I Am So Glad When Christmas Comes – Week of December 12, 2016
Your Little Ones, Dear Lord, Are We – Week of December 5, 2016
The power to love – Women’s Devotion
This is my command: Love each other.
Jesus spoke these words to his disciples just hours before his death on the cross. As he speaks them to me today, I am filled with eagerness to keep his command. Then discouragement washes over me. Jesus’ words convict me of my failures: impatience with my husband, anger toward my beautiful child, irritation with fellow believers, avoidance of others who need my love. How can I possibly show true love, Christ-like love, in every circumstance, to everyone whom God has placed in my life?
Yet Jesus did not give this command without also making it possible for me—and for you—to fulfill it. Jesus spoke these words during his last Passover meal with his disciples, the night before his crucifixion. After having loved perfectly everyone he encountered throughout his life, he was about to show the world the extent of his love. He would be taking on himself all our failures to love, and paying for those sins on the cross. Now, through faith in Jesus, God sees in us not the failures, but rather Jesus’ track record of perfect love. What a tremendous gift! Yet God gives us even more. We can love as Christ commanded, because we have the gift of God himself inside us, powerfully and wonderfully at work in our hearts.
Jesus’ last conversation with his disciples assured both them and us that God, the source of our power to love, lives and works inside each believer. Jesus taught the disciples about the believer’s intimate connection with all three Persons of the Trinity. Earlier in John 15, Jesus used the word picture of branches growing from a main vine to describe the connection of believers to himself. While the individual branch stays connected to the main vine, it naturally will bear fruit. We as branches will bear fruit—not by our own power, but by the power flowing to us from the main vine, Jesus. This includes the fruit of Christ-like love! In fact, we will bear “much fruit” (vs. 5). Sisters, let us remember our intimate connection with our Savior, draw in the nourishment of the Word and sacraments, and joyfully anticipate the fruit that we are promised will develop in time.
Jesus also assured the disciples that he would send the Holy Spirit—the Counselor and Encourager. He told the disciples that the Holy Spirit “lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:17). This promise was fulfilled for the disciples at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit transformed the disciples from loveless deserters of Christ into bold lovers of God, distinguished from the rest of the world by their sacrificial love for one another and for those who hated them. Jesus’ promise is fulfilled for us today, sisters in Christ. As we study the Word, the Holy Spirit comes to us and transforms us into bold lovers of Christ and of everyone God places in our lives.
Jesus’ words provide even more encouragement. Jesus promised that he and the Father “will come to [the believer] and make our home with him” (John 14:23). God does not stop by briefly to give us a little boost when he sees we are running on fumes. He has taken up permanent residence inside us! God’s power is ours, every day, in every situation we face. It never runs out. It never fails. As Paul told believers in Philippians 2:13: “for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” Be encouraged, dear sisters! When we feel we have no strength and cannot manufacture a loving thought, let alone act accordingly, let us remember who resides in us. The almighty Creator of the universe even now is creating in us the desire to love others as Christ loved us. The Provider of everything necessary for the world’s welfare even now is producing through us the acts of love that serve the needs of those around us.
Yes, we can love as Christ loved us. We can fulfill Jesus’ final command before his death on the cross. The power for such constant, complete, and sacrificial love resides in us, because our God resides in us. Jesus assured his disciples of this truth in so many beautiful ways. Sisters, with boldness, with joy, with the power of our almighty, triune God working in us, let us love each other!
Prayer: Dear Jesus, I confess to you my failures to love. I thank and praise you for your work of paying for all those failures, and loving perfectly in my place. I trust your promise that the Father will give me anything I ask in your name. I now pray for greater and greater Christ-like love in all my relationships. Work in me to bear more and more fruit, to your glory. In your saving name, I confidently pray. Amen.
For Further Reading:
Written by Mollie Schairer
Reviewed by Professor Lyle Lange
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My Heart Leaps – Week of November 21, 2016
My Room – Week of November 14, 2016
He Will Be with You – Week of November 7, 2016
“The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
A New Covenant
You get a new job. Before you go to work, you have to sit down with your employer and come to an agreement on your wage, benefits and the tasks you are expected to complete. When all of those details are ironed out, you and your employer put those details down on paper and sign it, stating that each of you will honor your end of the deal. You promise to work a certain amount of hours completing a certain task or tasks. Your employer promises certain compensation to you for your work. It’s a contract, a legally binding agreement between two parties which outlines what each party does for the other.
While it is not an exact parallel, the word “covenant” in the Bible is much like a contract. In Jeremiah chapter 31, God says, “The time is coming… when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers…because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them.” God speaks about two covenants, the new one and the one which had been broken but not by God.
God had made a covenant with Israel. It is summarized in Exodus chapter 19, verses 5 & 6, “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations, you will be my treasured possession… you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Simply put, God would make Israel his special people for a special purpose, and on the other side Israel was to obey God fully. Sadly, the Israelites were just like all of us: sinful. They forsook God and broke his covenant. We’re no different. Daily we choose sin over righteousness, lies over the truth, hurtful words over kindness, grudges over forgiveness, anger over patience, selfishness over selflessness. The list could go on.
If our status before God depended upon holding up an agreement with God, eternity would not look good for us. But here is where God’s “new” covenant comes in. This is a one-sided covenant, where God does something for us and that’s it. He says, “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” This sin-forgetting forgiveness is accomplished by the sinless life of Jesus, his death on the cross, and his victorious resurrection from the dead. Through faith in Jesus, God does not hold our sins against us because he held them against his Son. Through faith in Jesus, the God of heaven and earth is our God and we are his.
