Pockets of Hope

When I think of Baltimore, I often think of my early childhood home with a large magnolia tree in the front yard and a tall, hemlock pine in the back, where my siblings and I used to climb and play amongst the branches to our hearts content. I think of the cookies my sisters and I would sell in the neighborhood without supervision, pulling our bright red Flyer wagon full of a variety of cookies behind us. I was only 6 when we moved away, but I remember, even then, after being robbed multiple times and my brother being held up with a gun when he was 10 for his bike, that I felt fear.

It wasn’t until I was older that I began to hear negative statistics about Baltimore and I came to see my siblings’ and my childhood experiences there in a new light. Amidst all the negative media coverage, it’s easy to believe that Baltimore continues in a downward spiral and there isn’t much hope.

This year, from the first day of City Mission, I had the phrase “It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon” on my heart. As an athlete, I’ve always preferred sprinting over distance running and that’s true in other aspects of my life as well. The Lord has taught me a lot of patience through the years and, through seasons of burn out, He’s taught me to pace myself more and rely on Him instead of trying to make change happen all on my own. So when this impression came to my heart, I didn’t question it. Looking back now, it feels like a gift from the Holy Spirit because He knew how much I needed that reminder.

I’ll be honest…It felt heavy seeing a woman come through a food pantry with her face apparently beaten and her eyes red and to watch as they called a volunteer over because she couldn’t walk through by herself. Then overhearing another volunteer reminding her “I’m only a phone call away, okay? One phone call and we can get you out of there.” It feels heavy when you walk into a tent city, hidden from the road, and see kids running around, documented or not, with people passed out on the ground (you hope it’s not worse than that) and you learn that some of these individuals used to be businessmen and women, lawyers, police officers, etc. – people who hadn’t spent all of their lives at the bottom. It feels heavy knowing that a stone’s throw from one of the churches we partner with is the sex trafficking hub of the city. It feels heavy when a woman graduates from a recovery program and dies after running into someone she once did drugs with; one last hit and she was gone… just as she was beginning to rebuild her life.

One evening someone in the group shared that these churches, ministries, and organizations that we partner with in Baltimore are like “Pockets of Hope.” It felt like the perfect description. That’s truly what these places are.

Because of these “Pockets of Hope,” we also experienced joy and immense encouragement, not just heaviness. We got to see how much good happens on a daily basis to help people in need, some desperately so. One of these places, after operating solely as a food pantry for a while, decided to expand and offer a deeper level of care through education, job resources, clothing distribution and more. We toured a large warehouse that is going to be an additional extension of their non-profit organization. It is so exciting to see their vision for the future and to think of how many lives will be touched there.

It’s a joy working together to be the hands and feet of Christ. Going out as a team and partnering with those who are already aware of needs in the city and who are actively giving of their time and resources is both encouraging and helpful to us as we try to make the most of our time there. These “Pockets of Hope” are essential to the mission there. Without them, not only would we become discouraged and overwhelmed, we would be in over our heads. It’s in these places that we’re given a tangible reminder that God truly is at work—whether we see it or not. We’re not there to fix everything, we’re not there to jump in and take over. We’re there to walk alongside, to plant seeds, to water seeds, to give a word of encouragement, a smile, or a hug.

The phrase I mentioned earlier, “it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon” served as a subtle reminder to me to let go and free my heart from the burden of expectation of wanting to see certain results and change happen, in order to embrace being a part of what God is doing right in front of me. I really felt free to do that.

As I’ve continued to think about this phrase, I’ve realized how much it really applies to all of life and ministry as a whole. If we’re in this for the long haul, pacing ourselves and living out our callings through the work of the Holy Spirit within us, is essential. Our hearts were never meant to carry the burdens of the whole world. Many of us are often weighed down from the burden of too much news from all over the world, to the point where our discouragement becomes immobilization and we end up doing nothing. It’s just too much.

In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus says “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” My prayer is that we would take this to heart. When we give those burdens to God, we free ourselves up to be a vessel for good instead of being so consumed with worry and anxiety that we can’t be effective at all. When we leave it in God’s hands, it frees us up to allow His love, joy, hope, peace and other fruits of the spirit to take up residence in our hearts and flow out from there. That is such an essential part of being the hands and feet of Christ because those are the things that point others to Christ – the fruit of His spirit within us.

We go, we speak, we care for others and act as His hands and feet, we love, we encourage, we speak the truth… and then we need to let God do the work of the heart. The Holy Spirit changes hearts, not us.

