Devotion for Thursday, April 15, 2021

“Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else” (Philippians 1:12-13)

No matter what happens in this life, God has promised to bring it together for good for those who love Him.  He has prepared the way and knows all that is needed.  We will either follow Him wherever He leads, or else continue in the way we are going in the rebellion against the Lord.  Live your life in such a way that it is clear whom you are following so that others may see the hope within you.

Lord, guide me into the righteousness You give knowing that only in You is there hope and a future.  Lead me according to Your goodness to see that in You is the hope of every generation.  May the Gospel be spread through me as it has been through the faithful over the ages.  May I learn to be used by the goodness of the Gospel which is in me for the sake of Your kingdom.

Come Holy Spirit and use me to share the Gospel with others so that they too may live into the true and eternal life You give.  Guide me according to Your goodness in order that I may now and always look to You above all things.  In You is hope and a future.  Lead me in that hope to see that You have given the words of eternal life and that in You I will live into the promised eternal life which comes through steadfast faith by Your grace.  Amen.

Devotion for Wednesday, April 14, 2021

“So that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:10-11).

How do you spend your time?  What gains your attention?  Are you one who is living into this life of faith you have been given in Christ, or are you living for gain in the world.  We all have those things which distract us, but work to be filled with God’s Spirit, doing that which will bear fruit.  All of this can be and is done through Christ alone, who is our hope and strength, for He alone can and does provide the grace we need.

Lord, this world has so many distractions.  We are busy and constantly on the move.  Guide me, O Lord, so that I may now and always walk humbly with You, learning to live the life You give me in Christ.  Help me to know what righteousness is in order that I may be fertile soil, ready to show the fruit You are growing in me.  Lead me Lord and give me a heart to follow You now and forever.

Lord Jesus, You have said that only if we abide in You and You in us can we bear fruit.  Lead me now and always to bear the kind of fruit You have been planting through my life.  Lead me into righteousness.  I do not fully know what this is, but You do.  Lead me so that I may go from where I am to where I need to be.  You are my Savior and You must lead.  Lead me now and always.  Amen.



Are you a worrier?  Do you know someone who is a worrier?  Are you married to someone who is a worrier?  I know that for me most of the things I worry about never happen, and the bad things that do happen, usually are things that I never thought of to worry about.  But still, I keep worrying.  Whenever my wife says to me, “Now don’t panic but,” I always start to panic.

In the Gospel reading for the third Sunday of Easter from Luke 24 Jesus asked His disciples, after He appeared to them on Easter Sunday evening, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?” (verse 38)  Those are good questions for us as well.

Many people are worried about and are afraid of the future.  For many the pandemic has made their fears only worse.  The disciples also were afraid of the future.  Things were looking pretty bleak, and they were having to face some pretty tough enemies.  It would have been very easy for them to wonder, What will the future hold?  Will we even have a future?  So Jesus said, “Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself.  Touch me and see.” (verse 39)  Jesus wanted His disciples to know that He was alive.  It was all real.  Death has been defeated.  God has won.  The Gospel is true. 

Second, many people are worried about and are afraid because of the past.  Once again, Jesus speaks to our greatest needs.  He said to His disciples, “Repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in (My) name to all nations.” (verse 47)  As followers of Jesus we have a way for dealing with sin and guilt that will work in a way in which nothing else will work.  And it is God’s way.  Repentance and forgiveness of sins.  Are you worried about and afraid because of the past?  Believe in the Gospel.  Jesus has the answer.  Jesus is the answer.  His blood can blot out and cover over your past. 

Third, many people are worried and afraid because they feel powerless to deal with the present.  They feel overwhelmed with the here and now.  What did Jesus say to His disciples?  He told them, “Stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (verse 49)  That’s what we need – power from on high.  And that’s what the disciples received on the day of Pentecost.  Human power is so limited when we compare it with the circumstances in which we find ourselves.  But even the worst of situations has no real power when compared with God’s power.  And God’s power is available to you. 

So, to get back to Jesus’ question, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?”  Is it because of the future?  God has the future under His control.  Is it because of your past?  Your sins can be thrown into the deepest sea and because of Jesus need never be retrieved again.  Is it because of the present?  There is power available to all who call upon His name.

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After more than a year of consulting and writing, the ELCA Committee on Appeals has completed a draft for the revision of “Definitions and Guidelines for Discipline.”  As required by the ELCA constitution, this document was reviewed by the Conference of Bishops in early March, and now will be considered for possible approval by the ELCA Church Council when it meets in mid-April.  The document may be found (here).  The report from the Committee on Appeals concerning its work may be found (here).  This document describes the grounds for which discipline may be imposed.   