The only covenant, the only contract that matters for you is one-sided: God declares you his forgiven son or daughter and he signed it with the blood of his Son, your Savior, Jesus.
(Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal – 389):
Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee; Let the water and the blood from thy riven side which flowed be of sin the double cure: cleanse me from its guilt and power.
Not the labors of my hands can fulfill thy laws demands. Could my zeal no respite know, could my tears forever flow, all for sin could not atone. Thou must save, and thou alone.
A shaking faith turns to a mighty Lord – Women’s Devotion
The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.
The Israelites had just finished a terribly long sentence of slavery in Egypt—4 centuries worth! God allowed Pharaoh’s hardened heart to soften just enough to give the Israelites their long-awaited freedom. Pharaoh was stubborn, and as soon as he realized what he had really done, he ordered his huge fleet of chariots and officers to pursue the Israelites. Seeing his army close in on them, the Israelites resorted to complaining to the Lord and to Moses. Their impending doom at the hand of Pharaoh terrified them. So Moses, by divine inspiration, reminded them of God’s power over everything and gave them these words: “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Exodus 14:13-14).
Then comes the rest of the story. Just after Moses told the Israelites to be still, the LORD told Moses to get the people going! God was ready to show his mighty power to the Israelites and the Egyptians once again, but he wanted the Israelites to move and do it quickly! Can you even imagine about a million people trying to escape this 600-plus chariot army? Nothing is impossible with God, and he held the deep waters of the Red Sea back as every last one of the Israelites passed through safely. As promised, he showed his glory and power by keeping the Israelites safe, while allowing those waters to sweep over the Egyptian army which was right on their heels.
The mighty torrents of a hurricane whip against our coasts. Mental illness knocks on our minds and hearts like an enemy trying to pummel us to the ground. Financial burdens bring frustration and we just can’t see a way to recover. Children wander away from their childhood faith, swallowed up by the evils of this world. All these circumstances may leave us feeling like the Israelites—worried and scared. Our faith shakes and we complain to our Lord—Why do you let me suffer so, Lord? God, how do you expect me to deal with the hardship and heartache?
Remember, dear sisters, the God you serve is the same God who created the entire universe. The God you serve is the same God who fought for his people by holding back an entire sea. The God you serve is the same God who brought his Son into the world and allowed him to go to the cross and sacrifice his life to give you salvation from all your sins that you may live forever with him in a glorious heaven. This same God will fight for you against whatever enemies are threatening your faith. He promises it! And even in the darkest of times, when your fears and wavering faith immobilize you, God helps you get going just like he did for the Israelites. Yes, he tells us to be still for he is God. Let him calm your worries; calm your heart with his forgiveness for your shaking and complaining. But then each day find in him your strength to continue to press on toward the goal, dear Christian. The LORD will fight for you and will continue to fight for you through all of life’s struggles until you finally reach your heavenly goal beside your Lord and Savior.
Lord Jesus, since you love me,
Oh, spread your wings above me
And shield me from alarm.
Though Satan would assail me,
Your mercy will not fail me;
I rest in your protecting arm.
Christian Worship 587:3
Written by Paula Sulzle
Reviewed by Pastor Joel Gerlach
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Grace – Week of October 31, 2016
A father to the fatherless – Women’s Devotion
I was just nine years old. I knew almost nothing about cancer. I didn’t know anyone who had cancer. It was only something I heard about when adults talked to each other, or I would catch glimpses of a public service announcement on television that told about the effects of cancer. Then it happened to my daddy. And just like that “cancer” became a word I despised.
It sounded bad. Really bad. Lung cancer. By that time I had already heard enough to know that smoking is bad for you—how it damages your lungs and how it can even kill you. I was old enough to put two and two together. My dad smoked, and now he had lung cancer. Deep down I think I knew he was nearing the end of his life.
Nine months later cancer claimed my dad’s earthly life, but death did not hold him. As Jesus told Martha at the death of her brother Lazarus, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25,26). I wrote these words in the front of my school Bible and looked at them often. I believed the promises of Jesus; I knew my dad believed those words too. He was washed in the waters of baptism and lived his life as a redeemed child of God. Now he lived with Jesus in the glorious realms of heaven.
I heard God’s promises in my life daily and believed them, but in the upcoming days and years I would let doubt and anger creep in. My dad’s death occurred at a time in my life I really felt I needed him most. I needed my dad’s secure arms around me so I could feel his love for me. I needed his loving but firm voice to tell me words like, “I am disappointed in your decision. You used poor judgment and what you did was wrong. Now let’s talk about what you can do differently next time.” I needed his soft voice to tell me the words I needed to hear, like “I love you; I’m proud of you!”
“A father to the fatherless…is God in his holy dwelling” (Psalm 68:5).
I felt the need for loving guidance from my father, but God had different plans for my life. Instead, he gave me an earthly father for a short time—a time during which my dad continually pointed me to Jesus and his saving work. Then God placed other Christian family and friends in my life, not to replace my dad, but to continue his legacy of faith. These people were not in my life by chance. God used them to nurture and encourage me in his promises.
God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).
Did I ever cling to those promises! What else could have pulled me out of the deep, dark places that I allowed very few people to see? My heavenly Father knew how I struggled to cope, and he knew exactly how to rescue me from my heartache and sadness. His Word gave me the comfort and true guidance I needed. No matter how much I thought I needed my earthly father, this need could never compare to my need for my heavenly Father. God led me to see my need for him, at that time and in the many years to come.
“The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” (Psalm 18:2).
