Every Samuel Needs an Eli

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s a question that youth have been asked since they graduated kindergarten. But in high school, the question becomes a much more pressing issue. In a culture obsessed with both success and control, students are encouraged at earlier and earlier ages to have their futures and career paths completely mapped out. And much of the decision making in this regard revolves around interests, skills, money, and the expectations of others. At the intersection of “What am I interested in, what am I good at, what will my loved ones approve of, and how much money can I make doing it?” is the decision to follow one career path over all the others.

What is too often excluded from this equation is the biblical reality of God’s call. We are called into being, called into relationship with the Lord and His Church, called to serve, and called into a yet unknown future by One who knows us better than we know ourselves, and who loves us beyond measure. For Christians, then, the primary question that needs to be answered is not, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” but rather, “What is God’s call on my life?”

Every kid in Sunday School has heard the story of young Samuel (I Samuel 3), to whom the Lord spoke in the middle of the night. Like many of us, Samuel struggled to recognize the voice of the Lord. In fact, it was Samuel’s older and wiser mentor, Eli, who helped Samuel recognize God’s voice and call on his life.

Although he failed to recognize God’s calling at first, Samuel was open to the Lord’s leading. After learning that it was God who was calling, he responded by saying, “Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.” Are you listening for God’s call on your life? Are you open to His leading? You might hear God’s call during times of study or silent prayer. You may hear God’s call through the proclamation of His Word in a sermon or Bible study, through a petition in the Prayers of the Church, or through the lyrics of a hymn. Or even more likely, you may hear God’s call through family, friends, or church members who might say, “You would make a good pastor. Have you ever considered pursuing ordained ministry?”

One of Martin Luther’s gifts to the Church was his insistence that all callings are holy. Whether one is gifted and called by God to be a pastor, butcher, baker, or candlestick maker, each calling is equally holy and necessary for human flourishing, and for the building up of the Lord’s people. So how does one “hear God’s call?”

The first step is to recognize the Holy Spirit’s movement in your life. The older and more experienced Eli recognized that the Spirit was speaking to Samuel, and he encouraged Samuel to reply, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” Only then could Samuel recognize the Spirit’s leading and respond in obedience to the call.

The truth is that most of us need an “Eli” at one time or another in our lives. And most, if not all of us, are also called to be an Eli for others. Being an Eli simply means keeping our eyes open to recognize the gifts of others and staying present to them — listening, talking, praying, and sharing with them. Finding an answer to every question is not always as necessary as just being a companion as they search and discern.

Jesus had compassion on the crowds he encountered because “they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 9:36). Today there is a critical shortage of shepherds in God’s Church. Many congregations are without a called and trained pastor to preach His Word and administer the sacraments. How to explain this shortage? Has God gone silent? Is the Lord no longer speaking?

No. In fact, somewhere in our congregations right now is an infant who will be baptized this Sunday, who has a call to ordained ministry. Somewhere in our congregations right now is a fourth grader who has a call to ordained ministry, and who is also the absolute terror of Mrs. So-And-So’s Sunday School Class. Somewhere in our congregations right now is an eighth grader who has a call to ordained ministry. They are about to be confirmed, and they wish their parents would allow them to sleep in on Sundays, because “Church is boring.” Somewhere in our congregations right now is a high school sophomore who is preparing to attend the retreat that will change their life and confirm their call to ordained ministry. And somewhere in our congregations is a college student or career person who is running from God’s call to ordained ministry or has postponed it to pursue an alternative career path. I know this because each of these people was me at different points in my life.

Thankfully, the Lord strategically placed Eli’s in my life. My youth minister, Duane. My Sunday School teacher, Ruth. And my pastor, Reuben. Each of them, and many others, too, played the role of Eli in my life to help me recognize my spiritual gifts, to encourage my discernment of God’s call, to listen to my concerns, questions, and objections, and ultimately to walk with me to the “yes” that finally came when I filled out my seminary application.

Friends, there are many, many Samuel’s out there today who are called to serve and speak the Word of God, but instead of filling out a seminary application, they are pursuing a path that is more expedient or lucrative. They are pursuing a path that is more in line with the expectations of those around them.

