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(On Tuesday, July 16, 2013 a toddler in a town nearby was missing. Isaiah lived with his parents in the country, just outside a little village of barely 1000 people. Even so, over 4,000 people joined in the search for Isaiah. Just over 24 hours later, the toddler was found in the locked trunk of a car. Perhaps a game of hide-and-seek gone wrong? We’ll never know. However, the area has been devastated by the loss. Following is the prelude to a prayer I was honored to make at a community candle light vigil the day after Isaiah was found. My purpose for posting it is two-fold. First for those who have lost a child, may this encourage you. Secondly, for those who are faced with similar situations, may these words offer words of support. God Bless you all, and may God offer comfort to Dad, Mom and brother.)


In honor of Isaiah Theis

During times of tragedy there are always the questions of why and how. There are the thoughts of ‘what if’ and ‘if onlys’. But in the end what really matters is that we are a hurting people. Hurting people show hurt in different ways. Some show it in anger, others in sorrow.

Tonight we come together to remember, to cry, to wonder, to celebrate a life. Each of us grieves in our own personal way. For those of you who knew the rambunctious and unpredictable Isaiah, you have a hole in your heart only time will heal. Those of us who prayed and walked and gave of our material possessions did so because we felt we could make a difference and now feel a great loss even though we didn’t know him.

As we pray together I want to share a verse with you from a book in the Bible that bears Isaiah’s name. Isaiah 26:3 says “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.

Tonight, although we weep, we also know that Isaiah is in the arms of Jesus Christ. We mourn, but not as a people with no hope for in Jesus Christ there is always hope. Tragedy can either pull us apart or it can bring us together and make us stronger. Let the memory of Isaiah make us a closer, stronger community.

You came to look for Isaiah because you wanted to make a difference and you still can. There is no pain greater than to lose a child. The search for Isaiah is over; the opportunity to support his family and each other has only begun.

And so, we come before a God who loves us, forgives us, and at times confuses us, but never leaves us. Let us pray for Isaiah’s family and friends, and for ourselves. Let us hold our children and loved ones close and pray that God’s love will grow among us because of our continued support of each other.

Let us pray!

“Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! Could he be the Messiah?” John 4:29 (CEV)

Everyone knew here in the small town she lived in. The men, when no one else was looking cast a lustful eye her way. The women looked on her with disgust. She quit going to the temple after her fifth divorce. Marriage wasn’t for her anyway. Men were users. Now that she was living with her new boyfriend things were just fine. The people at the Temple and throughout town were hypocrites intent on reminding her of the big scarlet letter emblazoned on her chest.

That’s why she showed up at the well that day at noon. Sure, it was the hottest part of the day but no one else would be there. Lugging the water home without the accompanying glares of the women was well worth it.

Then there was that day everything changed. As she neared the well she was met by  a group of Jewish guys. They were laughing and taking up the entire path. She stood aside so they could pass. “Dirty Jewish…”, she didn’t let herself finish the expletive. She may be Samaritan, but she knew the law and the commandments.

She rounded the corner and came face to face with yet another Jew. This man was sitting near the well. Strange, it was as if he were waiting for someone and that someone was her! She chased that thought from her mind as she heard him ask for some water from the well. The ensuing conversation was one that changed her life. She was her belligerent, stubborn, feisty self until he asked about her husband.

That took the wind out of her sails. Still, something made her look into his eyes. She expected to see judgment, but there was acceptance; She expected to see ridicule, but there was love; She expected to see the hatred all Jews had for her, but she saw love.

Their conversation was cut short as the same group of men she’d met earlier returned. She scurried off to town. She forgot about the stares. She forgot about the judgment. This was too important to hold grudges.

She went from house to house, from street corner to street corner, to the Temple; Wherever people gathered she told her story.

Come and see the man who knows my deepest, darkest secrets;

Come and see the man who understands my brokenness and pain;

Come and see the man who respects me like no other man ever has;

Come and see the man who is more interested in relationship that religion;

Come and see the man who loves me.

That was the day everything changed. She didn’t have to have a degree to tell her story, she just had to have an encounter with Jesus.

Like the woman at the well, each of us have wounds and bruises from the trials of life. Like the woman at the well, Jesus is waiting for us to come to him to receive the water of life that will never run dry. If you haven’t done so yet, come and see the one that wants a love relationship with you. If you have found him to be all he says he is, tell others what he has done for you.