In the coming years, there would be many times I would feel the need for a father in my life. I missed the special father-daughter relationship I saw so many of my friends experience. At those times I knew I should turn to my perfect heavenly Father, yet I didn’t always do this. I would turn to people who seemed to fill the void…until I realized I was idolizing those special people in my life. That’s not what God intended either. Thankfully, God used those same people I clung to so desperately to point me back to him.
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).
God allows us to go through difficult times to draw us closer to him. It might take months; it might take years to work through the pain and loss. Yet he promises to never let us go. No earthly father can ever give the perfect peace, stilling comfort and unending love we receive from our heavenly Father! He is the Father who will give me the gift of heaven—the gift of seeing my dad again! And for that I rejoice!
Prayer: O Lord, you are my only true Father. In Christ you redeemed me; through Baptism you made me your own dear child. Thank you, Father! In the times when I wander away from you, bring me back to your loving embrace. In the times when I am tempted to turn to loved ones before I turn to you, keep my eyes focused on your promises. Thank you for loving me. I love you, Father! Amen.
Written by Paula Sulzle
Reviewed by Professor-emeritus David Valleskey
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Why? – Women’s Devotion
As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.
(A devotion for the Christian who is under great, long-lasting stress)
My heart is in pain and cries out for help. I know God has everything planned out and under his control. I know he has promised me that he will care for me, provide for me, never give me more than I can handle. I even know he loves me. I do believe his promises and can quote Scripture passages tucked away in my memory that reassure me of these truths. But then, why do I feel so distressed? Why do people seem to annoy me so? Why do I feel as if I just can’t make any progress? Why do I feel so unappreciated when I work so very hard to please? Why do I feel so alone? Why can’t I just get a break now and then?
I just want to sit in a corner and weep—no, not weep, but cry great big tears! But I’m God’s child. He calls me by name. He cares about me. He knows how I feel without my shedding even one tear. He doesn’t leave me alone! These are the days when the Holy Spirit hears my moans, and through the Word, he begins to guide my thoughts.
He tells me about Elijah who sat under a broom tree, quit eating, and asked God to just end his life. Elijah had just witnessed an amazing display of God’s power and sovereignty, but he allowed Satan to totally distract him with the real fear that Jezebel wanted to take his life. Then Satan kicked him while he was down with thoughts of isolation which made him feel as if there was no one in the whole world who cared.
What was God’s remedy? Get up, eat, and get to work! God didn’t come to Elijah in almighty power, but in a gentle whisper, with mercy and compassion and yet with a firmness that made Elijah see the world as a humble servant committed to doing God’s will. Maybe I should read 1 Kings 19 again and see how these verses might apply to me right now. Maybe I should listen for that gentle whisper.
Who is the Jezebel in my life? Is it someone in particular who just always seems to criticize, discourage, attack, gossip? Is it a situation that seems to take on a life of its own as it grows and overshadows everything I do? Is it something of my own making where I can’t seem to live up to my own expectations? Is it my own insecurities or fears, real or imagined? Jezebel takes on many different forms, but they are all Satan in disguise, getting me to take my eyes off Jesus and the purpose he has given me in life.
In 2 Corinthians 12, I read about Paul repeatedly begging that God would remove the thorn from his flesh. To Paul it was huge and sapped the joy out of every day. It just wouldn’t go away. If only that thorn was gone he knew he could do his ministry so much better. Let me see, why was that thorn there in the first place? It was to keep Paul from being conceited, to make Paul realize that God’s grace provides all that is needed to accomplish God’s plan for him in this world.
What’s my thorn? Do I feel as if I am so gifted that I’m irreplaceable? Do I feel that I know best and others just don’t get it? Do I try to be so perfect that I can never, ever be criticized? Do I focus on me and what people think of me instead of on humble service to God’s glory? Do I try too hard on the wrong things or try with a tainted attitude? On any given day I’m probably guilty of all of these things. Yet once again, God knows these things about me and reassures me that when I lean on him, my work and my life are acceptable to him. For when I am weak, then I am strong. I’m strong because God has me in his hand!
In is times like these the Spirit reminds me of Psalm 42 and I ask God to make my soul pant after him like a thirsty deer in the forest. What a picture! What a singular focus! How refreshing as that first gulp removes the intense thirst. Let my thirst for God, the hope and confidence he gives me, thunder louder than anything Satan has to offer.
I know the same situations will be here in the morning. However, my attitude can be different. My focus can be different. My confidence won’t be in me, but in God. My attitude will be one of submission to God, his chastening and his will. My God wipes away the tears and lets me shout with joy and thanksgiving in the most desperate of situations.
Prayer: Lord, lead me. Give me wisdom, give me patience. Set my priorities and change my heart. Remind me daily that when I am weak then I am strong. Amen.
For Further Reading:
Psalm 71:12, Psalm 118:24
Written by Marilyn Miller
Reviewed by Professor-emeritus David Valleskey
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The difference – Women’s Devotion
My life has been under some pretty major reconstruction lately. I could make an elaborate bulleted list for you with the dates and changes in my life in an effort to make your head spin the way that mine has been, but I’ll spare you.
During this time, there have been an unbelievable amount of unknowns. I have found myself repeating a few scripture verses and hymns to help refocus when I’m feeling especially stressed out. Plenty of “I Am Trusting You, Lord Jesus,” “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 29:11), and a whole, whole lot of “lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:1-3).
“Hear my cry, O God;
listen to my prayer.
From the ends of the earth I call to you,
I call as my heart grows faint;
lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
For you have been my refuge,
a strong tower against the foe.
I long to dwell in your tent forever
and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.
For you, God, have heard my vows;
you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name” (Psalm 61:1-5).