So let me ask you to find your place in this biblical story. Are you a Samuel, knowing that there is a voice speaking to you and calling you to a purpose bigger than your own dreams and desires? Or are you an Eli, called to pay attention to the gifts of those with whom you worship? Called to encourage and walk with those who are or should be discerning God’s call to Word and Sacrament ministry? Either way, you are the answer to the crisis we face today in the Church of Jesus, where sheep without a shepherd are “harassed and helpless.” Every Samuel needs an Eli. And every Eli can recognize a Samuel with God’s help.

Pastor Jeff Morlock is Director of Vocational Discernment at the North American Lutheran Seminary. He may be reached at jeff.morlock@tsm.edu.

An Introduction to Intercessory Prayer

Many of you know that I write intercessory prayers that are posted on the Lutheran CORE website and sent to many individual pastors and congregations. I’ve done this for over 10 years, motivated to improve on clunky, theologically weak, or odd prayers provided by various resources. Additionally, pastors and laity charged with leading intercessory prayers are often terrified by the prospect of “winging it” or writing prayers every week, and appreciate good resources. Occasionally, pastors repurpose their sermons in the guise of intercessory prayers –advising God to help parishioners get the point made earlier, expand on it, and Just Do It. Laity (and some pastors, especially in informal settings) often want prayers to be plainspoken and down to earth. That’s a laudable goal not well served by a “Lord Father God I just wanna” style! Finally, when left to our own devices, we sinners focus on Us, Ourselves, and We, rather than “the Church, the world, and all people according to their need.”

I have taught sessions on intercessory prayer at several Society of the Holy Trinity (STS) local retreats, and in congregational study groups. I want to share some of what I’ve learned and taught, in two articles. Because I’m drawing from notes used for those presentations, there aren’t any formal citations in this article. However, I drew from three major works on liturgy: by Dom Gregory Dix (The Shape of the Liturgy), Luther Reed (The Lutheran Liturgy), and Frank Senn (Christian Liturgy: Catholic and Evangelical).

In this month’s article, let’s begin with some historical background. Many elements of first-century synagogue worship were retained by the early Church. The whole pre-communion liturgy –Scripture (including Old Testament), psalms and other hymns, exposition, prayers, and benediction – retain the shape of worship that would have been familiar to Jesus and his disciples. As the Church spread and developed, there were local peculiarities but unity in the essential parts of the liturgy. With regard to intercessory prayers, an early church father, Cyprian, detailed the solemn need to pray for the Church, catechumens, penitents, the emperor, magistrates, those in affliction, travelers, prisoners, and any local concerns.

Intercessory prayers were dubbed “The Prayer of the Faithful.” Following a sermon or other exhortation, and after short prayers for catechumens (who then left for instruction), the faithful would continue in intercessory prayer. As the Body of Christ, the faithful prayed to the Father, in Christ’s name (more, in his person, as his Body), by the power of the Spirit. Like the recitation of the Creed and Lord’s Prayer and the reception of Holy Communion, these public, intercessory prayers were therefore only for the baptized.

Here’s how Gregory Dix explains that.

 “The church is the Body of Christ and prays ‘in the name of’ Jesus, i.e. according to the Semitic idiom which underlies the phrase, ‘in his person.’ The Spirit of adoption whereby the church cries to God in Christ’s Name, ‘Abba, Father’ with the certainty of being heard, ‘Himself makes intercession’ with her prayers. The world had a right to hear the gospel; but those who have not yet ‘put on Christ’ by baptism and thus as ‘sons’ received his Spirit by confirmation cannot join in offering that prevailing prayer. All who had not entered the order of the laity were therefore without exception turned out of the assembly after the sermon.

Now this notion was a revelation to me! All the baptized participate in one of the “orders” of the Church. An “order” might be described as a recognizable “group identity” based not in race, gender, or class, but in “priestly role in worship as part of the Body of Christ.” These orders included laity, deacons, and priests/bishops. This “priesthood of the baptized” gives each order its proper role in all aspects of worship, perhaps most prominently in the Prayers of the Church. Some of that sense is lost when only the priest or pastor prays, and the laity are reduced to saying “Amen!”