PRAYER: Lord Jesus I thank you that even though you know my deepest struggles you still love me. I pray that others may ‘come and see’ the life of freedom you offer us. Amen.

I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. Job 19:25

Yesterday I spent my birthday doing something I’ve had a life-long love for which was instilled in me by my father at a very young age. I’ve always loved preaching. I remember lining up the kitchen chairs and inviting my brothers to ‘church’. Sometimes they came. Sometimes I just spoke to empty chairs.

The lesson for the day was how we should always be ready to tell others of what Jesus has done in our lives. Growing up in a pastor’s family I have to admit that I always admired the testimony other people had. I enjoyed listening to how Jesus had saved them from the pain of abuse and the power of addiction. I envied their stories because, in my shallow way of thinking at the time, I saw my life as boring, uninteresting and void of anything to share.

Now, at the age of 59, I look back on that thought process and wonder what I was thinking. I also look back over those years since then and marvel at God’s wonderful grace.

If you had told me ten years ago that I’d return to a position in which I’d be able to teach the Word of God I’d have scoffed at you. I was divorced, fighting legal problems and on the edge of bankruptcy. It seems in most church circles legal problems and financial issues are forgivable. Divorce is not.

Maybe that’s why I’m so much in love with a Lord and Savior who consistently brought people into my life individually and through the written word to show me that although man’s grace is limited, God’s grace is unconditional and unlimited.

Maybe that’s why I’m so thankful for my wife and best friend as well as a few other people in my life who refused to give up on me; refused to let me give up on myself.

Maybe that’s why I’m so thankful for my church family at ZionLutheranChurch. They know I’m not perfect. They know I’m flawed; that I have bruises and weaknesses. They know they have the same struggles. And so we travel this journey together seeking the Divine Guidance we need to draw other like-minded, wounded people to a savior, a redeemer that lives.

The older I get the more I realize I don’t know. But I know my redeemer lives and a living redeemer is enough. Today I begin a new year of pilgrimage. I don’t know where it will lead, but I know who will lead me through it.

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, while others may mark my life as a failure or question my walk with you, I thank you that you love me as I am. Give me strength to walk with you in the days ahead. Amen.

Now you have every spiritual gift you need as you eagerly wait for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 1:7 (NLT)

Feeling inadequate?

One time I was coaching basketball. It was one of the first games of the season and the first game of ‘school ball’ for the girls on my team. Early in the game one of the kids who’d shown some real potential in practice got the ball just outside the lane. She had an open shot at the basket, but looked to pass the ball off to one of her teammates, all of whom were well guarded. I called to her from the bench and said, “Shoot the ball!”

It was as if the thought had never occurred to her. She looked at the basket tentatively and then threw up a shot that hit nothing but net. That was over 15 years ago now and I still remember the look of jubilation, shock and excitement in her face. Later she told me she didn’t think she could make the basket. She went on to be one of my top scorers.

So what kept her from shooting the ball in a game when she did it often in practice? A feeling of inadequacy. I knew she had the skills and ability. I’d seen it in practice. She on the other hand had herself believing that her skill level wasn’t adequate.

The most successful people in the world are those who overcome their feelings of inadequacy and move forward in spite of them. They see a problem as a challenge, not an obstacle. They have no time for the reasons that something can’t be done, the look for ways it CAN be done.

When Jesus left the disciples on the hillside outside Jerusalem he reminded them of their challenge while he was gone. They would be his witnesses. This bunch of uneducated, obscure men and women were left with the challenge of starting a whole new movement. But he didn’t leave them without power. He didn’t leave them without the gifts they would need to accomplish the task of building relationships and teaching about him.

Paul says, “Now you have every spiritual gift you need.”

Few outside ministry realize the huge feelings of inadequacy we in ministry face every week. Our reminder, whether our ministry is up front or in the corner; at the church or in the workplace; as a career person or a stay-at-home parent is this. You have all the gifts you need to accomplish your task. Go in the power of the Holy Spirit and act within your giftedness to do the work of reconciliation.

PRAYER: Father, even though I ‘know’ you have empowered me, I still feel weak. I still fight the false feelings of inadequacy. Help me to live in the power of your Spirit and the realm of my giftedness in Jesus name, Amen.

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