One of the first things to note about this document is how little of it actually has to do with human sexuality.  In section B., which is entitled “Conduct incompatible with the character of the ministerial office” (under the larger section “Guidelines for Discipline of Rostered Ministers”), only one out of fifteen sub-sections (B.5.) deals with “Sexuality and public ministry.”

The Committee on Appeals has published a summary of the responses which they received to various surveys as they conducted their work.  A link to that summary can be found (here).  People who participated in the surveys should be happy to note that the document does address such issues as confidentiality, relationship to family, addiction and substance abuse, fiscal responsibility, harassment of persons, inappropriate behavior on social media, plagiarism, copyright infringement, and even an inappropriate relationship with a prior congregation.  The list of organizations that a rostered person could be disciplined for joining has been expanded to include those that are white supremacist, racist, sexist, and homophobic.  There are also sections on Guidelines for Discipline of Congregations and Members of Congregations.  Those who responded to the surveys should be happy to see that harassing or attacking a rostered minister is also included within the reasons for discipline. 

The next thing to note is how basically conservative the section on “Sexuality and public ministry” (B.5.) actually is.  This relative conservatism stands in sharp contrast with the actual current practices, emphases, and priorities of the ELCA.  Footnote 9 refers the reader to “A Social Statement on Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust” and the social message, “Sexuality: Some Common Convictions.”   “Sexuality: Some Common Convictions” is a social message adopted by the ELCA Church Council in 1996.  “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust” is a social statement approved by the 2009 Churchwide Assembly.  After acknowledging a lack of consensus within the ELCA on how to regard committed same-sex relationships, and after describing four different views, including two more traditional views, held by people within the ELCA, the 2009 social statement says that the ELCA, “on the basis of ‘the bound conscience,’ will include these different understandings and practices within its life.” (page 19)  The ELCA website says that the social statement, “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust,” “now serves as the primary and comprehensive teaching and policy document of the ELCA.”  

Page two of “Definitions and Guidelines” is entitled “Grounding Context.”  The final sentence on that page states, “No language in this document may be construed to contradict or override a current authorized social teaching of this church.”  That sentence in and of itself is pretty amazing.  We have written much about how often the ELCA rejects any obligation to honor the commitments expressed in or to respect the boundaries defined by the 2009 human sexuality social statement.  But here in footnote 10 it says, “In 2009, this church expressly addressed the question of sexuality and public ministry in ‘A Social Statement on Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust.’”  Later in this same footnote it states, “Provision B.5. is substantially based on this teaching of this church.  This provision does not change the aspirational teaching of this church, set forth in its social statements, that all members of this church should abstain from sexual intercourse before married.”

But before we become too optimistic, we should realize several things.

First, according to the report from the Committee on Appeals referenced above, the Conference of Bishops held two separate votes on the document.  The Conference first voted 57-8 to support the draft document except for section B.5.  Then the Conference voted 33-32 to support section B.5.  It would not take much to have a different outcome to the vote.  In fact, just the election of one new bishop in one synod would do it.  And we all remember that the issue of blessing and ordaining persons in same sex relationships was pushed and pushed and voted on over and over again until those who wanted a change in ELCA policy and practice got what they wanted.

Second, the use of the phrase “aspirational teaching of this church” in footnote 10 under B.5. is interesting.  “This provision does not change the aspirational teaching of this church, set forth in its social statements, that all members of this church should abstain from sexual intercourse until married.”  What in the world is the status of an “aspirational teaching of this church”?  It is not required, mandated, or even expected.  It is just an “aspirational teaching of this church.”  Talk about a weak and limp statement.  Is this intentional so that the most famous ELCA pastor can continue to brag about her sex outside of marriage?

Third, it is interesting that the section on “Definitions” does not define “promiscuity.”  It defines all the other behaviors listed in the second paragraph of B. 5., which are examples of “conduct incompatible with the character of the ministerial office.”  It defines infidelity, adultery, and sexual abuse, but it does not define promiscuity.  As in the previous paragraph, one wonders if there is a reason.    

Fourth, my greatest concern is that the relative conservatism of this document will be just ignored in the actual practice of “this church.”  As stated above, the final sentence on the page entitled “Grounding Context” reads, “No language in this document may be construed to contradict or override a current authorized social teaching of this church.”  And there are three places where footnotes 9 and 10 for section B.5. refer to the 2009 social statement, “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust.”  But do we have any reason to believe that the ELCA will now actually take any more seriously what that social statement actually says?