In fact, deacons were especially important in prayer – the Prayers of the Church were sometimes called “the deacon’s prayer.”  The deacon spoke on behalf of all the people, whose participation and responses in these prayers were critical.

Certain types of public intercessory prayer explicitly featured all three “orders” – laity, deacons, and priest, each with their role. You’ve probably prayed “the bidding prayer” on Good Friday. It’s one of few remaining vestiges of a once-common family of bidding-type prayers. These were important in East, and recovered by Reformation churches. The laity are instructed by the presiding minister to kneel. The priest/pastor announces the “bid” – the topic, such as “The poor, the sick, our enemies, the government,” and so on. There is silence for private, personal prayer by each person, for each “bid.” Kneeling was the posture of private prayer.  The people rise to their feet as the deacon prays a collect (pronounced COLL-ekt) for each bid. I’ll talk in more detail about collects in the next installment of this work. Why did the people stand at this point? Because just as the deacon’s Collect “collected” the thoughts, privately offered up by many pray-ers, into one prayer, so also the deacon “collected” all of those individual pray-ers together as the Body of Christ, offering up prayer as one body. The people stood to indicate that now they were participating in the prayer of the whole body, as the one Body. The priest often finished the Bidding Prayer with one final collect.

Over time, the Western and Eastern Churches diverged in language and liturgy, including prayer. In the Eastern Orthodox churches, prayers were long and poetic. They touched on virtually every station of human life.  The role of the deacon and laity were emphasized in the liturgical intercessory prayers. The Western Church derived much of its style from its ancient Roman roots. It tended to be polished and pithy rather than wordy and poetic! The deacon’s role was greatly reduced, often because the intercessory prayers were scattered through several portions of the Mass. Primers were published – devotional prayers to be read by the laity during Mass while the priest read the Latin service. This at least acknowledged the deep need for the laity to offer their “priestly sacrifice of prayer,” but it reduced it to personal, private devotions rather than as an intentional offering of the Body of Christ.

Northern Europe in the late Middle Ages, and into Reformation era, retained and developed the “general prayer” or “prayer of the faithful” through something called “Prone.” After the sermon but before Communion, and in the vernacular (unlike the liturgy done in Latin), occurred a Collect, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, occasionally the Decalogue, sometimes a brief form of corporate confession and absolution, intercessions for the living and the faithful departed, announcements of the banns, parish notes, etc. Lutheran reformers were relatively conservative in altering the Mass.  They retained a form of Prone, often by means of a formulaic General Prayer (prayed by the pastor) between the sermon and the offertory, preceded by Creed and concluded by Lord’s Prayer, all spoken by the people.

Lutherans also re-introduced frequent use of litanies. A common form is used in Evening Prayer, but there’s a longer one called The Great Litany that can be a stand-alone intercessory prayer, chanted by the deacon or assisting minister with chanted responses by the people.

However, Lutherans and Anglicans for many decades often replaced the classic form of intercession or litanies by a “General Prayer” led by the pastor. This could be broken down into individual “chunks,” with the congregation saying “Amen” or “Hear our prayer” after each section, but the role of the laity in public intercessory prayer was being obscured, leaving laity only with whatever private devotional prayer they chose to indulge in. As Luther Reed noted: “18th-century Pietism failed to distinguish between the personal, subjective prayer of the individual Christian and the objective common prayer of the assembled worshippers, or church prayer proper. Rationalism lost all right conceptions of the Church and of prayer alike!”

In the last 75 years, there have been liturgical reforms (sometimes unfortunately followed, in my opinion, by liturgical malpractice!). An assisting minister often takes on a diaconal role. The intercessory prayers may properly be done by that person, with pastor praying a concluding petition or collect. That’s the form I follow when composing intercessory prayers. We’ll delve into that next time.

