have been wondering if there might be one word I would most want you to remember when you finished reading all I wish to say. Over the past year, that special word has gradually emerged from the depths of my own heart. It is the word “Beloved,” and I am convinced that it has been given to me for the sake of you and your friends. Being a Christian, I first learned this word from the story of the baptism of Jesus of Nazareth. “No sooner had Jesus come up out of the water than he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit, like a dove, descending on him. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; my favor rests on you’” (Matt. 3:16-17; Mark 1:10-11; Luke 3:21-22). For many years I had read these words and even reflected upon them in sermons and lectures, but it is only since our talks in New York that they have taken on a meaning far beyond the boundaries of my own tradition. Our many conversations led me to the inner conviction that the words “You are my Beloved” revealed the most intimate truth about all human beings, whether they belong to any particular tradition or not.

Fred, all I want to say to you is “You are the Beloved,” and all I hope is that you can hear these words as spoken to you with all the tenderness and force that love can hold. My only desire is to make these words reverberate in every corner of your being - “You are the Beloved.”

This weekend as we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus, we hear these words which God spoke over his beloved Son as Jesus emerged from the Jordan River. We also hear the words which God speaks over us. God’s love for His creation is so great that He Himself enters it to take on all of humanity’s sin. In His baptism, Jesus assumes all of our sins and carries them all the way to the cross so that, in our baptism and every day after, God can say to you: “You are my are my son...the beloved.”

With you in Christ,

Pastor Nick

PS Join Pastor Steve Roma and Pastor Nick online beginning this Sunday as we continue our sermon series “Arise”! Together we will bask in the light of Jesus who has come to cast out the darkness! 



Winter always seems so long. Growing up in Oregon, winter meant not only short, dark days but also endless drizzling rain. In St. Louis, winter meant bone-chilling cold and more snow than I would typically prefer. 

But it always happened. Slowly but surely the days would get longer. You didn’t notice it at first, but then all of a sudden the sun would be up earlier and stay out longer. The rain would, eventually, stop and the snow would melt. At the end of a cold, dark winter light would come. The words of Isaiah the prophet convey this hope:

Arise. Shine. For your light has come! 

- Isaiah 60:1

This was Isaiah’s proclamation and promise to a people who were steeped in their own darkness. Their country had been destroyed. Their families had been scattered. All hope had been lost. All they had to hang on to was this promise of God from the mouth of Isaiah. A light would dawn, God says. A light would peek over the horizon and shine brightly into the darkness of their despair.

Indeed, at Christmas this prophecy is fulfilled! In Jesus a light has come. But it’s not just Christmas. Jesus, the Light of the World, shines brightly throughout His ministry as he exposes the darkness of sin, death, and the devil and shows, in no uncertain terms, God’s overwhelming power against it. And at his resurrection, our Lord arises from the grave, once and for all shining the Light of God on the cold darkness of sin.

So then, the Word of God calls out to us. “Arise. Shine. For your light has come!” This is not a command to stand up and do something but rather it is God speaking, beckoning us forth. It is like Jesus calling Lazarus out from the darkness of the tomb (John 11:43). It is like dry bones that come back to life (Ezekiel 37:1-14). It is God’s Word that does something to us. It brings us back to life. For we were once dead in our sins but now the Light of Jesus Christ has come into the world and has brought us back to life (Ephesians 2:1-10)! 

Arise! Shine! For the Light of Jesus has come for you!

With you in Christ,

Pastor Nick

PS Join Pastor Steve Roma and me online beginning this Sunday, January 10, for our brand new sermon series “Arise”!

Crumpled Expectations

Matthew 15:21-28

21 And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out 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 And he answered, “It is not right to take the children's bread 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, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

One morning my friend walked out of his house with a cup of coffee in hand and stood on his front porch. Immediately his ears were assaulted by a loud crashing sound. He looked up the street and saw a young man driving what was clearly his father’s or grandfather’s great boat of a car. It was garbage day and the young man was having a riotously good time slamming into one big plastic rolling garbage tub after another as he made his way down the street. They would bounce off the massive bumper, strewing contents down the street. 

My friend recollected that not that many years before he might have done the same thing. He sipped his coffee. He calmly watched. Bang, another tub filled with garbage succumbed to the bumper of the car. He did not rush out into the street to upbraid the young man or threaten to call his parents. He only watched because he knew something the young man did not. The garbage cans in this community were huge, their contents hoisted high and deposited into the trucks by impressively large mechanical claws. The weekend prior my friend had helped his neighbor remodel a bathroom. He knew that the can just up from his own exposed garbage can was in fact filled with several hundred pounds of broken ceramic tile. 

Bang – another victim of the car’s bumper. And then the neighbor’s can was next. Crunch! My friend looked over his cup of coffee and watched the horror spread across the young man’s face. The fender had a large crumple in it. The can had hardly moved. He took a sip of coffee and thought to himself, “Bet he never does that again.” 

Jesus has brought his disciples north, far outside Israel to the land of the hated Canaanites. He was looking for this woman. He knew she would come. The Canaanites had led the ancient Israelites into idolatry and God had sent them into exile. All good Jews hated the Canaanites. But Jesus loved them too. She cries loudly, following the master and his disciples. The disciples, repelled by this woman, ask Jesus to send her away. He plays along with them for a moment, even calling her a “dog.” I can almost see them nodding in agreement. Finally, they think, the Master is talking some sense. But all the while he is setting up the impact which will crush their bigotry. He is drawing out of her a statement of faith which their own pious hearts cannot make. 

“Woman, great is your faith.” Jesus only says those words to two people in the Gospel according to Matthew. The first is a Roman centurion in chapter 8. The second is this hated Canaanite. Both times Jesus is smashing the narrow and closed bigotry of religious people. Who are the people you imagine to be outside the kingdom of God? 

Look at them again. Look at them with Jesus’ eyes. He loves them just as much as he loves you.

Note: Today's devotion comes from Rev. Phil Brandt, pastor of St. Michael's Lutheran Church in Portland, OR

The One Who Wrote the Rules

And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

As much as we try to break free, we are all constrained. We are constrained by the rules of the universe. Humanity has accomplished some great things in our history. But always within the rules.

The disciples in the boat that night struggled against these same invariable forces of nature. Being fishermen, they knew the power of wind and waves. They had probably known men who had drown in this lake. They had comforted grieving widows and contributed to support their orphaned children. It is what men who make a living on the water do. 

This night, however, they encountered one who did not need to obey those rules. He could bend those rules, they realized, because he had written them. He walked out to them on the water. He even called Peter from the boat to walk with him. Peter did, though fear caused him to take his eyes off Jesus and he needed rescuing. 

Look again at what the disciples do when Peter and Jesus get back into the boat. For pious, even zealous Jewish men this is significant. They worship Jesus. They know that they may only worship One – the One who created the world, parted the Red Sea, put David on his throne, and sent the prophets. Jesus is that One. The world has largely rejected God because they often imagine the god whom they reject to be less than the forces which govern this universe. We reject such a god as well. Rather, we worship this God, this One who wrote the rules and sustains the cosmos.