As I’ve reflected on that picture of being led to that higher rock, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about those people who don’t see that refuge in their lives.
Even unbelievers know that life isn’t going to be perfect, that “in this world they will have trouble” (John 16:33). Try to imagine life with that alone. The idea that this life is all there is, and you have one shot at health, wealth, and happiness is harrowing for more than one reason. Not only are you missing the entirety of all the incredible joy and perfection that comes after death, but it makes this life a whole lot harder too!
It sure feels like the devil works harder on the lives of Christians, making it at least seemingly less pleasant than that of unbelievers. Even the lost, though, are wandering through life’s journey on a battle ground. The difference is that they don’t know. They aren’t holding the map that says, “This is (I am) the way”, so they’re trying to find it on their own. When bullets are flying and they feel under attack on this journey, it’s so often unexpected. Not only are they unsure of which way to run, but they haven’t put on the breastplate of righteousness, and they don’t even see the sword of the Spirit. Never mind knowing where to turn for true and lasting refuge.
Life in this world is hard. But take heart!
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33.)
Even on my most exhausted, defeated, despairing nights, I have the comfort that I’m just a stranger here. This is all temporary. There is so much more. Rather than feeling so disappointed and frustrated that I’m missing out on valuable time here in my one shot at health, wealth, and happiness, that I’m being robbed of peace in this life, I know that this life is never where I was supposed to look for peace in the first place.
“You will keep in perfect peace
those whose minds are steadfast,
because they trust in you.
Trust in the Lord forever,
for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal” Isaiah 26:3-4.
Even in your darkest, hardest moments, you are so, so blessed. Not only were you warned about troubles you would face, clued in on your purpose here, and equipped for what was to come, you know where you’re going.
I’ll say it again: Life in this world is hard. It’s hard for us, and it’s hard for unbelievers. The difference in this life is great. The difference after this life, though, is the point of the matter. We will continue to face hardships, but at the end we rest in perfect, perfect joy and peace. Even those who seem to evade life’s onslaught are to be mourned if they aren’t heavenward bound.
You’ve heard the quote by Ian Maclaren (or Plato, depending who you ask) “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle,” but I believe our calling goes beyond kindness. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Imitate Christ. Dear sisters, we are in this war together, and not all people are heavenward bound. Becoming an ally in a battle may help determine where someone finds herself at the end of the war.
- Pray that God lead you to his Word and promises every day—whether busy or blessed or burdensome.
- Pray that you can accept the good and the bad, knowing that God will use all things for your good.
- Pray that God will help you see past your strife and to look to the cross where Jesus laid his life down for you.
Written by Jes Woller
Reviewed by Professor-emeritus David Valleskey
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Women’s ministry—a gift! – Women’s Devotion
It’s always fun to get a gift isn’t it? It’s fun for both those giving and those receiving. This morning we’d like to take a few minutes to talk about gifts.
Have you ever thought of women’s ministry as a gift? Think of it this way: the service God provides his church and the world through us is a gift, and the privilege of using the individual gifts he gives each one of us is also a gift! God blesses his church when he calls his people into service to carry out his purpose—it’s everything we do to bring Christ to the world. And what a blessing it is to be a part of it.
The idea of service being a gift is not new. It was established way back in the Old Testament. Here’s what the Lord spoke to Aaron and his sons. This is from Numbers 18:7b: “I am giving you the service of the priesthood as a gift.” God said this when establishing the priesthood in the Old Testament.
The verses before this state the responsibility of the kind of service Aaron was called to do (to bear offenses, to perform the duties, to care for the whole Tent of Meeting) but all of it was a gift from God—the bearing, the performing, the caring—it was God’s grace at work for his people, and it was the only hope of deliverance for them. We also want to note that this was the LORD, the Covenant Savior/God who was speaking here.
God made a significant change in the New Testament. The priesthood was no longer limited to a special group, Aaron and his descendants, as in the Old Testament. It was given to all God’s people. The Bible calls this the priesthood of all believers. Women’s ministry is an integral part of this gift of God to his church—God serving his people through his representatives.
The Bible study Heirs Together of God’s Gracious Gift of Life by Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary Professor Rich Gurgel and Kathie Wendland, a WELS publication, talks about it in this way: “God has given us grace upon grace to set before us the eternally important work of being his priests, his representatives, in this world. Our calling is to let his light shine, in all that we do, wherever we are. God’s grace gives meaning and purpose to every activity of life.” (p. 22)
In 1 Peter 2:4-5 we read: “As you come to him [Jesus], the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
We also read: “So it is with you. Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church” (1 Corinthians 14:12).
When gifts are given, they oftentimes need to be unwrapped. That’s what we’re doing here today. We’re initiating and unwrapping a women’s ministry effort to discover how we might serve and offer ourselves in whatever way the Lord determines, in a God-pleasing way according to the callings and order established for us in Scripture.
As we unwrap, we discover that there are many responsibilities involved as noted in the verses we read, but even when it’s heavy and we get tangled up, it’s still a gift! It’s a gift when the church is built up, providing a way for individuals to respond to God’s gracious gift of a Savior, affirming that our faith is living, and giving unbelievers an opportunity to see the love of Christ at work among our own, and also in the world.
The Lord has equipped our women with gifts to serve in many ways here at [congregation]. We are eager to have all gifts put to use, and pray for even more to be discovered, unwrapped and used. The Lord gives us great assurance that each one of us is included!
Let us read two more sections from Scripture. “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10). “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines. The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:4, 11-12, 27).
We thank God for each one of us gathered here today and for the many ways so many have served already in the past. What a gift to the church you are! Let’s close with prayer on this special occasion.