We have written often and much on this subject.  Examples of the ELCA’s ignoring if not actually violating the commitments and boundaries of that social statement include the ELCA’s claim to be celebrating the tenth anniversary of LGBTQIA+ persons’ being able to serve freely in the church, a transgender activist as keynote speaker at the 2018 ELCA youth gathering, another keynote speaker at that same gathering who led 31,000 young people in renouncing traditional views as a lie, providing a link on the ELCA website to resources from ReconcilingWorks but not also to resources advocating for traditional views, the choice of workshop leaders for the 2021 ELCA youth workers extravaganza, and the refusal of “Living Lutheran” to publish or post an article offering an alternative (traditional) view of the Netflix Queer Eye episode that featured a gay ELCA pastor and a gay ELCA bishop. 

The ink on the Conference of Bishops’ acting to approve and recommend this revised version of “Definitions and Guidelines” barely had time to dry before two ELCA synods acted to ignore and even violate the covenants, commitments, and boundaries of the 2009 human sexuality social statement.  I assume there have been more.  These are the ones I am aware of. 

The Rocky Mountain Synod in their email newsletter dated March 31 promoted March 31 as the “Trans Day of Visibility.” A March 26 email from the Southwest California Synod announced Elle Dowd as the presenter for their April 14 spring multi-conference assembly.  Elle Dowd is a graduate of an ELCA seminary and an ELCA candidate for ordained ministry.  On her website she describes herself as a “bi-furious pastor-in-training who preaches, writes, and teaches about God’s desire to liberate us from the things we use to oppress each other.”  Those oppressors include cis-heterosexism and queerphobia.  The next sentence reads, “She believes . . . that a queer/femme interpretation of scripture is at the center of grace.” 

How could two bishops – even if they were among the thirty-two who voted against approving section B.5. of “Definitions and Guidelines” – so blatantly violate what had so recently been approved by the Conference of Bishops?

But if you think that is bad, it gets worse.  The email from the Rocky Mountain Synod was sent out on March 31 – the Wednesday of Holy Week.  Even though it was Holy Week, top billing in the email went to the Trans Day of Visibility.  The second item was a letter from ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton about gun violence.  Holy Week came in a sad and disappointing third – with the Easter letter from Bishop Eaton.

Even worse is the choice of presenters for the Southwest California Synod’s spring multi-conference assembly.  The promotional material for Elle Dowd’s book, Baptized in Tear Gas, describes her as “an Assata Shakur-reading, courthouse-occupying abolitionist with an arrest record, hungry for the revolution.”  Assata Shakur is a former member of the Black Liberation Army (BLA), who was convicted in the first-degree murder of a state trooper during a shootout on the New Jersey turnpike in 1973.  Assata is wanted by the FBI, there is a two-million-dollar reward for her apprehension, and she has fled to Cuba.  I have written to the interim bishop (this synod was my synod before I retired), saying, “It is outrageous that the Southwest California Synod would lift up and choose as a presenter someone who would be promoting those kinds of values.”  As I expected, I have not received a reply.        

Fifth, section B. 2. under “Conduct incompatible with the character of the ministerial office” reads, “Rostered ministers must be honest and forthright in their dealings with others.  Dishonesty, deception, duplicity, or the manipulation of others for personal benefit or gain is conduct incompatible with the character of the ministerial office.” 

With very few exceptions ELCA leaders consistently fail to respond to the communications I have sent about their not abiding by the commitments in the 2009 human sexuality social statement to honor also those with traditional views.  In addition, the ELCA does not remain within the boundaries of what was actually considered and approved in that social statement.  I cannot see that behavior as anything other than the ELCA’s not being honest and forthright in its dealings with people with traditional views.  The social statement and ministry policies that were approved by the 2009 churchwide assembly are far more traditional and conservative than what the ELCA is fully embracing today.  How are we to view the 2009 social statement and ministry policies as anything other than dishonesty, deception, duplicity, and the manipulation of those with traditional views for the eventual benefit and gain of those with highly revisionist views?  Did anyone really think that what was presented for action and approval in 2009 was “as far as it was going to go” rather than “presenting what we can get a Yes vote on at this time so that we can go further next time”?  If the ELCA expects its rostered ministers to be honest and forthright in their dealings with others, does not the ELCA also need to be honest and forthright in its dealings with those with traditional views?     

