October 15, 2020

2 Timothy 3:14-17

The Bible is the most amazing book ever written because its author is the Lord. Although it was penned by men, the Holy Spirit inspired every word He wanted them to record. The Scripture contains the Lord's revelation of Himself and His plan of redemption. Among the many topics it covers are: the creation of the world; the fall of man into sin; the presence, power, and penalty of sin; the provision of a Savior; the final judgment; and the eternal kingdom. The Bible also answers questions about humanity's value, wise living, and existence after death.

All sections of God's Word are valuable and interconnected. For example, the Gospels tell about the Messiah, whose coming was predicted in the Old Testament. He is called "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29), and His death is the fulfillment of the sacrificial system in Leviticus. What's more, the gospel of salvation by grace through faith is first seen in the story of Abraham, whose belief was credited as righteousness (Gen. 15:6).

Scripture was given to us so we might know the Father, be reconciled to Him through His Son, and bring glory to His name. Therefore, we should make it a goal to become familiar with His precious Word.
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Helping people live life with Jesus everyday,

October 14, 2020

Matthew 25:31-46

In the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, Jesus describes how we've found people who were hungry, thirsty, and sick, the way we treated them was the way we treated Him. If we fed them, gave them something to drink, or helped them back to health, then we did as much for Jesus. And if we ignored their need, the slight was against not just them but also Jesus. The description is, of course, of Judgment Day, when people can no longer take any action. But the lesson is for us, and it's twofold: first, everyone in your orbit becomes your neighbor when they come into times of need; and second, Jesus comes to you in the neighbor in need.

The coronavirus has entirely reconfigured who our neighbors are, and in all kinds of strange ways. It's not the size of our neighborliness that Christ receives through the neighbor but works of mercy stemming from a foundation of faith. And to do those things, be they big or small, is to exercise faith and therefore to draw near to Christ. And that is the second thing: in our neighbors in need, Christ draws near to us. When we look to find Christ in our neighbor in need, it's important to hold on to this distinction, lest we turn what is a message of God's mercy and comfort into a way to seek our deliverance in works of the Law. The way that we find Jesus in our neighbor has to follow from the way that we find Jesus in the Means of Grace. 

Because of His merciful forgiveness, Christ receives your works as the purest works of love.
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Helping people live life with Jesus everyday,
 

October 13, 2020

Matthew 9:27-31

Mercy is not evident in the world. Uninvited and toward no apparent good, suffering intrudes into our lives, disrupting all our routines. Eyes that were designed by their creator to see are rendered vacant of light and the capacity to apprehend form, movement, depth, and color. How was it that these two men were rendered sightless? We don't know. We only know that in their perpetual darkness, they follow after Jesus with a supplication that befits all of us who stand before God as beggars: "Have mercy on us, Son of David" (Matthew 9:27)

Jesus is not socially distant to these men who most certainly can walk only by faith and not by sight. Their eyes are in their ears, for without having seen the Good Shepherd who has compassion on them, they hear His voice. And what does He say to them? Jesus says, "Do you believe that I am able to do this?" Clinging to Jesus' words and promises in the darkness is the way of faith. These blind men believe and so they speak: "Yes, Lord.'

It is a good thing to have these two blind men teach us in the days of COVID-19 how to call on the Lord's name trusting only in His mercy. In these days of worry about infection, anxieties about the impact of the pandemic on jobs and the economy, and fears about a future that is unknown.

Crucified for your sins and raised for your justification, He forever lives as your Brother and Savior. Nothing in all of creation will keep Him from coming to you with mercy. He is for you - just as He was for those blind men whose prayer for mercy He answered; for He was for those blind men whose prayer for mercy He answered; for He is the Yes and the Amen to all the promises of God. As you believe, let it be done unto you.

Excerpts from a chapter written by Dr. John Pless
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Helping people live life with Jesus everyday,

October 8, 2020

Acts 9:1-9

In other religions, worshippers pursue their god. In Christianity, however, it's God who takes the initiative. This is obvious in the conversion of Saul of Tarsus (later known as Paul). Far from seeking the Messiah, the future apostle was actually persecuting Jesus by hunting and imprisoning Christians. The Lord was the one who sought Paul, opened his mind to believe, and transformed his life forever.

All through the Word of God, we see His active pursuit of sinners. Consider Adam and Eve, who instead of seeking the Lord for forgiveness of their sins, tried to hide from Him in the Garden of Eden. Genesis 3:8-21 reveals that it was God who called out to them - He promised a redeemer through the woman's offspring and covered the shame of their guilt with animal skins (which was also the first blood sacrifice).

Similarly, when Christ came to earth, He's the one who took the initiative in choosing disciples. In fact, the same can be said about the Lord drawing everyone of us who has trusted in Him for salvation (John 15:16). And now the Savior has allowed us to participate in His pursuit of sinners by proclaiming the gospel and imploring people to believe and be saved. 

October 7, 2020

Daniel 6

Have you ever wondered what you would do if practicing your faith, witnessing to others, or attending church resulted in persecution or death? Worldwide, many Christians are facing just such a scenario but stick to their convictions instead of caving in to pressures around them. And some are suffering tremendously because of their faithfulness to Jesus Christ.

The prophet Daniel faced some tough situations as a result of his convictions, but he never compromised, even when the simple act of praying could cost him his life. His confidence in the Lord remained firm as he was placed in the lion's den. In fact, his steadfast faith and God's deliverance has a powerful impact on the pagan king, who decreed that all the people of his realm should fear Daniel's God.

Today we have the same choice to either live by our Christian convictions or comp[romise for the sake of peace and safety. It doesn't have to be a matter of life or death. Sometimes we simply want to avoid ridicule, evade conflict, or fit in. Although we may gain temporary comfort, we forfeit a godly witness and the opportunity to influence others.
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Helping people live life with Jesus everyday,

 October 6, 2020

Daniel 1

You don't have to be prominent in the world's eyes to be an influential person. Through your example and testimony, you can help others understand who Jesus is and what it looks like to live for Him.

Scripture includes many examples of righteous men and women who were influential in their generation. One of them was Daniel, who was a godly influence not only on his friends but also on kings. Even as a youth, when Daniel was offered food from the Babylonian king's table, he requested vegetarian meals instead, to comply with Jewish dietary restrictions. His commitment to the Lord outweighed any fear of reprisal for rejecting the royal provisions. And God protected Daniel by giving him favor with his overseer.

Although most of us won't have an opportunity to influence global leaders, our example can impact a workplace, neighborhood, home, or future generations. As was true of Daniel, a godly example is rooted in obedience to Scripture because it's the source of wisdom. In a world that is tossed about by upheaval, fear, and uncertainty, our confidence in the Lord stands out and influences those around us.

October 5, 2020

Isaiah 55:1-7

The creator of the universe, who formed us and sustains our life, bids us come to Him for food and drink without cost. He's not referring to free material provision but instead has in mind a far greater gift: salvation. This blessing is freely offered to all who will come to His Son and discover the truth that Jesus is the Bread of Life and Living Water who alone can give eternal life.

Have you come to the Lord Jesus Christ to be forgiven of sins and reconciled to the heavenly Father? If so, are you continually partaking of the spiritual sustenance He provides? Just as we need a consistent supply of food and drink to live and thrive physically, so too do we need daily spiritual nourishment through God's Word and abiding presence.

Are you trying to live the Christian life in your own strength by working hard to serve the Lord and become a better person? Such an approach leads only to fruitless exhaustion. To flourish and grow, a person must be completely dependent on Christ for spiritual nutrition. That involves drawing near to Him each morning through His Word and prayer and receiving His grace all day long.
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Helping people live life with Jesus everyday,

October 1, 2020

52. Why is it vital for us to gather together with fellow Christians in public worship?

This is the question we explored in my 8th grade confirmation class last evening.

This is the answer the catechism gave us.

The Word of God gathers all who believe in Jesus Christ into the Holy Christian Church, and also calls believers to gather together in congregations for public worship for several reasons.

  1. God is present as His Word is proclaimed and His Sacraments are administered (Matthew 28:18-20; John 10:16; 1 Corinthians 10:16; 2 Thessalonians 2:14). Through these Means of Grace, He freely gives His gifts and blessings, chiefly the forgiveness of sins. In worship, our Shepherd, Jesus, speaks through the mouth of the shepherd (pastor) whom He has called to care for our souls. The Word of God is not simply information, but the Word actually delivers what it says.
  2. We hear God's Word at a set place and time. Though it is delivered through fallible men and simple means, the Word that is read, preached, and spoken over water, bread, and wine is not to be scorned (Jeremiah 6:10; John 8:47; Luke 10:16). Sunday worship is a public testimony to our faith in Christ and His resurrection from the dead "on the first day of the week" (Luke 24:1' Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2).
  3. Believers are still sinners who need one another and the encouragement we receive from one another, "and all the more as you see the Day drawing near" (Hebrews 10:25). We share our blessings, burdens, and joys in petitions and hymns of praise with those present (Colossians 3:16), remembering the church throughout the world and the saints and angels of heaven.

September 30, 2020

Colossians 1:1-8

Although we're usually quick to bring God our own requests and the needs of loved ones, we must also remember to pray for our local churches. If you're not sure where to start, the apostle Paul's writings offer some help. Colossians 1 expresses gratitude for what the Lord has done in four specific areas of their lives:

  • Faith. God's salvation is something we should never take for granted. Thank Him for bringing the gospel to the people in your church and giving them the faith to believe.
  • Love.  Ask the Lord to increase their love for one another so they can respond - both inside and outside the church - as Christ would.
  • Hope. Pray that the hope of heaven would be their focus rather than the fleeting pleasures and values of this world.
  • Truth. Praise the Lord for the gospel, which has been proclaimed in your church. Ask that it would bear fruit and increase so more people will understand its truth and receive God's grace.

Let's make it a habit, perhaps on Sunday's, to spend time praying for our church, asking God to accomplish His will through them.

September 29, 2020 

Colossians 1:9-14

Paul's prayer for the church at Colossae is an example of what God desires to do in every believer's life. Although the Lord wants to hear about our physical and material concerns, we should also bring our spiritual needs to Him, as the apostle does in Colossians 1:9-14. He prays for:

  • The knowledge of God's will. In order to understand what God desires for us, we need spiritual wisdom and insight, which come from His Spirit and Word (v.9).
  • A walk worthy of the Lord. This includes a desire to please God in every area of life, to bear lasting spiritual fruit in all we do, and to grow in our knowledge of Him through His Word (v.10).
  • Strength for steadfastness and patience. The Christian life is a marathon, not a sprint. We need God's mighty power in order to persevere to the end (v.11).
  • Gratitude for salvation. We should never forget that we have been rescued from sin and darkness and transferred to Christ's kingdom (vv. 12-14).

There is nothing more effective than praying God's Word back to Him, because our Father promises to hear and answer requests made according to His will (1 John 5:14-15).

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September 28, 2020

Early Christians were arrested, tortured, and even executed for refusing to worship the Roman emperor and his gods. Perhaps Caesar would have spared their lives if only they'd have been willing to bow down before him and deny Jesus. Today, circumstances aren't so dire for most of us - especially in countries where Christianity is widespread. Even so, we struggle with external pressures to downplay or deny our faith and may try to rationalize our choices. After all, for his own safety, even Peter denied knowing Jesus (Luke 22:54-62).

Like the disciples, we're far from perfect. But even though Peter's faith wavered, the Lord knew he would play an important role in growing the church (Matthew 16:18). In a similar way, we too have the opportunity to repent and participate in the work Jesus is doing to build His kingdom.

September 24, 2020

2 Chronicles 20:20  Early in the morning they left for the Desert of Tekoa. As they set out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, “Listen to me, Judah and people of Jerusalem! Have faith in the Lord your God and you will be upheld; have faith in his prophets and you will be successful.”
 

Hows do you respond when faced with a sizable problem for which there seems to be no solution? After considering all angles and seeing no way out, do you panic or sink into despair? Believers in Jesus Christ should remember there's another option: Pray and rely on the Lord.

Today's verse provides a rich, detailed account of Jehoshaphat's remarkable faith. When Judah was threatened by a great and powerful enemy, the king responded by seeking the Lord. His prayer was based on divine promises and Judah's total dependence upon God for deliverance. In response, the Lord sent a comforting message through a prophet, and Jehoshaphat told the people, “Listen to me, Judah and people of Jerusalem! Have faith in the Lord your God and you will be upheld; have faith in his prophets and you will be successful.”


 

This is good advice for us today because our only true foundation in times of trouble is the Lord and His Word. Jehoshaphat's prayer is a model we can follow. When we come humbly before God and base our prayer requests on the truths and promises of Scripture, we can trust Him to do exactly what He has said.

September 23, 2020

 Romans 11:33-36  Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?” For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.
 

What situations cause you to doubt God? Do fears come because the future seems uncertain? Are hardships a challenge since they make the Lord appear unkind? Or perhaps your expectations and dreams have come crashing down, and it seems God is nowhere to be found.

Since our heavenly Father is omniscient, sovereign, and loving, we have every reason to trust Him regardless of the circumstance.

  1. God is infinitely wise. We may have all the information that is humanly possible to gather, but God alone knows the future, the details of every situation, and the best possible plan for our life.
  2. The Lord has complete authority over all events. Even though God's ways are beyond our comprehension, we can trust Him, knowing that His control is exercised perfectly according to His complete knowledge and great love.
  3. God's love is unfailing. No matter what we are facing, nothing can separate us from His love, which is in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:31-39).

Take some time today to ponder God's limitless love, wisdom, and sovereignty. When you are trusting in Him, you'll be able to follow His path for your life, and your heart won't be troubled (John 14:1)

 

Romans 11:33-36  Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?” For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.
 

What situations cause you to doubt God? Do fears come because the future seems uncertain? Are hardships a challenge since they make the Lord appear unkind? Or perhaps your expectations and dreams have come crashing down, and it seems God is nowhere to be found.

Since our heavenly Father is omniscient, sovereign, and loving, we have every reason to trust Him regardless of the circumstance.

  1. God is infinitely wise. We may have all the information that is humanly possible to gather, but God alone knows the future, the details of every situation, and the best possible plan for our life.
  2. The Lord has complete authority over all events. Even though God's ways are beyond our comprehension, we can trust Him, knowing that His control is exercised perfectly according to His complete knowledge and great love.
  3. God's love is unfailing. No matter what we are facing, nothing can separate us from His love, which is in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:31-39).

Take some time today to ponder God's limitless love, wisdom, and sovereignty. When you are trusting in Him, you'll be able to follow His path for your life, and your heart won't be troubled (John 14:1)

September 22, 2020

Romans 5:1-11  Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we[b] boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we[c] also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. 6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.


 

When facing painful trials, we may be tempted to doubt God's love for us - especially if we think peace and happiness are proof His love and trouble is not. Paul helps us see God's purpose for difficulties in the believer's life. Tribulations are meant to produce perseverance, proven character, and hope because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts.
 

Instead of yielding to doubts, let the following truths about God's trustworthy love give you hope.

  1. His love is perfect. He always does what is best for us in order to accomplish His goal of transforming us into the image of His Son.
  2. His love is dependable. 1 John 4:8 tells us that love is an integral part of God's nature. It would go against His character not to love His people, and he never contradicts His own being.
  3. His love is consistent. God works all events in His children's lives - even the hardest circumstances - for their good. Scripture teaches us to regard hardships as the act of a good heavenly Father who loves us. (Hebrews 12:6).

If you're ever in doubt, remember that God orchestrated the greatest demonstration of love possible - His Son's death on the cross.

September 21, 2020

Psalm 105:3-5  Glory in His holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice. Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always. Remember the wonders He has done, His miracles, and the judgments He pronounced.

When people have proven themselves to us in the past, we find it easy to trust them the next time. We even trust people who have let us down once, if they give us believable reasons for their failure. Why don't we give God that same trust?

The Bible is filled with stories of God's faithfulness. Never once has God failed to take care of those who believed God even listened to and rescued Jonah, who was deliberately disobeying God's orders. God is trustworthy. God has faithfully provided for you and your family. Make a list of the experiences in which God intervened in your life. Think of times when you unexpectedly received a bonus or a gift you very much needed. That was God at work.

Remember God's record. God will not let you down. However bad the circumstances of your life today, God can and will bring good from them. Trust God. Know that good will come.

September 16, 2020

Psalm 103:12  As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.

A young nun once claimed to have had a vision of Jesus. Her bisho[ decided to test her truthfulness and ordered that the next time she had a vision she should ask Christ what the bishop's primary sin had been before he became a bishop. Some months later the nun returned, and the bisho[ asked if she had asked Christ the question, to which she affirmed that she had.

"And what did He say?" the bishop asked apprehensively.

"Christ said...," and the nun paused a moment. "He said, "I don't remember.'"

We have a God who not only forgives but forgets! He tells us: "I am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake, and I will not remember your sins" (Isaiah 43:25). Psalm 103:12 affirms: As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us."

Accordingly, we should learn to pray: "O God, forgive me for the sin of coming back to You and asking forgiveness for a sin You forgave - and forgave - a long time ago".

So God forgives - and forgets. And then He asks us to "forget" our sin. Some people say, "The only thing you can't change is your past." But in one sense that's wrong. God has changed your past. Because of Christ's death on the cross for you sin, your past need not haunt you with guilt anymore. You can, by the power of the Holy Spirit, "change" your past. You can "forget" it, for God has. You are also called to forgive others as Christ has forgiven you (Mark 11:26).

September 15, 2020

Psalm 100:5  For the Lord is good and His love endures forever; His faithful continues through all generations.

At the close of each year, TV and magazines remind us of the highlights of the previous 12 months - the top news stories and the people who played prominent roles in politics, sports, arts, and entertainment.

Usually, the top stories of the year concern wars, natural disasters, accidents, and other calamities; and often concerned citizens worry about the direction the world is heading.

At times when we are anxious or prone to look negatively at the future, we do well to read through the book of Psalms, especially verses like today's reading. There we are reminded that God's faithfulness "continues through all generations." Through every century of this world our heavenly Father has watched over and cared for His people. He has no plans to withdraw His protection from us ever.

The psalmist also reminds us that not only is the Lord faithful, but He "is good and His love endures forever." God's plan of redemption, His sending His Son to suffer and die in our place and raising Him on the third day, is effective for all generations - the future as well as the past.

No matter what happens in the world, God is faithful and "His love endures forever."

September 14, 2020

Psalm 96:1  Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth.

The Psalmist encourages us to sing - not any song, mind you, but a new song. A global song. A song sung by "all the earth."

If you are like me, I like the old songs. The tried and true songs. The ones I learned as a kid.

Sing to the a new song, therefore, a word of encouragement that I often need, as do we all. New songs call for new singers, a new choir, fresh composers. And whether we are foghorn monotones or nightingale warblers, all of us are gowned conscripts in the global choir of praise.

In this sense, our lives are a song. The lives of the billions of organisms on this rushing planet are singing the praise of the almighty Creator God. And the best-tuned soulful instruments of all belong to those of us alive in Christ Jesus, for we are being baptismal renewed daily. 

We are, therefore, a new song in Christ. For we are His new creation. Our combined song of praise will rock the heavens in different holy harmony each day or our lives and for eternity. To the glory of God. Sing on, new songs!
 

September 10, 2020

Psalm 90:2  Lord, You have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or You brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting You are God.

Teenagers often talk about their parents, saying things like: "I just can't figure my dad out. One minute he's nice; the next minute he's a bear. One minute he is silent; the next minute he is violent. And mom is so moody! One minute she is tough on me, and the next minute she is easy on me."

What a comfort to know that even though we are always changing, our God is changeless! Even though we are inconsistent and unfaithful, our eternal God remains the same. God never wakes up grumpy. He is never in a bad mood. He never has a bad day!

Our faithful and consistent God can be counted on to give us everything that we need.  He has taken care of our past by forgiving our sins through Jesus Christ, His Son. God gives us His almighty provision for the present to give us all we need.

And our capab;e God who is from everlasting to everlasting holds our future secure. God who is always the same has all our bases covered! He becomes our dwelling place now and even forevermore.

September 9, 2020

Psalm 62:2  He alone is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will never be shaken.

Many people have traveled through Europe to the great castles and fortresses built centuries ago. The purpose of every fortress is the same" protect the inhabitants from the enemies and preserve the kingdom. In one way or another, every such fortress has failed. The enemy has always found a way to gain entrance or to defeat the inhabitants.

King David in this psalm was facing such enemies who would topple his kingdom and destroy his fortress. We might imagine that we can create a fortress in our lives that no one can topple. Such a fortress might be our efforts at financial security, always having enough saved for a rainy day. Or we may try to find security in health and exercise. Look at the health market emphasis on exercise machines and megavitamins that will help to fight off every invasion of weakness as if we can build a fortress of exercise that will preserve life.