Prayer: Dear Father in heaven, creator of all things and Savior of all mankind, with this gathering of women, we ask you especially to open our eyes and hearts to know your Word of Life. Through this Word, you show us our sin and comfort us with the gospel promise of forgiveness and salvation. And then you also equip us to see that you have gifted all your people, and you give us specific callings and opportunities so that these gifts are not wasted. You want others to know the joy of being part of the body of Christ and you use us, unworthy servants that we are, to welcome and nurture them. Dear God, bless our efforts in the name of Jesus, your Son, our Savior and friend. Amen.
Written by Sally Valleskey and adapted from her presentation, “Reaching Women in the Church,” 2010 WELS Women’s Ministry Conference, Mequon, WI, Revised 2013.
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Trust in the Lord – Week of September 26, 2016
Our cup matters – Women’s Devotion
I have a favorite cup. I drink out of it almost every day. I like it so much that I’ll sometimes even wash it when there are other clean cups available! I feel like the cup represents me in a way. It’s kind of goofy, a little bright and loud, has a weird sense of humor, and was made in the 80’s! It’s a unique cup, and I love it! Usually, though, if someone comes to my home, it is not the cup I would choose to serve them. This is especially true if we don’t know each other very well.
What is your cup like? Is the cup that best represents you the same cup you would choose to serve to someone else? What if someone were to pop over to your house unexpected? She sits down on the couch to chat and it feels appropriate to serve her a beverage. If your cup is anything like my cup, it’s perpetually dirty. Let’s say you’re a minimalist or in the middle of a move and this cup, your cup, is literally the only cup in your house! Maybe it’s even got banana chunks stuck to it from your grabby toddler, it may have been dropped and is chipped. Your cup is in pretty rough shape. And, for the sake of the analogy, you’re unable to wash it. So you have a guest and you have to decide whether you should serve her a dirty, maybe chipped cup or just let her sit and have a nice beverage-free conversation.
Maybe you would serve it to her. Probably not.
Well, what if she looked thirsty? Maybe she mentions that she was on a long run and turned onto your street and decided to just stop in. You know she would benefit from some water, but your cup is almost embarrassing, especially if you can’t even wash it!
What if she’s showing classic signs of dehydration?? She is complaining of a headache, seems to have a dry mouth, and her eyes look at least a little sunken. You’re probably less inclined to care about the condition of your cup when you see how badly she might need it to drink water!
What if she had crawled to your doorstep, and faintly knocked with the little strength she had left because she was literally dying of thirst? You open the door and all she can get out of her mouths is a dry, raspy “Water”!!
I don’t think any one of us would deny someone water that could save their life just because we had inhibitions about the cup we had to offer.
You are your cup. I am mine. We are dirty, at least a little broken, and less than perfect sinners. Christ is the life giving, thirst quenching, pristine water that everyone needs, but not everyone has.
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life. John 4:13-14
I have been guilty, too many times, of overthinking my cup when it comes to sharing that water. I have worried that someone would know the imperfections in my life, and that they’d see me as a hypocrite, noting only the smudges and cracks of my cup as I held it out to them. I’ve avoided using my cup to offer that life-giving water because I was too concerned what reaction I would get. I worried that I would damage relationships because I was coming off as judgmental, politically incorrect, or self-righteous. Sometimes I’m just too scared. I don’t know what to say or if I would have an appropriate response to questions or accusations. I’m more inclined to set my cup on a coffee table and subtly or casually mention that I am more than willing to share if they’d like a drink. Most people in my life know I’m a Christian, and that has too often been good enough for me. They can come if they have questions. They can approach me when they’re ready. I’m not doing much to help them realize their need for that water, and I’m certainly not doing justice to advocate for the true life-saving benefits of Christ. When I think of the reasons that I don’t share Christ more often, it always boils down the same way.
“The problem is that because of sin, each and every one of us has doubts and misgivings, fears and misconceptions that inhibit us, that diminish our resolve to act in certain situations. Each one of us may know (the above) things intellectually, but we have trouble putting all these things into practice spiritually.
“The apostle Paul wrestled with this problem. He writes about this in his letter to the Romans. ‘What I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate I do….For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do-this I keep on doing!’ (Romans 7:15, 18-19)” Educating the Congregation for Friendship Evangelism, Rev. Howard Festerling
It is sin in the world and sin in ourselves that stops us from sharing the saving Word of God. Scripture has so much to say to help us overcome this sin and refocus on the Great Commission.
When sharing our faith, it is important to remember the significance of creating relationships, coming from a place of genuine love and concern, and not just following an impersonal script. Know that you are a wonderful and beautiful creation of God, called for his purpose, and well equipped to offer that pristine and miraculous water that will make those who drink it never thirst again. Stop worrying about your cup. You are a vessel lovingly created by a powerful God. He wants to use you and your flaws can not detract from the benefits of that water of life.
For Further Reading: Read the following passages to help you refocus on the fact that we are called to share our faith and that Scripture continues to both remind and equip us to do so.
1 Peter 3:14-16
1 Corinthians 2:4-5
2 Timothy 1:7
1 Corinthians 1:26-29
1 Thessalonians 1:4-5
1 Corinthians 6:19
Prayer: Dear Lord, forgive me for the times I have missed opportunities to share your Word with others. Remind me that I am your messenger and you are the Creator of faith. I trust you to not let your Word return to you empty. Amen.