Sixth, the fifteen and final paragraph under “Conduct incompatible with the character of the ministerial office” (B.15.) is entitled “Adherence to covenantal relationships.”  It reads, “Rostered ministers who actively and affirmatively incite, initiate, or encourage a congregation to leave the ELCA are engaged in conduct incompatible with the character of the ministerial office.”  That sentence references footnote 18, which reads, “Consistent with the faith and practice of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America . . . Each pastor with a congregational call shall, within the congregation . . . encourage adherence to covenantal relationships with this church as expressed in the Constitution, Bylaws, and Continuing Resolutions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.” 

We have already discussed how the ELCA does not abide by and adhere to its covenantal relationships.  How could it imagine itself to have the integrity and moral authority to discipline rostered ministers whom it says are not abiding by and adhering to their covenantal relationships?  Also, since the process by which a congregation can vote to disaffiliate from the ELCA has been defined in the Model Constitution for Congregations of the ELCA (Section C6.05), how can the ELCA say that a rostered minister is not encouraging “adherence to covenantal relationships with this church” if that rostered minister is urging and leading a congregation in following the provisions provided and outlined in the Model Constitution for Congregations of “this church”? 

Writing all of this, I find solace and protection in the fifth definition on the “Definitions” page of the “Definitions and Guidelines” document.  There it says, “’Harass’ means to persistently annoy another or to create an unpleasant or hostile situation by uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical conduct.  Mere criticism or disagreement is not harassment.”  As always, what I have written is criticism and disagreement, not harassment.    

Dennis D. Nelson

Executive Director of Lutheran CORE

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Devotion for Tuesday, April 13, 2021

“And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment” (Philippians 1:9)

Real knowledge and discernment is offered.  How many settle for what this world gives.  This world repeats the same garbage with different wrappings.  The Lord offers truth and eternity.  Come then and live into the reality which is given you through Christ.  Know that in Him is all life and truth.  Ask for discernment and the Lord will grant you His wisdom and knowledge.

Lord, teach me so that I may know truth.  You are truth and all that is or ever will be comes from You.  Humble me and bring me into Your presence in order that I may know You and all that You offer.  Let me not be swayed by this world, but transformed through the renewing of my mind so that I may live always in Your presence, purpose, and power.  Guide me, Lord, now and forever.

Lord Jesus, You have the words of eternal life.  Help me to not become tripped up by the garbage of this world, but live into the truth You have revealed once for all.  You are truth and You have revealed truth through Your death and resurrection.  Guide me, O Lord, so that I may now and always abide in You and You in me as You create in me a clean and new heart.  May I always be found in Your presence and the Father’s purpose.  Amen.

Devotion for Monday, April 12, 2021

“For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:8)

Do you long for the saints and want to be united with them?  Are you tied to the world or to the saints?  Come into the presence of the Lord and know His goodness and mercy.  Come into the presence of the saints and know the encouragement and the strengthening that comes through fellowship.  Live into the life which is yours in Christ and show the affection He has given you by giving that affection to others.

Lord, the good infection of Your love, grace, and mercy is mine through You.  Lead me to let loose Your love in my life so that I would see others as a part of my heavenly family.  Let me not be hindered by sin, or other selfish behavior, but freed to live into this life for which You have called me.  Guide me by Your grace to look to You and be encouraged by those whom You send to surround me.

Dear Jesus, You have come to set the captives free.  You have come so that we who have new life, might have that life in You.  You, the author and finisher of faith, give faith to those who will become faithful.  Let me not buy the lie of the wicked one and think that I do not need fellowship.  Instead, richly invest me in the fellowship You have given me so that I might grow in You.  Amen.

Devotion for Sunday, April 11, 2021

“For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me” (Philippians 1:7).

We each have our part in the unfolding drama of salvation which the Lord has accomplished on our behalf.  Come then and rejoice in the gift you have been given, living your part.  We are those who have relinquished our selfish will so that the will of the Father would be done in us.  We are the ones who are living in the hope of the Gospel because of what Christ has accomplished for all who believe.

Lord, You have laid before us the truth of the ages.  Lead me, O Lord, in the way of truth so that I may now and always be guided by You with Your guidance.  Confirm in me the Gospel in order that I would be willing travel any distance and bear any difficulty knowing that I too am now in adversity to this world which hates You.  Help me to be reconciled with You and not the world.