Some major take-aways of this history: the intercessory prayers have a very long history as the prayers of and by the whole people of God, the Body of Christ himself. They are the Church praying for the Church, the world, the ruling authorities, and those in any tribulation, distress, or sorrow; for peace, for the propagation of the Gospel; for our enemies; for every manner and estate of humanity; for children and catechumens; for favorable weather and harvest; for deliverance from every affliction, wrath, danger and need; for the faithful departed; and for the salvation of those praying and for all people.

Such intercessory prayers as we write and speak ought to be mindful of this long history, and the cloud of witnesses with whom we are praying. They rightly should possess the Roman virtues of terse, simple, elegant directness, and the Eastern virtues of intense devotion, evocative language, and reverence. They ought not to be mini-sermons, private opinions, lectures, or casual, off-the-cuff “Lord I just wanna’s”!

A final take-away comes from Dom Gregory Dix, from whom I will quote at length.

 “Many of the more devout of our laity have come to suppose that intercession is a function of prayer better discharged in private than by liturgical prayer of any kind, so unsatisfying is the share which our practice allows them. The notion of the priestly prayer of the whole church, as the prayer of Christ, the world’s Mediator through his Body, being ‘that which makes the world to stand,’ in the phrase of an early Christian writer, has been banished from the understanding of our laity. Their stifled instinct that they, too, have a more effective part to play in intercession than listening to someone else praying, drives them to substitute private and solitary intercession for the prayer of the church as the really effective way of prayer, instead of regarding their private prayer as deriving its effectiveness from their membership of the church. So their hold on the corporate life is weakened and their own prayers are deprived of that inspiration and guidance which comes from participating in really devout corporate prayer.”

Spirit, Flesh, and Dr. Jesus


Editor’s Note: The Rev. Dr. Steven K. Gjerde is a former VP of Lutheran CORE.

“The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”  So says our Lord Jesus Christ, and who knows spirit and flesh better than He does?   Through Him and for Him all things were made, and in these last days He has become all that He made us to be: flesh, soul, and spirit, and heart and mind, too — even now He lives and rules in our flesh, His Spirit testifying with ours that we are children of God.  So when this Lord and God says, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,” we stop to listen.

 His Special Concern

If the flesh is weak, then our flesh is the object of Christ’s special concern.   “It is not the healthy who seek a doctor,” He reminds us, “it is the sick,” and even so our Good Physician came for the sinful and not the righteous.  Our flesh rests in the perpetual care of Dr. Jesus.   Ages ago He fitted Himself to our embodied life, matching His Word to our speech by means of a mouth and our disease to His health by the touch of His hand.  That same, gracious work continues today as He fits His salvation to our dying flesh, making His grace speakable and edible, hearable and felt.  “Gospel is touch,” a friend of mine likes to say, making even the least gnostic of us a bit uncomfortable and exposing just exactly why quarantines hurt.

But if our flesh rests in the care of Christ, then so do other things that pertain to the flesh, such as the whole tactile life of the church, with all of its dreaded institution, nearly a byword among the diaspora.  Like it or not, you cannot escape it.  Sure, you can have the Holy Supper in the open air, but you’ll still be standing on ground, ground that can be taxed or untaxed, mowed or unmowed, shoveled or drifted, beautiful or ugly; someone will have to agree to buy the stuff (and you know how it works: once people have skin in the game, it gets serious); and finally, you’ll have to arrange it at a time and a place where all of us little hobbits and earthlings can make our way without too much trouble.   You get the point: if you want Christ, then sooner or later you’ll want that dreaded institution, too, in one form or another, because with Christ the Virgin’s son comes all of human flesh, His special concern, the thing He loves to raise from the dead, and with human flesh comes all of the creation made for it. 

With the Church come buildings that shelter and fellowships that organize and papers that say things in ink to make it all clear and bank accounts, because soon you’ll have real people with real bodies and individual minds and arthritis and hormones and a longing for beauty and health, and most of all, backpacks full of sin and history and grief.  Associations and coalitions follow hot upon their (our) heels, and some of those organizations will become big enough or deluded enough to start calling themselves The Church, this Church, or herchurch, and the pious will start wondering if it’s all just the anti-Church, and maybe life as a spirit would be better?  Some say the angels are bodiless spirits, and they don’t seem to complain (at least not the ones who kept their club privileges).  But no, it’s not better.  There’s a reason why the angels envy you, and the devils hate you, and it’s not your spirit —

–and all this I say by way of introduction as to why my congregation and I stayed in the ELCA, and why we have now left it.