Written by Jes Woller
Reviewed by Professor-emeritus David Valleskey
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Establish the Work of Our Hands – Week of August 29, 2016
Whatever You Do – Week of August 15, 2016
Full Life – Week of August 8, 2016
Proclaim the Christian’s Freedom – Week of July 4, 2016
Reflect – Week of June 27, 2016
Review – Week of June 20, 2016
Renew – Week of June 13, 2016
Relax – Week of June 6, 2016
I Thank God for You – Week of May 30, 2016
Goodbyes – Week of May 23, 2016
Easter focus – Women’s Devotion
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance…Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
John 20:1, 11-18
“Just look straight ahead and keep pedaling.” These are words we told all our children at the beginning stages of riding a bike. We knew what would happen when they didn’t heed that advice. When they looked down or allowed something to distract them, they lost their focus. Hands quivered. Handle bars wavered until finally they fell.
One Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene lost her focus. She had been a follower of Jesus since the early part of his public ministry. She listened to his words, turned from her sin, and professed her faith. Mary certainly was eager to be a part of Jesus’ life, and more importantly, have him be a part of hers. But then one fateful day, he was taken from her as his broken, beaten body was taken from the cross and sealed shut in a dark tomb.
Imagine her grief. Mary’s world was being torn apart. Her friend, her Savior, was dead and buried. He was gone, but Mary showed she still cared for him and went to the tomb on the third day after Jesus’ death to put some spices on his body.
The Gospel of John tells us how the next minutes transpired…how Mary lost her focus. Even after Jesus had told his followers repeatedly that he had to die and rise from the dead, she couldn’t see beyond her grief and despair. John and Peter were different. They ran to see what Mary saw – an empty tomb. But they saw and believed and went back home to tell the others. Not Mary. She stayed at the tomb, crying, even weeping. She was absolutely overcome with grief. Then she saw Jesus. Maybe her eyes were blurry from tears or maybe Jesus had prevented Mary from recognizing him initially. We don’t know why she doesn’t know it’s him, but she definitely lost her focus enough to momentarily forget that Jesus promised to rise from the dead. She didn’t keep her eyes and her heart focused on Jesus and the words he had spoken to her many times over the past few years.
Oh, and how I lose focus too! I have my eyes and heart on Jesus when his blessings are vivid in my life. I hear and believe his promises spoken to me by faithful Christians and read with my own eyes. I profess my faith with my church family and when I encourage others. But then an unexpected illness comes, an unfulfilled desire or a financial hardship, and I lose my focus. I, like Mary, can’t see beyond my own grief and despair. And so I try to find my own cure, a new gratification, my own solution. I lose sight of Jesus and his good and perfect will and instead turn to self. I forget his promises. I quiver. I shake. I waver. Just like a young child on a bike. Until finally, all on my own, I fall. I succumb to the tempter’s tactics to distract me and take my eyes and mind off of Jesus, my Savior.
But remember how Jesus gained Mary’s focus again. He said her name, “Mary,” and immediately she knew this was her Savior Jesus in the flesh. Her eyes could now see Jesus and her heart was re-focused on his words to her. Jesus brought her focus back where it needed to be – on him and his promises. He told her to “Go and tell.” With renewed joy and a clear focus, she went back to tell the others what she had seen and heard.
And so it is with you. It is all too easy to allow the stresses and trials of this world to take your focus off Jesus. But then Jesus calls you to repentance for the unnecessary grief and despair, for doubting his promises, and gives us his full and free forgiveness. He calls out your name through his Word that you read privately or is spoken by your husband, a friend or your children, and once again you can see Jesus – the true focus of this life and the life eternal to come. Our Savior’s resurrection gives us the assurance of a life forever with him.
Prayer: Oh, Lord, my God, your promises are ever-sure! Keep my focus on you, no matter what tries to pull me away, until you call me to your side in heaven. Amen.
Written by Paula Sulzle
Reviewed by Professor-emeritus Joel Gerlach
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Unconditional forgiveness – Women’s Devotion
While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
It’s done and can no longer be changed. No matter how much you regret it, how much guilt you feel, or how many apologies you offer; it can’t be undone. At night, you lay awake replaying the moment and wishing you could reach your fingers back in time and have that moment to do again. All you can do now is brace yourself for the consequences which are sure to follow. You await the loss of your reputation, your job, a dear relationship, or worse. To varying degrees, all of us can identify with the feelings associated with committing a seemingly unforgivable sin.
Jesus knew his audience as he told the parable of the lost son. A crowd of tax collectors and sinners had gathered around to hear Jesus teach. Shunned by the upper echelons of Jewish society because of their sinfulness, they were familiar with guilt. To these lost sons and daughters, Jesus preached a beautiful parable about forgiveness. These “sinners” weren’t the only ones present in the audience that day, however. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law had also gathered to criticize Jesus’ association with such low-lives. Here too Jesus knew his audience. The illustration of the older son was intended to crush the self-righteous attitudes of these leaders and bring them to repentance.
As we hear Jesus teach us in this parable, we see ourselves in both sons. We identify with the rebellion of the younger son just as well as the pride of the older son. We lull ourselves into the false belief that our actions somehow merit good things from God. We wonder how people around us can be so evil, when our own sinfulness is capable of the same. Yet, this parable isn’t really about the sons. It’s about the father. Take a moment and read this familiar parable found in Luke 15:1-3, 11-32. Read it slowly and let Jesus’ words wash over your guilty conscience or your prideful unwillingness to admit sin. See a picture of our heavenly Father’s unending, unconditional, love for sinners. Listen as Jesus paints a picture of God’s love for you and me.