Twice in this psalm (verses 2 and 6), David identifies the one fortress in which he will never be shaken. That fortress is God, his rock and salvation. When Jesus says that He will never leave us or forsake us, that He will be with us always to the close of the age, He is building just such a fortress around us that cannot be destroyed. It is His love that surrounds us day by day.

September 8, 2020

Psalm 59:16  I will sing of Your strength, in the morning I will sing of Your love; for You are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble.

There is an old saying that you can't whistle and be sad at the same time. When you see someone walking down the street whistling, humming, or singing, you are fairly confident that the person is in a good mood.

The beginning verses of today's Psalm detail a frightening situation where enemy forces lie in wait to destroy the psalmist and the nation of Israel. It is certainly not a time we expect the writer to be "whistling."

Still in verse 16 the psalmist says, "I will sing of Your strength." "Your" refers to the Lord God Almighty, our all-powerful, heavenly Father. The Psalmist continues, "in the morning I will sing of Your love." Why? "For You are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble." In the face of eminent danger the writer can be confident of His Father's love and protection.

In times of crisis or on days when we are just feeling "down," turning to the Lord in songs of praise can lift our spirits, too. As we dwell on our Father's love in sending His Son to redeem us, we find refuge and rest in our Savior's care.

September 7, 2020

Psalm 59:1-4  Deliver me from my enemies, O God; protect me from those who rise against me...I have done no wrong, yet they are ready to attack me. Arise to help me; look on my plight!

Do you ever feel that everyone is against you, that you have no one on your side and that you are powerless to overcome the forces arrayed against you? It seems at times we cannot cope because our problems and fears are too numerous and too overwhelming. We feel outnumbered.

No doubt the psalmist David experienced something like that when Saul sent his men to watch David's house and kill him. The prophet Elisha also knew that feeling when the enemies of God surrounded the city of Dothan. He and his allies were completely outnumbered. The servant of Elisha was pushing the panic button when he asked: "Lord, what shall we do?"

We need the reassurance Elisha's words gave to his servant: "Those who are with us are more than those who are with them" (2 Kings 6:16). Though it may appear that there are more who are opposed to us than for us, as Christians we know that God is on our side. That tips the scales in our favor. It gives us a decided advantage. With the psalmist we can pray: "Deliver me from my enemies, O God" and rest assured that He stands with us.
 

"If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31). With Jesus on our side, we are always in the majority. With Christ we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us (Romans 8:37). Because Jesus died for our sins, we know that God is for us, loves us and numbers us as His sons and daughters, is on our side. No one - nothing - can ever snatch us out of His loving and protecting hands.

September 3, 2020

Grace Moments

I’m anxious all the time
by Pastor Mark Jeske

All of us have at least one disability of one kind or another. Sometimes that challenge in our lives proves to be a great energy source: the youngest child who is ignored and patronized in the family becomes an overachiever “to show them I’m somebody.” A middle schooler with a stutter is driven to overcome it and become a great speaker. Someone who lives with daily anxiety might compensate by channeling that fear and energy into excellence at work. Or the reverse—the frequent panic attacks make every kind of scholastic test or work evaluation a time of total emotional terror and shutdown. 

Daily anxiety is a widespread plague—over 10 percent of American adults take some form of antidepressant medication. Whether you are on a med or not, there is a form of relief available to all believers in Christ: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Scripture promises us that God is indeed tracking our day-to-day lives, that he cares deeply for us, that his ears are attuned to our prayers, that each prayer receives an appropriate answer at the right time, and that God actually does intervene in human history for the benefit of believers.

He is not merely watching us. He is engaged. That means you’re not alone. That means even your hardships can turn into blessings. That means you always win in the end. 

Go ahead. Cast your anxiety on him. His shoulders are big enough to take it all.


 

September 2, 2020

Psalm 57:1  Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me, for in You my  soul takes refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of Your wings until the disaster has passed.

An old legend tells of an angel sent by God to inform Satan that all the methods he used to defeat Christians would be taken from him. The devil pleaded to be allowed to keep just one: discouragement. Thinking this a modest request, the angel agreed. Later the devil laughed to himself: "In this one tool, discouragement, I have secured all."

Discouragement is an effective tool and weapon of Satan. Our lives are often adversely affected when we allow ourselves to be discouraged.

There is little to be gained by looking to ourselves when discouragement comes on us. We need to look out and up, away from ourselves and our problems. We need to look up to God, placing our problems in His hands. From Him our help comes.

David, hiding in a cave from Saul, says he "was bowed down in distress" (v.6). He experienced discouragement. And yet he looks up to God, calls upon Him for mercy, and says he will take refuge in the shadow of His wings until the danger passes. He acknowledges that "God sends His love and His faithfulness" (v.3). He knew that God was with him. "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31).

God's Word is full of words that encourage: "Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7). "Be strong and take heart" (Psalm 31:24). "Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God (Isaiah 41:10).

By turning as David did to God through faith in our Savior, we can banish discouragement and savor the encouragement that He provides.

September 1, 2020

Psalm 56:3  When I am afraid, I will trust in You.

One time, a family gathered around the television for the nightly news. A featured story was the arrival of the Pope as he visited this country. As they watched him step from the plane and symbolically kiss the ground, the 85-year old aunt turned to her niece and said, "I know how he feels. I'm scared of flying, too!"

Our Lord Jesus Christ knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows that each of us has our own personal fears and worries. He understands that often it is fear that holds us back from being everything that God wants us to be. Fear cuts us off from God so that we turn to our troubles around us and forget about God's sufficient care for our lives.

Like the disciples, Jesus Christ comes to us with those comforting words, "Fear not!" His death on the cross and resurrection from the dead assures us that we can trust in Him. Nothing in all the world can separate us from the love of God. The grace of our Savior assures us that our sins are forgiven and that we have a home in heaven prepared for us.

The Holy Spirit works in our hearts to move us from fear to faith - not faith in ourselves and our own abilities to maneuver our way out of our fixes, but faith in the One who willingly suffered and died so that we could experience abundant life. Together we say, "I will trust in You!"

August 31, 2020

Psalm 51:10-12  Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from Your presence or take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

When we think of King David, we often think of one of the greatest kings of Israel. David trusted God so much that he faced an armored Philistine giant with nothing more than a sling and a few smooth stones. God gave David the victory! His love for God was so great that he committed his life to God, and God blessed David. It is from David's seed that the Savior would come, and Jesus is from the house of David. You'd think with that kind of background, David would have some special power to avoid sinning, that his life was about as perfect as you could go.

But David was harassed, persecuted by his own family, and fell into sin. These are the words he prayed after Nathan confronted him with his adultery with Bathsheba. And what a marvelous prayer! Can you imagine how David must have felt? David had experienced all the blessings that God had given him. He had witnessed God's power and mercy, and yet he still rejected God for a pretty face. David is sad; he is lonely; he feels so empty. And in his emptiness, he understands what it feels like to not walk with God. David knows what it is to be in the presence of God. He has experienced the indwelling of the Holy Spirit; he has experienced the joy of salvation. And now, he feels alone. And so, his prayer.

And the beauty of this prayer is that it is answered. In Christ, our sins are forgiven, our heart is made pure, our spirit is renewed, and we have the joy of salvation. Every day, we will be tempted, and we will succumb to the power of sin. And every day, every minute, every time, as we call upon Jesus to forgive us, we are forgiven and made pure. Now that is power.

August 27, 2020

Psalm 50:15  Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor Me.

A pastor in Ann Arbor, Michigan, tells of a woman who was well known for her negativity. In fact, she fairly "seethed with hate," he said. She had been a church member, but something had happened that had so changed her that for 20 years she was literally filled with loathing.

Somehow, the woman happened to visit the church again. She attended services and meetings for about a month. Then one day, the woman walked up to the pastor, and he saw a totally different person. To his amazement the smiling, beaming woman said: "Hey, you know, this Christianity stuff really works!"

It's a true story. It really happened. It's no more "dramatic" than that. And yet, it's quite "dramatic." "Christianity really works!" The warming fellowship of being with other Christians really works. God's means of grace, His Holy Word and sacraments, really work. God in His merciful forgiveness, by the power of the Holy Spirit, does that within us which we are unable to do. Christianity really works.

What despair or difficulty confronts you? Christ wants you to have His peace and His power to overcome it. He says: "Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor Me" (Psalm 50:15).

But God doesn't just operate as a "God of the Zaps" through the thin air. He works through His means of grace - His Word and the thin air. He works through His means of grace - His Word and the sacraments. So let us use them faithfully. They are our "hookup" to His power supply. Through them He delivers us. And then we honor Him.

August 26, 2020

Psalm 46:1  God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

A great churchman lay dying. On a tour of world missions, he had contracted a rare disease that left him almost totally paralyzed. He could not speak, but he could hear. Otherwise, he could barely move his fingers or blink his eyes.

As the days slipped by, the surgeons sought to keep in communication with him. To ascertain his mental clarity, they asked him to tap a finger 50 times. This he did each day, with precision. Then one day he tapped only 46 times. "Ah," he's slipping, they thought. But the next day it was exactly 46 taps, and the next and the next.

What's he trying to tell us?" they puzzled.

Then one person realized: "Forty-six, 46, 46! The 46th Psalm!"

Here lay this great churchman, inert, powerless on his deathbed. But as he lay there facing heavenward, his finger was tapping out the faith-filled message: "God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble!" (Psalm 46:1).
 


 

August 25, 2020

Psalm 43:4  Then will I go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight. I will praise You with the harp, O God, my God.

The book of Psalms was the hymnal of ancient Israel. It was central to their life of worship, for through it they expressed their sorrow and joy, their prayers and praises to God.


 

Psalm 43 talks about God as His people's "joy and delight." They knew that their identity as God's people came not from their achievement but from what He had done for them to make them His people. God had brought them out of slavery in Egypt and given to them the Promised Land.

Israel often forgot that their identity was God's own possession, and they too often forgot that their protection came from Him alone. An important part of the Old Testament's message was to remind them of these fundamental realities.

In their worship, as reflected in this verse from Psalm 43, God's people hear in faith what God has done for them, and they respond with praise. Hearing God's acts of mercy on their behalf, He truly is their "joy and delight."

Christian people today often repeat the story of God's old covenant people in their own lives. Yet God is patient and persistent. He is not about to let His plan be derailed by our unfaithfulness. He keeps coming back to us, even though we don't deserve it.

God is our joy and delight because He has claimed us as His own children, delivers us from slavery to sin and death through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and promises us eternal life with Him. This is our occasion for worship, thanksgiving, and praise.

August 24, 2020

Psalm 42:1-2  As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?

Hydrated is an often-used word today. Models and actresses attribute their beauty to keeping their body and skin hydrated by drinking large amounts of water. From a medical standpoint, we know that people can exist for an extended period of time by the consumption of water only. When it is extremely hot, we are told to consume liquids, especially water. Cities open fire hydrants sp children can be cooled by playing in the water. Water is essential for our well being.

In our Bible passage, the illustration compares the survival needs of the deer and of people. For the deer, water will suffice, but for people, water will quench only the bodily needs, but the soul thirsts for living water.

Our bodies need water, but our souls need to be cleansed with the water of Holy Baptism. We also need to be nourished with the spiritual food of God's Word.

Do we thirst to be fed with God's Word, to drink of His water?

August 20, 2020

Psalm 37:23-26   If the Lord delights in a man's way, He makes his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with His hand. I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. They are always generous and lend freely; their children will be blessed.

Eighty-year-old Marian was weak and shaky after her long illness and found it difficult to stand or walk on her own. When she needed to get out of bed, she was very grateful for the support of her son Richard's arm around her. Richard cared deeply about his mother. Whatever she needed, Richard tried to provide. He went shopping for groceries, cooked for her, and served her meals on a bed tray.

God cares for us in much the same way. The everlasting arms support us. Our needs are met, often in miraculous ways. God protects us from dangers and problems, some of which we never know are issues.

God cares about the paths we choose in life. The Almighty is read to guide us in the ways we ought to walk. And when we entrust our Christian walk to God, we please our Lord. God will not only direct our paths, but will also keep us from falling. Anyone may falter at times, even stumble, but God is able to break the fall and draw us back into fellowship. When the night is long and the way is rough, lean on God.
 


 

August 19, 2020

Psalm 37:5  Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him and He will do this.

The scene is pastoral as an older couple sits on the front porch of their farmhouse, rocking away. Birds are chirping; soft music is playing in the background. Suddenly, with no apparent warning, the scene blurs, the music stops, and the sweet little old lady becomes frightening. Her facial expressions turn hateful as she screams, "I hate commitments."

This advertisement  for a music club with no commitments echoes the sentiments of most of America. We find commitments difficult. Often they are long-term, if not forever, and we find it important to keep our options open.

So, in this spirit, sports heroes hold out to renegotiate their contracts, regardless of the commitments they made to their teams. There is an ever-increasing divorce rate, as people refuse to commit to their spouses, and millions of children go without adequate support, because one or both parents refuse to commit to them. What used to be a society of trust based on a handshake has become one where trust is virtually nonexistent.

It is precisely to us that God speaks when He asks us to commit and trust. The basis upon which our commitment is requested is God's commitment to us. His love is so great that He committed Himself to us when He came to earth as a baby. He committed Himself to us when he walked our paths, experienced our pain, and was killed for our sins. His commitment brings us life, and our trust brings Him joy. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, He has given us the ability to commit and to be blessed in those commitments, to trust and to be trusted. Praise Him!

 

August 18, 2020

Psalm 37:4  Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.

I know I am a child of God, but I can't say I'm a;ways delightful. I know that I belong to Jesus, that He has been killed for my sins, that He rose from the dead, and  that He rose from the dead, and because of this, I am heavenbound. Yet, sometimes I put all that aside as I make my own plans.

To "delight yourself in the Lord" is more than just feeling joyous whenever the name of Jesus is mentioned. It involves committing whatever you do to the Lord. It's saying, "not what I will, God, but what You will." If your desire is to open to God's plan for you, then the desires of your heart will be met.
 


 

August 17, 2020

Psalm 34:22  The Lord redeems His servants; no one will be condemned who takes refuge in Him.

The book of Psalms lets us glimpse into David's life. Psalm 34, for instance, is one of 13 psalms linked to one specific incident. As king-elect of God's people, David lost his confidence in God's protection against Saul. In that moment of weakness of faith, David fled to Israel's enemies, the Philistines, and sought refuge with their king. When David realized how foolish he was to trust the Philistines for help, he feigned insanity to escape. Through this experience David learned the truth proclaimed in this psalm: "Blessed is the man who takes refuge in the Lord" (v.8).

By his invitation to "taste and see that the Lord is good" (v. 8), David asks us to learn from his mistake and toi trust in the Lord who "redeems His servants." So often we put our trust in our own skill and ingenuity, in our power or the power of the "important" people of life. Even in matters of our salvation we try to trust our good works. When we lean on our abilities, strength, and good works, we collapse under the weight of the guilt of our sin. Nothing we can do will redeem us before God; but He sent His Son - Jesus the Christ - not only to live among us, but to suffer betrayal, to die in our place, and to rise again so that we might have new life.

"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus," St. Paul tells us (Romans 8:1). Since "no one will be condemned who takes refuge in Him," we are freed to live our lives for the One in whom we put our trust.
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August 7, 2020

Psalm 34:19  A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all.

God's people knew the ups and downs of life. They knew that things did not always go well for those who sought to be faithful and to do God's will as He had revealed it. They knew that there was no easy correlation between obedience and blessing in this life. Righteous men such as Elijah and Jertemiah and Job had many troubles indeed.

Faith and faithfulness today are likewise no guarantee of a trouble-free experience. What can make matters worse, there is often no discernable reason or explanation for why someone does experience difficulties. And, for the time being, there may be no immediate rescue or way out.

Precisely here the psalmist seems to assert something contrary to experience and reminds his readers that the Lord delivers His people from all these troubles. The Psalmist's point is clear: God keeps His promises, even if He does follow His own schedule.

We are at an advantage today over those who first read the words of this Psalm: in Jesus Christ, God has kept His promise. Through the saving work of Jesus, God delivers us from all manner of troubles - from those we bring on ourselves and from those that simply attend life in a sinful world.

God delivers us from our problems by delivering Jesus Christ into death for us. The decisive battle has been won; the final outcome is not in doubt.

August 5, 2020

Psalm 34:10  Those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

Mark wanted a promotion at work. He knew he was qualified and could do the next level job in the company. He could see himself behind the desk, making decisions and setting policy. He felt he was the best choice for the position.

But the person Mark needed to please was not himself, but the boss. It didn't matter how much Mark felt he deserved the promotion unless the boss also agreed that Mark was the best choice. So, Mark made pleasing the boss with good work a priority. At every opportunity Mark gave an extra effort. He learned not only his assignments, but those of others with whom he worked. He volunteered to fill in wherever he was needed. He was helpful, kind, willing, and dependable. In the process, Mark learned a lot about the company he would not have otherwise known. He actually enjoyed himself. And Mark became more valuable to the company. He got the promotion.

It doesn't matter how good we think we are, or how much we think we have learned, there is always room for improvement. Instead of focusing on what we want for ourselves, we need to spend time and energy becoming the person God designed us to be. We need to seek to please God. We must study the Word to learn about God and His divine expectations for us. We must allow the Holy Spirit to tune in our hearts to God's heart. In the process, we become more like God wants us to be. We come to want what is right and best in our lives. We find that as we seek the Lord and delight in doing right, the desires of our hearts come into line with the right choices. We lack no good thing!
 


 

August 4, 2020

Psalm 32:9-10  Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you. Many are the woes of the wicked, but the Lord's unfailing love surrounds the man who trusts in Him.

In today's world, the acceptance of an offer that is allegedly free sometimes turns out to have strings attached. Therefore, it may be difficult to identify with the stupidity of resisting a free offer, as the psalmist implies. What offer is it that David wants to make sure people do not turn down? The first part of the psalm contains the answer: David has been describing God's boundless love and forgiveness. That is what the godly ought not to resist or stay away from.

Mankind is not naturally inclined to come to God; in fact, sinful human nature runs in the opposite direction! Natural man needs that bit and bridle; he needs to be jerked around for his own good. But the Holy Spirit has called and enlightened us by the Gospel so that we may come to God for spiritual sustenance, for the forgiveness of sins, and for the assurance of eternal life. That is what trust is all about. At God's invitation and empowered by the Holy Spirit, we place ourselves into the almighty and gracious hands of our loving God. There is no more blessed and secure place in all of creation.

August 3, 2020

Psalm 31:14-15  But I will trust in You, O LORD; I say, "You are my God." My times are in Your hands.

One time a small boy stood near the grandfather clock at his house. He loved to count out loud with the chimes marking a new hour. One day, as the noon chimes sounded 12, something happened! Instead of stopping at 12, it kept right on chiming, 13-14-15-16....

The boy jumped to his feet and ran into the kitchen, shouting, "Mom, Mom! It's later than it has ever been before!"

How true! For each of us, it is later than it has ever been before. We are all getting older, except for those of us who give up our birthday for Lent, changing by the hour, and heading towards that day when we will meet our Savior face-to-face through our faith in Him.

Yet, before we get depressed, the Lord assures us that our times are in His hands. We can trust in Him! The Lord assures us that when it comes to the times of our lives, He has all the bases covered.

Our past forgiven through the shed blood of Christ.

Our present is taken care of through His merciful provision.

Our future is secure through the promises of His Word.

Truly our times are in God's hands! We trust in Him!
 

July 29, 2020

Besides patient perseverance in doing good while we wait for Christ to come again, His second coming brings blessings to believers right now! When we consider the significance of Christ's promises regarding the end of the world, we should never minimize the comfort that they bring, especially when confronting death - and first of all, the death of loved ones.

Consider what the Bible has to say about heaven. This is basic to our living through the loss of one whom we love. "Today you will be with Me in Paradise" - our Lord's word to the thief on the cross - is something that we hold on to when a loved one dies, perhaps by slipping away into eternity after a long illness or maybe by being torn from our grasp through a sudden catastrophe. Either way, we can rejoice that something good awaits a believer whom we are mourning. We don't have to worry about those who die in the faith.

God's promise of a glorified body at the end of time is the source of immense comfort and strength when we face life without someone we love. It may be sad, challenging, difficult, almost impossible - but not permanent. Remember Paul's description of the Last Day: (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17) "The dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord." And then he adds, (v.18) "Therefore encourage one another with these words." That's the point. The promise of a final resurrection provides comfort and encouragement for those of us who are alive now. We know that a restoration and reunion awaits all those who themselves are waiting for Jesus.

But it's not only others whose death we have to deal with; it's also ourselves. We too must die - and we know it. The younger and healthier we are, the more we can ignore it, and most of us do just that - ignore death. But we can't do it all the time. Not only do obituaries and funerals occasionally put the thought of dying into our heads but life itself also provides intimations of mortality. A narrow escape from an accident, for example, prompts us to exclaim, "Wow! That was close!" and so we give God a quick word of thanks for His angels. Even more pressing are those doctors' diagnoses that inform us of a chronic disease or something worse, something that might kill us at once.
 

