What, Me Worry? – Vision Board Devotion by Wade Anderson

I remember it well. Thorson Hall 118, my sophomore dorm room. It was a Friday night in December, right before finals. I sat in my desk chair while the song “Something’s Always Wrong” by Toad The Wet Sprocket came on the radio, and I started to cry. There was no single horrible thing happening at that time in my life; instead, a handful of smaller things were all going badly, scaring me, making me sad, and making me feel like there was no hope for things to get better. After a bit, my roommate walked in. While not generally the type to embrace other men, he gave me a long hug before walking back out, and I have no doubt that he personified God’s grace at that moment.

Clearly, I made it through that. Twenty-one (yeesh) years later, I’ve got an amazing life: a wonderful wife, three spectacular kids, an engaging and well-paying job, a nice house in a beautiful neighborhood… and yet, sometimes I still get overwhelmed like I did back in my dorm room. There’s so much to be sad about, to be scared of, that I can become immobilized just thinking about it all.

Then, more often than not, I’m reminded about God’s grace in my life. I’m comforted that, while times may be hard now, I’ve got Jesus on my side. We all do. And while we struggle here on Earth—let’s face it, something will always be wrong—we can seek solace in knowing that Jesus faced our same trials, and is working to help us feel better.

What do you do when you find yourself in times of trouble? How do you see God working through you at these times?

The story of Jesus’ capture and crucifixion has always amazed me, and for reasons beyond the obvious.

It amazes me that, even though he knows what’s going to happen, Jesus doesn’t panic. He doesn’t try to escape. On the contrary, he willingly shows his face to the soldiers and Pharisees who come to arrest him. He also doesn’t take Pilate up on his offer to talk Himself out of being crucified. I, for one, would not have had that strength. What Would Wade Do? I would have darted out of there as quickly as possible, a la the troubled investment banker in Sunday’s sermon.

Jesus knew His role, the part that He needed to play, and He accepted it. Because of this, none of us need to fear death as He feared. Because of God’s sacrifice of His son, the troubles of our earthly life are merely a temporary distraction. Our real reward is waiting for us in heaven.

Sacrificing myself for others has always been difficult for me to conceptualize. Now, after having children, the notion of sacrificing one of them is beyond my ability to comprehend. Realizing God did that—for me—speaks to me in a way that I cannot describe, and it keeps me both grateful and humble.

Dear God: help us and comfort us when we are overwhelmed and scared. Remind us that Jesus and the Holy Spirit surround us, embrace us, and can ease our concern. We thank you for sacrificing your Son so that we no longer need to be afraid. We thank you for all of the wonderful things in our lives. Amen.

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Gratitude and Generosity – Vision Board Devotion by Brad Van Horn

“Gratitude and Generosity,” words that are inextricably intertwined when talking about faith.  Words that are technically prose but are nearly poetry because they have the potential to ignite the imagination and carry with them the power to bring great change when used together.  For a moment, in your mind, consider converting the phrase, “Gratitude and Generosity” to an image of a very long timeline but imagine there is only one point, the now, delineating the segments making up the past and the future.

The gratitude side of the line causes us to reflect on the past, about things that have happened to us or for us.  Some things we recall easily because they’re very tangible and we may experience them every day like being thankful for loving family and friends so we are reminded and re-reminded frequently.  Other things are a little more distant and we have to be vigilant to not let our memories fade, like our gratitude for service men and women who have fought for our freedom.  And then, of course, in this most holy season, as Christians, we must take time to contemplate and have gratitude for the eternal salvation granted to us with the ultimate sacrifice of our savior, Jesus Christ.

Now, remember the image and look at the generosity side of the line, the future, and think of it as a verb.  While it is important to send God our “thank you notes” in the form of prayers, he expects much more from us.  We are also called to action.  Another closely associated phrase, “time, talent, and treasure” have wonderful alliteration and symbolism but it seems like they are used so frequently that their meaning has become diluted. Do we sometimes interpret these words as “Time or Talent or Treasure”?

Because my term on the Vision Board is ending in April, I would like to express my gratitude to all of you for allowing me to learn and grow in the most wondrous of ways.  It has truly been an honor to serve God by serving Easter Lutheran Church.  Easter Lutheran Church is healthy in every sense; spiritually, culturally, and fiscally.  We have the greatest volunteers who are abundantly generous with their time and talent.  We have tremendous plans to do even more incredible work in God’s kingdom and now, more than ever, it is important that we make sure we are properly supporting our ministries and staff by reflecting on all the things for which we are grateful and seizing the opportunity to align our generosity with our gratitude.   Please prayerfully consider the call to action that lies within “Gratitude and Generosity.”

Today Lord, guide my generosity by doing your will with all that I have.  Amen.