God’s love never ends. The younger son in the parable had basically told his father that he couldn’t wait for him to die. He valued only his father’s money and didn’t want to wait to inherit his share. He demanded his inheritance and then squandered it on sinful living. And yet, in spite of the son’s hateful actions, the father’s love never stopped. He continued to search the horizon, waiting for his lost son to return. We find the evidence of this in verse 20. While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. How often have we rejected our Father to pursue our own sinful interests! But God never stops searching the horizon for us. He loves us with an everlasting love that moved him to send his only Son Jesus to die for us while we were still in our sins. “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8).
God’s love demands nothing in return. Think of how the son planned his return journey to his Father. He approached it as human reason approaches a relationship with God. If I do this right, then God will love me. Listen to the words of verses 17-18. When he came to his senses, he said, “How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: ‘Father I have sinned against heaven and you.’” The son no longer expected to be treated as a son. Instead, he expected to work his way back into his father’s good graces as a servant. But, the father threw his arms around him and kissed him before the son had the chance to make his case. The father didn’t remind the son how he’d been hurt; scold him for wasting his money, or put conditions on his return. Instead, he brought his son a robe, sandals and a ring and restored his position as son, no strings attached. Our heavenly Father is no different. He offers us his forgiveness: free and in full. Now we can exclaim with John, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1)
Finally, God’s love is enough. The devil tries so hard to dig up those skeletons in our closet and throw them in our face time and time again. He puts our failures before us and tells us we are not worthy of God’s grace. And yet, God’s love is enough. God’s love covers over every sin. Every single one. No matter how great it may seem to us or in the eyes of the world, God forgives it. Jesus promised us that himself as he proclaimed from the cross. “It is finished!” As soon as the father in the parable restored the son’s condition, he threw him a feast to celebrate. He didn’t wait to see if the son was really sorry, or how his son behaved. He threw the son a feast! We too, await the feast that our Father has prepared for us in heaven.
As we read this familiar story, may we humbly fall on our knees in repentance speaking the words with the lost son, Father, I have sinned against heaven and you. Then, may we rise and go in joy and peace, confident of the depth of the Father’s love for us and assured of our forgiveness.
Written by Katie Martin
Reviewed by Professor-emeritus David Valleskey
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More than conquerors – Women’s Devotion
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble…Be still and know that I am God.
Psalm 46:1, 10
It was a night at home, not unlike many others. However, this particular night my husband was out of town on business. That would prove to be an interesting factor in what I would soon discover. The kids and I were getting ready for an evening activity.
Our chosen activity for the evening was to watch old family home movies. We had recently put them on my husband’s computer, which he had left at home, but I wasn’t entirely certain how to find them. I looked in various folders and finally clicked on the first video I found. What then showed on the screen shook me to the core. And two of my children also witnessed it. I quickly shut the computer, for what we had just seen was a pornographic video.
My heart raced; my body shook with confusion and fear. I managed to find the family home videos, but my mind was not focused on the hilarity of the joyful (and pure) images before us. No, all I could visualize was the sinful and gross image I had seen minutes earlier. My mind quickly filled with questions—“why?” would be the most obvious.
I was sure I had the possible answer. In my heart I didn’t want to believe it. After all, my husband is a God-fearing Christian man, a loving spouse and a wise father. He leads his family in devotion and prayer daily. He is respected by his peers and a natural-born leader in church and work. Certainly he would never fall prey to this sin—the sin of pornography addiction.
With my husband gone, I was alone with my thoughts all night and I heard God’s gentle whisper from His Word—“Be still and know that I am God.” That means I need to be quiet, try to allow my heartbeat to return to its normal rate and allow God to take control of the situation. I knew that if this in fact was a sin that my husband had committed, Jesus had already paid for it. For the night and most of the next day, I read and remembered God’s promises from Isaiah and King David:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze” (Isaiah 43:1b, 2). I definitely felt like I was walking through fire and didn’t know what I would look and feel like when I came out on the other end of it.
“The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love…As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:8, 12). I prayed that if my husband had fallen prey to the sin of pornography, that he was repentant. God would cover him with his love and forgive his sins.
And over and over I remembered “Be still and know that I am God.” Be still, be still, be still. God would handle this. God stilled my heart that night, but in the days, weeks and months to follow I’ve needed to turn to him continuously to still my troubled mind and crushed heart. God is always faithful and hears our cries for help.
I confronted my husband after he came home, almost 24 hours from the time I discovered the video, after I had time to think, pray and pour over God’s Word without the presence of my husband. God’s timing was not an accident. He wanted me to find out at that time and in that way.
My husband confessed, slowly at first. Then shame and guilt were written all over his tear-stained face. It had been years of porn addiction—years that I had no idea. I felt betrayed. My husband was unfaithful to me. Through many heart-wrenching conversations we discovered something more than just porn addiction. We discovered an addiction to self. In other words, we discovered the sin of idolatry…in both of us. All those times my husband had impure sexual thoughts or clicked on pornographic images and videos, my husband loved himself more than he loved God. The times when I clung to my husband more and put him higher than God, I loved my husband more than I loved God. Our dark and dirty sins were brought into the light.
It is only by God’s grace that we are still (very!) happily married. God tells us to think on whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable (Philippians 4:8.) The sins originate in our thoughts. We need God every day to guide us and remind us to love and serve him first!
In the moments following my husband’s confession, I prayed God would help me follow his will for our lives. Thanks be to him for his indescribable gift of Jesus. Without his perfect example of forgiveness, I’m not sure our marriage could have survived through pornography addiction. God helped me forgive my husband and God helped my husband turn from his sin. We now remind each other who our first love is—God!
