Friday, April 21, 2017

Ripple Effects in the World

Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. (2 Corinthians 4:15)


For many, many years the verse above was a part of the "signature" line on all of my e-mails.

Asking a pastor to pick a favorite verse of the Bible is a little bit like asking a car enthusiast to pick their favorite part of a car. All the parts come together to make the car function; and all the verses in the Bible point toward a greater Truth.

That said, there are a few verses that stand out to me as good snapshots of what it's all about, and the one above is, if I had to pick one, my "favorite."

This verse highlights the purpose of the Church. On Easter morning, grace was poured out on all humanity. That gift, as we will hear on Sunday, "is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away" (Acts 2:39). You can also read my devotion on this from a few days ago here.

Because that gift is for ALL, the Church's constant job, for around 2000 years now, has been to employ all of our energy and skills in extending this grace to more and more people. The image this always makes me think of is rock thrown in a calm pond...and the concentric circles, or ripple effects, radiating outward.

Sunday morning happens in our life...and its ripple effects radiate through our whole week.
Grace happens when we'd least expect it...and its ripple effects radiate through our whole lives.
A church is planted in a community, and constant ripple effects of service, love, and welcome are supposed to radiate out.
You walk into your daily life, and God uses who you are to send ripple effects into the world.

This is how God works. We are the stones...and His grace rides the waves!

And WHY do we do what we do as a church? Is it to gain notoriety for the church or ourselves? No.
Is it to "compete" with other churches, so we grow at their expense? No.
The verse above makes clear; this is for one purpose: for the glory of God.

For 8.5 years, I have had the true and deep honor of serving a church in Slinger, WI that understands this. Sure, we have had our issues as any organization of humans does; but through it all, the constant refrain has been: "We are blessed TO BE A BLESSING to others."

Many of you reading this daily devotion are members of St. Luke. To you, I offer my enduring gratitude for your partnership in ministry. These last eight and a half years have changed me. Taught me. Formed me. I have done baptisms, funerals, weddings, Sunday services...we have planned together, prayed together, cried together, and laughed together. I think it is the laughter I'll remember the most.

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you...for understanding that church isn't a consumer good. We've said it often: we don't GO to church, we ARE the church. We don't come to consume a sermon and leave to do nothing with it. We come to be changed by an eternal message of grace, and leave to share it with "all those who are far away."

With that, I will mark the end of these daily devotions. While I will still be daily spending time in scripture, it is important for the health of St. Luke that those of you who are members there begin to move toward your next pastor. Begin praying for that person now. Somewhere out there, there is a leader who doesn't suspect that the next several years of their life will be spent with you. But God is preparing their hearts for transition, as God is preparing yours. I have no doubt you will offer that leader the same love, support, and forgiveness you have offered me. You are truly a gift. Cherish that. And keep it up. The world needs more churches that refrain from in-fighting, choosing to stay focused on extending grace to others instead...

And may it all be for the glory of God...!

Thank you...for the gift of being your pastor.

-Pr. Matthew Short

God, transitions are difficult...but we know the only constant in change. We know you traveled with your people through the desert for 40 years, and we know you travel with us now. We ask your blessing on the people of St. Luke Lutheran Church in Slinger, WI. Strengthen them in their natural gifts. Give them courage, trust, and peace. We pray that, as you prepare the next leader to serve with them, you guide the process and give everyone involved a sense of your presence in it all. Amen.

Thursday, April 20, 2017


Exodus 17:1-7
17From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” 3But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” 4So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

Have you ever had that feeling of extreme thirst? Maybe it was after a great workout, or after mowing the lawn in the heat of summer….but have you ever come in, grabbed a glass of cold water, and not been able to drink it fast enough to quench your thirst?

Can you imagine being in the company of the Israelites in the desert? They’ve been freed from slavery, but at times they think it would be better to go back, because at least as slaves, they had enough to eat and enough to drink. They are hungry, thirsty, and tired.

The thing that Moses knew, and that the people continued to forget, was that God had promised to walk with them, even through the desert – even through the thirst. The spring of living water we will hear more about this Sunday is actually travelling WITH them through the driest time of their lives! All they have to do is ask, and this spring of living water can even break forth from a rock!

Do you trust in the same promise? Whatever is happening in your life that has you thirsty for grace, acceptance, and unconditional love, do you trust that your God travels with you through the desert? Or do you think God is trapped in religious buildings, rituals and rules?

Come this Sunday to hear more about the God who travels with us through the desert, and brings the living water we seek from the most unexpected places.

Prayer: God of grace, you have promised to be a ‘god on the move’ travelling with your people wherever they go. Help us to trust that even in the driest and thirstiest times in our lives, you will never leave us without the water and grace we seek. Amen.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Water Parks and Church


Philippians 2.1-11

2If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5Let the same mind be in you that was* in Christ Jesus, 
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
   did not regard equality with God
   as something to be exploited, 
7 but emptied himself,
   taking the form of a slave,
   being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form, 
8   he humbled himself
   and became obedient to the point of death—
   even death on a cross. 