July 28,2020

We have God's promises of His love to us in Jesus - yesterday, today, and forever - to keep us in the faith right until the end, even during the worst of times. But what about better times? Things are never perfect, but Christians do not always live under a direct threat of martyrdom. In His goodness, God has often arranged for Christians to go about their daily lives without fear of violence from the state or other powers. At some times and places, Christians have even propsered and become influential in society. But situations like these also have their down side. Peter, for example, mentions the emergence of skeptics who scoff at Christian claims that the end is coming.

The apostle addresses such scoffers in his second letter. Wishing to follow their own sinful desires, these mockers question the second coming with its threat of judgment. "All things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation" is their claim (2 Peter 3:4). But they fail to look back and recall the flood - the first instance of God's worldwide condemnation of sin (vv. 5-6) - while at the same time denying a future judgment by fire (v.7).

Peter reminds us that God does not regard time the way we do: (v. 8) "With the Lord one day is as a thousand years." Moreover, there is a reason why Christ has still not returned: (v.9) "The Lord...is patient toward you not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance." Nevertheless, God's gracious "delay" must not lead us to join the scoffers, for Christ is coming. "The day of the Lord will come like a thief" (v. 10), says the apostle, but it will some!


 

It will arrive with a mighty destruction: (v.7) "The heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly". But such a reality in the future should affect people right now. Peter draws a conclusion that better helps us to understand what our Lord meant by "stay awake": (vv. 11-12) "What sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God"! We know that faith always produces good works - not just faith in the past work of Christ but faith in His future work as well. Living with the expectation that the Lord is truly coming back to condemn the wicked but to rescue the faithful changes one's perspective on life. Because of this future, Christians live in God-pleasing ways now, no matter the circumstances, good or bad.

July 27,2020

The importance of living with an eye toward the future comes up almost every time that Jesus speaks of the second coming. One of the ways that Jesus speaks of the second coming. One of the ways that Jesus made this point was by urging His disciples to stay awake: (Matthew 24:42,44) "Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming....Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect." Of course, we need to explore more closely what our Lord means by "staying awake," but one thing that is clear initially is that Christians need to remain Christian all their lives. No matter what their situation - whether they are hard pressed by circumstances or severely tempted by Satan or even have succumbed and fallen into desperate sin (like David or Peter), they must not give up, for Jesus says, (Matthew 10:22) "The one who endures to the end will be saved"; and again, (Revelation 2:10) "Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life."

Maybe that's easier said than done - biblical descriptions of the end times can be alarming. After all, who wants to hear about a tribulation so terrible that if God did not shorten those times, "no human being would be saved"! Thank God that our Lord immediately adds that "for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short" (Matthew 24:22).  Of course, that word "elect" moves us to look backward again - this time farther than we actually can look! For God's love for us in Christ originated before creation. Paul wrote: (Ephesians 1:4-5) "He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ." Therefore, on account of His love for us in eternity, God sent His Son into time - a specific time as well as place - in order to redeem us. As God oversees human history, He is always guided by His own gracious purpose to save us. The work of Jesus for our sakes is the proof and fulfillment of His love for us from before the beginning of time.

July 23, 2020

Our Lord's redemption does not leave people unchanged. It transforms them. So when people become believers, they have new attitudes toward God and man, with the result that they do good works spontaneously - not to earn anything but out of gratitude to God their Savior. This is what our Lord refers to in the description of Judgment Day. God's mercy produces mercy in the lives of the faithful; and at Judgment Day, our Lord passes over the sins of the faithful and remembers only their deeds of kindness directed toward others. Out of pure grace - there is no hint of merit - He identifies Himself as the recipient of such deeds and invites believers into the Kingdom prepared for them from the beginning of time.

Six such works are mentioned in Matthew 25 - feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, taking in strangers, visiting the sick, and visiting the imprisoned. Of course, this is not a complete list of what God expects from His people. Elsewhere in the Gospel, for example, Jesus mentions forgiving a brother's sins (18:21-22) as well as keeping the commandments in general (19:17-19). We are also to make disciples of all nations by baptizing and teaching (28:19-20). But it is also true that as long as they are in this world, people experience physical needs of all kinds, and our Lord wants us to respond to those needs in others. As James reminds us, it is not enough simply to say to the needy, (James 2:16) "Go in peace, be warmed and filled, without giving them the things needed for the body." God expects action, not just words or good intentions. The judgment scene makes this abundantly clear.

Again as James points out, those who fail to respond in love to the needs of others show that their "faith" is not real faith at all: (James 2:17) "Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead." Faith saves only because it relies on Jesus; but such a faith always produces good effects. Thus, the second group gathered in front of the King demonstrates its lack of faith by its lack of works. Their condemnation follows inevitable and automatically. Indeed, they condemn themselves.

July 22, 2020

The most detailed description of our Lord's final judgment over mankind occurs in the last of Jesus' great discourses in the Gospel, Matthew 25:31-46. It begins with still another statement that our Lord will return: (v. 31) "When the Son of Man comes in His glory." Accompanied by the angels, the Lord will sit in judgment upon every human being who has ever existed. However, since He separates them into two groups right from the beginning, this scene represents a public announcement of a decision already made. Since God knows the secrets of our hearts (Psalm 44:21), His judgment is long past by Judgment Day, but that is when He will make His verdict public.

Initially, Jesus calls Himself "the Son of Man" in this discourse. He used this term often as a self-designation (around eighty times in the Gospels).  Besides reminding us of His human nature, in which He will suffer for the sins of mankind (Matthew 20:28), this term also points to the exalted Savior, who will return in glory to bring the present order of things to an end (this is seen in passages such as Daniel 7:13-14 and Mark 13:24-27). However, besides "Son of Man," the text also calls Jesus "King" (Matthew 25:34,40) and portrays Him as such ("He will sit on His glorious throne"; v. 31). As we have already seen, "the kingdom of heaven" in the Gospels often points to Judgment Day; and in these verses, we see the king of heaven rendering that final judgment.

Two groups stand before the King. One is placed in the position of privilege (the right) and is designated "sheep"; the other stands on the left and is called "goats."  In real life, these animals could be pastured together but could not breed together and would probably be separated for milking, shearing, and other purposes. In the Old Testament, a scapegoat was sent into the wilderness on the Day of Atonement as a symbol of removing sin and guilt (Leviticus 16:7-9). But in this description of judgment, the "goats" remain in their sins and so are sent into hell (v. 41) while the "sheep" represent the heirs of heaven (v. 34). They are two mutually exclusive groups, and there is no third group. It'[s either one or the other.

The basis for the King's public verdict is the presence or absence of works of mercy in the lives of those gathered before Him. One should not understand this passage as contradicting other passages that ascribe forgiveness of sins to faith in Jesus; for instance, John 3:16 (God so love the world") or Romans 3:28 ("One is justified by faith apart from works of the law"). Indeed, it is in Matthew - the same Gospel account that contains the judgment scene - that Jesus' name is explained (1:21; "He will save His people from their sins"), that He institutes the Lord's Supper (26:28: "My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sin"), and that He defines His saving work (20:28: "the Son of Man came...to give His life as a ransom for many").
 


 

July 21, 2020

Christ's second coming for judgment is an especially prominent theme in the Gospel of Matthew that we have been studying in Bible Class these last few months. In the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord's first extensive discourse in the book, Jesus spoke a great deal about the end times and judgment. For instance, each of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12), with which the sermon begins, includes a blessing that the disciples would enjoy fully only after the ending of the age and the coming of the new. The first and the eighth beatitudes (directed to the poor in spirit and the persecuted, respectively) both have the same blessing, "theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (vv.3,10). As I have already said, the "kingdom of heaven" looks forward to the end of time, when God will initiate a new era that removes sin and its consequences from the lives of His people. The other beatitudes each pronounce a future blessing that describes an aspect of the Kingdom. Thus, mourners shall be comforted, the meek shall inherit the earth, those hungry for righteousness shall be satisfied, the merciful shall receive mercy, the pure shall see God, and the peacemakers shall be called sons of God. Christ announces the blessings now, but believers will enjoy them fully only at the end of time.

Divine judgment is also prominent in the final chapter of the sermon (Matthew 7). Those who persist in judging others will themselves be judged (v.2). Believers are encouraged to follow the "narrow" way that leads to life; but "the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction" (vv. 13-14). Trees that do not produce "good fruit" are thrown into the fire (v.19). Then follows a brief description of Judgment Day itself (vv. 21-23), in which Jesus rejects those who call on Him and claim His blessings on account of their impressive works. "Depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness," He tells them. Finally, our Lord concludes with the familiar parable of two foundations, rock and sand (vv. 24-27). Those who build on the latter cannot survive the storms and their house collapses. But who are these? "Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not do them." In all these statements, Jesus spoke with authority; condemnation follows those who do not obey His words.

July 20, 2020

John picks up where the Old Testament left off in pointing the people forward to the judgment of God; but he also made it clear that God would exercise this judgment through the Coming One. "He who is coming after me," he said, "is mightier than I" and He would be the one to gather the wheat and burn the chaff (Matthew 3:11-12). Shortly thereafter, Jesus came forward for Baptism by John, and God the Father and the Spirit designated Him as the one to fulfill John's prediction, so that John could say: (John 1:34) "I have seen and have borne witness that this (namely, Jesus) is the Son of God."

This witness of John the Baptist - that Jesus is the promised Messiah - was picked up by the rest of the New Testament. Over and over again, the Old Testament was cited to prove that Jesus fulfilled what the Old Testament prophesied. Matthew, for example, included four such references in the first two chapters of his Gospel account, "All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet" (Matthew 1:22); and toward the end of his Gospel, John likewise pointed out that the soldiers did not break Jesus' legs "that the Scripture might be fulfilled" (John 19:36). Our Lord Himself claimed, (Luke 24:44) "Everything written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled," and He asserted to His enemies, (John 5:9) "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about Me."

But as we have seen, a part of what the Old Testament taught about judgment was that God would carry it out through the Messiah. So this is what John the Baptist taught too. "Repent, for the Lord is coming as Judge" is one way of paraphrasing his message. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why John later - after his imprisonment by Herod - sent his disciples to Jesus and asked, (Matthew 11:3) "Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?" After all, where was the judgment? Our Lord did plenty of warning, but He wasn't sending anyone to hell.

In answer to John's question, Jesus referred him to the Miracles: (Matthew 11:5) "The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up." The He added, "And the poor have good news preached to them." Thus, Jesus demonstrated His messianic claims by - to use John the Baptist's terminology - "Gathering the wheat"; but He was not yet "burning the chaff" (Matthew 3:12). Indeed, even at the end of the Gospel, what did Jesus do? He commissioned the disciples to go out and make more disciples from among all nations by baptizing and teaching (Matthew 28:19-20). The work of final judgment would come later.

But it would come. Other New Testament writers confirm the Baptist's characterization of Jesus as "Judge," and there are many references to Jesus' rendering a future "judgment." In the Gospel of John, for example, our Lord said explicitly that (5:27) "He  has given Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man." In the book of Acts, Peter identified Him as "the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead" (10:42). Paul also said of Him "We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ" (2 Corinthians 5:10) and "Christ Jesus...is to judge the living and the dead" (2 Timothy 4:1). In the very last chapter of the New Testament, the Lord Himself says, (Revelation 22:12) "Behold, I am coming soon, bringing My recompense with Me, to repay everyone for what he has done"; and so the faithful pray, (v. 20) "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!"
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July 16, 2020

Judgment Day! A time of final reckoning, of making everything right again, and of getting what you deserve. Used these days in films, books, and everyday speech, we may forget that the origin of "judgment Day" is biblical. The Bible teaches that the world will end when our Lord returns "to judge the living and the dead." That will be the ultimate reckoning.

Literary, movie, and conversational references to Judgment Day we can safely ignore, but not what the Bible says. God's Word determines what is and what will happen. Just think of creation: God spoke and it was done. Just think salvation: God promised a Savior and He came. So too with the end. God has told us a great deal about a final judgment - and what He has said will take place. You can count on it.

The New Testament era begins with John the Baptist - or is he really the end of the Old? One can make an argument for either. On the one hand, John is definitely the forerunner of Jesus and presents the same basic message as our Lord: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand". This seems to make John a part of the new era; but other passages place him in the old. Our Lord Himself said of John: (Matthew 11:11) "Among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." How can this be? Clearly, our Lord is not challenging either the faith of ministry of JOhn the Baptist. But nonetheless it is true that we who are believers today - on this side of the cross and empty tomb - have a much greater understanding of how God keeps His promises. In other words, we are greater because of God's greater gifts, namely, His revelation in the New Testament. The Baptist was dead before Christ had completed His saving work.

From this perspective, therefore, John's presentation of Jesus has more in common with the prophets of the Old Testament than with apostles and evangelists of the New. John's preaching picks up where Malachi's had left off. In fact, John is the fulfillment of Malachi's prediction that Elijah would come again (Malachi 4:5), as our Lord Himself pointed out, "He is Elijah who is to come" (Matthew 11:14).

Matthew summarizes the preaching of John with the statement "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 3:1). But why should people "repent"? John said, "For the kingdom of heaven is at hand". That term, "kingdom of heaven" is an important one in the Scriptures. It occurs over 80 times in the first three Gospels and covers a wide range of meanings. But in certain contexts, it points decisively to Judgment Day.
 


 

July 15, 2020

Also connected to the subject of signs of the end times is the Book of Revelation. This is a book of pictures and symbols, and many have gone wrong by treating at least some of the symbols as literal prophecies regarding the end. The most famous ( or, rather, infamous) of these is the idea of a millennium or thousand-year reign of our Lord on earth before the Last Day. This, too, is a topic I already addressed earlier.

But at this point, it is enough to realize that the Scriptures not only speak of the end - our Lord's second coming and a great day of judgment - but also urge us to be ready, in part, by recognizing the signs designated by God as reminders of what is going to happen. All things may seem to remain the same, and humanity certainly looks stuck in a rut; but the reality is far different. There is an end, and it is coming - for sure.

Human beings do not write their own story - however much they may think they do. Not one of us is responsible for our own beginning, and, of course, we cannot avoid our own end when the time comes. But the same thing is true of all humanity. We do not write our own story. The modern world has pretty much settled on the idea that human beings - in fact, the entire universe - don't have much of a story. They are just an accident, the result of time and chance. So if the human race does come to an end, it won't much matter. In fact, it won't matter at all.
 

But we believe that a persona; and loving God has written the story of mankind and that history is the record of how His story plays out in time. Like the best of stories in literature, ours, too, has a beginning, a middle, and an end. But the divine Author has prepared a conclusion far greater than any of us could write or imagine, for His story ends in glory - the glory of Jesus' return and the resurrection of God's faithful into that glory forever. And the great thing about it is this: it's not just a story.

July 14, 2020

At the time of our Lord's ascension, the angels assured the disciples: (Acts 1:11) "This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come again in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven." That's the promise, and the Church has confessed it ever since. But we are always tempted to ask when. When is God going to keep His word and bring the present state of affairs to an end?

The question is a natural one, and at times of great sorrow or suffering, it may seem pressing, even urgent. However, we always have to answer that we don't know. No matter how many times we raise the question - probably as often as we hear the promise - the answer remains the same. We don't know; nor should we. When the first Christians at Thessalonica thought that the end was imminent or, maybe, that the Lord had already come, some of them practically went to pieces. So the apostle had to write them a second time and tell them "not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed" (2 Thessalonians 2:2). Others seem to have drawn the conclusion that there was no more point in working and carrying out their day-to-day activities, so Paul had to rebuke them: (2 Thessalonians 3:11-12) "Fore we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living."

So God has not told us precisely when the end will arrive. The fact of our Lord's second coming is enough. It encourages us in Christian living and sustains us in the face of suffering and evil. It is true that because Jesus is coming back, we do alter our behavior; not, however, by giving up the tasks to which God has called us, but precisely by carrying them out for the sake of others, including the great mission task that must be concluded before the end happens. "Do not grow weary in doing good" (2 Thessalonians 3:13) was Paul's advice to the Thessalonians. But that's meant for us too.

July 13, 2020

In the Book of Acts, we see an affirmation of the resurrected Christ as the world's final judge in the preaching of the Apostle Peter (10:42) and Paul (17:31). Paul also discussed the final judgment in his own writings; for example, Romans 2:6-8; " God “will repay each person according to what they have done." To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger." Elsewhere, the apostle named Jesus as the One who is "to judge the living and the dead" (2 Timothy 4:1) and encouraged the faithful to look forward to "the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:13). Christ's second coming is an especially prominent theme in the apostle's two epistles to the Thessalonians. In the first letter, we have that powerful description of the last trumpet, at the second of which "the dead in Christ will rise first" (4:16); and in the second letter, Paul provided an extensive discussion of when the second coming would actually occur.

Other writers beside Paul also referred to the end times. James, for example, mentioned the "coming of the Lord" (5:8), and Peter referred to the time when Christ's "glory is revealed" (1 Peter 4:13).  In his second letter - as we have already seen - Peter addressed the question of why the apparent delay in Christ's return, and he affirmed confidently: (3:10) "the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed."
 

The scone coming of our Lord and a day of final judgment are prominent themes in the New Testament; and those who accept it as God's Word will recognize that such ideas were a basic part of what first Christians taught and believed. Christianity is not just about what God has done or is still doing for people in Jesus Christ but is also about what He will do at the end of time.

July 10, 2020

When John the Baptist began to preach, he announced, (Matthew 3:2) "repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand," and then elaborated, (vv. 11-12) "He who is coming after me is mightier than I....He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and He will clear His threshing floor and gather His wheat into the barn, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire." Right from the outset, therefore, the New Testament sounds the motif of judgment in connection with Christ's work.

Of course, in the Scriptures, the "kingdom" that John announced means more than just Judgment Day. First and foremost, the kingdom of heaven refers to the new relationship with God that Jesus not only preached but also creates.After all, He is "God with us" (Matthew 1:23). Therefore, from His assault upon Satan's ule by casting out demons, we should realize that "the kingdom of God has come upon you" (Matthew 12:28) and that He can even say to the Pharisees who wanted to know when the kingdom would come, "The kingdom of God is in the midst of you" (Luke 17:21). After all, Jesus was right there in front of them!

Jesus also spoke of the end very directly, not just in parables. Already in the Sermon on the Mount, He included what some have called "the little judgment scene": Matthew 7:21,23) "On that day many will say to Me....And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness.'"  Later in the same Gospel, we get the big judgment scene (Matthew 25:31-46), which sets the scene with the description "When the Son of Man comes in His glory" and concludes with the statement "These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

Therefore, the "end times" are not an accidental theme in the teaching of Jesus. They are an essential part of the message He came to proclaim. Obviously, then, if we want to be faithful to that message and the Lord who gave it, we have to include His promises of reckoning and resurrection at the end of time in our own beliefs and teachings.

July 9, 2020

In his First Epistle to the Corinthians, Paul wrote: (1 Corinthians 15:19) "If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied." Paul knew that only the promised resurrection at the end of time would bring the fulfillment of everything that our Lord had accomplished through His own death and resurrection. Then and then only, would sin and death - the great plagues of human existence - be gone forever. Short of that, sin and death would remain in charge. The devil would remain in charge. So what kind of hope is there without an ending? None at all.

But Christians live by hope. God promises life, but all we see is death. God promises forgiveness, but all we experience is sin. So we must hope for the fulfillment of all that God has promised. Our faith means both "now" and "not yet." God's Word is good, and He doesn't lie. By Baptism and faith, we are the children of God; we are the heirs of all that God promises. There can be no doubt about it. Nevertheless, "now we see in a mirror dimly" (1 Corinthians 13:12), and we do not yet fully experience the blessings that God has bestowed. Hunger, thirst, heat, and tears remain the lot of every person, every Christian here, but God promises: (Revelation 7:16-17) They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." So the Christian confession of the "end" is an essential element of our faith. God promises it, and we want it desperately. The Gospel is empty without it.

But if that's the case, then why does God delay? One answer, of course, is that God's ways are not our ways. He is in charge, and we are not in charge; and in our better moments, we all have to acknowledge that that is certainly for the best. We must simply trust in God our heavenly Father to do what is good and right for His people.

But in this particular instance - the timing of the end - God has revealed to us His motive for delay ("delay" only from our point of view, not His). In response to scoffers who question whether Jesus is coming back at all, Peter assured the faithful: (2 Peter 3:9) "The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should reach repentance." God is not a creature of time; He is its Lord. He uses time to accomplish His purposes - His good and gracious purposes - in this case, time for the Word of the Gospel to go out and summon all men to repentance.

Our Lord Himself has told us: (Matthew 24:14) "This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." In Matthew 28, Jesus outlined the Church's task and history: (v.19) "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations." Only when that task has been completed - only when the last possible person has been gathered - only then will the end come. The sole reason for God's "delay" is God's grace, His love for lost sinners who need to hear the Gospel before the Last Day.
 