James 5:16 proved to be true and was affirmation to us that healing is possible. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. But it’s an on-going struggle because of the consequence of sin. My husband is often faced with temptation as he sees images on raunchy commercials or billboards. Yet when he hears of another brother or sister in the faith who has also fallen prey to this sin, it reminds him to put on the full armor of God to resist the devils attacks. He spends more time in personal devotion and prayer with God, and that causes him to flee from this temptation when it arises. At times I have doubts; can I trust him? Or I might be tempted to hold this sin against him?
Pornography has tainted our marriage and our sex life. We will endure the consequences maybe until God calls us to heaven. But only with God’s assurance of forgiveness and his help are we able to forgive each other and put on the full armor of God to continue to resist the devil’s attacks. “God help us” is sometimes all my heart is able to muster. But I know that God will still my heart again, and through Jesus has made us conquerors of this sin too!
A note from Women’s Ministry editing team:
This sister in faith talks about how her husband turned to God during this time, but she does not mention any counseling that she or her husband participated in after the struggle with pornography was brought to light. Whether or not they sought counseling is between them and God; however, we strongly recommend that those struggling with pornography or any other addiction seek pastoral and/or professional counseling. We also know that our God is mighty and powerful and with him all things are possible. For more help on overcoming pornography addiction, turn to your pastor and/or go to the WELS ministry on this: www.conquerorsthroughchrist.net
- Ask God to forgive you or your loved one of the sin of pornography.
- Ask God to cast these sins far from his presence and remember them no more and that he allow memories of sinful images in you/your loved one’s mind to be erased too.
- Ask God to help you and your loved one put him first in your life.
- Pray that God renew in you and your loved one a pure and clean heart.
- Pray for the Conquerors through Christ ministry and all the people that struggle with the sin of pornography.
- Boldly ask God that society recognizes the danger of pornography and gets these images off mainstream media.
This devotion was written by a WELS woman, but because of the sensitivity of this subject and out of respect for her husband, the author has asked to remain anonymous.
Reviewed by Professor-emeritus David Valleskey
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Jesus Is the Cornerstone of Our Faith
These are the readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent.
God’s Word for This Week
Jesus makes clear that he is the cornerstone of our faith. Those who believe in him will receive the blessings of which St. Paul speaks in the second lesson, telling us to put away the “former things” of this world. Sadly, those who continue to cling tightly to the rubbish of their own righteousness will be broken into pieces or have this “stone of Christ” fall on them and crush them. Let us instead look to the “new thing” of God, the deliverance won by our Savior Jesus, the cornerstone of our faith.
First Lesson – Isaiah 43:16-21
What famous event is God talking about when he says he made a way through the sea, drew out the chariots and army, and extinguished them?
God is referring to Israel’s miraculous escape through the sea from slavery in Egypt. God’s rescue through Moses was ancient history by Isaiah’s day, yet was the most vivid example to that point in history that the LORD saves!
What “new thing” is God foretelling that will make the people forget what their favorite story of rescue, the Exodus was?
God says he will make a way in the desert, leading his people back from their coming captivity in Babylon. Then God will trump that rescue. He will send the Messiah, who will bring the water of life. Today as we tell people how great a deliverer God is, we tell the story of Jesus delivering from sin, death, and the devil. The once-famous Exodus goes to the “back burner.”
People talk about finding purpose for their lives. For what purpose(s) does the LORD say he formed us? (v. 21)
The LORD formed his chosen people for himself. Our nature rebels at the thought that we do not exist to seek our own goals and interests. Also, we were formed to proclaim the LORD’s praise. Since we have pardon in Christ, our new self gladly adores God and tells others how marvelous he is.
Traditional Second Lesson – Philippians 3:8-14
How many great things did Paul gain in Christ that made him ready to consider his past honors as a Pharisee rubbish?
He gained righteousness from God by faith, knowing Christ and the power of his resurrection, and fellowship with Christ through suffering. Paul gained his own resurrection from the dead on the Last Day and the prize of eternal life!
Compare Lot’s wife as she left Sodom with Paul leaving behind his comforts and status to follow God’s call.
Both were called to leave behind earthly things that had filled their lives. Lot’s wife kept thinking about what was behind and looked back, to her loss. Paul made a point to forget what he gave up and focused on his heavenly goal.
Supplemental Second Lesson – Romans 11:11-21
Paul’s main analogy here is of an olive tree. Jewish people formed the root of the tree. Jewish unbelievers are like branches broken off from the tree. How do Gentile believers, wild olive shoots, become part of tree?
Gentile believers become part of the tree by being grafted into it. (Note: Wild olive shoots don’t graft themselves into trees.) Paul warns Gentile believers not to be arrogant. We might expect him to tell us, therefore, to be humble. What does he say, instead? (See 11:20‒21.)
Paul tells Gentile believers to be “afraid.” Why?
Because we could repeat the stupidity of Jews before us who lost their place in God’s olive tree. Like dead branches, they got broken off from the tree, due to their unbelief. We get grafted in by faith. But if God didn’t spare them, God will not spare us, either, if we follow their foolish example.
Gospel – Luke 20:9-19
What does this parable teach us about Christ?
Jesus is the son sent as the last opportunity for the evil tenants. He is the heir and holds a unique place as the son. The other messengers came as servants. Christ identifies himself in this parable as the unique Son of God.
What does this parable teach us about men?
God’s chosen people were given a good land, but they mistreated his messengers (prophets) and were about to kill his own Son! God rightfully expects “fruit” from the people he puts in his vineyard, also today!
What does this parable teach us about God?
God is patient and merciful, like the owner giving the tenants many chances. But God’s patience can be exhausted; in his wrath, God treats hard-hearted rebels severely.
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