9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
   and gave him the name
   that is above every name, 
10 so that at the name of Jesus
   every knee should bend,
   in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 
11 and every tongue should confess
   that Jesus Christ is Lord,
   to the glory of God the Father.


There's a Greek word that is central to the biblical understanding of the Christian life...and it doesn't have an easy, one-word translation into English. The word is "kenosis," and it means, "self-emptying." The word is used in the passage above in verse 7, where Paul is quoting an ancient hymn about Christ that speaks of God's self-emptying on the cross. (As an aside, I have been moved by this image for years, and back during my first call in North Dakota, wrote new words to a familiar hymn tune based on this passage...I have included that hymn at the bottom of this devotion).

Essentially, Christians are called to be like a leaky bucket...being filled from above, but then pouring out into the world. As a parent of two children who LOVE water parks, the first and funniest thing this makes me think of is the big bucket that is over many kid play areas at water parks...the bucket that fills over the course of several minutes, and then a bell dings to warn the kids its coming, and...WHOOSH...the bucket dumps all over the place. And it's a powerful, momentary flood. The smallest kids in the group are often knocked over by the power of the water. Then, the process begins again...

This image makes me smile when I think about the church functioning the same way. Week after week, at St. Luke and hundreds of thousands of others places around the world, Christians gather to be fed by Word and Sacrament. Babies are baptized. Those who have died are celebrated and remembered. Ancient words are spoken. Burdens are carried together. Strength is found. Grace is poured out. Bread and wine are shared. Hearts are strengthened. People are fed. We are filled from above.

Then, at the end of the service, WHOOSH...out into the world all the Christians pour. And across the world, cathedrals and churches, huts and houses of worship sit empty as the "church" (that's YOU) are out living, loving, and serving among the rest of the world's population.

Isn't this a beautiful vision of what we are called to be? A flood of grace into the world...a flood whose effect is FELT.

Today, may we mirror God's own self-emptying as we offer the strength we have for others, the love we have for others, the grace we've received for others.

God, give us the courage to empty ourselves out for the sake of the world. Help us to trust that you will always, always, keep filling us from above, so we can offer what we have without fear that there won't be enough. Amen.

Monday, April 17, 2017


32 But recall those earlier days when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, 33sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and persecution, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. 34For you had compassion for those who were in prison, and you cheerfully accepted the plundering of your possessions, knowing that you yourselves possessed something better and more lasting. 35Do not, therefore, abandon that confidence of yours; it brings a great reward. 36For you need endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. (Hebrews 10:32-36)

Christians aren’t “fix-it” people. We are people of love and compassion. Sometimes, trying to “fix it” does anything BUT show love and compassion.

Have you ever had a friend who was so down that nothing you said could lift them out of their funk? Have you ever been so down that others tried to lift you out of your funk? Have you ever heard someone say, “it’s OK – cheer up!” and not felt any better?

If the answer to any of those questions is “yes,” then you get it. You know that sometimes, the most caring thing someone can do is sit with you in your pain rather than try to “fix it.” Often, we try to get others to cheer up because we are uncomfortable with suffering. If only they would cheer up, they wouldn’t be so hard to be around…

However, as you hear in the above passage, this is not what Christians are about. We are about showing love and compassion. And the beautiful, difficult truth is that the word “com”-“passion” literally means “suffering with.”

So, if you have someone in your life who is suffering, recognize that it’s not your job to fix them, but simply to be with them, and in that way you are reflecting the never-failing love of God.

God of all creation, reveal yourself to me and through me today – in storms and in calm, in sorrow and in joy, in trouble and in peace. Amen.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Power Is Made Perfect...

9but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)


Today we witness real power.

Real power is not coercion. Real power is accompaniment.

On the surface, it seems like the opposite. Real power, it seems, is in might. Just yesterday, we saw our government deploy the "Mother of All Bombs" - a 21,600-pound Massive Ordinance Air Blast Bomb (MOAB) on an ISIS-controlled bunker system in Afghanistan. That sure looks like power.

But, I would argue, that is not real power. It's actually relatively easy to destroy. It is much harder to build...much harder to love...much harder to forgive.

The United States' clearest example historically is the Civil Rights Movement. Had a race war started, with weapons of might hurled across contrived battle lines, no change would have come. Hearts would have been hardened further. But when the nation's TV channels carried footage of those students being blown back by fire hoses, the nation's heart began to soften. Sociologists would tell you that was the moment the conversation began to change. And why? Because violence was exposed for the sham that it is.

Today, we remember the day it all changed for all of us. The day Christ willingly submitted to a criminal's death to expose our systems of violence for the sham that they are. Coercion, force, and punishment can win the day over some things. But coercion, force, and punishment can't destroy Love; especially not the same Love that spoke the world into existence. That Love burns right through the experience of death and sets the world ablaze with hope.

Today, know that in whatever ways you feel weak, you are ready to be filled with Love and strength from above. Like an empty glass on the counter, the emptiness doesn't make you useless; in fact, it means you are ready to be filled and fulfill your purpose; to pour out for others.