A Holy Place For The Broken – Vision Board Devotion by Catherine Byers-Breet

His name was Vince. He came up to me one Tuesday (after the Easter Job Transitions Group meeting wrapped up) to say “Thank you for this group. I’m new, and today was really helpful.” He started to walk away and I said “So, Vince … how can I help with your search?” He looked back at me, his eyes filled with tears, and said “I’m not sure. I don’t know what I need. Got any ideas about what I can tell my wife and kids? I’ve been unemployed for 15 months. I’ve had 29 phone screens, and not one of them has turned into a real interview. I just don’t know what to tell them anymore.” 6 weeks later, Vince was at work in a leadership role at a reputable company.

Mary had been unemployed for 6 months and was about to lose her house. At 63, she was convinced she would never work again. 3 days later, she got hired by a former coworker who, until then, she had been too embarrassed to call.

These are just two of hundreds of stories like this. Since December of 2008, over 2300 people have come to our group (40-80 people per week). Only 136 of them have been Easter members. 94% are something else. Talk about blurring the lines between church and community!

I would never claim that I – or our job transitions group – were the only reason Vince and Mary were able to stand back up again and go get those jobs. However, I know for certain that we – and God – had a hand in it. Every Tuesday morning, Easter offers a safe, inspiring place for so many to gather and get great advice, wonderful connections and a bucket full of “Yes … you can!”

For many Christians, church is just a place you go on Sundays. Before joining Easter, I thought “church” was done by pastors and staff … and that the congregation just showed up when they needed something. Now I know that “church” is all of us. At Easter, Sunday is the special place we go to recharge our batteries … so we can go out and do God’s most important work: the stuff that happens in the spaces between the Sundays.

I am so proud of what happens in our church every Tuesday morning. But here’s the crazy thing: the Job Transitions Group is just ONE of the over 20 important ministries running at Easter on any given day! If you’re wondering what our church is doing for our congregation and our community, show up for a community meal or local mission event. Better yet, turn to the person sitting next to you on Sunday and ask them if they’ve tried out any of the small groups of ministries at Easter. I think you’ll be delighted by what you hear. If not, perhaps you can inspire each other to try something new in the spaces between your Sundays. What’s waiting for you on the other side of that is pure magic.

God’s work. Our hands.

Bless You!

I was an only child. Still am, if you want to get technical.

Because of that, I remember my Mom being wildly overprotective of me when I was growing up. I make frequent jokes about feeling like she wanted to cover me in bubble wrap whenever I went outside to ensure I didn’t get damaged.  That memory of being smothered (s-mothered?) was one of my main arguments for having more than one child when Sara and I started talking about our own family 15 years ago; I didn’t want my own child to feel as tethered as I did.

But when I think about it? I was allowed to do so many things I wouldn’t let my kids do now.  Or, I could do things freely that cause me now to hesitate and second-guess and worry about when it comes to my own brood.  I played football in second grade.  In fifth grade I would take off on my bike on Saturday morning (by myself) and ride all around my hometown (by myself), and not come home until dark.  Speaking of dark, in 7th grade, my friends and I would walk around the city after football games on Friday nights, not being due back home until midnight.

Would open-minded, free-spirited me let my kids do these three things? Begrudgingly, doubtful, and are you kidding me??

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Earlier this week, Laura Backman came to our house to film the final video for the Faith Five series that has been playing during the Children’s Message on Sundays for the past month. Step five is “bless.”  As in, after you share, read, talk, and pray, each family member is supposed to bless each other.   While our family is pretty adept at the “share” step (we have been regular high-and-low-ers for nearly two years), the blessing step is a new addition.  At first, I struggled.  What, exactly, do I say?  Also, what gives me the right to bless someone else in God’s name?  Finally I settled on “God be with you” while touching the head of each kid, although I reserve the right to change that to something more pithy in the future.

While I was pondering this whole blessing topic earlier this week, my mind shifted to the memories I shared above. While my parents did not explicitly bless me, I have no doubt that God was with me along those childhood journeys—accompanying me, keeping me safe, and always returning me home before curfew.  (Except for that one time, but let’s not talk about that right now.)

Similarly, I know that God is watching over my family as they go out into the world whether I perform my clunky blessing each night or not. However, that doesn’t make the act any less important.  For one, I think it is a great reminder for the kids to help them remember that God is with them throughout their days.  While they are still relatively early in their education, school can certainly make one feel separate and apart; I hope hearing that God walks with each of them gives them some solace.

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Just as important, though, is that the blessing reminds *me* that they are not walking alone. While I never won’t worry, ever since starting to do the nightly blessing I have felt more reassured that God is present in their day-to-day lives.  I know this won’t prevent them from ever hurting, but I am hopeful that it will make that hurt more tolerable.  (And, no, I still am not going to let them walk around on Friday nights until midnight.)

 

Dear God. Thank you for your abundant and undeserved blessings you give us.  Thank you for the gift of your Holy Spirit, who accompanies us throughout our days and reminds us of Your presence and grace.  Bless our families with peace and happiness and health.  Encourage us to bless others, to help us remember Your love for us. AMEN.