On Being Dust, Soil, and Free

“Why are you still ELCA?”  I think I got Christmas cards with those words embossed in gold.  On the one hand, the only possible answer is that I am a sinner, a rotten sinner lousy with sin, who did it all wrong; and on the other hand the answer is that I’m a saint with the courage of King David (the Early Years).  But really, it’s not even about me, it’s about Jesus and His special concern for the flesh. 

He gave me a call, voted, inked, and delivered, and those votes and ink (that earthiness!) make it no less but all the more the call of God.  I served and still serve a real people with a real zip code, different from yours, and therefore with different longings and gifts and histories and griefs.  Diversity isn’t our strength (saith the Lord), but it is a thing, a flesh thing, and if you’re a pastor who is also a believer, then you’re a priest in the best sense of the word, and pretty soon that diversity of your people is part of you like a country’s soil is part of its wine and cheese.  Within the very real diversity of the church, far transcending the fiefdoms of identity politics, the Lord fits His time to different calendars and lengths of patience.  “The Lord is coming soon!” — it’s true.  But just as soon as a man’s ready to fit that clarion call to his own schedule and jump in the car, he remembers he’s married, and there’s a five year old who has to pee, and the man must wait.  Along with the Church in every time and place, he discovers, after all, that he is but dust.

 I’m not getting into specifics, is the point.  The specifics would only bore you and tempt you to sit in the seat of scoffers, which is very bad.  But you get the drift: there were reasons good enough that they don’t need defending anymore, because it’s all done with, anyway.  We simply pursued our Lord’s path of fitting grace to the flesh, with its drooping hands and weak knees.  We looked on our institution as a gift, not a burden—I mean, what else is it, unless you’re a Manichean? — and by pursuing that God-given mission, we pressed ourselves more and more deeply into the local soil and the call of the neighbors and the catholic stink of evangelical ministry, until pretty soon we became something the ELCA simply didn’t want anymore (“inclusive”), and we said, “Ah!  There it is.  Well, okay, then.”

The Transfigured Flesh Part

You’d have done and said it differently if you’re from Georgia or Albuquerque, but you’d have done it somehow — I know you would have, because you’re all brothers and sisters, believers and sinners and courageous saints.  But here’s the last part, and one of the best parts, the transfigured flesh part: when I first stayed ELCA, it was just my single congregation and me.  We spoke our objections loudly, got picky about the pocketbook, and fenced the altar—and still it was just my congregation and me.  But as the Lord squeezed His time into our time and thus turned our time into His time, and as He led us down deeper into the flesh and the soil over the objections of so many, He changed all that. 

He turned this congregation into this congregation plus another one to serve and love, and a third one who wants to know more; and He turned me into me and another pastor, and then an intern who’s now a pastor, and still another pastor, three good brothers in the ministry who joined me at this address and walked its path, the path right into the ELCA and now out of it, even though they weren’t originally on that path, and they’re pure gold; and He turned all of us into us with all of you, Lutheran CORE and the NALC and the LCMC, and Missouri Synod folk, too, you who are a consolation and strength in all of this.  A seed fell to the earth, died a thousand deaths, and bore a thousand-fold harvest.      

So now we’re LCMC, and probably will be other things, too, and that usually makes lots of folks happy except when they feel we didn’t do it fast enough — but land’s sake, people: the kid had to pee, the car needed fuel, she forgot the casserole.  There were reasons.  Cut us some slack, take our coats, and put on the kettle.  You’re Lutherans.  You know how to be gracious with the flesh, and how to be people of skin and bones, with all the history and grief and institution that comes with it, because you know, as so many other Christians do not know, just what it is for the spirit to be willing, and the flesh weak.  It means showing greater honor and more consideration to the weaker member, because that weaker member is Christ, crucified for the sins of the world.