 

July 8, 2020

Besides all the signs we have already mentioned, some people have also wanted to interpret the last book of the New Testament, the Book of Revelation, as a kind of road map for Church history from beginning to end, just filled with prophetic signs of the times. This is not the best approach. As one soon realizes upon reading it, Revelation is - at least after the first few chapters - a book of symbolic word-pictures in which fantastic figures participate in cosmic events, different from anything that anyone experiences literally. Such visions demand interpretation. But how do we do that?

The best answer - and always a good rule for biblical interpretation - is to let the clear teachings of Scripture interpret the dark passages. In the case of Revelation, that would mean that we use the rest of the New Testament, especially those books that best present the work and significance of our Lord, to help us understand the visions that John describes. We cannot be dogmatic, interpretations can and will vary. After all, symbols and metaphors depend in part on what the reader himself brings to a text. However, we can insist that whatever is put forward as the meaning of a passage in Revelation must not contradict what we know from clear teachings elsewhere.

This brings us to the "millennium." This is an idea about the end times that is taught by many on the basis of Revelation but one that actually conflicts with what we know about the end of the world from the rest of Scripture. So "millennialism" is a whole array of teachings about the end that are spun out from an incorrect understanding, especially of Revelation 20. Unfortunately, these false teachings can lead to confusion and doubt concerning what the Bible really says about the end times and the Christian faith as it looks forward to the end.

But some persist in taking the millennium literally and insist that Christ will return - not at the end of time but a thousand years before the end - in order to establish a visible reign of peace on earth with His capital at Jerusalem. This would also give the Jewish people a second chance to become Jesus' followers. Then, just as the thousand years are ending, there would occur a literal battle between the forces of faith and unbelief, after which the end would finally come.

Now, does any of this fit with what Jesus or Paul actually taught regarding the end times and judgment? As our Lord Himself said, (Matthew 25:31-32) "When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then will He sit on His glorious throne. Before Him will be gathered all the nations, and He will separate people one from another." This is judgment, not kingdom building. Time's up! Now is the time for repentance and faith - and for evangelism. We should not put our hope in a millenium.

Of course, this is just one kind of millennialism. There are several others, but they all include a misreading of Revelation 20. However, if we proceed from what we know about the end times from elsewhere in the Bible, then we can interpret the thousand years correctly. One view that many nonmillenialists find persuasive is that it represents the era of the New Testament Church, during which our Lord permits Christians to take the Gospel all around the world. At the very end of this period, there will be the great tribulation and apostasy that occur just before the second coming. Interpretations like this one do not violate the rest of Scripture - and that's the important thing.

We are living in the last times. Peter announced this already on Pentecost when he maintained that the outpouring of the Spirit on that day was the fulfillment of what the prophet Joel had said: "And in the last days it shall be, God declares" (Acts 2:17). But if you find these words hard to believe, just look at the signs. God, in His grace, has given us signs that will be always before us, reminding us of Christ's imminent return and calling on us to be ready at all times. These signs are all being fulfilled right now as we speak. The end is near. Christ is coming. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

July 7,2020

In 2 Thessalonians 2 Paul introduces another sign of the times that must be fulfilled before the end comes: the appearance of "the man of lawlessness" (2 Thessalonians 2:3).  This person is often called "the Antichrist." John uses this term in his epistles, first of all, for all the false christs of which Jesus had spoken - all those who use the name of Christ to teach contrary to God's Word; but he also speaks of the Antichrist, "which you heard was coming and now is in the world already" (1 John 4:3). This is the one whom Paul is speaking in 2 Thessalonians.

Since the Middle Ages, many Christians have identified the Antichrist with the Roman Catholic papacy on account of the pope's fulfilling of the apostles' description. First of all, the papacy claims to be the "vicar of Christ" and declares with the authority of Christ teachings that contradict the Bible - everything from the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary to opposition to capital punishment (2 Thessalonians 2:4). Then, too, the papacy supports its claim with "false signs and wonders" (2 Thessalonians 2:9) - just think of the "miracles" with which the papacy determines who is a saint and appoints a place in heaven to people like Pius V and Robert Bellarmine, both of whom devoted themselves to opposing the Reformation. But most important, there is its "wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refuse to love the truth and so be saved" (2 Thessalonians 2:10).

Even today, the papacy promotes doctrines like the cult of saints (such as prayers to Mary) and burdens consciences with unscriptural laws (such as celibacy of clergy). Such abuses do not come from God but from the devil (1 Timothy 4:1-3). Nevertheless, the papacy promotes them in the name of Christ. Thus, they are signs of the Antichrist that Christians should not ignore, even if contemporary popes often exhibit admirable personal qualities and speak correctly on some issues, like abortion.

"Antichrist" and all the other signs mentions in the teachings of Jesus and His apostles have but one basic purpose: to prepare us for the end. We need to be ready.
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July 6, 2020

Jesus' apostles taught the need to be ready for the end, just like Jesus. Peter, for example, wrote, (2 Peter 3:14) "Since you are waiting for the new heavens and a new earth, be diligent to be found by Him without spot or blemish, and at peace." John also warned, (1 John 2:28) "Abide in Him, so that when He appears we may have confidence and not shrink from Him in shame at His coming." This is true also for Paul. In fact, in his two letters to the Thessalonians, Paul had occasion both to affirm the resurrection of the body at the end of time in his first one and to discuss the signs of the end in the second.

In the first letter, Paul stresses the necessity for constant readiness, given the suddenness with which the Last Day would arrive: (1 Thessalonians 5:3) "While people are saying, "There is peace and security,' then suddenly destruction will come...and they will not escape." But this should not be true of the faithful: (4) "You are not in darkness, brothers," writes the apostle, "for that day to surprise you like a thief." Instead, Paul urges, (v.8) "Let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation." In other words, we can be ready for the last days when we live by faith, hope, and love; and God will not let us down: (v.9) "For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ."

In the second letter, Paul had to address an error apparently circulating among the Thessalonians; namely, that the "day of the Lord" had already come (2 Thessalonians 2:2)! So, in the first chapter, Paul describes what that day will really be like. He does so in connection with the current sufferings of the Thessalonian Christians. On Judgement Day, God will "repay with affliction" those who have afflicted the faithful (2 Thessalonians 1:6). God will save the believers, but those who reject the Gospel "will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction" (v.9).

July 2, 2020

  Besides persecution, however, Jesus tells of another sign in the Church of an entirely opposite character: (Matthew 24:14) "And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." Here we have what is perhaps the most important reason for our Lord's "delaying" His return - to let the Gospel go out until it reaches the last possible person who will hear and believe it. Only God knows who that will be, and He will not permit the end until that happens. The Gospel must be preached.

As with the other signs, however, so too with this one: We do not know precisely when God will fully accomplish it. But we are not supposed to! God has not given these signs so that we can calculate precisely when the Last Day will arrive. In fact, Jesus warns against even trying: (Matthew 24:36) "But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only." This is why, therefore, Paul describes Judgment Day as arriving like "a thief in the night" (1 Thessalonians 5:2).

In spite of the signs, therefore, the world will not be ready for the end when it comes. Instead, everything will seem quite ordinary. Jesus compares the situation to the days before Noah's flood: (Matthew 24:38-39) "They were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away." So too the second coming! All at once, it will happen, and the separation for judgment will begin: (Matthew 24:40-41) "Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left."

The world expects everything to continue just the way it is, but we need to be ready for the end. We need to pay attention to the signs.

 

July 1, 2020

Matthew 24:9-14

The next signs are specific to the Christian Church; first of all persecution: "They will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for My name's sake." Of course, this is exactly how His opponents treated Jesus. So can Christians expect anything else? Furthermore, this is one way - and a very effective way - that Christians can witness to others about the power and life-changing character of Christianity. Often persecution provides opportunities for confession, as with Peter and John before the Jewish Council (Sanhedrin; (Acts 4:5-15) or Paul before Agrippa (Acts 26:2-23), and it always offers examples of patience and charity, since we know (2 Corinthians 4:17) that "this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison."

Nevertheless, we must not be naive. Jesus also warns that persecution works. Not everyone is willing to be a martyr, "and then many will fall away" (Matthew 24:10). To this, He adds that false prophets will "lead many astray" (v. 11) and finally, that with the increase of lawlessness (immorality of every sort) at the end, "the love of many will grow cold" (v. 12). Thus, the institutional church, consisting of those who who claim to be Christian, will undergo persecution on the outside and apostasy within. In fact, so bad will it become that Jesus even says - with respect to the destruction of Jerusalem but certainly applicable to the end as well - (Matthew 24:22) "If those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short."

Although persecution is a constant in the history of the Church, it will intensify toward the end. In fact, Jesus calls it "Great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be" (Matthew 24:21). However, we need to know that no matter how bad it looks or feels, God is still ultimately in charge. He will not permit the "elect," that is, the ones whom He has known and loved in Christ from all eternity, to fall away. Elsewhere, God promises that He will not let believers be tempted above what they can bear but will instead provide a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13). Indeed, Christ promises the ultimate escape from the intense persecution of the last days: "Immediately after the tribulation of those days," the end will come (Matthew 24:29-31).
 


 

June 30, 2020

Matthew 24:3-28

It is noteworthy that the first sign that Jesus mentions is false christs: (Matthew 24:5) "For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and they will lead many astray." In verses 23 and 24, He elaborates on how bad it will be: false christs and false prophets will deceive many by performing "great signs wonders" - lying miracles, no less! There never has been a time when the Church has not experienced such charlatans, especially when we realize that false christs are not only those who claim to be Christ Himself but also those who claim falsely to speak in His name. The latter are often more devious than the former. They look good, they sound right, they sometimes help people with their temporal needs, and they offer answers to the problems that plague us, but what they say leads us away from God and not toward Him. Their words are not true. Already in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned against them: (Matthew 7:15) "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves."

But how do we recognize them? Jesus says, (Matthew 7:16) "You will recognize them by their fruits," but what are the fruits of a false prophet?  Since the task of a true prophet is to speak God's Word, the "fruit" of a false one is his false speaking - that is, his false teachings. Only a real familiarity with the Scriptures can prepare one for this. Christians must learn to discern truth from lies by comparing what is taught to the Scriptures. Any other standard, such as "humility," "sincerity, or "charisma," leads to the deception that Jesus is warning against.

If Jesus, however, was already warning the people of His own day against spokesmen who falsely claim to represent Him, how can false christs be a sign of the end times? This is also a question concerning the signs that Jesus mentions in Matthew 24:6-7: "Wars and rumors of wars...nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom." Has there ever been a time this has not been true? Similarly, the next two signs: "famines and earthquakes." We read and hear about such things all the time, and in fact, Jesus Himself said with respect to the conflict between nations, "this must take place, but the end is not yet" and with respect to the natural disasters, "these are but the beginning." So what does our Lord mean by calling them "signs"?

Just this: God wants us to know from experience that we live in a fallen world. Something is not right with a world characterized by "prophets" who lead people to hell or by human suffering caused either by nature or by people. Is it right that the weakest, poorest, least-able members of society often are the ones who suffer most at such times? And yet we know from our Lord's work and words that God is a loving Father. So He will not permit such wicked things to go on forever. They are going to end. The goodness of God demands it. Therefore, they function as a perpetual reminder to everyone to get ready for the end. Now is the time to do it, not tomorrow, but now.
 


 

June 29, 2020

There has been a request for me to speak about the end times. For the next couple of weeks I will try to address this topic in the Good Morning Church e-mails.

Matthew 24:3-28

Resurrection. Judgment. The end of the world. Pretty important stuff, I'd say, and I'd like to be ready for them. How about you?

But it's hard to maintain readiness and keep focused on the end when one day just follows the next and we don't seem to be any closer to the second coming than we were before. Of course, we are deceiving ourselves, since time is marching on to its end. It just doesn't seem that way.

So maybe we ought to take another look and try to see things from a biblical perspective. In order to help us stay ready for the Last Day, the Scriptures have identified several "signs" of the end times - things in nature, society, and the Church that teach us that the end is near. Our Lord could come at any moment.

Jesus addresses the end times in Matthew 24 and 25. That is especially true of the signs of the times, since Jesus' discourse on these topics actually began in answer to a question from the disciples: (Matthew 24:3) "Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of Your coming and the close of the age?" You see, the disciples also wanted to be ready, so they asked the right questions: when and what sign?

Right away, however, we face a challenge in understanding Jesus' answer because He and the disciples are talking about two things at once: the destruction of Jerusalem and the second coming. But it is also true that the first is a foreshadowing of the second. Just as God's patience with the sins of the chosen people finally ran out and He punished them by the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple at the hands of the Romans in AD 70, so God's patience with the sins of humanity will finally exhaust itself and our Lord will return in judgment. So the description of the first blends easily into a description of the second.

As Jesus answers the disciples, He does not always distinguish sharply between the two, but Matthew 24:4-14 seems to discuss the end of the world, verses 15-22 the destruction of Jerusalem, and verses 23-31 the second coming. However, much of what Jesus says about preparing for the end of Jerusalem is also relevant to being ready for the end of time.

When our Lord was bringing His earthly ministry to an end, He reflected on the failure of God's chosen people to respond in faith to Him and to His message. Although there were exceptions, the majority of the Jewish leadership rejected Him and connived at His death (Matthew 26:3-4). So Jesus wept over Jerusalem and predicted its demise (23:37-38).

Perhaps in response to Jesus' solemn words, the disciples later called His attention to the magnificent buildings that constituted the temple in Jerusalem; but our Lord repeated His prediction even more clearly: (Matthew 24:2) "Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down." When the leaders and the people determined to reject Jesus, they sealed their own fate. God's judgment would strike, through the pagan Romans, about forty years later. Then the troops of Titus (later to become emperor) besieged and overran the city, slaughtered thousands, burned many of the buildings, and destroyed the temple.

Our Lord's prediction caused some discussion, we can be sure, so the disciples pursued the topic by asking for a sign. To them, the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the age were closely united (if not one and the same!), so they inquired about both. And Jesus answered by discussing both.
 

 

June 26, 2020

Psalm 31:5  Into Your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, O Lord, the God of truth.

Many of the psalms of David are cries for deliverance, times when he fears for his life at the hands of his enemies. Take another look at verse 5, however. Does it look familiar? Where have you read it before?

Jesus quoted this verse as His final words on the cross (Luke 23:46). His last words before He died were, "Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit." Recognizing that His work of redemption was complete, our Savior released His spirit to the care of His heavenly Father.

The martyr Stephen, as he knelt dying, voiced a similar plea, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit" (Acts 7:59).

As life ends, what better final words can we utter than committing our souls to our heavenly Father, who loves us and always has the best in store for His children. As David says later in the same psalm, "My times are in Your hands" (v. 15). Again, he uses the metaphor of God taking us into His hands, where we are held safe and secure from all our worries and fears.

In life or death we can find rest in our heavenly Father's hands.

June 25, 2020

Psalm 30:5  For His anger lasts only a moment, but His favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.

For years wise mothers have counseled, "Get some rest. Things will look better in the morning." It's good advice, and the psalmist feels the same. David would not deny that our weeping and sadness are real, for he experienced them often. But sadness is not to abide for long, for rejoicing comes in the morning.

These words are not merely lovely poetry, though they surely are that. Inherent in them are God's mercy and kindness, His favor directed toward us, which lasts a lifetime, yes, even an eternal lifetime.

But what about those times when our tears are not dried overnight? When the new day dawns, but we still are not rejoicing? Do we doubt David's words of promise? No, we continue to rely on Him who never slumbers or sleeps, with the assurance that He holds us every hour of the day and night in His love.

The life God gives is new life, really an unending life begun at Baptism, when all the love and favor He has for His Son is given to us.

May 12, 2020 

Good Morning Church,

Little children 
 “where I am going, you cannot come.” John 13:33

Jesus had just spoken of his betrayal to his disciples. He knew that the hour of his death was now before him. Yet in this time, he prepares his disciples for his departure, like a parent for his or her little children, with a comforting word: Yes, I am going on a journey to the cross and to death, and you cannot come with me. But this word from Jesus’ lips on this occasion is meant to suggest that more is coming—there is life at the end of this tunnel! I will return to claim you as my own! This journey is for your good, and for the good of all people!

When Mike stood by his mother at her hospice deathbed, there were conversations about life and death. His mother, ever faithful in the promise, turned to him and said, “Mike, you know it’s all going to be OK, don’t you?” He nodded, knowing full well what she meant. The next
day, she stopped breathing. But he knew that the Breath of Life was still with her on this journey. There are many happy returns in the kingdom of heaven and many days to live in hope for joy!
 


 

May 11, 2020

Good Morning Church,

I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom. Matthew 26:29
 

Much happened on the night in which our Lord was betrayed. There were those who sought his death and found a willing accomplice in one of Jesus’ own disciples, Judas. Jesus would be arrested and taken off captive. Peter, who had promised never to desert his Lord, did so when pressed by those in the courtyard while Jesus was on trial. But there was also this moment when Jesus shared a last meal with his disciples, giving them the bread of life and the wine of forgiveness.


We still share in that meal when we gather at our Lord’s altar. We eat and drink as he commanded—a command of gentleness and love, for it is for our forgiveness and wholeness. But in our celebration of communion, we also experience what this all means and where it is all
leading—feasting at the table of our Lord. Jesus at table blessed sinners and tax collectors, you and me, and he invites all to a celebration at the final banquet where he, too, raises the cup of hope in our midst!
 

May 7, 2020

Good Morning Church,

And in his name the Gentiles will hope. Matthew 12:21

As Isaiah had proclaimed long ago about the coming Messiah, Jesus’ mission is to bring justice and hope to all peoples and nations. This proclamation runs in the face of any opposition that wants to keep people under their thumbs. Jesus fully intends to free the peoples of this
world. He will not allow those who have been hurt to go unnoticed or unattended. He will not let the light of hope fade from the eyes of those who are caught in the web of despair.

We are, of course, aware of many—maybe even ourselves—who suffer from abuse and neglect, who despair and see only gloom. We are grieved by the terrors that strike peoples through acts of violence and harm, even as we are grieved by those who have given up on life altogether. We have felt the scar of death. Jesus’ mission continues, nonetheless, in the community of faith that will not give up or leave others behind. All who look to the servant Lord have the “sure and certain hope in the resurrection of the dead.” Even when Hope itself is crucified, he lives for us and for all peoples.

 

May 6, 2020

Good Morning Church,

Behold the man! John 19:5

Jesus, beaten and wearied, stands publicly before all wearing a crown of thorns and a purple robe. Is it meant only to mock him for the charge that he was a king for his people? Is it meant to elicit sympathy from a hardened crowd that only cried for his death? Are we to see here some poor hapless fellow like so many, shamed and tortured by their oppressors? Or are we to behold something more in this moment? Is Jesus now publicly displayed as the One people longed to embrace—the Messiah who will save us?


Jesus is the man of hope for us not because he shirks from the scars of suffering. He is the man of hope precisely because he places himself in the midst of our suffering. He takes our sins with him in his path toward the cross. We may behold that the garments of royalty are a
prelude to his coming into his kingdom for us and for all people in their suffering and death. For all who journey through the time of trial, trusting Christ as their Lord and Savior, there is a crown of righteousness laid up for them. Behold, the man—of hope!

 

May 5, 2020

Good Morning Church,

Let us also go, that we may die with him. John 11:16


The hardest thing to own is death, particularly our own. The disciples of Jesus were afraid to go near Jerusalem because they had seen what had happened the last time they were there. Jesus was almost stoned to death, and there’s nothing to say that rocks may also fly toward those who are close to him. But Jesus makes his way there because of the death of Lazarus, and through Jesus, death is not to be feared. Thomas may not have been fully aware of the profound truth of his bidding, but it has been the bidding of the Church ever since.


We risk because of all that our Lord risked for us. Jesus risked more than doing miracles of grace. He risked death on the cross, for our sake and for the sake of the whole world. And he has the scars of ownership of his own to prove that these are not to be feared. We face the risk for this truth and for its promising fullness for all who may hear it.

 

May 4, 2020

Good Morning Church,

If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. Matthew 16:24

Jesus never told his disciples to charge up ahead of him and face the opposition head on. That would have been setting them up for failure, and there is more than enough evidence that they, and we, have failed enough many times over. No, what he said is “follow me.” And following means that we do not take the lead. That place is reserved for him.

His disciples struggled to hear about bearing the cross, as do we, his disciples today. There seems to be no victory in it all, only humiliation and death. It makes us look like losers. To which the gospel promise speaks, “Good! Now you can deny yourself and all false ambitions
about being winners over others, and find instead that your real place is with the One who lost it all because he loved all who have found themselves lost at the bottom.” That is the path through death to resurrection, where winning comes by losing.