It is such an honor to partner with these “Pockets of Hope” in Baltimore – from recovery programs, to food distribution centers and churches in the heart of Baltimore that are out there every day reaching out to the lost. We are so encouraged and excited by what God is doing in this city and are blessed to be a part of it, even in a small way.

Mother Teresa once said, “The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted, uncared for and deserted by everybody. The greatest evil is the lack of love and charity, the terrible indifference toward one’s neighbor who lives at the roadside, assaulted by exploitation, corruption, poverty and disease.” Her response to that? “Do small things with great love.”

That “small thing” is significant and may have a bigger impact than you or I could ever imagine.

“Now all glory to God, who is able, through His mighty power at work within us, to do infinitely more than we might ask or think.” -Ephesians 3:20

Images were provided by Teresa Dubyoski.

A Sharp Contrast

The Great Commission Society of the North American Lutheran Church is to be commended for the three-day, online missions conference which they held in early November under the theme, “Unveiled: Shining Light in the Darkness.”   The comment was made at the beginning of the event that the only person that the conference organizers wanted to lift up is Jesus – not the structures of the church, not our own resourcefulness or efforts, but Jesus.  I need a faith that focuses on Jesus.  That is the kind of faith that I found nourished and sustained at the Unveiled Conference from the NALC’s Great Commission Society.  I also give thanks for the gift of today’s technology, which made it possible for us to be blessed by such an event, even during the time of a pandemic. 

Later in the day of the third session of the “Unveiled” conference I watched a webinar with Dr Thom Rainer of Church Answers.  You can learn more about his ministry at https://churchanswers.com.  His webinar was entitled, “Preparing for Revitalization in a Post-COVID World.”  One of the points that he made that I thought was most insightful was his comment about how much COVID has accelerated change.  Whatever dynamics and trends a congregation was experiencing prior to COVID have been accelerated by about four years.  If a congregation was in decline, its decline has been accelerated by four years.  But he also gave hope.  He gave strategies for revitalization, and he is working to train coaches who will work with congregations in the process of revitalization.

Both of those webinars were life and hope giving.  But what do I receive from the ELCA?  A word that tells me that I need to repent of systemic racism and white supremacy. 

The law is not life and hope giving.  The law rightly applied shows me my sins and drives me to Christ.  But the law wrongly applied only crushes, demoralizes, and discourages.  If the main message the ELCA has to give is all of the ways in which I need to repent because I have acted contrary to all of their chosen priorities, then how can I ever expect that the ELCA knows how to renew congregations and help them recover from COVID? 

Devotion for Thursday, September 6th, 2018

“He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. “With a long life I will satisfy him and let him see My salvation.” (Psalm 91:15-16)


The salvation of the Lord is promised to those who turn to Him and accept the invitation to walk in His ways. Come into the Lord’s presence and walk with the One who made you. Know the goodness which He created from the beginning and see how life is to be lived. In Him alone will you find satisfaction, purpose, and the hope which is in your heart. He is the source of life.

Lord, I have wrestled all the days of my life seeking meaning and hope. Guide me, O Lord, in Your ways, for You are the creator of all things. Guide me along the paths of righteousness for Your name’s sake; that I may live into the life to which You have called me. Keep me close to You that I may walk with You all the days of my life and see the salvation You have prepared for those who believe.

Lord Jesus, You are the Savior who has come into the world. You have invited all who hear to come and walk with You along the journey which leads to salvation. Guide me, O Lord, that I may walk in Your ways and know the goodness that has been prepared from the beginning. Abide with me that I may be taught by You this day the way of life which is forever. Amen.

Devotion for Thursday, August 30, 2018

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, My God, in whom I trust!” (Psalm 91:1-2)


You, O Lord, are the solid ground upon which all hope can be built. You who made all things have given good and gracious promises. Your wing covers all the earth and You have provided all that is needed. Let me take refuge in You, the only One who is able to protect me from my enemies. Increase my faith that I would trust in You alone who is trustworthy. Abide in me as I abide in You.

Lord, through the storms of this life I often forget that all things are in Your hands. You provide for all and for Your purpose. Though I experience affliction, help me to see through the momentary things and come under the shadow of Your wing and find refuge. Help me to know that You are my strength and an ever present fortress. Teach me to love You as You love me.

Lord, You love us so much that You have provided all that we need to live through the storms of this life. Lift me up into Your presence that I would abide with You as You abide with me. Keep me close to You and teach me to keep You close to me. Help me now and always to rejoice in all the good gifts You give that I may become like Christ and be a faithful servant in Your kingdom. Amen.