Today, power looks a little different. May we remember that the way of the cross is not found in might, but in mercy, forgiveness (for ourselves and others), and love.

NOTE: The graphic at the top is from a book entitled "The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb." The two authors sat down with many of the world's great Christian minds to talk about exactly the topic of this post. I would highly recommend it. Find it on Amazon here.

God, fill us with your love today. Where we feel empty, fill us. Where we feel depleted, fill us. Give us a sense of peace that you will provide the strength we need. Thank you for going to the cross to show us that even our crosses will never have the final say. Amen.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

At the intersection of Mercy & Grace

Maundy Thursday
Watchword for Maundy Thursday — He has gained renown by his wonderful deeds; the Lord is gracious and merciful. Psalm 111:4
Thursday, April 13 — Psalm 49:1–12
Job 15,16; Romans 16:8–20
Spare your people, O Lord, and do not make your heritage a mockery. Joel 2:17
Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! John 1:29 (NKJV)
When we think of people who are "renown," we think of celebrities. And the things that make them celebrities? Their special skills, talents, and gifts. Robin Williams was famous because he was exceptionally funny. Bill Gates is famous because he was exceptionally successful (and now exceptionally generous). For every famous person I can think of, every person who has "gained renown," I could list for you the characteristics that brought them that renown.
I am struck by the "watchword" above; the extra reading from Psalm 111; that God's characteristics...those which have gained God renown throughout the world...are two things we all aspire to embody; Grace and Mercy.
Today, may that be our prayer. May we be gracious to those around us. May we be merciful. Those are easy to speak of with "easy" people, but may God bring those characteristics out of us in even the most difficult situations in our lives. May we be gracious when it would be easier to hold a grudge; may we be merciful when it would be easier to demand justice. That is what shows the world we are the followers of the One who even washes the feet of his disciples.
Holy God, source and sovereign, on this Maundy Thursday we are reminded that all power and authority are placed into the hands of Christ. As we remember Christ who washed the feet of his disciples in humble service, may you teach us to love one another as Christ loved, so that everyone will know that we are his disciples; through Jesus Christ our Lord we pray. Amen.*
*Prayer taken from the Moravian Daily Texts

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

All Those Who Are Far Away

I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish with you an everlasting covenant. Ezekiel 16:60
The promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him. Acts 2:39
I have signed a lot of contracts over the years. From cell phones to a mortgage, from my marriage license to the most mundane permission slip for a kids' activity, I have put my signature on a lot of things, saying "Yes, I will hold up my end of the bargain."
Most of the time, I have. But I'm not perfect. We recently broke a contract with Sprint (and paid dearly for it) because we found both the quality of the coverage and the quality of their customer service to be sub-par. So we didn't keep our end of that bargain (and frankly, neither did they, as we found the quality so low). So typically my signature is reliable, but not always.
God's promises are categorically different. The words spoken through Ezekiel tear through the pages and through the ages and still come to us today; I will establish with you an everlasting covenant. This is a contract God won't break. We do all the time, but God's grace still flows in our lives; God's love still shows up in the most unexpected people and the most unexpected ways. God keeps promises.
The second reading above, from the book of Acts, is on the day of Pentecost. The Spirit blows across the crowd, erasing difference as a barrier to relationship, as each person can hear the others speaking in their own native language. It's the reversal of the Old Testament story of the "Tower of Babel" (Genesis 11:1-9). In this cosmopolitan mix of people from all over the ancient world, they can understand each other.
In the middle of it all, Peter gets up and proclaims that Christ was sent for all. It is a stunning scene; yes, this Spirit blowing is a sign of the Truth of Christ...that all people are adopted as children of God, co-heirs with the Jewish people. Some of them say to the Apostles, "what should we do?" Peter's advice is clear. Repent (remember, that means simply "turn around your ways"), and be baptized. Then he utters the words above. This promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away.
That promise is what gets me up every morning. That promise is what motivates me as a pastor, and as a person. I know a lot of people who feel "far away" from God. It's often (not always) easy for me to claim that this promise is for me. Likewise, of course it is for my children. But it is for those far away as well? Yes. All those far away.
Those who FEEL far away because of past hurts. It's for them.
Those who are far away because they are hiding in their shells after past trauma. It's for them.
Those who don't want anything to do with "church" but still have big questions. It's for them.
Those who are in the pews every Sunday but feel disconnected from God. It's for them.
THIS is what a church is to be about. Communicating in the native language of others, the promise that is for them. Whether they are physically far away, or emotionally far away, our work is to translate the promise into their words so they can hear it and claim it as well. And we simply can't do that without the Spirit's help, just like on Pentecost.
Wonderful and gracious God, giver of life and all good things, teach us to value your covenant with us. Allow us to praise your name in all times and places, in ways others can understand. Use us to draw those who are far away to you. Amen.*
*Prayer adapted from Moravian Daily Texts