Home > Life Ministries Devotional Series 2018

The North American Lutheran Church introduces a new devotional series for the 2018 seasons of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. Each daily devotion from NALC Life Ministries includes a few verses from the lectionary for the day, a reflection, a brief prayer, and an action step. Join us in journeying through these seasons together.

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  • Week 1

    Why an Advent for Life? “The LORD is our righteousness.” Today, God’s eternal Word, the church calendar and contemporary culture intersect at a most opportune time. Today marks the first Sunday in Advent, that season of reflection, repentance and renewed hope that prepares us for the coming of Christ. It’s also just under eight weeks until the 2019 March for Life, marking the 46th anniversary of Roe V. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the United States of America. Tens of thousands will gather in Washington DC, marching, singing, and praying as they proceed to the steps of the US Supreme Court. Their witness brings love to life and life to the attention of what some have called a “culture of death.”
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    Recently, I was engaged in conversation with another pro-life individual. We were discussing the current cultural climate that demonstrates a lack of respect for life across demographics. He remarked that some seem to truly confuse a sincere concern for a young teenager facing an unplanned pregnancy as a life-affirming choice in favor of that young girl’s future,* while sacrificing the life of the unborn child. Phrases such as “we must find a balance” and “we should look at all the options” are often heard from (sometimes) well-meaning people in that part of the movement that favors access to legal abortion.
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    It is the season of Advent in the church calendar. Advent means “coming,” and we are preparing hearts and home for the coming of the Christ child, God’s long-awaited messiah. Jesus’ mother, Mary, lived the very first Advent as she was pregnant with the promised messiah. What an honor it was to be chosen to carry and bear this precious, holy child, on whom the hope of the world depended!
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    Many people believe that God should give them a sign or a miracle before they will believe in Him. They claim to be the supporters of science: advocates of the principle that if something can’t be detected by the senses it must not exist. But, as a pastor, I find this attitude is often a cover — the “scientific person” has a bigger problem — he has a sin that he doesn’t want to give up!
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    His name was Zechariah, and he was speechless. Literally. He hadn’t spoken since getting the message that his wife was going to have a baby — a special boy with a name and mission given by God. The message came not from Zechariah’s dear Elizabeth, but from a higher authority. Now, old as Zechariah was — old as Elizabeth was — he had to be absolutely 100% sure. So, he asked, “How will I know this is really going to happen?”
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    We Christians are sometimes accused of being “so heavenly minded we are no earthly good.” Which of course denies all the ministries and agencies which Christians have supported, even back when the Roman emperors were persecuting us.
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    Mission? Many themes come to mind during the season of Advent: expectation, waiting, watching, hope and joy, to name a few. Mission, however, is not often lifted as the anticipatory preamble to the coming of the Lord and Savior of the World. Nonetheless, here it is in the daily lectionary trumpeted by words, such as: called, gathered and sent.
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  • Week 2

    Perhaps most generations of Christians have thought they were living in the worst of times in history because of widespread unbelief and immorality. We may think this is such a time. The prevailing worldview denies not only absolute moral truths, but absolute truth in general. Each person defines what is true. The breakdown of the nuclear family, the foundational structure for every culture, has caused havoc that will continue for years.
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    “Already, but not yet.” Those words are often used at this time of year to describe the state in which we live. Christ has ALREADY won the victory for us, BUT NOT YET can we fully enjoy what that means. Not on this side of heaven. We still endure the effects of sin until God calls us home or until Christ returns — hence the connection to Advent as we eagerly await Christ’s return.
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    Today’s devotional is particularly addressed to those who are considering terminating a pregnancy, and doing so for their own convenience — in order to keep the birth of a child from making their lives more difficult or complicated. My message to them is, “Please don’t do it. Please remember, it is not only about you. It is also about the life of another person, whom you are playing a part in bringing into the world.”
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    I have been active in the pro-life movement for over twenty years, and during that time I have asked many of my pro-life friends where they attended church. But, in those two decades, I have never heard one of the them answer that they did not attend one. Now some claim that there are pro-life atheists, but I personally have never met one.
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    God’s amazing grace shines in Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth! This congregation had dealt with some false teachers and sinful behavior, and Paul both exhorted and encouraged them in his second letter. In today’s passage, Paul underscores the grace of giving, and further, the privilege of giving. Paul reminds us that, first, we give ourselves “to the Lord” (v. 5) so that we can then, in God’s grace, give to others. Indeed, the Corinthians knew this privilege of giving firsthand when they generously responded during a time of trial in the congregation.
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    I write this after participating in a worship service in a packed church on a Thursday afternoon. Yes, it was a funeral, but not a funeral of a celebrity (well, not in the usual sense) or of somebody rich and famous.
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    The kerfuffle that took place at the naming of Elizabeth and Zechariah’s newborn son is intriguing. Scripture recounts that as their son was to be circumcised, family and friends were questioning Elizabeth’s announcement that the child will be called John. Convinced that she must be unaware of family lineage and history — no one in the family sported that moniker — the enclave turns to the mute patriarch for clarification. Zechariah called for a tablet upon which he writes the breathtaking words, “His name is John,” to the amazement of all gathered.
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  • Week 3