Devotion for Sunday, August 19, 2018

“Remember what my span of life is; for what vanity You have created all the sons of men! What man can live and not see death? Can he deliver his soul from the power of Sheol?” (Psalm 89:47-48)


How much time do you have on this earth? The young will think it is a long time. The old know that it is like vapor, here for a moment and then gone. We were created for eternity. Your life is in the Lord and if not, then here today and gone tomorrow. “Come,” says the Lord, “let us reason together.” Do not shame yourself by thinking that it is in your hands, but come to the Lord and live forever.

Lord, You have planted in us the desire for eternity. You have given the sure promise of eternity. Guide me in the way I need to go that I would walk now and forever in the way of the eternal ones that will be with You forever. Do not let me linger, but grow in me the hope of glory that I would now and always live into the life You hold before me knowing that only in You is there hope.

Lord Jesus, You are the strait gate and only in and through You is there hope for every day. Guide me, O Lord, in the way You would have me go that I would now and forever live into the promise You give through Your salvation. Help me through every obstacle that I would abide in You and You in me now and forever. Keep me close to You that I may abide in Your goodness and mercy. Amen.

Devotional for April 22, 2018

Devotional for Good Shepherd Sunday, April 22, 2018

What do you think David had in mind when he wrote the Twenty-Third Psalm, the psalm for Good Shepherd Sunday? Can you even imagine having such a gift with language and such a close relationship with God that you could write something like that? Later in life, when David was reflecting back on what he had written, what kinds of thoughts and feelings do you think might and must have been going through his mind? Maybe something like this –

“The Lord is my shepherd”

In David’s day, as well as at the time of the birth of Jesus, being a shepherd was an occupation that was looked down on. When Samuel, who had come to Bethlehem to anoint one of the sons of Jesse to be king, asked whether all the sons were present, Jesse replied, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep” (1 Samuel 16: 11). Later, when David went to visit his older brothers who were in the army, his oldest brother Eliab asked him, “Why have you come here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the wilderness?” (1 Samuel 17: 28)

David took an occupation that was looked down on and gave it dignity and value by using that image to describe his relationship with God. Reminds me of what the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “So whatever you do, do everything to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10: 31).

“He restores my soul”

There were many reasons why David’s soul needed to be restored. After his sin with Bathsheba the prophet Nathan had told him, “The sword shall never depart from your house” (2 Samuel 12: 10), which turned out to be painfully true. Son Amnon raped daughter Tamar, whereupon son Absalom murdered Amnon. After stealing the hearts of the people, Absalom stole the kingdom from his father, publicly humiliated his father, and eventually met his death after his short-lived rebellion.

David experienced unimaginable sorrow, as the prophet Nathan had said he would. But still, God called him a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13: 14). His soul was also restored in the birth by Bathsheba of Solomon, who would build the Temple that David had wanted to build and would be the ancestor of Joseph, the legal father of Jesus.

“Your rod and your staff – they comfort me”

David was confronted by a wise woman from Tekoa for refusing to reconcile with his son Absalom. He also was confronted by the prophet Nathan regarding his sin with Bathsheba. “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12: 7) Realizing the greatness of his sin, David experienced the greatness of God’s mercy and wrote a most powerful psalm of repentance. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy, blot out my transgressions” (Psalm 51: 1).

“You spread a table before me in the presence of my enemies”

David spent many of his younger years fleeing from Saul, who, because he saw him as a threat to the throne, wanted to kill him. Whatever was happening in David’s life when he wrote Psalm 22 also shows how many enemies he had. This is a psalm which Jesus prayed from the cross, beginning with the lament, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (verse 1) Verses such as “All who see me mock me” (verse 7), “They stare and gloat over me” (verse 17), and “They divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots” (verse 18) also show the remarkably close parallels between the experiences of David and Jesus.

“My cup overflows”

David had wanted to buy from Araunah the Jebusite a threshing floor where he would erect an altar to the Lord, but Araunah wanted to give it to him at no cost. David replied, “I will not offer to the Lord my God sacrifices that cost me nothing” (2 Samuel 24: 24). First Chronicles 29 records the enormity of David’s gift towards the project of building the Temple. How much David must have rejoiced over the resources God had given him so that he would be able to make such a large contribution and in doing so also inspire other leaders of Israel to give significantly. The Bible tells us that the people rejoiced over the generosity of the king.

“Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life”

The prophet Nathan, who later would confront David over his great sin, earlier in David’s life comforted David with the promise that after his death, his son would build the Temple that David had wanted to build, and his house, kingdom, and throne would be established forever (2 Samuel 7: 16). It would not all end with David.