Lord Jesus, all that is needed You have already provided.  Lead me this day and help me to walk faithfully with You.  Let me care for others as You have cared for me.  Guide me in the way of the Gospel truth and help me to hold fast to all that You have revealed.  In You, Lord, is all hope and an eternal future.  Keep me abiding richly in You so that Your Gospel may radiate from me.  Amen.

Devotion for Saturday, April 10, 2021

“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).

The promise of the Lord is more sure than the dirt under your feet.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but the Word of the Lord is forever.  He will perfect all who come into the gift of salvation.  And what is perfection?  To be complete as He is complete.  To be one as He is One.  To be whom He has made you to be.  This is the good work of the salvation He gives and is accomplishing.

Lord, You will not stop until the work is complete.  Lead me, Lord, along the journey of this salvation as You see it needs to be led.  Let me not resist the work You are doing but join in and be led by Your Spirit to walk each day according to Your leading.  Let me not hinder my walk by rebellion, but willingly submit to You in all things knowing that You alone are able to complete all that needs to be done.

Lord Jesus, You have come so that we may be in You and You in us. Guide me this day in the way You have shown me in order that I may learn and grow according to Your perfect plan.  Grant that I would be content in all things knowing that in You alone is hope and a future. Lead me Lord so that I may be led rightly and help me now and always to remain in You as You are always in me.  May I willingly follow Your lead this day.  Amen.

Devotion for Friday, April 9, 2021

“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now” (Philippians 1:3-5).

Are you thankful for those with whom the Lord has placed you?  Be thankful and do not wish away the life you have been given.  You have been placed in the circumstances you are in for God’s will to be done.  In all things rejoice and give thanks.  The Lord, who has given you the power to become His child, has made all this possible.  Give thanks from now on for all His benefits.

Lord, teach me to have a thankful heart.  Guide me, O Lord, in the way of truth, living in the light of your countenance with every breath You give me.  Bring to remembrance all the good things You have taught me so that I may put into practice what is right and good.  Lead me, O Lord, now and always in the way You know I need to go so that I may work with You in accomplishing Your will in my life.  Teach me to be a person of prayer.

Lord Jesus, You have guided me thus far.  Continue to strengthen me in this faith You have given me so that I may now and always be guided by You and the promises You have given me through grace.  Lead me this day to remember and give thanks.  Guide me this day to love others as You love me.  Lead me this day to go where You send me, doing what is pleasing in the Father’s sight.  Amen.

Devotion for Thursday, April 8, 2021

“Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:1-2).

Grace and peace from God our Father.  What does this mean?  God our Father?  Be comforted in the hope which is yours.  God has shown up and given us power to become His children through the grace He purchased on the cross.  We are then united as servants, no, slaves, for we need His direction to live into the glorious hope which is ours through Christ.  He has done this!  What joy and peace this brings to those who believe in Him.

Lord, let me see through the noise and confusion of this age to understand the great offer You have given me.  You have given up Your life so that I may adopt it as my own.  You have been raised from the dead so that I may be raised from the dead.  You, who are the only begotten Son, have given me the ability to be a child of the Heavenly Father.  Lead me, O Lord, in the way of truth.

Lord Jesus, You have come in order that we may have true life.  Help me this day to understand that only in You can we, and will we, become what has always been intended.  Guide me, Lord, in the way of truth so that I may now and always abide in You and You in me.  Lead me by Your Spirit to become what You know I will be and keep my eye always on the prize.  Through You alone is there an abundance of hope!  Amen.

Devotion for Wednesday, April 7, 2021

“Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.   Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with incorruptible love” (Ephesians 6:23-24).

Listen to this benediction.  Peace and love with faith be with you.  What is it we should desire?  Is it not these things?  Why do I spend so much time on things that do not matter and so little time on what my heart truly desires?   Do not grieve the Holy Spirit. Come into the presence of the Lord and live in His peace and love.  Share the light of this truth with all whom you meet.

God has given us life.  God has shown us how that life is to be lived.  Will you follow the Lord’s lead and live into the life you have been granted through grace?  This is the proposition of the faith.  You can live for yourself or you can live the life for which you were created.  In that you have the freedom to chose.  Choose the better portion and live life as it is meant to be lived.

Lord, teach me Your way so that I would live with grace, loving my neighbor.  You have come as the example of the godly life, giving Your life so that we may live.  You have come to be the expression of love in a world filled with rebellion.  By Your example, help me now and always to live into the hope which is mine through the salvation You give.  Amen.