    Contrary to the beliefs of North American culture, our lives are not our own. The deception that we are free to do whatever we want with our lives is utter bondage — bondage to sin, death and the devil.
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    One of the most common comments pastors make when defending their decision not to address life issues from the pulpit is that “those are political issues.”  Politicians have legislated on abortion and physician-assisted suicide, so it has no place being discussed in the church, right?  But haven’t politicians legislated on divorce, polygamy, drunkenness, lying and any number of other issues?  Have pastors ever spoken about these things from the pulpit?  Do they discuss these things with friends?  Is it just because we’re “on the same side” as most politicians regarding polygamy, drunkenness, etc., that it’s OK to talk about in church?
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    How often have things not gone according to plan for you? You want the events and direction of your life to go a certain way, but instead they turn out to go a different way. Not the way you had planned, and not the way you would have desired or preferred.
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    The question our Lord asks in verse 31 of this passage is haunting in our day and age. “To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like” (ESV)? Meditate on that for a few minutes. Consider what Jesus was saying then and what He is saying to us now.
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    Only five more days left until Christmas Day. Do you still have presents to buy, packages to wrap, baking, decorating, hurrying and scurrying to do these last days before we celebrate our Savior’s birth?  I was talking to a seasoned kiosk vendor at one of the larger malls a while ago and he told me that he was encouraging the newer vendors in the long hallways not to despair if sales were slow the first few weeks of December. He smiled and told them they will make loads of money come the last week before Christmas when desperation sets in. I’m pretty sure he was referring to most of us as the time remaining for Christmas shopping quickly evaporates.
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    In 2005, I hated Christmas. Of course, as a pastor I couldn’t really give outlet to my true feelings. What congregation wants to hear that their pastor hates Christmas? But I did. My wife and I had been waiting for two years to be selected as parents to a precious girl or boy through open adoption, the process where birth parents select the couple they want to serve as the baby’s parents. Advent, a season of waiting, seemed as if it would never end.
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    Jesus expresses great love and mercy for the very people who would soon be hurling accusations and insults at Him, spitting on Him and mocking Him. He laments profoundly that they refuse to be gathered under His protecting care.
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  • Week 4