“And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever”

For days David had prayed that God would spare the life of the child that was born out of his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba, but on the seventh day the child died. At that point David rose from the ground, washed himself, changed his clothes, went into the house of the Lord and worshipped, and then went home and went on with his life. When asked why he had responded in that way David replied, “Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Samuel 12: 23). Normally people go through death only in one direction. David was saying, “Someday I too will die and will go to where my son is. But he will never return to where I am.”

The Twenty-Third Psalm has given comfort, strength, encouragement, and hope to millions of people for three thousand years. I believe it also did the same for the one who wrote it – the shepherd who became king. Could he have written a psalm of such depth, insight, and beauty if it did not speak so powerfully to his own life? How does the Twenty-Third Psalm, the Psalm for Good Shepherd, speak to you and your life?

Dennis D. Nelson
President of the Board and Director of Lutheran CORE

Devotional for Easter Sunday 2018

Devotional for Easter Sunday 2018 based upon John 20-21

Do you believe in Easter? I would like to talk about three people in the Bible who believed in Easter and who found out what believing in Easter and in the Jesus of Easter could do for them.

First, MARY MAGDALENE, who learned that believing in Easter and in the Jesus of Easter BRINGS HOPE TO THOSE LIVING IN DESPAIR.

Jesus had cast seven demons out of Mary Magdalene. Imagine what life must have been like for her before she met Jesus. It must have been a living hell. But then she met Jesus. Not only were the demons gone, she was cleansed. Her sins were forgiven. With a grateful heart, she became a follower of Jesus. Which brought great hope into her life.

How thrilled and proud she must have felt when she saw Jesus riding into Jerusalem, accompanied by the shouts of pilgrims. But how devastated she must have felt when she heard crowds cry, “Crucify him!” After Jesus was buried, she sat opposite the tomb – numb with grief. The person she loved more than anyone else had died a horrible death before her very eyes. It was the darkest day of her life.

And maybe today you relate to Mary Magdalene. Your hopes and dreams have been shattered, just as her hopes and dreams were shattered. If that is you, then I say to you that the resurrection of Jesus means that there is hope in life and hope beyond this life. If you turn to Jesus, who rose from the dead, He will forgive your sins, just as He did for Mary Magdalene. He will deliver you from whatever it is that is holding you in bondage and despair. Yes, believing in Easter and in the Jesus of Easter brings HOPE TO THOSE LIVING IN DESPAIR.

And then, second, I want to talk about THOMAS, who learned that believing in Easter and in the Jesus of Easter brings FAITH TO THOSE LIVING IN DOUBT.

On that first Easter Sunday evening, ten of the eleven remaining disciples were in hiding. They did not know what to do, and they were afraid that they might be arrested and executed, when suddenly Jesus came and stood among them. One moment they were hovering in fear. The next moment Jesus was there. He calmed them by saying, “Peace be with you.”

But one of them, Thomas, was not with them, so he missed seeing Jesus. Imagine his surprise when he returned to their hiding place only to hear the others say, “We have seen the Lord.” But Thomas could not believe their story. It was just too good to be true. And so he said, “Unless you can prove it, I cannot believe it.”

A week later they were together again. This time Thomas was with them. Suddenly Jesus appeared and, looking straight at Thomas, said, “Reach out your finger and look at my hands; reach out your hand and put it in my side.” Thomas fell to his knees and exclaimed though his tears, “My Lord and my God!”

And maybe today you relate to Thomas. You would like to believe in Easter, but you are not able to. It is just too good to be true. If that is you, then do not be like another Thomas. Thomas Jefferson, who wrote his own version of the Bible, from which he excluded all miracles. Thomas Jefferson’s version of the Easter story ends with, “And so they buried Jesus, rolled a great stone in front of the tomb, and then they departed.”

Do not let the story of your life end with, “And so they buried you, filled the hole with dirt, and then they departed.” Believe in Easter and in the Jesus of Easter who brings FAITH TO THOSE LIVING IN DOUBT.

And then third, I want to talk about PETER, who learned that believing in Easter and in the Jesus of Easter brings GRACE TO THOSE LIVING WITH DEFEAT.

After seeing Jesus in that room in Jerusalem, the disciples went back up north to Galilee. Peter said, “I am going fishing.” Not knowing what else to do, he went back to doing what he had been doing before he met Jesus. He went back to fishing. He and his companions fished all night but caught nothing. Like the results of so many of our best efforts. We fish all night but catch nothing.

When the sun rose, they could see someone on the shore. They did not realize it was Jesus. He told them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat. When they did, they caught a whole boat load full of fish. Another disciple, John, looked at Peter and said, “It is the Lord!” Peter could not wait. He plunged into the sea and swam as quickly as he could to the shore. By the time the other disciples had brought in the boat full of fish, Jesus had breakfast prepared for them.