Where Love Is Known

The flesh is where love makes itself known, see, and that’s why the devil hates our flesh: Christ has shown it such great honor by becoming it and redeeming it.  And that’s why everything, absolutely everything that we face these days, is all about the flesh.  Not only church but also the culture wars and politics, with Trump and Biden and all the rage and spite — it’s all about the flesh, in the end, a heavenly conflict stoked by the bitter disappointment of the devil, that angry, ravenous wisp, howling for the flesh that he is not, frantic to devour it all so that it will no longer be, and (he hopes) the hobbits and earthlings won’t even be bones anymore but pure smoke, having cast themselves into the flames, confusing smoke with spirit.    

Against all that, we devour the flesh of Christ, which only increases the more it’s eaten.  Yes, that’s how it goes: wherever the Supper is, there you find the Words of Institution; and where the Words of Institution, other institution follows, all the flesh and land and shelter and ink that a Supper demands, and through this weakened flesh the willing Spirit has His way, and He knits together the growing body.  For who knows our flesh and spirit better than He who became our flesh and breathes the Spirit?  He makes us bold to bear that weakened flesh, that beloved body, the body that He has so lovingly destined for glory, no matter the times it may bring.

Devotion for Saturday, August 25, 2018

“For we have been consumed by Your anger and by Your wrath we have been dismayed. You have placed our iniquities before You, our secret sins in the light of Your presence.” (Psalm 90:7-8)


There is nothing done that You do not know about. Those who think they can hide and continue in their ways do not know You. Lord, bring me out from my pretense to see in You the hope You give that I may live freely knowing that You know all things. Bring Your Spirit upon me to learn to listen and obey all the directions You give in order to mature into the faith You have given me.

Lord, You know my inmost struggles and the ways that I have lived. Lift me up from those things that harm me and teach me to obey all that You have commanded. Keep me from becoming defensive about where I have been that I would freely confess my sin and receive the forgiveness You offer. You have sent the Savior; He is the one thing necessary. Teach me to trust Your provision in all things.

Lord Jesus, You have come to free us from the trap of sin which ignores You and lives with our own ideas as our guide. Lift me up to live according to the Father’s purpose that I may grow in the faith You have given me and do those things which are pleasing to the Father. Walk with me and teach me to walk with You that I may listen as the Holy Spirit speaks to me this day. Amen.

Devotion for Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Tuesday, December 26, 2017 Devotion

“Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint; preserve my life from dread of the enemy.  Hide me from the secret counsel of evildoers, from the tumult of those who do iniquity,” (Psalm 64:1-2)

In our hearts, even if on the outside others call us peaceful, we lament and complain to the Lord about how things are.  Our hearts are troubled.  But the Lord who hears all these things knows what is needed and has provided salvation to all those who believe in Him.  Come to the Lord and know the peace He gives.  He will shield you under His wings and guide you through the tumult of this world.

Lord, I do need what You offer, yet while saying this, I often avoid the very thing I need.  Guide me by Your Spirit to learn to listen as You guide me through the tumult of this world.  Help me in every time of need to turn to You knowing that You alone, who knows all things, knows what is needed.  Guide me into and through humility to stay away from the counsel of evil doers.

Lord Jesus, You know what it is to walk in this troubled world.  Help me now and always to look to You, the author and finisher of my faith, to see the way I should go.  Help me live according to Your purposes that I may forever hold fast to the salvation You have prepared for me through grace.  Lead me, O Lord, that I may follow and teach me humility that I may walk humbly with You.  Amen.

Devotion for Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Tuesday, December 5, 2017 Devotion

“But as for me, I shall sing of Your strength; yes, I shall joyfully sing of Your lovingkindness in the morning, for You have been my stronghold and a refuge in the day of my distress.  O my strength, I will sing praises to You; for God is my stronghold, the God who shows me lovingkindness.”  (Psalm 59:16-17)

What is the direction, the outcome of your life?  Is it to live the few years on this earth, or is there a higher calling?  Come into the Lord’s presence and sing to Him.  Let the One who created you be the center of Your being.  It was for this that you were made.  Come and rejoice, sing songs of praise and worship the Lord your God.  He is your strength and your stronghold.

