Growing Together in God's Word - Weekly Devotions

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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.

For Us

Take a moment today to read Matthew 14:1-21.

Part of this text, verses 13-21, will be our Gospel reading for this coming Sunday. It is important, though, to read from the beginning of the chapter because context is key. Jesus has just received from devastating news. John, his cousin and prophetic forerunner, has just lost his life at the hands of Herod. So Matthew tells us that Jesus, "...withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself." Understandably, Jesus wanted to be alone to grieve a significant loss. 

But Jesus doesn't get the solitude he desired. instead, a great crowd, well over 5,000 people, follow him into the desert wilderness. But Jesus doesn't send them away. Jesus doesn't run them off. Jesus has compassion on them. Jesus heals the sick. Jesus feeds their hungry and tired bodies. Despite his own trying times, Jesus remains Emmanuel. God with us. And Jesus remains true to his mission. God for us. 

Even as Jesus walked to the cross, facing the pain of crucifixion, Jesus walks with compassion for His people. All people, we included, are "like sheep without a shepherd" and in his love for us Jesus does not send us away. No, Jesus invites us to Himself so that we too may be filled up with His gifts - forgiveness, life, and salvation.

With You in Christ,

Pastor Nick

A Holy People

"For you are a people holy to the Lord" 
- Deuteronomy 7:6

As the people of God are standing on the banks of the Jordan River, preparing to enter into the Promised Land after 400 years of slavery and 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, God takes great care to remind them of their true identity. They are a holy people. 

But what does it mean to be holy? What sorts of things are holy? There's the "Holy Bible". Moses enters into "Holy Ground" when approaching Yahweh. In the temple, the priests wore "holy garments".

What exactly does it mean to be holy? To be holy means to be "separated from the rest". It means to "belong to the service of God". This definition applies to Israel as they were about to enter into Canaan. God was about to fulfill His promise with Abraham and give this particular land to Abraham's descendants. More than just inhabiting the land, though,  Abraham's descendants were also to be a blessing to the nations. They were called to be a light to the Gentiles. So as they enter into the land, God calls them to separate themselves and to refrain from assimilating into the surrounding culture. Most especially, God reminds them that they are to remain true in their worship: "You shall have no other gods before me" (Deuteronomy 5:7). 

In the New Testament, the Apostle Peter uses the same words God used to describe Israel to describe the Christian church. "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation..." (1 Peter 2:9). Since we are in Christ, forgiven and redeemed by Him, we too belong to God. We too have been chosen by God and have been made holy. We too belong to His service. 

Therefore, in one sense, as Christians, we are to be separate from the rest of the world. That is, we are not to assimilate to the predominant culture. We are not to worship the gods the world worships. Freely forgiven of all our sin, we are to be followers of Jesus' counter-cultural way of living. 

Of course, in another sense, the Christian Church ought to be very much a part of this world. That is, we ought to be living for the benefit of our neighbors. We ought to be engaged in the political and social life of our communities. In so doing, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are a blessing to our neighbors. We are a holy people. Set apart for service to God...and to neighbor. Why? "The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession..." (Deuteronomy 7:6). 

With you in Christ,

Pastor Nick

Pentecost

Dear Friends,

This coming Sunday we celebrate the third great feast in our Christian calendar: Pentecost Sunday (Christmas and Easter would be the other two). I've seen many churches across the country gearing up to reopen just in time for this great celebration. Unfortunately, we won't have that opportunity. But I wonder, in this time of shelter in place, is celebrating Pentecost at a distance from one another a good reminder for us all?

Yes, I know that on that day of Pentecost in Acts 2, "they were all together". But what if, by the power of the Spirit we are still all together...even while living and worshipping apart? What if the coming of the Holy Spirit, as a gift to God's people, was meant for (among many other things!) such a time as this?

In his Small Catechism, Martin Luther writes in his explanation of the third article of the Apostles' creed:

"I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith."

Even now, as each of us longs more and more to be together, to worship together, to hear God's Word together, and to receive Christ's body and blood together, we can still take great comfort that the Holy Spirit, who gathered us together in the first place, is keeping us together in Christ. Yes, the Holy Spirit is still at work in each of us and in the entire Christian Church as we continue to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ and respond in prayer, praise, and love for our neighbors.

Rest assured that the St. Mark leadership and I are working on a reentry plan that will allow us to safely worship together, ensuring that the health of our congregation and the entire Sunnyvale community remains a priority. More than that, though, rest assured in the promises of God:

And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh...And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
(Joel 2:28, 32)

With you in Christ,

Pastor Nick

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