Peter had denied that he knew Jesus three times. So it is not coincidental that Jesus asks Peter three times if he loved Jesus as Lord. Peter found grace, forgiveness, and restoration in Jesus.

And perhaps today you relate to Peter. You have stumbled and fallen. Your sins and failures are overwhelming. Do not ignore them, hide them, excuse them, or try to minimize them. Rather admit them. The resurrection of Jesus means that Jesus is offering you grace, forgiveness, and eternal life.

The Bible tells us how we can receive that grace. We must confess and believe. Confess means that we agree with God about our sins. We repent of them and want to turn away from them. We must confess. And then we must also believe that God raised Jesus from the dead. We cannot be right with God without accepting the resurrection by faith. Which means committing ourselves to living the rest of our lives in view of the resurrection.

And so, this coming Sunday, on the day we celebrate Easter, you can believe in Easter and in the Jesus of Easter, who brings HOPE to those living in DESPAIR, FAITH to those living in DOUBT, and GRACE to those living with DEFEAT. Do you believe in Easter? Today could be the first day of your life that you believe in Easter.

Dennis D. Nelson
President of the Board and Director of Lutheran CORE

Devotion for Wednesday, January 10, 2018

“You made men ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water, yet You brought us out into a place of abundance.  I shall come into Your house with burnt offerings; I shall pay You my vows,” (Psalm 66:12-13)

Things will happen in this life, things that we do not like or even at the time understand, but the Lord is still Sovereign.  To whom will you give your loyalty?  Will it be to yourself, another or the One who created all things.  Loyalty does not depend upon circumstances for the righteous but upon truth which the Lord of Creation IS.  Come to the Lord who is Sovereign over all.

Lord my loyalties do wander about and I am circumstantial in my alliances.  Guide me to be loyal to truth and to You who is truth.  Lead me into a life that recognizes the toils and troubles in this life but perseveres through all knowing that You are the One who is leading me.  Guide me in Your truth that I would forever hold fast to what You have revealed once for all through Your Word.

Lord Jesus, You know how difficult it is to navigate through this world filled with rebellion.  You have come to save me from myself and the other things that would get in the way of the simple truth that You alone are Lord and Savior.  Guide me, Lord Jesus, through each of the difficulties that will come my way knowing that in You I have hope and a future.  Amen.

Devotion for Sunday, December 24, 2017

Sunday, December 24, 2017 Devotion

“My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me.  But those who seek my life to destroy it, will go into the depths of the earth.”  (Psalm 63:8-9)

Your soul is attached, but to whom?  Often we get carried away in the busy-ness of life and do not think about the attachments in our life.  To whom do you turn?  Who is your hope?  Many a young couple will hope in each other, but life moves on and the hope diminishes.  Cling to the One who is forever and seek first the Lord and then all else will be added.  He alone will travel the distance with you.

Lord, I hear these words and they are true.  The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.  Lead me, O Lord, to walk in Your ways and learn from You the truth of the ages.  Guide me according to Your purposes that I may forever hold fast to the truth You have revealed.  Let me not be distracted by those who would seek to destroy me, but to be led by Your Spirit all the days of my life.

Lord Jesus, You are the hope of every person.  You have come to save us from ourselves and the world.  Guide me in the salvation You have given that I may forever hold fast to the truth of Your presence and purpose through grace.  May I now and always look to You first for all things, knowing that You alone are the author and finisher of my faith.  Lead me this day, my Savior.  Amen.

Devotion for Sunday, December 17, 2017

Sunday, December 17, 2017 Devotion

“My soul, wait in silence for God only, for my hope is from Him.  He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be shaken.”  (Psalm 62:5-6)

There are so many things that tug at our allegiance in this world.  We are distracted by the many things that get in the way.  What is at the core?  What is the center of your being?  Our souls long for the one and only place where our being is found and that is with the Lord.  Come to Him and know that He is the rock of your salvation and the Center of all things, including your being.

Lord, clear the field for me that I may see the simplicity of knowing You, the One true God who is the creator of all things.  Guide me according to Your purpose that I would walk in the way You have established and know that You alone are the rock of my being, my life and my salvation.  Lead me, O Lord, that I may be walk in the way You would have me go now and forever.

Thank You, Lord Jesus, that You have come to pave the way of salvation for all who turn to You.  Clear my mind and soul this day to live into the life to which You have called me through the salvation You have prepared for those who believe.  Help me now and always to look to You for all things knowing that You alone are able to lead me out of the noise of this world into salvation.  Amen.