Lord, I am confused by all the offerings around me, yet they really offer nothing but momentary distractions.  Guide me in the way of life as You created it to be lived that I may live according to Your purpose.  Help me see through the nonsense of this world and focus on the things that have always been true.  Lead me in the way of righteousness for Your name’s sake.

Lord Jesus, God in the flesh, You have come to lead the way.  Help me now and always to walk in the way You have established.  Guide me according to the timeless principles You have given through Your Word.  Help me take Your hand and follow You alone through all that this world will force my way.  Help me see clearly the way I should go and then by Your Spirit guide me to walk that way.  Amen.

Devotion for Sunday, November 26, 2017

“Let them be as a snail which melts away as it goes along, like the miscarriages of a woman which never see the sun.  Before your pots can feel the fire of thorns He will sweep them away with a whirlwind, the green and the burning alike.”  (Psalm 58:8-9)

Those who are called to righteousness are perplexed at the presence of the truly wicked.  Yes, we call out for vengeance, if only on the inside.  But all things are in the Lord’s hands and we should never stop short at our inability to see why things are the way they are.  Instead, learn to simply trust the Lord in all things and for all things.  Be guided by His Spirit to learn to praise Him.

Lord I am impatient and want restitution when harmed.  Help me understand that You alone are God and my ability or inability to understand means nothing.  Guide me in Your ways that I may learn from You who knows all things how to live and how to respond to all of life’s circumstances.  Vengeance will come, but You are forever.  Lead me into forever Lord.

Lord Jesus You have come to lead the way for as many as would turn to You and follow where You lead.  Guide me in the way I need to go to learn through all circumstances to love You unconditionally.  Help me despite my feelings and desires to seek that which is beneficial now and forever, knowing that You are conforming me to Your image.  Lead me this day, my Savior.  Amen.

Weekly Devotional for Christ the King Sunday, November 26, 2017


Devotional for Christ the King Sunday, November 26, 2017 based upon Matthew 25: 31-46

I retired on June 30, 2014, after serving as pastor of the same southern California congregation for forty years.  My final Sunday was June 29.  What I would say during the sermon on my final Sunday was very important to me.  There were certain things I wanted to be sure to say to the congregation, whom I had known and loved and been pastor for for forty years.  I spent a lot of time and prayer thinking through my final words.

Our Gospel lesson for Christ the King Sunday contains Jesus’ final words – His final message before the crucifixion.  I am sure that what He said during this final message was very important to Him.  What did He say?

In Jesus’ final message before the crucifixion He tells of the day when He will come in His glory.  All the angels will be there, and all the people who have ever lived will be there.  His first act as the newly crowned, rightful King of the universe will be to separate all people into two groups – sheep and goats.  To those on the right – to the sheep – He will say, “Come, you that are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom that was prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (verse 34)  Then he will give a whole list of human hurts and will describe the response of the sheep to those hurts.  The first act of Christ as the newly crowned King will be to applaud His people’s acts of compassion.  What Jesus makes the biggest deal of in this – His final message before His crucifixion – are the works of compassion of His people, who have received His compassionate work of salvation.  

Now if Matthew 25 contains the last recorded message of Jesus before the crucifixion – the last recorded message of His three-year public ministry – what about His first recorded message?  What did Jesus say during the first time that the Bible says He got up to speak?

To find the answer to that question we turn to Luke 4 – to a time when Jesus returned to His hometown of Nazareth.  He went to the synagogue – to that community and religious gathering place where He had gone many, many times while growing up.  He went back to the synagogue, where He had studied the books of Moses, the law, and the prophets.  The law He had come to fulfill, and the prophets who spoke of the day of hope when He would be coming.  Luke tells us, “He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to Him.  He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written. . . .” (Luke 4: 16-17)

As best-selling author Max Lucado, speaking on this passage, points out, this is the only time in the Bible where Jesus chooses a place in the Bible.  This is the only time in the Bible where it specifically mentions that someone handed Jesus a Bible and said, “Here, please pick out a passage for us.”  Imagine handing God a Bible and asking Him to pick out a verse.  Just imagine.  If you were to hand God a Bible and ask Him to pick a verse, what verse do you think He would pick?  What one passage from the entire Old Testament do you think He would select?  Luke tells us, “He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written. . . .”