    On the day before Christmas Eve, how wonderful is it that the daily lectionary reminds us of the beautiful, inspiring, encouraging song of Mary! Mary’s visit to her cousin, Elizabeth, actually took place perhaps nine months before the birth of Jesus. Mary and Elizabeth had been visited by angels who announced that they would both give birth unexpectedly. But even after nine months has passed, and we stand at the threshold of the celebration of the birth of our Savior, Mary’s song still could not be more appropriate.
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    On this holy night, Christians will be singing this beloved carol. If ever a hymn captured the depth, the wonder of Luke 2:1-14, I’d say this is the one. Four verses that many will come to know by heart—four verses that speak to the predicament, the person, the promise and the plea that are wrapped up in the story we celebrate this night.
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    The pressing question is, “With whom is God pleased?” This question is critical because people are unable to “fear not” if they are concerned with whether God is pleased or angry with them. This question uncovers our basic impulse: we think we must do something pleasing for God to be pleased with us. We imagine that we must do something that makes Him happy, that at least takes the edge off His anger. We presume that He must be angry with us since we are sinners.
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    The day after Christmas is here. The Christmas pageants and church services are done. The presents you’ve carefully chosen have been distributed and wrapping paper abounds in piles on your floor. The only evidence of meals specially prepared are the leftovers. Your loved ones are once again busy with their own lives and you are left alone—what do you do now? Maybe it’s time to do some day-after Christmas shopping, with exchanges and returns at local stores. Or maybe it’s a time to enjoy the peace of the day and reflect back on the Advent season and Christmas day. Or perhaps it’s a time of hollowness because you feel like you are all alone. I’ve done and felt all of these things. What do we do now?
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    What does it mean to be a faithful follower of Jesus? Well, St. John certainly was a true believer in our Lord and His Gospel, and a quick study of his life provides us a model for true discipleship.
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    When my husband, little daughter and I lived in Montana, we could tell when spring was drawing near. Oh, there still was snow up to the window sills. The furnace would still be running almost constantly. Vehicles would still need to be plugged in, lest they fail to start after sitting outside in subzero temperatures. Night after night, we tucked in and fell asleep…until that night when we were awakened by a most welcomed, rhythmic duet of wind and water.
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    Many of us experienced the grandeur of the last few days. Now on the fourth day of Christmas, radiant joy continues to permeate the atmosphere, while bows, boxes and bundles of presents still litter living rooms. Wouldn’t it be lovely if the glitter, the bright colors, and the festive tones of Christ’s birth lasted all year long?
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  • Week 5

    Most parents who have raised a child through adolescence can relate to the account of the Holy Family in Luke 2:41-52. Here is twelve-year-old Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the Living God, on the brink of manhood, speaking for Himself, revealing His identity as Son of the Father, full of grace and truth (as John would say in the opening verses of his gospel).
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    Even in the deep darkness, I was still guided by the brightness of the light. Several years ago, as I was driving down country roads in rural Ohio, I literally became disoriented by the shadows overwhelming the landscape. The roads seemed endless in the flat land, as I felt lost and consumed by the night. But in my anxiousness and worry, I was drawn to the radiating farm poll lights which provided me direction and assurance. Indeed, I experienced light in the darkness.
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    Jesus is teaching at what appears to be a feverish pace, using parables and other methods to instruct the crowds that gather near Him and around the temple. The sense of urgency is palpable; He is two days away from being betrayed and handed over to face the cross. It is the week of Christ’s Passion.
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    You’ve all seen it. The misguided pro-life zealot who blew up the abortion clinic. The “anti-abortion extremist” who shot and killed the doctor who performs abortions. The members of the church blocking funeral processions for members of the armed forces because the military allows homosexual men and women to serve. The rancorous protests and vicious rhetoric when “physician-assisted suicide” is debated.
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    The mother and brothers of Jesus came looking for Him but they couldn’t get to Him because of the crowd of people in the house where He was speaking. Jesus was in Capernaum at the time, where He had been conducting His preaching and teaching ministry at various synagogues. When the message was passed on to Jesus that His mother and siblings were asking for Him, He said to all: “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.”
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    When you read these verses, you may be amazed that Isaiah actually saw the Lord God seated upon His throne, high and lifted up (Isaiah 6:1). You may also wonder about what the seraphim really looked like, as they sang God’s praises (Isaiah 6:2-3). You might even feel trepidation at God’s power when “the foundations of the thresholds shook” (Isaiah 6:4). Indeed, the whole scene testifies to the unlimited power of God. But it also testifies to the mortality of man.
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    God is Father to the undeserving. We do not earn His love; He freely gives it to us and does so bountifully and at surprising times. If we are careful to note, every minute is a surprise. For He loves us in every moment, but there is not even one of those moments when we deserve His great love.
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  • Week 6