 

April 30, 2020

Good Morning Church,

Neither do I condemn you. John 8:11

The woman to whom Jesus speaks these words is not a woman without a sinful past. Those who would condemn such acts were ready to pass judgment, though they also sought to see if Jesus would defend her. “Let those without sin cast the first stone,” Jesus said (John 8:7). He is the hope of Israel and the fountain of living water who comes for us all in our trespasses. As he writes in the sand, one by one the accusers leave the scene. No judgment is given, save one: “Neither do I condemn you.”

We have many sins that we know to be true. All of us deserve the judgment of death and condemnation, for we are all people who have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. But Jesus owns us in the midst of our condemnation. He stands with us as we face our time of
trial. He is the Advocate who pleads for us, even with the scars on his hands and side on the cross. Life is his judgment for us, and life is the final verdict. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
 


 

April 29, 2020

Good Morning Church,

One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see. John 9:25
 

A man who was born blind would gain more sight than those around him. His accusers would shun him; his own parents would cower in fear and not defend him; but his sights were set on Jesus, who would not desert him. This is his confession, “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25). In spite of the stigma of his blindness, he trusts that Jesus is watching out for him.

Even when we have eyes to see, we can be quite blind. We can allow people, like this man born blind, to be shunned and disowned as we cower in fear. We do not see the evils that stir within us, nor the sufferings of many peoples, and are blind to our own injustice and sin. But Jesus takes the poor and the oppressed under his wings, and he gives sight to the blind. When Jesus graciously opens our eyes, we can own up to our blindness and then truly see.

 

April 28, 2020

Good Morning Church,

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:29
 

We are often weary in our journeys in life. We have been wearied by the challenges of life, by hard decisions, difficulties at home or at work, disagreements, divisions and separations, and also by death. Who will help us in this time of weariness? Jesus says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

When we are owned by Jesus, we are yoked with him. We are joined together with him to rest in his promise, and we are also joined with him to trust that the path forward for us is for good. We become people who begin to open our eyes to a world that has been burdened, hurt and beaten down—a world that is weary, much like we are. It is not a world to be shunned or avoided, but to be loved with Jesus’ gentleness and humility of heart. We trust that our crucified and risen Lord is with us in our yoked bodies for this challenge of love and life.

 

April 27, 2020

Good Morning Church,

Put your finger here. John 20:27

Owning begins with the mark of the nails in Jesus’ hands and his pierced side. Jesus presents these to Thomas as evidence, the kind of proof that Thomas had demanded on a prior occasion. Thomas feels the scars; but as he does, he also feels the scars of his own doubt and unbelief. He owns this truth about himself, but he also finds that his Lord has owned him, taking his sins into death on the cross and giving, instead, the faith that death has been conquered in his own resurrected body.
 

Owning begins by our acknowledging the truth. We have had our own doubts and unbelief. But Jesus is not ashamed of us because of our sins, and he has the scars to prove it. He invites us to touch and feel him again as the One who now owns us as Lord. And in that exchange—our own sins for his own life—we are freed from our past and our unbelief.
 

April 25, 2020

Good Morning Church,

When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” John 11:32
 

The words that Mary says to Jesus are the same that Martha had used previously (John 11:21): “Lord, if you have been here, my brother would not have died.” The difference is that Mary knelt at his feet. She worshiped Jesus. She knew the scars of death, and she would come to know the scars of Jesus’ feet.


We are so much more like Martha, impetuously rushing in our panic, maybe even blaming God in this hour of death, never fully grasping the truth of Jesus’ presence. But falling on our knees to the living God means giving these hard truths to God, who knows more about us and our situation than we could possibly understand. Jesus weeps with us in this hour. Death is an evil that angers Jesus because it has such a hold on his people. But it will not be the last word for us. Indeed, we may tweak the refrain of the old spiritual: “When I fall down on my knees with my face to the rising Son, O Lord, have mercy on me.”
 

April 24, 2020

Good Morning Church,

Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb? Mark 16:3
 

The question of the three women making their way to the grave site of Jesus seems like something that should have been considered before going on the journey—at least with their intent to anoint the body for burial. But the massiveness of the stone symbolizes something more for them and for us: the boundary between life and death is beyond our power to change or overcome.
 

We are confronted with many limitations in life. We find ourselves exhausted and unable to gain the strength to face the obstacles in our way. We moan and groan and complain in the face of these limits. Death is the greatest and final limit that we cannot cross. There is no way we can reach beyond the grave. But we trust in the Lord of resurrection. We find that his stone is rolled away. And we trust that in his living power, we can reach out with love—his love—which bursts the limitations of this world and even death itself.

 

April 23, 2020

Good Morning Church,

Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them? Luke 9:54

Perhaps there is no greater malice in the human heart than revenge. James and John, who are known for their thunderous zealotry, would have those who did not welcome Jesus be consumed by the wrath of God. But Jesus rebukes them. Vengeance and acts of violence are not—and never can be—answers of hope for a fractured and hostile humanity.

Violence, of course, still scars our world. It swells in our spirits when anger and rage get a hold of us. We come to reject others and to find all kinds of justifications for this hatred. But Jesus, who has set his face to go to Jerusalem, is not going there to perpetrate violence. He is going there to take the biting jaws of all violence away. Even James and John will come to a new and better spirit—that love is for all others, even for one’s enemies.

 

April 22, 2020

Good Morning Church,

But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found. Luke 15:32

The parable of the prodigal son is all about relationships. The two brothers had a very distant relationship. Yet, as brothers, they really did share a lot in common. They are both prodigals—wasting the father’s gifts—one literally in a faraway land, the other right near the home, working as a “slave” even though he didn’t have to. The younger son came to his senses and returned home to the father’s embrace and a restored relationship. The elder son kept his distance from both his brother and his father. His heart was in a faraway land.

Sometimes we put a lot of distance between us and the people we blame. Our hearts become cold, careless, hardened. We may even get jealous and envious, like the elder son. But the Father’s heart beats for all of his sons—and daughters. His heart beats with forgiveness and for mending our relationships. Our Father is always closer to us than we realize and ever present to offer joyous mercy.
 


 

April 21, 2020

Good Morning Church,

Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Luke 10:40
Families are meant to care for one another and support one another. But family arguments can start at an early age between siblings and may even surface at the most inopportune of times—like when a loved one dies, and all that can be considered is who gets what and who deserves the most. We want special favors, like Martha who wants Jesus to tell Mary to help her in the kitchen. But there is more brewing here in Martha’s spirit than meets the eye.
Jesus calls them “distractions,” taking our eyes off the prize—his death and resurrection, our freedom and our life. Truth be known, with Jesus in our midst, all the work is never left for us to do by ourselves. Indeed, there is work that he does that we could never do, and there are riches that he gives us that we could never achieve or deserve. That is where our tasks begin and end.

 

April 20, 2020

Good Morning Church,

Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Matthew 7:3
 

Blaming never starts by pointing the finger at ourselves. We see the thing that others do as wrong, and we are quick to pounce on it. But we never take the time to reflect, let alone confess, how our own wrongs and failings are only magnified in this moment of blame. Ultimately, we may even come to laying blame at God’s doorstep: “It’s all your fault!” That’s where Adam and Eve finally sought an answer to their own transgression.

Jesus’ ultimate counter to this is not simply to note, justly, the hypocrisy of those who seek to fault others. It ultimately comes to an end by God taking the blame to the cross. The hands, feet and side will be pierced, and the thorns of his crown make their way into his skull. But
there will be no faulting in his voice, and his blood will be for us and for all the end of all faults.

 

April 18, 2020

Good Morning Church,

Unless I see the mark of the nails 
 I will not believe. John 20:25
 

It had been a week. Thomas was not with the disciples the first night of Easter. Where was he? Seeking an isolated shelter, away from the community of those whom Jesus had called?
 

More importantly, where was he now? When the others told him, “We have seen the Lord,” Thomas is unfazed and unmoved. He wants to examine the evidence himself with his own eyes and his own hands. Do his own doubts lead us to doubt also, to close the doors of our hearts again?
 

We all have doubts. Our faith and our trust can waver and even fail us. But Jesus will still be there for us, seeing us with loving eyes even when we have gone astray, waiting for us with open arms. And as we come to trust him again, we hear his word of “peace,” and he gives us his scars from the cross as our very own to trust that no scars can keep the doors of our hearts closed forever.

 

April 17, 2020

Good Morning Church,

We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Luke 24:21

On the day of Easter, two companions are making a journey away from Jerusalem to a village called Emmaus. It is a sad journey, evidenced in the tone of their thoughts and conversation. They spoke of the things that had taken place in these days. But it is all framed in despair: “we had hoped
.” They did not hope now, now that Jesus was dead. All of this is brought into the light of day by the Stranger who walks with them.

Sometimes we, too, are caught in the sad stories in our reflection of the things that have happened. We may want to move away from them, but the sadness and despair are constant companions. And we may fail to see or to admit how deeply we are affected by it all. But we do not make our journeys alone. The Stranger, who hears the story of our lives, joins our lives with his. And when our hearts are burning with his promise, we go back to share the joy.

 

April 16, 2020

Good Morning Church,

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Matthew 27:46
 

The worst nightmare to a young child is being abandoned by his or her parents. It can also be a burden to those whose parents or partner have died or left them later in life. It can be a significant burden for those who have been shut out, shut up behind prison doors or shut in to nursing homes. Being abandoned is never pleasant. We may try to put up a stiff upper lip, but the nagging despair of forsakenness is still with us in our minds, hearts and bodies.
 

Jesus faced the harshest scar when he was dying on the cross. He had already been abandoned by those who wanted him crucified. He had already been betrayed and abandoned by his disciples. But now he was abandoned by his Father, the very One whose mission he was seeking to fulfill. There was no answer from the heavens. But one thing was certain. Jesus was and is still with all of us in every moment of time when we are abandoned—even when the truth of our abandonment is exposed. But as people of the promise, we also know that this will not be the last word.

 

April 15, 2020

Good Morning Church,


 for fear of the Jews 
 John 20:19
 

We like to put names on the things we fear. We like to blame them for our troubles. We might even make expressions under our breath or out loud that are insensitive to the race, gender, orientation or views of others. We’ve never really taken the time to get to know them. We may even be going along with the crowd, like those who cried out for our Lord’s crucifixion. And worst of all, we may even think we are justified in being this way. But we aren’t. We are just dwelling in fear. And truth is, we may have something truly more fearful that we have never really entertained—the fear of death, even death deserved for all our sins, and for the people we have hurt in thought, word and deed. That would be finally frightful were it not for the word that Jesus speaks: “Peace be with you.” Then he shows his scars to free us from the scars of all our fears and death itself.

 

April 14, 2020

Good Morning Church,

The doors of the house 
 were locked 
 John 20:19

We do not generally lock doors to keep ourselves in but to keep others out. There are many in our world whom we have locked out because we find them unimportant, uninteresting or offensive to us. We have preconceived notions that they are not to be trusted and convince ourselves so. All of this in the name of “being safe”—and who doesn’t want to be safe? But it is also a clever disguise and denial of our true feelings toward others.

What we are unaware of in all of this is how much we have also become locked in to just ourselves. Our hearts become hardened not only to others, but also to God—whose creatures we and all others are. Brothers and sisters are crying for our help, but that thought never enters our mind as we turn the bolt. It would be damning were it not that all barriers—even the barriers of our isolated hearts—are no final obstacle to our risen Lord. Watch for the Stranger!

 

April 13, 2020

Good Morning Church,

When it was evening on that day 
 John 20:19

What is it about nightfall that the events of the day—or many days past—come back to us? What is it about these happenings that we cannot so easily dismiss or move beyond? The first disciples remembered how Jesus was arrested, tried, beaten and crucified unto death. The funeral was over. They remembered his dead body laid in the tomb and thought it was still there, but it wasn’t. Would those who crucified him seek out them next or seek to hold them accountable for his body’s disappearance? These were their evening scars.

What are our evening scars? What are the thoughts that haunt us and makes us toss and turn at night? We often seek to deny them, to put them out of our mind. But have we considered looking at them directly; confessing what it is about them that really troubles us; praying
that God will help us in this hour? It was the evening of Easter that the disciples first celebrated in the breaking of bread. God will be present with forgiveness and peace, even as we struggle.

 

April 12, 2020

Happy Easter!  He is Risen!  He is Risen, Indeed!  Alleluia!

 

April 11, 2020

Good Morning Church,

Philippians 2:3  Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.

In our society we are encouraged to prove we are better than the next person.  Better at sports. Better at our jobs. Owning a bigger house. Driving a nicer car. The news is overrun with one politician after another touting their own abilities and decisions over their opponents'. Self-absorbed pride leads us to assert, "I'm number one!"

In today's verse, we are challenged to do something that does not come naturally for us - count others more significant than ourselves. This is especially true in conflict. We focus on our own point of view and position. We become angered by how we have been hurt. In righteous indignation, we justify our actions. We consider only our own feelings and fail to consider how our actions have affected others.

In sharp contrast, Jesus, the very Son of God, humbled Himself to be born in the likeness of man to suffer and die on the cross for the sins of the whole world. In humility, He considered others more significant than Himself. He suffered the punishment we deserved. In return, we receive His righteousness, and God declares us forgiven.

The next time tempers flare over a disagreement and you are standing firm in your position, remember what Jesus did for you. Take the first step. Consider how the other person might be feeling. Consider how your words hurt. In humility, confess your sins and speak forgiveness to your brother or sister in Christ.

 

April 10, 2020

Good Morning Church,

Psalm 46: God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear...

We are living in tumultuous times. Even apart from the current COVID-19 pandemic, fires, floods, and violent winds destroy property and injure people on a regular basis. All we have to do is pick up a newspaper or turn on the news and you are quickly reminded that we live in a sin-filled, fallen world.

No matter what threatening circumstances surround us - personal, national, or international - people find courage, hope, and strength in Psalm 46.

The very first words of this Psalm announce its theme: God is our Refuge. The psalmist also reminds us that God is our Fortress, our Shelter, our Strength, and our Help. He is the One who deals with the perils that are all around us.

We have a certain and trustworthy basis for our faith. The God who created everything by His word (Genesis 1), the God who even now sustains everything by His word (Hebrews 1:3), and the God who speaks a word and hostile armies are struck blind (2 Kings 6:18), is certainly a God who is sufficient for whatever our need or trouble might be. He is our refuge, our Resource, and our Ruler.

While our faith is regularly subjected to various challenges in life, where can we find safety and security? By resting in the words, "The Lord is my Refuge, a very present Help in trouble. Therefore I will not fear."

 

April 9, 2020

Good Morning Church,

Lamentations 3:22  The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end.

A member of a church that had two pastors resign over a three-year period and has personally felt the consequences of the conflict her family reads Lamentations 3:22 and wonders, "How is God's steadfast love present in our church? A pastor in Cambodia who had family members murdered by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970's asks, "How is God showing steadfast love to me and my family?!" Christians in Rwanda question how God's steadfast love was present in their country in 1994 when 1,000,000 people were murdered in 100 days.

When Jeremiah wrote Lamentations, the nation of Judah was being besieged and starved by the Babylonians. In the end, Jerusalem was destroyed stone by stone, and the nation was carried off into captivity. But in the midst of this great tragedy, Jeremiah could rely on God's promise through Moses that "He will not leave you or forsake you" (Deuteronomy 31:6,8).

Whether you experience great tragedy and despair along with others, like what happened in Rwanda or Cambodia, or whether you experience great tragedy and despair alone, the words Jeremiah point us to hope, peace, and comfort. When Jesus was raised from the tomb on Easter morning, God demonstrates that no matter what happens, even death, "the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases." Jesus' resurrection provides that hope. His resurrection and His victory over sin and death prove God's "mercies never come to an end."

 

April 8, 2020

Good Morning Church,

Hebrews 4:16  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

In conflict, our spiritual weaknesses are revealed. For some, it is anger. For others, it is denial and escape. Bitterness grows in many hearts. Our disputes may lead to discouragement, despair, or doubt in faith. Sadly, I have experienced all those and more. In spite of knowing how much my God does for me, I fall prey to these temptations.

Anger lurks under our pride. If the way we are treated falls short of our expectations, look out! We'll let them know it. Oh, maybe not with shouting. But perhaps with our eyes. Or how we snap back. Or even by our walking away and refusing to talk.

When we realize how easily we sin, we get frustrated. We feel guilt and shame. We avoid the person we have sinned against. Sometimes we just want to curl up and hide.

But Jesus invites us, even when our sins are awful: "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28). He sympathizes with us because He gave up His heavenly place to become flesh and live among us. He endured temptations like us, yet He is without sin.

While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. He died that we might live in His forgiveness. He rose again defeating sin, death, and the devil. He promises to stay with us, in good days and bad. At His invitation, we can approach Him with confidence because He offers mercy and grace.

 

April 7, 2020

Good Morning Church,

Romans 12:18,21  If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all....Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Larry's dad had been married four times. In between, he lived with many girlfriends. As a Christian, Larry found this aspect of his father's life crass and sinful. So when Larry first net his future stepmother, who had been another live-in girlfriend, Larry was rude to her. He honestly didn't think he'd ever see her again. But he did.

Five years later, Larry's brother pulled him aside and said, "You know, Larry, the first time you met dad's wife, you were awful to her. I know she behaved badly. But so have you."

This confrontation stopped Larry in his tracks. Until that moment, he had no recollection of his rudeness. How could he live peaceably with all? Larry knew he had to get the log out of his own eye (Matthew 7:5). And so he did.

In front of the entire family, he humbly confessed his sin to her and asked for forgiveness. She responded with a string of profane vulgarities. It was incredible unpleasant, but Larry was grateful for God's grace at work in his heart, leading to repentance. In faith Larry trusted that God forgave him in Christ, even if the stepmother did not.

Moreover, Larry's confession opened a sweet opportunity to give reason for his hope when his sister-in-law asked him, "Why in the world did you ever do that?" there was only one reason - Jesus! And Larry was thrilled he got to share with her the forgiveness that is found in Christ Jesus.

 

April 6, 2020

Good Morning Church,

Romans 8:26  Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groaning too deep for words.

Most of us have experienced a time when we are at our wits' end and are not exactly sure what to pray for. What comfort these words recorded in Romans 8 give us at such times!

It is true that our weakness is spoken of in other places of Scripture where we are reminded that we do not live by our own power or resources but by the power and resources of God. This is especially true in our prayer life.

Romans 8:26-27 recognizes that when God says through the apostle Paul that the Spirit helps us in our weakness, interceding for us according to the will of God, He is talking about helping us with our prayers.

The promise here is that the Spirit always intercedes on our behalf according to the perfect will of God. Still more encouragement is found in Romans 8:34, where it is written, "Christ Jesus is the one who died - more than that, who was raised - who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us."

What a blessing! What a hope! What a help! When we do not know what to do or what to pray, we are assured that the Holy Spirit is interceding for us. And Jesus our risen Lord is interceding for us before the throne of God's grace. Thanks be to God for His presence with us in our weakness!

 

April 4, 2020

Good Morning Church,

Psalm 130:5  I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope.

Waiting is not easy. Sometimes we wait for news of medical tests. Or wait for a change in employment circumstances. At times we wait for a relationship to be healed. In the midst of the seemingly endless waiting, we can become frustrated, angry, despondent, confused, and even tempted to lose hope.

In Psalm 130 the writer pleads to the Lord for mercy because he suffers from guilt over his sin. He knows God is loving and gracious, but he needs assurance and hope. When the writer offers this thought, "But with you there is forgiveness," he acknowledges that the source of the forgiveness and hope he needs is God alone. Because of the mercy of God that withdraws His wrath and replaces wrath with grace and forgiveness, the psalmist transitions from sorrow to hope.

The writer confesses: "In his word I hope." In His Word God promises the forgiveness so desperately needed - forgiveness He gives to all whose faith is in the cleansing power of Jesus' blood for their sins (1 John 1:7).

When waiting for God to act, it can be tempting to ignore God's promises of forgiveness and peace. Instead, we place trust in our own capabilities or wisdom. But because of the promises of God's word, we can follow the trustworthy guidance of the psalmist. Plead for God's mercy. Trust in His forgiveness for the sake of His Son. And live day by day in hope and confidence.

 

April 3, 2020

Good Morning Church,

Matthew 6:25  Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

Is it supposed to rain tomorrow? What are you doing this weekend? What shall we have for dinner? Where do you want to go for vacation? What will I wear to the party?

I have uttered all these questions at one time or another. Our lives are filled with busyness - arriving at work on time, getting the kids up and ready for school, sports practices, meetings - the list is endless. It seems that I am always looking ahead and thinking about the next thing on my to-do list. I become overwhelmed and often frustrated just trying to figure it all out.
 

Our Heavenly Father knows all our worries and burdens. We do not know what the future holds, but we do know who holds the future. "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" (Hebrews 13:8). Our God of past, present, and future has a miraculous plan for each and every one of us.