You might think that He would have stopped at Isaiah 53 – the song of the suffering servant that speaks of Him so clearly – “He was wounded for our transgressions; He was bruised for our iniquities.” (Isaiah 53: 5)  But instead He kept on going until He got to Isaiah 61, where He read, “The spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor.” (Luke 4: 18)

Here we have the first sentence of the first sermon of Jesus recorded in the Bible.  The only time mentioned in the Bible where Jesus selects and reads a passage from the Bible, and whom and what does He read about?  He reads about the poor.  “The spirit of the Lord has anointed Me – has chosen Me – to bring good news to the poor.”  

The only time in the Bible where it is specifically recorded that Jesus reads a passage from the Bible – and a passage which He Himself chooses – and whom does He read about?  It must be those whom He must have a special heart for.  The poor.  And in the rest of verse 18, the captive, the blind, and the oppressed.  

If the first act of our Lord Jesus Christ – after He is crowned as the rightful King of the universe – is to separate the sheep from the goats.  And if the factor that makes sheep sheep and goats goats is the way their faith leads them to respond to the hungry, thirsty, sick, naked, and imprisoned.  And if in the first sermon that Jesus gave He talked about God’s concern for the poor, that must have a lot to say to us today, who live in a world where so many people are living in extreme poverty.      

If in His last recorded sermon and in His first recorded sermon, Jesus talked about God’s heart for the poor, we need to ask ourselves, What kind of heart do I have for the poor?  Do I have God’s kind of heart for the poor?  

Dennis D. Nelson

President of the Board and Director of Lutheran CORE

Devotion for Tuesday, November 14, 2017

“They attack, they lurk, they watch my steps, as they have waited to take my life.  Because of wickedness, cast them forth, in anger put down the peoples, O God!”  (Psalm 56:6-7)

All around are those who mean harm.  Yes, there are wicked people in the guise of everyday normal people.  Do not fear and do not fret over them.  Their time is short but the Word of the Lord is forever.  Look to the Lord, be guided by His Spirit and know the truth He revealed once for all.  The peoples will be put down and the Lord lifted up.  Keep your eyes upon the Lord.

Lord, You know the times and events and the ways of people.  Guide me, O Lord, that I would walk in the ways You have established now and forever.  Keep me from the tangles of the wicked ones who plot to lie, cheat, steal and destroy.  Lead me in the way of life that I would go there.  Help me now and always to be one who studies Your Word to see the simplicity and goodness of Your commands.

Lord Jesus, without You it would be impossible, but with You it is possible.  You are the One who makes my salvation possible.  Lead me away from the foolish thinking of this age and into the truth You have revealed for all.  Grow my faith to become action, firmly witnessing Your goodness in the world and guiding my footsteps to be pleasing to the Father.  Amen.

Devotion for Tuesday, November 7, 2017

“But it is you, a man my equal, my companion and my familiar friend; we who had sweet fellowship together walked in the house of God in the throng.”  (Psalm 55:13-14)


You never truly know what is in the heart of the other.  Though they may seem your friend, if they follow the way of the world, they tug and pull to lead you astray.  Do not be fearful, but diligent to walk in the ways of the Lord and see how easily we all can be led astray.  The Lord deals with each as He has made them and calls for us to look to Him in all things.


Lord, all around me are a mix of people who are thinking all kinds of things.  Guide my mind and heart to see You through the cacophony of things that are all around me.  Lead me along the quiet waters of Your Word to be comforted by the truth You have spoken from the beginning.    Let the fellowship I enjoy be that of Your people singing praises to You, the One true God.


Lord Jesus, You have come to clear the way for as many as would follow You through the constant noise of this world.  Guide me according to the wisdom of the Spirit that I would hear Your voice above all the noise around me.  Hold me fast in Your arms of grace to walk boldly and firmly in the way of truth that You have established in Your teaching and guide me to walk the narrow path.  Amen.