    Who were these “wise men” anyhow? The Greek word is magi, from which we get the words “magic” and “magician.” However, in the ancient world that had a different meaning from what we understand today. The magi were religious leaders and teachers who studied that ancient form of religion we call astrology.
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    The Church entered into the liturgical season of Epiphany yesterday. Epiphany is the Church’s response to God’s incarnate light, the Emmanuel, who is revealed as a babe, wrapped in swaddling clothes and nestled in the arms of his mother. In the truest sense of the revelatory characteristic of an epiphany, the world experienced a great change giving shape to Mary’s magnificent hymn of praise in our minds and hearts: kings kneel, shepherds stand, the realm of heaven descends, and a manger becomes the throne of the Son of God.
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    Oh! the mysteries that lie before us. Every day of this new year presents itself as an opportunity to fear, love and trust God. Yet for many, these days will be frightening because they are unknown and mysterious. What difficulties, what tragedies and horrors, may await us? Daniel reminds us, “But there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries.”
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    In 2016, I visited Washington, DC for the first time, but I didn’t go on any tours. After attending the NALC Life Conference at Trinity Lutheran Church in nearby Warrenton, VA, I had the opportunity to participate in the March for Life with fellow Lutherans from across the country.
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    Blessed are we. My wife was pregnant with our third child. Already the parents of two sons, we decided to find out ahead of time if we were to expect a boy or girl. It didn’t matter to us. If it was a boy, we were prepared with plenty of “gently used” clothes, a basket filled with Thomas the Tank Engine trains, and enough sporting equipment to supply a chain of retail stores. We had boys. We knew boys. If we had a girl, it would be a new adventure. Either way, we’d be delighted. It didn’t matter to us, because life dwelled within.
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    Psalm 29 is appointed for reading on the Baptism of our Lord, so you’ll likely hear it at Sunday worship two days from now (Sunday, January 13). At the Baptism of our Lord, (Matthew 3:13-17), the voice of God resounded, the Holy Spirit descended, the waters of the Jordan rippled and fell from the hands of John onto the Word made flesh, affirming God’s total pleasure with the only begotten Son of His heart.
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    My sister turned forty-three yesterday. She was born the year after Roe v. Wade. Mom and Dad were sixteen and seventeen. Had the mind of the flesh and the spirit of the world decided her fate, she wouldn’t have survived, nor would any of her six exemplary children. The love and laughter, meaning and memories she and her delightful family have embodied over four decades would be replaced by untold and unforeseen repercussions and sufferings.
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  • Week 7

    Can you imagine what it must have been like for Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth? Even though well past the child-bearing age, they were told by an angel that their dream of parenthood was finally going to be fulfilled. Indeed, they would be the parents of the forerunner of the Savior! This was joyful news. Yet, Zechariah had a hard time believing the Word of the Lord about this “miracle baby.”
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    I joined the United States Army in the late ’80s shortly after high school without the fear of any major conflict, as world tensions seemed to be relaxing. Within the first year of my tour of duty, the cold war was over, the Berlin wall was gone, the Soviet Union was unraveling, and communism collapsed.  In my mind's eye, the enemy was no more, and peace was at hand. Nonetheless, every morning I awoke to the sound of a trumpet’s reveille and then meticulously donned 12 pounds of uniform and boots, the Battle Dress Uniform (BDU as it was called back then), ready for the duties of the day.
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    The writer of these words is full of confidence. He writes assertively, in simple, declarative sentences. He witnesses boldly to the truth even in a world which is in the power of the evil one.
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    Back in 1976, “Saturday Night Live” once found humor in a bag of glass. Actor Dan Aykroyd played a sketchy toy company executive. An investigative reporter interviewed him about several of the business’ wares. After dismissing “Mr. Skin-Grafter,” “General Tron’s Secret Police Confession Kit,” and, “Doggie Dentist,” this host took particular issue with “Johnny Switchblade Action Figure,” and “Teddy Chainsaw Bear” (complete with protruding power tool).
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    We learn from Luke in the preceding passage that Simon the Sorcerer was well-known throughout the region in and near Samaria, and that he amazed many people with his magic. He boasted about his powers and sought to impress anyone who would pay attention to him. As Philip was preaching to the people during his first missionary trip to this area, the people were brought to faith in Christ and were baptized. Luke records (v. 13) that Simon himself “believed and was baptized” and that he was amazed by “the signs and miracles” that he observed as he tagged along with Philip.
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    Paul’s words in this text are just as critical for our day as they were for his own. Human sexuality in marriage has its origin in creation. God intends for us to live in community. The complimentary nature of the anatomy of men and women is a symbol of a much deeper spiritual connection of the two becoming one in marriage. They were originally one. Then woman was taken out of man and they were separated from each other, and in the sexual encounter of marriage they are reunited again as “one flesh.” Paul describes this complimentary unity as not claiming authority over our own bodies but “yielding” our bodies for the sake of the other. In marriage there is a commitment to the mutual fulfillment of the other. This selfless giving is the nature of a loving community into which children are to be born, nurtured, and mentored.
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