 

April 2, 2020

Good Morning Church,

2 Corinthians 1:3-4  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

When we encounter problems, we attract advice-givers. Many immediately assume what went wrong and prescribe how to fix it. They come alongside, but when we don't see things their way, they are gone, treating us as hopeless.

Conflict brings with it a multitude of problems. When listening to the details of others' dilemmas, we can sometimes recognize causes and offer our own wisdom. But we must caution ourselves against offering our own advice too quickly. Instead, we can begin by sharing the best, the comfort of God that we ourselves have received.

In verse 9, Paul describes a time when his suffering was so severe he believed death was imminent. But he notes this was to teach them to "rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead." We live in a "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" culture. "Do what you can to prevent, and fix what you can't."  There may be a time and place for such guidance. But our hope is found not in relying on ourselves or human advice. Our hope lies in trusting our Heavenly Father and his comfort.

So, when we encounter afflictions, or when others describe their problems to us, remember you have a Savior from your sins. You are forgiven by the One who died and rose again. First, seek your Father for comfort, and then you can comfort others with this good news, too.

 

April 1, 2020

Good Morning Church,

John 11:25  Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live."

Is there a deeper loss and more intense experience of grief than the death of a loved one? Those enduring such emotional and relational pain need to talk with someone who cares and who shares comforting words. But what is the best way to give them hope? Listen to a conversation between Jesus and a woman who had just lost her brother.

Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were a family loved by Jesus. Knowing Lazarus would die, Jesus waited until four days after his death to visit the sisters. Martha's initial hope was dashed: "lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died" (John 11:21). But she still had a distant hope: "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day" (v.24). You can almost hear her say, "I'm hurting now and will be grieving many days. I want a nearer and better consolation to help me now."

Jesus empathized with her loss, and later we read "Jesus wept" (v.35). But He ministered to her immediate need and her long-term need. Here is the greatest declaration of hope that was ever spoken: "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die" (vv. 25-26).

Hope does not focus on an event but on the person of Jesus Christ. Our heart have the deepest comfort and hope by His presence. "Do you believe this?" (v. 26).

 

March 31, 2020

Good Morning Church,

Romans 5:3-4  Not only that, but we rejoice in our own sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.

Pastor Hunter was invited to teach reconciliation in Rwanda. Pastors there sought trauma counseling training because the pain of the 1994 genocide was still raw with many. He was horrified as he prepared for this teaching, studying the events of the genocide. People endured brutal beatings, rape, and murder, often at the hands of fellow Christians. 1,000,000 people were murdered in 100 days. The memories are still fresh 25 years later. Their experience was simply unimaginable.

His time among God's people in Rwanda was life-changing. He witnessed a people living these very words from Romans 5.

Everyone old enough to remember the genocide had been personally impacted: as a victim wondering why God could allow such atrocity, or as a perpetrator racked with guilt, or as people feeling guilty for surviving while loved ones were slaughtered. They suffered in ways beyond his comprehension, yet they responded to the Gospel more sweetly than most. Why? Because they have hope! Hope born out of their suffering. Hope in a Savior who died and rose again for them.

Through their suffering, God taught the Rwandan brothers and sisters endurance, building their character. Ultimately, God gave them hope just as He promises to do for us.

Our Jesus knows the suffering we endure. God has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with His love. "Rejoice in our sufferings" is not a command for us to follow, but a promise given to us because of Jesus' suffering in our place.

 

March 29, 2020

Good Morning Church,

Psalm 34:14  Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.

Life is unpredictable. One day things seem to be going fine, and the next...? Disaster strikes. It could be circumstances, relationships, or finances. But no matter the cause, the situation incites our souls to panic and fear. We scramble around trying to figure things out, and instead it feels like our troubles are circling. our afflictions have us surrounded.

It is so easy in those moments to react in anger, self-pity, sullenness, or despair. We unintentionally take out our frustrations on those around us. But the psalmist reminds us about our Protector. God is the One who delivers us from our fears. He saves us from trouble. He is our refuge. The Lord provides for us. And, He does all these things because He promises to be near and hear us.

In the middle of the praises of God's gifts to us, we see some interesting counsel - to turn from evil, do good, and seek peace. In fact, don't just seek peace, go after it! Why? Maybe because when afflictions, troubles, and conflict abound, we fall prey to our own bad responses. We don't always pursue peace. Sometimes we seek revenge for anything or against anyone who is bringing us trouble!

And yet, amidst our struggle, we hear Him promise: "The Lord redeems the life f his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned" (v.22). Our peace with God is through His forgiveness so that we can pursue peace with others. Yes, taste and see that the Lord is good!

 

March 28, 2020

Good Morning Church,

2 Corinthians 5:17  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

One day, the students of a kindergarten class found a caterpillar. Recognizing what was happening the teacher brought it inside. The children observed the change from a lowly caterpillar to a chrysalis. Then a transformation took place. The caterpillar became a beautiful butterfly. The teacher released it from the jar so it could fly around the room, much to the glee and excitement of the kindergartners. The butterfly was now able to fly over almost everything that it could not crawl over before. It became a different creature, and yet it was still the same creature.
 

Our Lord Jesus Christ is no longer bound by the time or space that He willingly took on for our sakes. His bruised and bleeding body once buried is now glorified, and He comes to His frightened disciples through locked doors. The resurrected Christ appears and vanishes. He is the same Lord whom the Apostles knew before, but He is different.

Through our adoption as God's children, we have been washed, cleansed of our sin. We have received the gift of everlasting life. Each time we partake in Holy Communion, we remember our Lord's body and blood, given for us. We taste forgiveness and are strengthened in faith to change and amend our sinful lives. We are the New Creation because of the grace poured out upon us by Jesus Christ.

All this is true because Christ rose from the dead and defeated death for us! In our resurrection we will be the same, but different - like the butterfly - like the butterfly...a New Creation.

 

March 27, 2020

Good Morning Church,

1 John 4:18  There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.

Tom is the only Christian in his family. He wants to have good relationships with them, but every holiday gathering is peppered with criticism, judgments, and teeming frustrations that often escalate into angry yelling. Tom regrets how quickly he can behave in immature and impatient ways in his childhood home with his family of origin. He wonders how he can move from a hostile verbal exchange to a sweet conversation about Christ with family whom, deep down, he loves.

Like Tom, we can curb our anger and strengthen our witness to family by recognizing that anger often stems from fear. If we live in fear of being rejected and ostracized by others by others, we will have a difficult time loving them. Most of all, we need to remember God's love for us, even when we are fearful or lose our temper. We have hope because of the forgiveness we have in Jesus. "With you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared" (Psalm 130:4). God's perfect love casts out fear.

In all of life - but especially in our relationships with unbelievers - our time in this world is brief. Our time to share God's hope with others is limited. As we fear God (not human beings) and keep our hearts fixed on eternity (not on earthly pleasures), we will find, through the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, all we need to live patently and mercifully even with the most difficult people in our lives.

 

March 26, 2020

Good Morning Church,

Psalm 146: 3,5  Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation....Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God.

A prince isn't a title that many Westerners use today, other than referring to British royalty. Today, we could liken a prince to anyone in a position of earthly power - such as a rising politician, a young tech CEO, or even a highly-talented professional athlete.

A prince can be anyone who captures our loves, fears, or trusts. Regardless of how good or evil these princes are, two facts remain:

1. All earthly princes and their influence pass quickly.

2. The extent to which I hope in any prince of this world is a reflection of my faith-relationship with the Lord Almighty.

Princes offer at best a fleeting, momentary hope. Yet all these earthly princes will eventually disappoint us. When we recognize that a prince has captivated our heart, we are called to repent and receive god's forgiveness by faith.

The Psalmist calls us to daily put our hope in the eternal, all-powerful, all-just, all-knowing Creator, Savior, and Sustainer!  In our Heavenly Father, we are reminded that He was before all creation, and in Him are all things made. in Jesus Christ, we can know how much god loves us, for we are forgiven and have eternal life in Him. With the holy Spirit, we have One who comforts, sustains, and guides us by His Holy Word.

Thanks be to Christ who "is the same yesterday and today and forever" (Hebrews 13:8). May our hope be in the Prince of Peace!

 

March 25, 2020

 Good Morning Church,

Exodus 34:6  The Lord passed before him and proclaimed. "The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness."

Moses boldly prayed, "Please show me your glory" (exodus 33:18). God graciously protected Moses from the full impact of His overwhelming splendor, but He did reveal profound truths about His moral excellence. Reflecting on the glory of the Lord's character, we realize He is just the kind of God we sinners need.

"The Lord, the Lord" (Yahweh) is the covenant name of God who redeems His people from bondage: "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery" (Exodus 20:2).

Merciful: God has a tender concern for people who are miserable and hurting, especially when the misery comes because of the wrong we have done.

Gracious: God generously pours out His favor on us that is not only undeserved but is favor shown to people deserving just judgment.

Slow to anger: God's patience involves restraint in exercising His justice.

Abounding in steadfast love: God loves His people with a deep loyalty so they can be assured that He will continue to love them at all times.

Abounding in faithfulness: God is thoroughly dependable and trustworthy. He follows through on His promises as we trust in Him.

Forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin: God has the heart to pardon the sin of guilty people who have offended His character and disobeyed His commands.

This great revelation of God's glory is most fully realized in the Lord Jesus, who came that we "may have life and have it abundantly" (John 10:10).

 

March 24, 2020

Good Morning Church,

Hebrews 9:22  Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

From the very beginning, blood had to be shed to cover the sins of mankind. Immediately following Adam and Eve's sin in the garden of Eden recorded in genesis 3, God used the skins of animals that had to be killed to cover the shame brough about by sin. From then on, blood needed to be shed as a reminder that sin cannot be forgiven without the shedding of blood and the death of the sacrifice.

In Hebrews, the author provides an excellent explanation of how Jesus is not only our great High Priest offering sacrifice for sin, but that the sacrifice is His own body, His own blood. The sacrifice of the Old Testament foreshadowed Jesus' complete and perfect sacrifice.

When Jesus shed His blood on the cross, all sins were forgiven. Through faith we hold on to the promise that His blood was enough. His bloody sacrifice gives us hope that no matter the sin, it is washed away in the flood of Jesus' blood.

The sacrifice of the Old Testament required the deaths of many animals. The sacrifice to wash away your sin required the death of but one man: Jesus Christ. That simple, profound truth allows believers to sing,  "My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness...On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; All other ground is sinking sand."
 


March 23, 2020

Good Morning Church,

Luke 8:25  Jesus said to them, "Where is your faith?" And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, "Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?"

Storms are not fun at sea or on the land or in our daily life. Yet we learn lessons through storms that we would never learn if life was always calm. We learn how to live in the here-and-now, especially when life gets stormy. Luke 8:22-25 relates the miracle of Jesus calming the storm on the sea of Galilee.

This miracle teaches us that we can trust that the Lord with us during our trials, even though we may at times think that we are on our own or that He is unaware of our concern.

It seemed to the disciples that when they needed Him most He was not there. Can you relate to such a feeling? In reality the Lord was with them, in the same boat, in the midst of the storm, just as He is always with us.

He has promised never to desert us or forsake us. The apostle Paul reminds us that no trial can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).

Whenever life is storm, the Lord is right there with you. Such times are opportunities for you to hear His question, "Where is your faith?", and to recognize when you are trusting more in your own efforts than resting in His mercy and strength. He who calmed the sea with a word is ready, willing, and able to calm the storms in your life.
 


March 21, 2020

Good Morning Church,

Romans 5:10  For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

How are you? This simple question can prompt a multitude of responses. "I'm fine. How are you?" "I'm ok." "I could be better."

Sometimes we get more than we bargained for, such as a litany of every physical ailment and discomfort imaginable. Or we may hear about troubles at work, frustrations with a spouse, or problems involving an unruly child.

Other times we receive uplifting responses: "I couldn't be better." "Better than I deserve." We might hear pleasant stories of a new job going well, the birth of a grandchild, or the athletic or academic accomplishments of children.

Occasionally, we are surprised by a response and uncertain of how to react.

Hebrews 11:1 states, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."

While we were still sinners, God sent His one and only Son to die for our sins so that we might have the assurance of eternal life. By faith we have a glorious vision of heaven and we live each day knowing that our Savior awaits us - the hope of things to come.

 

March 20, 2020

Good Morning Church,

1 Peter 1:3-9   3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.  
 

Bobby McFerrin's song "Don't Worry, Be Happy" suggests you can be continually happy. Even without worry, life's troubles can choke the happiness out of you. You can seek happiness, strive for it, or even fight for it, but it may still elude you. Happiness or the lack of it often depends on our circumstances.

Hope in Christ, by contrast, results in an inexpressible joy. This joy does not depend on life's circumstances. You can be unhappy about your predicament, but still rejoice. The inexpressible joy that flows from hope in Christ remains true regardless of your emotions. Hope in Christ is certain because of God's promises. This hope is always there for you, no matter what miseries you endure. Peter declares we are born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus.

With this assurance of hope, why do we sometimes feel afraid, sad, and even depressed? Living in a world corrupted by sin results in disappointments, frustrations, sorrows, and suffering. On our own, we are unable of rejoicing in the hope of the glory of God.

The Holy Spirit creates and sustains our faith in the midst of life's hardships. We may be sad, yet confident in His love and forgiveness for us. In spite of tribulations, we possess an imperishable inheritance in heaven. And while we live in this sinfilled world, the Holy Spirit guards our faith and gives us hope for today.

 

March 19, 2020

Good Morning Church,

In the last few days, we have seen public gatherings limited to 250 people and then limited to 100 people and then 50 people and now 10 or less people. As one church leader said, “This creates a crisis for our congregations, even the smallest of our congregations.”

Is he right?

Interestingly, the word “crisis” comes from a Greek word meaning “decision” or “decisive point.”  Does the new reality of COVID-19 present local congregations with a crisis or with an opportunity?

It will feel like a crisis because we have to change our habits in how we prefer to participate in Church. It will feel like a crisis because we are cut off from our professional church workers and volunteers who we depend on to do our Church-business.  It will feel like a crisis because we are used to being passive church-goers and the pandemic is requiring us to get up off our
 pews and be active Christ-followers.

Our first urge is to cry out, “We haven’t done Church this way before!”

However, Jesus is not standing in the middle of all this disruption, wringing His hands and saying, “I never saw this coming!  What shall we do??”

Instead, and as usual, Jesus is up to something redemptive in the disruption.  This is a “decisive point” when we can start making new and clear-headed “decisions” about how we can help each other be Church for the foreseeable future.  Jesus is shaking up His Church not so we are alarmed by a crisis but so we wake up to an opportunity
 an opportunity to rediscover what being Church is really about.  Perhaps Jesus is administering a whiff of smelling salts to His people so we can start pressing past being 501(c)3 organizations and be the New Testament Church.

In Acts 1:8, Jesus speaks these famous words, “
and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” However, it is not until Acts 8:1, just after Stephen is martyred and a great persecution breaks out in Jerusalem, that the Church is essentially forced to finally scatter into Judea and Samaria.  Acts 8:1 says, “On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.” 

To our twenty-first century, U.S. ears that would seem to signal the death of the Church.  They were scattered and they were separated from the Apostles. I mean, if your congregation was scattered and separated from your professional church workers and volunteers, what would be the result?  (We’re about to find out, right?)

However, just the opposite happened in Acts 8.  This “crisis” didn’t lead to the end of the Church, but to the explosive expansion of the Church. Acts 8:4, “Those who were scattered shared the Good News wherever they went.”

Perhaps the COVID-19 pandemic is our Acts 8 moment.

What follows is some suggestions that other Christ-followers like you are beginning to implement in their neck of the kingdom here in the U.S.  So let’s get up off our
 pews and rediscover how to be the New Testament Church!  Woohooo!

Excerpts from Rev. Greg Finke

 

March 18, 2020

Good Morning Church,

1 Peter 3:15  In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is within you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.

A couple had given up hope of having their own child. But finally, after years of praying, their daughter was born. However, their baby was sick.

The parents reluctantly left their newborn to the care of the hospital, where she was to receive medicine that promise to cure her. The assigned nurse accidentally gave the infant the wrong medicine, and the baby died. The nurse was horrified when she realized what she had done. Fearing a lawsuit, the hospital forbade her to talk with the parents.

Nevertheless, the parents learned where the nurse lived and knocked on her door. With tear, the nurse explained she could not talk to them. The parents pleaded, "We know, but won't you let us talk to you?" How could she refuse? She paused, waiting for condemnation. Instead, they forgave her.

"How can you forgive me?" the nurse cried.

"We forgive you because Jesus forgives us."

The nurse could never earn their gift. No legal settlement would bring back their baby. for the nurse, her forgiveness was free. But for the parents, the gift was costly.

We deserve God's wrath and punishment. We can do nothing to earn God's forgiveness. Forgiveness through Christ is a free gift to those who believe. But for our heavenly Father, the gift is costly - the blood of Jesus, His Son.

Because this couple gave the nurse a reason for hope, she became a believer in Christ. She now has hope in Jesus' undeserved gift of forgiveness.

 

March 17, 2020

Good Morning Church,

It’s been a crazy week with the pandemic. A week calling for wisdom, grace, courage, prayer and action from the people of God. We have been relegated to being at home more and subtracting much from our usual lives. But in the subtraction is the potential for addition
 the opportunity to add reflection, evaluation and new insight to our lives
 especially as we eventually emerge on the other side of COVID-19.

In the gospels, the disciples’ lives were rarely boring. How did we make discipleship so boring?
 

We have settled for reading about following Jesus rather than participating in the daily adventure of actually following Jesus. The disciples were rarely bored because they weren’t reading about following Jesus, they were living the adventure of actually following Him!

It’s like substituting the adventure of whitewater rafting for the safety of reading a pamphlet about whitewater rafting.  Whitewater rafting is exhilarating; reading a pamphlet about it is less so.

Likewise, we substitute reading a pamphlet about following Jesus for regularly getting up off our
 pews and joining the adventure of actually following Jesus.

Example: In Mark 1, Jesus says, “Come, follow me,” to Peter and Andrew, and then James and John respectively. What did the fishermen do?  It says, “At once they left their nets
” and “Without delay they left their father
” They took action. They joined Jesus and started actually following Him. When U.S. Christians read Jesus’ words, what do we do?  The Bible Teacher looks for a Bible Study about following Jesus, the music director starts rehearsing a song that highlights the theme of following Jesus and the pastor starts searching for a good analogy for his message about following Jesus.  BUT WE NEVER GET AROUND TO ACTUALLY DROPPING OUR NETS AND FOLLOWING JESUS!

Therefore, people leave worship and Bible class without a simple answer to this question: What do I now do?  They know they are loved, forgiven and saved. But they are also relatively bored. They do not have a simple, practical and biblical sense of purpose that then frames and directs everything else they do for living their daily lives for the good of others.

The gospel reveals more than how we are saved.  It also reveals why we are saved.  We have a new identity in Christ.  But we also have a new purpose (mission) in Christ.  The Word of God is not simply something to be considered, noted and contemplated but also put into practice for the good of others. When people know who they are in Christ AND what they now get to do WITH Christ, the result is new experiences, new stories, new questions and new things to talk about when we are together.

To pivot from merely hearing the Word to putting it into practice, ask yourself this question: “What is one thing Jesus is giving me to believe or do for the good of others this week?” Write down your response and then go out looking for opportunities to put the belief or action into play. 

March 16, 2020

Good Morning Church,

Matthew 22:36-39 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

Ultimately we follow Jesus and His commandments because we love God and we want others to receive that love, too. When we love one another, others can actually see God in and through us. Jesus said in John 13:35: "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." All of the commandments and everything we will do come back to love, because through our love, others can be led to believe in Jesus. We don't do this because Jesus tells us we have to. We do this because God wants us to. He asks us to.

 

March 13, 2020

Good Morning Church,

Matthew 6:12  And forgive us our trespasses, as we also have forgiven those who have trespassed against us.

This quote from Jesus is one of the  most difficult challenge. It's really hard to forgive other people. But it's even worse to continue holding onto things that keep us from being who God has created us to be.

To forgive means to let go of something and give it to God because you believe He will enact better justice than you could. it's the opposite of taking revenge. Jesus mentions forgiveness often - and He lives by it, too. Jesus follows this way of forgiveness all the way to the cross, and even on the cross He forgives the people who are killing Him. "When Jesus prayed for His enemies to be forgiven as they drove nails into His hands, He was living His own sermon, and validating His right to preach it." So if we truly want to follow Jesus, we have to be people who forgive.

There's nothing that can be done to us or against us that we cannot forgive.

 

March 12, 2020

Good Morning Church,

Often we hear the words grace and mercy used synonymously with one another. They are close but they are not identical. To receive grace is to receive a gift you do not deserve. To receive mercy is to not receive something you do deserve. I've heard the word grace summarized as, "God's Riches At Christ's Expense." Grace is the eternal life we have with God despite the fact that we have not earned it by our own works. It's a free gift and we don't deserve it. So in essence the gift of grace from God results in heaven for those who believe.

Mercy, on the other hand, is not having to endure the punishment we all deserve. We have all messed up and fallen short of God's glory and deserve death and the consequences of hell. God had every right to punish us or harm us. He had every right to throw us where we belong, but instead He had mercy on us. If grace means heaven, mercy means "not hell." Another example of mercy would be if I break the law or am caught speeding and the police officer doesn't hold me to it. He has mercy on me and forgives me of my ticket.

We're thankful we have a God who is not vengeful, but instead is full of mercy. It's only because of His mercy that we are saved from having to face the ultimate punishment in hell. God now calls us to be like Him, to put whatever someone else deserves to the side, and instead show them mercy. it's through forgiveness and compassion that people come to know Jesus. May you be a person that brings that forgiveness and compassion to others in your life today!

 

March 11, 2020

Good Morning Church,

It's been said that the most frequently quoted Bible verse today isn't John 3:16. It's Matthew 7:1: "Judge not unless you want to be judged."

Non-believers are scared to walk in the doors of our churches or to hang around "Christian" people because they're afraid of what we're going to think about them.

Right after that verse in Matthew 7, Jesus says, "Why do you notice the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye, when you've got a plank in your own eye?"

This is one of the most sarcastic sayings of Jesus. 

Rather than seeing everything wrong with everybody else, God is giving us an opportunity to love people. He has removed your plank by the precious blood of Jesus and He gives you an opportunity to share that Good News with everyone else.

What if, rather than judging people, the church was known for embracing people where they are? What is we stopped trying to change people and just accepted them? What if we remembered it's the Holy Spirit's job to change them, not ours?

It is not your job to judge other people or the dust in their eyes. Your job is to love people the way God loves you!

 

March 10, 2020

Good Morning Church,

John 7:53-8:11

The Pharisees had spent months hatching the perfect plan to trap Jesus. This was the moment they were waiting for. "Jesus," they said, "the Law tells us this woman has to be punished. What do you say?"

This is a tough question. They've caught Him in a contradiction in front of His disciples. if He answers, "Yes, stone her," that seems to go against everything He's been teaching. But if He says, "No, don't stone her," He would seem to be relaxing His morals. It's a tough question, but God can handle tough questions. These cunning hypocrites were overmatched.

Before Jesus answers, He bends down and doodles in the dirt with His finger. So they kept on questioning him. And finally Jesus responds to their inquiry, "Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her."

Silence comes on the crowd. Somehow Jesus sneaked His way out of this situation. He goes back to doodling again on the ground and all the people start leaving.

The reality is there is only one person left who is without sin, and that's Jesus. What's He going to do?

Sometimes people have the impression God is out to get them or He's angry with them. Christians have even been known to advance this way of thinking. In fact, if you were to look at all the Christian billboards and signs we'd think God hated someone like us. We wouldn't want to come to church or approach Him, because He'd punish a person like us. We wouldn't want to come to church or the roof might cave in on us after all we've done wrong.

But that's not who our God is. In fact, John 3:17 tells us that, "Jesus did not come to condemn the world, but to save the world."

God isn't afraid of your past. He's not afraid of where you've been and who you've hung out with. God loves you for who you are. He'll take you as you are. Some of you think you are too dirty for God. When Jesus Christ died on the cross, He died for all the sins of every man and woman who has ever lived, is living, and will ever live.

 

March 9, 2020

Good Morning Church,

This is a picture of God's grace for us. We are all guilty - that includes you. The apostle Paul says in Romans 3:10 that "There is no one righteous, not even one." Sometimes we don;t really believe that our sin is that big of a deal, but we have all sinned.

On the other hand, others of us wallow in our mistakes and think we are beyond forgiveness. yet no matter how serious, big, or awful your sin is, God's grace extends to cover it.

God, who is our judge, says in spite of your faithlessness, He will be faithful. In spite of our addiction, Jesus came to set us free. In spite of the chaos and He has the power to overrule our objections. When our hearts object and say we could never be forgiven, God says, "Objection overruled," because the blood of His Son Jesus is powerful enough, pure enough, and strong enough to cover all of your sins.

We are guilty, and yet through Christ's grace we are free. That freedom then influences the way we live the rest of our lives!

Before we can forgive others, we first need to spend a couple of days realizing that we personally need Christ's forgiveness as much as anyone else. thank you, Jesus, for the grace that yo offer to us all!

 

March 5, 2020

Good Morning Church,

Jesus wants us to make Him the most important thing in our lives. In fact, in Luke 14 He demands to be our top priority. We need to get more serious about spending quality time with God, even times of solitude where it's just us and God. In solitude, we purposely abstain from interaction with other human beings and shut ourselves off from other distractions.

Jesus modeled this. Before He made the very difficult decision of which twelve disciples He would choose, the Bible says He went up on a mountainside and prayed through the night. Many times Jesus sought out places to either rest or pray, which were both ways of being alone with God. If Jesus needed this time, how much more do we! Not only do we benefit from spending time alone with God, but He loves it when we come to Him. After all, He created us for His pleasure. It gives Him joy when we make Him a priority. But when we squeeze Him out of our lives and place other things where He should be,it's the opposite of what God wants. This is one area where Christians really struggle. We can do better!
 

March 4, 2020

Good Morning Church,

Romans 21:1 "Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God - this is your true and proper worship."

He's saying that our whole lives are worship. Whenever we reflect the love of God, we are worshipping Him! Martin Luther once said, "The worship of God...should be free at table, in private rooms, downstairs, upstairs, at home, abroad, in all places, by all people, at all times."

What they are all saying is that worship happens when I'm around others and when I'm alone. In public and in private. Worship happens when I'm out with friends and when I'm at work. It happens when I'm watching TV, when i'm watching sports, and when I'm online. Worship ought to happen at church with others and at home on my own. No matter where you are or what you are doing you have the potential to be ascribing worth, praise, and glory to God. Everything you do could be an act of worship. Look at your life this way and it will start affecting the everyday decisions that you make! Pretty soon you'll be asking yourself, "If I'm worshiping God right now, would I do this? Would I go here? Would I buy this? What would I do here?" And if you find yourself asking those questions more often, you are on the right track!


March 3, 2020

Good Morning Church,

Jesus tells us in Matthew 9:38 to pray earnestly. Prayer is such an important part of our journey. God is always ready to listen. Prayer is the most powerful tool we have on this earth, yet for so many of us it is not a part of our regular daily routine.

It's okay if you don't know exactly how to pray or what to pray. Even Jesus' disciples had to ask Jesus to teach them how to pray. God is glad when you come to Him in prayer. Praying earnestly is the challenge for you today, but this discipline is truly meant to be a part of our lives every day. Continue to ask God boldly and specifically for the things you desire. The more you come to know Him and spend time in prayer, the more you will find yourself praying for things that you want and that He wants.

 

March 2, 2020

Good Morning Church,

John 8:31-31  "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." The word "abide" can mean to dwell or reside. Jesus essentially tells us to live in His Word. He wants us to make the Bible, His Words, a part of our life. We are to read, mark, and inwardly digest them. They are to become such a part of us that we can't imagine what our lives were like before we knew the Bible. The Word of God is supposed to go with us wherever we go!
 


February 28, 2020

Good Morning Church,

Yesterday we looked at Ephesians 2:8-9 which says we are saved by God's grace and not by our own works. So if my future has already been taken care of, what is the point of good works? The very next verse says this: "For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."

It's no coincidence that the apostle Paul wrote this verse after the previous grace-filled verses. There's a flow to this: once you receive God's grace, you can't help but want to do good. If you are filled with gratitude because someone has helped you, you want to repay that person. It's the same with us and God.

We don't serve God in order to get more from Him. We've already received Jesus. He is the prize. He is the great reward! We serve God because He first served us.

 

February 27, 2020

Good Morning Church,

Ephesians 2:8-9 says it perfectly: "For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith - and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast."

In every world religion besides Christianity, you have to do something to have "salvation" or "eternal life." And many of those religions are growing more quickly than Christianity, because they make more sense. Grace is free! We don't deserve grace! So it's difficult to accept.

The American church today accepts grace in theory but denies it in practice. We say we believe that the fundamental structure of reality is grace, not works - but our lives refute our faith. By and large, the gospel of grace is neither proclaimed, understood, nor lived.

Jesus comes not for the super-spiritual but for the wobbly and the weak-kneed who know they don't have it all together, and who are not too proud to accept the handout of amazing grace. As we glance up, we are astonished to find the eyes of Jesus open with wonder, deep with understanding, and gentle with compassion. This is the God of the gospel of grace.

Grace assures you that everything has been taken care of. There is no sin too big that God did not die for on the cross.

 

February 26, 2020 - Ash Wednesday

Good Morning Church,

Psalm 46:10 "Be still and know that I am God."

Many of us don't know how to just be. we know how to do. But we struggle with the being.

Before we do what Christ asks of us to do, we need to be with Him. That's the Red Letter Challenge Review during the 40 days of Lent is all about: spending time with God. During this Lenten season we will explore what are called spiritual disciplines. These spiritual disciplines are good habits that allow you to more closely connect to Jesus Christ. These disciplines have been practiced for centuries by those who follow Jesus.

The healthiest way to follow Christ and seek Him first is for our doing to follow out of our being. Our doing flows out of who we are and who we become when we spend time with Christ.

 

February 25, 2020

Good Morning Church,

Matthew 17:3. As if seeing Jesus transfigured isn’t enough for these humble fishermen, suddenly, the pillars of Hebrew Scripture appear and talk with Jesus. To the Jews, Moses represented the Law and Elijah represented the prophets. For a glimpse of the significance of these men, read Exodus 34:27-30; Numbers 12:6-8; Deuteronomy 34:10-12; 1 Kings 18:36-39; and 2 Kings 2:11. Moses’ and Elijah’s appearance was a stamp of authenticity on all Jesus said and did.
Jesus had come, not to abolish the Law and the teachings of the prophets, but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17). Thank God the Word is true and all God’s promises, trustworthy.
 

February 24, 2020

Good Morning Church,

Discipleship is no easy romp down life’s yellow brick road. Denying yourself so that you might live and move and have your whole being in Christ means a life full of burdens. There are times when care-filled Christians would like to get out from under them. Hence the transfiguration, where God puts our care-filled life in the perspective of sometime glory and present listening.

Glory is so alluring. When we Christians grow tired of denying ourselves, the divine glory looks especially attractive. Apparently spiritual people love to talk about glory. The old Gospel song says, “Visions of rapture now burst on my sight.” Many Christians are fascinated, some obsessed, with Revelation and biblical prophecy. They study endlessly to find out more about the when and how of our entrance into heavenly glory. True, this study is legitimate – but only in its proper place. When Paul said that nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39), he specially included angels, heights, and the future – the things of glory.

Jesus’ transfiguration makes the same point. On a mountain unknown to us, Jesus’ appearance was literally changed in front of Peter, James, and John. We read: “His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.” Peter liked the divine glory he saw and was ready to settle. “Lord, it is good for us to be here, If You wish, I will put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” But Jesus ignores this offer. No shelters or shrines were to be, not at that point. Our dwelling in glory is reserved for sometime in the future. The glory on the mountain soon withdrew, and the disciples heard this command from the heavenly Father: “This is My Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him!”

Years later, Peter would write about that glory and that voice (2 Peter 1:16-19).  16 For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” 18 We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. 19 We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

 

February 17, 2020

Good Morning Church,

Jeremiah 1:5  I knew you before I formed you in your mother's womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my spokesman to the world.

On a transcontinental flight, cruising along at thirty thousand feet, everything on the ground looks minuscule. Mountains appear as bumps in the landscape, roads are thin ribbons, and houses and people are indistinguishable.

How awesome it is to know that God, looking down from His lofty throne, knows your name. He sees your struggles and pain; He hears every prayer and longing of your heart. He sees each tear that falls. You aren't just a tiny dot in the landscape on planet earth. You have a Maker and Redeemer. You have worth. You are loved.

Not only does He know you, He has a purpose for your life. He calls you His own. He never leaves you; He walks with you wherever you go. Each day, you interact with dozens of people who don't know you and may never interact with you again - from the telemarketer to the cashier at the grocery store. How you respond to others is a witness to your relationship with God. When your life displays the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control), you show to whom you belong.
 

February 13, 2020

Good Morning Church,

Kings are rare people in the modern world. Changes in governments have done away with much of the glory of crown and throne.

 Christians persist in calling their God “King.” In the Holy Scriptures God frequently calls Himself “King.” To God’s people the words “kingdom of God” are rich with meaning. It is fitting that in the Lord’s Prayer Jesus reminds His followers to pray for the gracious ruling of God in their own hearts and lives as we do in the Second Petition.

 Thy kingdom come.

 What does this mean?

The kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may come to us also.

How does God’s kingdom come?

God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.

Jesus often spoke of His kingdom. Many of His parables begin, “The kingdom of heaven is like
” He compared it to a large plant (tree), growing from a small seed. He said it spreads as yeast goes through all the bread dough. He pictured people being invited into the Kingdom as a king invites people to the princes wedding party. Even the humblest people come to know that Jesus’ kingdom is for all who accept Him as their Lord.

Jesus also spoke directly about the Kingdom. He began His teaching in Galilee by announcing, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel.” (Mark 1:15).

Our Lord emphasizes that He had not come to set up an earthly kingdom. This disappointed many people who hoped He had come to lead armies against the Roman Empire. Before Pilate Jesus agreed that He was a king. He exclaimed, however, that His kingdom was “not of this world.” (John 18:26)

St. Paul’s advice to some people who tried to make the kingdom of God a matter of rules about food helps us to understand the Kingdom. “For the kingdom of God does not mean food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17)

What, then, is the kingdom of God for which Christians pray? The words of Jesus and St. Paul explain that it is the rule of God over people who repent of their sins. It is present where people in the Gospel of God’s love in Christ. It is present where the Holy Spirit is at work. It is present where people are righteous in God’s sight because Jesus has paid the penalty for their sins. The kingdom of God is both God’s ruling activity and the place or people where that ruling takes place.

The kingdom of God is Christ ruling in people’s hearts. It begins here on earth as the Good News is told. It comes as lost sinners are rescued from Satan’s grasp and places among God’s people. It keeps on coming as God’s people share the Good News with others. It will finally come when God ends this world and rules among His people forever in heaven.

On earth God rules His people by offering His love. Such rule His people call “the kingdom of grace.” In heaven God will reign in splendor. His people will call that “the kingdom of glory.” The kingdom of grace is the church on earth. The kingdom of glory is the church in heaven.

The work of bringing people to faith is all God’s. Therefore, the kingdom comes “of itself, without out prayer.”

Yet Christians pray for it to come. This is, first, a prayer for themselves. By such prayer a Christian asks the Holy Spirit to work in his heart. “Turn me to Jesus and His cross,” he prays. “Make me Your child.”

But this petition is also a prayer for the mission work of the church. “Make your kingdom bigger, Lord. Bring more people into it.” In so praying God’s people also acknowledge that God has chosen them as witnesses to His Gospel. Included is the prayer that God would make each of us His missionary and that He would bless the work of all who tell the good news of Jesus’ sacrifice. Christians heed the pleas of missionaries who cry with Paul, “Brethren, pray for us, that the Word of the Lord may speed on and triumph, as it did among you.” (2 Thessalonians 3:1)


 

February 11, 2020

Good Morning Church,

1 Peter 1:7 These trials are only to test your faith, to show that it is strong and pure. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold - and your faith is far more precious to God than mere gold.

As gold is heated to a temperature of nearly two thousand degrees, impurities rise to the surface, making them easy to remove. When the remaining gold is cooled, the result is a refined, pure, high-quality gold; it is precious and valuable.

We are precious to God and valuable enough for Him to have sent His Son to earth to suffer death on a cross. His death served as a payment for us to spend eternity in heaven with Him. As Christians, we know we have been cleansed of our sins, yet we constantly face the struggle with our sin natures. What can we do? We can continually ask for God's cleansing fire. Each day, we can ask Him to purify us.

There is no need to fear the Refiner's fire. Isaiah submitted to the cleansing fire of a burning coal upon his lips (Isaiah 6:5-8). A cleansing process was necessary before Isaiah could fulfill his purpose as a prophet of God. God's method of purification may not be comfortable. It may force us to wrestle with issues buried deep within our hearts. It may even be painful. But submission to the cleansing fire of God will allow us to be made pure in His sight.

And that is all we could ever desire.
 


February 10, 2020

Good Morning Church,

Psalm 133:1  How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!

Try this experiment sometime: Go outside and pick up a twig. Grasping each end, bend the twig. It bends easily, doesn't it" It may even break. Now, pick up four or five twigs. Holding them together in a bunch, try to bend them. Not as easy, is it?

The same principle holds true for families. When all in a family are united in harmony - staying together, praying together - the storms of life may shake us, but they won't break us.

How much more powerful, then, the family who stands together in the Lord! In Matthew 18:20, Jesus promised, "Where tow or three come together in my name, there am I with them." When we invite Jesus to fill our home with His presence, we will be blessed to find harmony and love which could never exist without Him.

We need one another in every way - praying before meals, doing devotions daily, attending church services as a family, working in the yard, and watching TV together. The family that is unified, that vows to live according to God's Word, will weather the storms of life and be stronger for the journey.

 

February 5, 2020

Good Morning Church,

Joshua 24:15  And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve...But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

What better example to your family than proclaiming and living the words, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord"? Most people, especially children, learn by example. When you take a stand for God, not only proclaiming His lordship over your life but also living it to the fullest, others will learn to do the same.

However, sometimes we run into trouble. Many daily activities tend to take priority over our lives: the quest for a promotion at work, striving to be a top athlete, or pursuing excellence in academics. While all are noble causes, when we slip into seeking to control our lives in order to reach our goals, we rebel against the lordship of Jesus Christ and we are serving other gods.

God knows the desires of our hearts. He knows our needs and our wants. He wants us to be joyful, but He also knows what is best for us. When we decide to serve the Lord, we open ourselves to His blessings. When we surrender ourselves to His will, we choose to let Him be Lord of our lives - every part of them.

 

February 4, 2020

Good Morning Church,

“The will of the Lord be done.”

With these words, a group of people in Caesarea said good-bye to Paul and his company. Paul determined to go on to Jerusalem even though the prophet said he would be arrested there. His friends tried to persuade him not to go. But when Paul insisted that he was ready even to die for the Lord Jesus, they let him go. They prayed that God’s will would prevail. (Acts 21:14)

God’s will is best for His people. Sometimes His people cannot understand of His will.

Therefore, Jesus taught us to pray in the Third Petition that God would carry out His will among us.

Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

What does this mean?

The good and gracious will of God is done even without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may be done among us also.

How is God’s will done?

God’s will is done when He breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature, which do not want us to hallow God’s name or let His kingdom come; and when He strengthens and keeps us firm in His Word and faith until we die. This is His good and gracious will.

God’s will is more than a wish. It is His strong desire. He is ready to use His great power and wisdom and love to bring it about.

God’s will plainly states that He wants all people to hallow His name and to be a part of His kingdom. God wants all people to be true believers. St. Paul urges Christians to pray for all people because “God our Savior
desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4)

It is not only that God wants people to go to heaven someday. He wants them to be His people now. He wants them to be His witnesses now. He wants them to lead holy lives now. Christians are advised: “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)

God’s will for His people sometimes includes suffering. At such times their faith upholds them. God’s will is gracious and good. With trusting hearts, they may pray as the Savior did: “Father, if Thou art willing, remove this cup from Me; nevertheless, not My will but Thine be done.” (Luke 22:42)

If God’s will was done on earth as it is in heaven, this earth would be a heaven. But there is still great need to pray that God’s will may be done among men. There are strong counsels and wills that oppose God’s will.

The devil opposes God’s will. Right in the Garden of Eden he blocked God’s plan for a perfect human race. But Jesus came to beat down the devil. His death on the cross meant Satan’s defeat. Satan still works hard to make men miserable and turn them from God. Therefore, God’s people lean on God’s promise: “The Lord is faithful; He will strengthen you and guard you from evil.” (2 Thessalonians 3:3)

The world opposes God’s will. The world means all those who are not God’s people by faith in Jesus. With cleverness they try to pull God’s people into their way of life. It was the world at work when Herod beheaded John the Baptist to please Salome and her mother. But the Christians know— “Christ gave Himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age.” (Galatians 1:4)

Our own flesh opposes God’s will. Even though we are God’s children, we still have desires that are not wholly under the control of the Holy Spirit. Doubts, fears, and desires burn in us to make us forget God and turn to the devil’s way. It was the flesh that drove Judas to betray Christ for a handful of silver coins.

God’s will and the evil counsels are in a constant state of war. But victory for God is certain. God’s will is done without our prayer. Many people have already been saved. Many more will reach the haven of eternal life. Yet, as long as a Christian is in this world, he is in danger. Without God man’s doom is sealed. The enemy is too strong. In desperate need God’s people take refuge in God. “Lord,” they cry, “let Your will be done in us and for us.” 


 

February 3, 2020

Good Morning Church,

Ephesians 2:19-20  Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.

If you have ever stood on a sandy beach as the waves lapped at your feet, you know that the longer you remain, the further your feet sink into the shifting sands. Eventually, you'll be up to your ankles! On a rocky coastline in Maine, however, you can stand on the shore with wave after wave rushing over your feet and you won't sink at all. You stand firm on the strength of the boulders beneath you.

Shifting sands don't make a very good foundation - for our feet or for our faith. We need solid rock - strong and unchanging. Like the wise man who built his house upon a rock (Luke 6:48), we can rest secure in building our faith upon the firm foundation of Jesus Christ. When the winds of change blow and the waves of uncertainty rush over us, we can cling to the immovable, unchanging love of Jesus.

For this we have reason to praise. Christ is the solid rock on which we stand. We can depend upon His words, trust in His tender mercies, and praise Him day after day for the grace that has saved us. Praise the risen Lamb and in  everything be glad. Our foundation is firm; our salvation is sure. Praise His name!

 

January 30, 2020

Good Morning Church,

Matthew 5:1-12

A letter arrived in the mail. It read, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and He will acknowledge and He will light the way. This prayer has been sent to you for good luck . . . You are to receive good luck within four days of receiving this letter . . . It must leave you 96 hours after you receive it . . . You must make 20 copies of this letter and send it on to your friends, parents, and relatives. After a few days you will get a surprise . . . Darin Mairchild received the chain and, not believing in it, threw it away. Nine days later he died. For no reason should this chain be broken.”

What should be done with the letter?

The U.S. Postmaster General says chain letters are illegal and should be reported. But everybody wants good luck. We all want to be happy, to have success in our undertakings, and to enjoy at least the fruits of our labors, if not a little bit more.

A young man finally purchased the car of his dreams, an Italian sports car, a Ferrari. Wanting everything to go well with himself and his new car, he went to his minister and asked to have it blessed.

“Please bless my Ferrari”

“I can bless almost anything, son, but what’s a Ferrari?” asked the minister.

“Never mind,” said the young man. “I’ll find someone else to bless it” He sped off down the street to a more up-to-date minister.

“Would you please bless my Ferrari, sir?” he asked.

“Wow! A Ferrari! May I take it .for a spin?” And the minister roared off around the block.

“Man, what a car! Now what did you say you wanted me to do.?” asked the minister.

“Would you please bless it?” asked the young man.

“What’s a blessing?”

Just what is a blessing? The dictionary says a blessing is that which makes happy or prosperous.

The first 11 verses of Matthew chapter 5 are commonly known as the Beatitudes, expressions of supreme blessedness. Jesus Christ, the promised King, speaks to His disciples, those who by faith in Him have spiritual life and are members of His kingdom. They therefore have all the benefits of this kingdom: its promises, its assurances, its hopes, its certainties, its joys, its peace. The blessings or benefits of this kingdom comprise the abundant life we have as a result of our saving relationship with Jesus Christ. How very fortunate, happy, and blessed we are!


 

January 29, 2020

Good Morning Church,

Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the holy Spirit comes on you.

Imagine how the disciples must have felt at the day of Pentecost when the holy Spirit literally came down upon them! Picture that powerful scene: God made His presence known with the blowing of a violent wind and tongues of fire (Acts 2:2-3). Those who had been touched began to speak in other languages, proclaiming the wonders of God.

The disciples had been on a roller coaster of emotions. They had seen Jesus heal the sick, raise the dead, die on a cross, rise from the dead, and ascend to heaven - only to leave them to carry on His work. Now they were expected to go into all the world, preaching the gospel. How were they to accomplish this task? How could God have left such a responsibility in their inexperienced hands? He could could do it because He knew when the Holy Spirit came down upon them, they could change the world. So God sent the Spirit down - and the world has never been the same.

 

January 28, 2020

Good Morning Church,

Kings are rare people in the modern world. Changes in governments have done away with much of the glory of crown and throne.

Christians persist in calling their God “King.” In the Holy Scriptures God frequently calls Himself “King.” To God’s people the words “kingdom of God” are rich with meaning. It is fitting that in the Lord’s Prayer Jesus reminds His followers to pray for the gracious ruling of God in their own hearts and lives as we do in the Second Petition.

Thy kingdom come.

What does this mean?

The kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may come to us also.

How does God’s kingdom come?

God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.

Jesus often spoke of His kingdom. Many of His parables begin, “The kingdom of heaven is like
” He compared it to a large plant (tree), growing from a small seed. He said it spreads as yeast goes through all the bread dough. He pictured people being invited into the Kingdom as a king invites people to the princes wedding party. Even the humblest people come to know that Jesus’ kingdom is for all who accept Him as their Lord.

Jesus also spoke directly about the Kingdom. He began His teaching in Galilee by announcing, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel.” (Mark 1:15).

Our Lord emphasizes that He had not come to set up an earthly kingdom. This disappointed many people who hoped He had come to lead armies against the Roman Empire. Before Pilate Jesus agreed that He was a king. He exclaimed, however, that His kingdom was “not of this world.” (John 18:26)

St. Paul’s advice to some people who tried to make the kingdom of God a matter of rules about food helps us to understand the Kingdom. “For the kingdom of God does not mean food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17)

What, then, is the kingdom of God for which Christians pray? The words of Jesus and St. Paul explain that it is the rule of God over people who repent of their sins. It is present where people in the Gospel of God’s love in Christ. It is present where the Holy Spirit is at work. It is present where people are righteous in God’s sight because Jesus has paid the penalty for their sins. The kingdom of God is both God’s ruling activity and the place or people where that ruling takes place.

The kingdom of God is Christ ruling in people’s hearts. It begins here on earth as the Good News is told. It comes as lost sinners are rescued from Satan’s grasp and places among God’s people. It keeps on coming as God’s people share the Good News with others. It will finally come when God ends this world and rules among His people forever in heaven.

On earth God rules His people by offering His love. Such rule His people call “the kingdom of grace.” In heaven God will reign in splendor. His people will call that “the kingdom of glory.” The kingdom of grace is the church on earth. The kingdom of glory is the church in heaven.

The work of bringing people to faith is all God’s. Therefore, the kingdom comes “of itself, without out prayer.”

Yet Christians pray for it to come. This is, first, a prayer for themselves. By such prayer a Christian asks the Holy Spirit to work in his heart. “Turn me to Jesus and His cross,” he prays. “Make me Your child.”

But this petition is also a prayer for the mission work of the church. “Make your kingdom bigger, Lord. Bring more people into it.” In so praying God’s people also acknowledge that God has chosen them as witnesses to His Gospel. Included is the prayer that God would make each of us His missionary and that He would bless the work of all who tell the good news of Jesus’ sacrifice. Christians heed the pleas of missionaries who cry with Paul, “Brethren, pray for us, that the Word of the Lord may speed on and triumph, as it did among you.” (2 Thessalonians 3:1)


 

January 27, 2020

Good Morning Church,

A pagan bandit who had become ill was nursed back to health in a Christian hospital. Grateful for the care that was given to him during his illness, he resolved that from then on he would not rob Christians.

During his stay in the hospital, he had noted that Christians knew the Ten Commandments and the Apostles’ Creed by heart. So each time he was about to commit a robbery, he demanded that the victims recite the Ten Commandments and the Apostles’ Creed. If they could do what he demanded, they would not be robbed. If, however, they did not know the Commandments and the Creed from memory, they would be robbed. The whole community quickly responded by memorizing the Commandments and the Creed. The bandit was soon out of business. 

 We cannot belong to the kingdom of heaven as we are. We are not acceptable; we cannot fulfill the requirements for citizenship in the Kingdom: “Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy” (Leviticus 19:2). “There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20).

A little improvement is not enough. To belong to the kingdom of heaven requires a complete change. The Greek word for repentance used by Jesus and John the Baptist in the chapters of this lesson means to turn around; to reverse one’s direction, purpose, and life.

 

January 23, 2020

Good Morning Church,

John 2:1-2  On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus' mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.

A few years ago, a 15-year-old girl was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor. Her classmates didn't want her to miss out on any major high school events, so they held a "high school in a day" experience, during which they threw an early prom and held a graduation ceremony for their friend.

A local TV station featured the story leading up to the special day, and in the story her friends put out a plea. They asked for their friend's favorite musician to send her a special message. It was a long-shot invitation, but they knew their friend would be thrilled if it actually happened. And much to their surprise, the celebrity musician delivered a message. He even delivered the message in person!

In John chapter 2, Jesus also received an invitation to a special event. He was invited to a wedding in Cana. You could understand why the Savior of the world might've declined an invitation to a wedding. He had important work to do and only so much time to do it. Certainly, Cana in Galilee had people who were sick, disabled, and hurting who needed Jesus' attention.

But Jesus went to that wedding! His presence revealed his great concern for these newlyweds in specific and his great concern for marriage in general. It should not surprise us that Jesus went to that wedding. As true God who established marriage, our Savior has great concern for every marriage. He desires to bless couples with his presence and his love. He seeks to encourage and equip husbands and wives in their lifelong unions until death.

January 22, 2020

Good Morning Church.

Acts 1:8  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.

Imagine how the disciples must have felt at the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit literally came down upon them! Picture that powerful scene: God made His presence known with the blowing of a violent wind and tongue of fire (Acts 2:2-3). Those who had been touched began to speak in other languages, proclaiming the wonders of God.

The disciples had been on a roller coaster of emotions. They had seen Jesus heal the sick, raise the dead, die on a cross, rise from the dead, and ascend to heaven - only to leave them to carry on His work. Now they were expected to go into all the world, preaching the gospel. How were they to accomplish this task? How could God have left such a responsibility in their inexperienced hands? He could do it because He knew, when the Holy Spirit came down upon them, they could change the world. So God sent the Spirit down - and the world has never been the same.

Do you feel weak? Incapable of running the race set before you? You already have the Holy Spirit, but sometimes you need to be reignited with fresh fire; sometimes you need to be refreshed with power sent down like rain into your soul. Ask God to send it on down! At your request, He will pour down His power and refreshment to help you do whatever He has called you to do, no matter how weak you feel.
 


January 20, 2020

Good Morning Church,

What kind of reputation does God have?

God is perfect. Surely also His reputation should be perfect. Not so. A person’s reputation is what other people think of hum. Everyone ought to think that God is great and holy. Yet many people ignore God. Some even think of Him as foolish or evil.

God puts His own people on the spot. He reminds them that they are largely responsible for what others think of Him. A father gets part of the blame if his son is wicked. A school gets a bad name if its students misbehave. Even a whole country can get a bad name from a few rude citizens.

A believer’s godly witness depends on God’s work in his life. That is why this petition is so important. The First Petition asks God to do His work in us.

Hallowed be Thy name.

What does this mean?

God’s name is certainly holy in itself, but we pray in this petition that it may be kept holy among us also.

God’s name is holy in itself. No one can make God more perfect. However, as the sun can be hidden by a cloud, so God’s glory may be clouded from men’s eyes.

God’s people do not want to cloud out His glory. They pray to be kept from doing anything to make others think less of God. Their teachings and life influence the attitude of others toward God. Worldly people may say, “He’s not much of a God if His people act bad and do not know what He says.”

In his explanation of this petition, Dr. Luther seems to change the subject from God’s name to God’s Word. But properly understood, he does not. God’s name is everything by which He makes Himself known. Especially in His Word does He reveal Himself. When by word and deed we use God’s Word to His praise and honor, we make His name holy among us.

God’s people believe that they honor God’s name when they rightly teach what God has revealed in the Scriptures.

Christians must not keep silent about God’s Word. No one can honor God unless God’s people make His message known to the world. A witness is useful only when he correctly repeats what he has seen and heard. If he is silent, he is in a sense a liar. Jesus has appointed every one of His people as a witness for Him. Just before He ascended, He said, “You shall be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judean and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8b)

Christians must not change God’s Word. People have a right to their own opinions in many things. But they have no right to teach their own ideas as God’s truth. Of those who teach God’s Word God says through Jeremiah, “Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has My Word speak My Word faithfully.” (Jeremiah 23:28)

If God’s people change God’s Word or ignore parts of it, others will get wrong ideas about God. They might even miss the important message that God forgives sins for Jesus’ sake.

Moreover, Christians ought always to live according to God’s Word. Even when they fail, as they often do, they pray the more fervently for strength to follow His will. The First Petition really means: “God, help us to teach Your Word rightly and to live to please You.”

It is not enough just to read the Bible, study it in confirmation class, and say one’s prayers. The message of love to God and man must be lived all the time and everywhere.

The people of the world will judge God by the actions of His people. God sets His people us as advertisements for Him. It may be uncomfortable to be considered an example, but we can’t escape it. Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

People of the world may merely read the Bible and never go to church, but they cannot help seeing God’s people every day. In a way, they read God’s people. That’s exactly what God intends. St. Paul put it that way, “You are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tables of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” (2 Corinthians 3:3)

God’s people pray: “Help us to be letters that glorify God.”

 

January 17, 2020

Good Morning Church,

John 1:29-42

In Christian art the authors of the gospels are often represented by the four living creatures that John, the writer of the Revelation, saw standing around the throne of heaven (Revelation 4:6–8). Traditionally, it is held that the lion stands for Matthew, who presented Jesus as the Lion of Judah, the Messiah promised to the people of Israel. The ox stands for Luke, because Luke pictured Jesus as the sacrifice for all humanity and the servant of all. The man stands for Mark, who, more than any of the other gospel writers, drew attention to the full humanity of Jesus. The eagle stands for John, because the eagle soars toward heaven and because of all creatures it alone can look into the sun without being blinded. John's gospel carries us into the heights of God's eternal intention and fastens our gaze on the dazzling glory of God as it is revealed in Jesus Christ. John's purpose is clear. He intends to reveal the nature of God Himself as revealed in the promised Messiah, Jesus the Christ.

What we are studying is no impartial, objective history of some past event. This is a gospel, that is, Good News from God, Good News about the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. John believed that Good News with his whole being. It changed his life. It gave him life, real life. He wanted everyone to share that life. And so as an old man, close to death, he put his experience and his understanding of God's Good News in writing. His purpose was to ignite and to strengthen faith, as he himself tells us: “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:30–31).

 

January 16, 2020

Good Morning Church,

Only the headlights of the car pierced the darkness of the night on the desert highway as the family returned home after a holiday in Mexico. The songs and chatter of the children had quieted down and their eyelids were becoming droopy.

Suddenly, out of nowhere a stop sign appeared. As the car slowed to a stop, a uniformed man appeared at the car window and asked, “Where were you born?” Each person in the car had to give proof of his or her citizenship or, if an alien, show papers to prove that he or she had the right or permission to enter the United States.

We want to belong; we need to belong; to a kingdom, a nation. Refugees plead for some nation to accept them. The word alien has a cold, lonesome, frightening sound to it. The word citizen gives a warm feeling of belonging. An alien has little or no rights or privileges. A citizen has many rights and privileges.

We want to belong to a kingdom or nation that is lasting, not easily overthrown by rebellion from within or an enemy from without. We want peace and protection. We want a secure future for ourselves and our loved ones.

Where can we find such a kingdom?

God has promised such a kingdom and He has promised a King. The Lord spoke to Nathan. “Go,” He said, “and tell My servant David, ‘This is what the Lord says: . . . When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish His kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for My Name, and I will establish the throne of His kingdom forever’ ” (2 Samuel 7:5, 12–13). Through Isaiah, God said, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever” (Isaiah 9:6–7).

Yes, we look for a kingdom that will last forever, a kingdom of righteousness and justice and peace. But the kingdom that God promises is not a kingdom of this world. It is a spiritual kingdom, a communion of believers in union with Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the Head, the King, and the blessings of this kingdom are the sum total of all the gifts of God in Christ Jesus as they are enjoyed here on earth in the Christian church and, finally above, in the kingdom of glory.

 

January 15, 2020

Good Morning Church,

2 Corinthians 12:9 "But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."

Do we truly believe that Jehovah cares for us? We may say that we trust Him, but....

So we work hard to save the money to buy a car, a house, and a quality education for our children. While such planning is not bad, it can become a problem if having our needs met is not enough and we feel that we must assuage all our desires as well.

God our Provider promises to supply all our needs. What are our needs? Food, clothing, and shelter are life's most basic needs. Does God provide these? We would probably have to answer that yes, indeed, we have food, clothing, and shelter - that God has provided for us. While He may not have met all our desires, He has indeed met all our needs.

But even more important than Jehovah's provision for our physical needs is His provision for our spiritual need. He has provided grace that is sufficient to fill the longing in our hearts for God. It is by His grace alone that we can come to Him.

Unlike the trendy clothes, gourmet food, and fancy house, grace is free and it is eternal. We don't have to earn it. We can't purchase it. It is offered as a gift. And it is ours - forever.

 

January 14, 2020

“Lord, teach us to pray.”

Jesus’ disciples came to Him with that request one day. He did not make a long speech about prayer. He gave them an example to follow.

 The people of God call that model the Lord’s Prayer. Some refer to it by the first two words of the prayer. They call it the Our Father.

 Since the day when Jesus spoke the prayer it has been prayed daily in hundreds of languages by millions of God’s people. It has been set to beautiful music. It has been carved into stone. It has been engraved in gold.

Jesus told His followers to begin prayer by saying the opening words of the Lord’s Prayer.

Our Father who art in heaven.

            What does this mean?

With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father.

 God is our Father in Christ.

That sentence is quickly said. However, we should not forget what had to be done to make this possible.

Behind that sentence is all the work of the Triune God. To make it possible, God the Father showed His great mercy to a world of sinful people. He sent His Son to be the Sin-Bearer. To make it possible, Jesus became a human being. He suffered and died and rose again. To make it possible, the Holy Spirit worked in the Bible writers so that all might know about God’s love. To make it possible, Christ founded the church to proclaim the Good News. By the preaching of God’s Word and by Baptism the Holy Spirit continues to make sinful human beings the children of God. All that we remember at Christmas and Epiphany, on Good Friday, Easter, and Pentecost is involved when we say, “God is our Father in Christ.”

 St. Paul explains how all the work of God makes people God’s children: “For in Christ Jesus you are sons of God through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Galatians 3:26-27)

 Christians may not always appreciate the wonder that God accepts them as His children. False, man-made religions do not give this comfort. Such religions teach man that they are to be afraid of the gods. That is why St. Paul had to tell some people who had just come to faith in Jesus: “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of worship. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is the Spirit Himself bearing witness with out spirit that we are children of God.” (Romans 8:15-16)

When God invited His people to think of Him as their Father, He means that He is a kind and loving God. Not all earthly fathers are good. Some ignore their children. Some mistreat their children. God wants us to know that He is better than the best earthly father. Jesus made this comparison when He said, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him?” (Matthew 7:11)

 Our God can promise to hear and answer the prayers of His people. Our Father is “in heaven.” That means that He has the power to back up His promises. As the psalmist points out, “Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.” (Psalm 115:3)

 The invitation to pray comes from our God who is kind, loving, wise, and powerful. Therefore, God’s people come to Him with complete confidence.

 God’s people do not wait to pray until they have tried everything else. They do not say: “Maybe it will do some good to pray. Let us try it.” To pray in doubt is not praying as to a loving Father. St. James almost makes fun of people who pray without trusting God saying, “Let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.” (James 1:6)

 Christians know that in their prayers they do not always ask for what is best for them. Nevertheless, they speak to the Lord as best they can. Then they are certain that God understands. He will in His great wisdom answer with what is best. They are ready to accept His answer.

 

January 13, 2020

Good Morning Church,

Matthew 3:13-17  13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. 16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

John now plays an additional role in the coming of the kingdom of heaven. Already his prophetic bearing and his authoritative message have proclaimed the kingdom at hand. But now Jesus appears from Galilee to be baptized by John in the Jordan River.
 

John hesitates: “I need to be baptized by You, and do you come to me?” Recognizing Jesus as the coming one more powerful than he, John cannot understand the significance or necessity for Jesus to be baptized.

Jesus’ answer provides a key insight, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus, not a sinner Himself, but the unblemished Lamb of God, needs to identify Himself with sinful humanity, take our place under the Law, suffer, and die for the sins of the world. By being baptized in the Jordan, Jesus begins His messianic ministry which “fulfills all righteousness.” All God’s righteousness requirements for the Messiah were fully met in Jesus.

AS the Spirit of God descends like a dove, the heavenly Father shows His approval of the Son’s obedience with the words, “This is My Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.” The words Son, whom I love echo Psalm 2:6-8, which refers to the anointed King whom God will place on His holy hill to rule over all nations. Therefore God is affirming Jesus as the messianic King. The words with Him I am well pleased suggest Isaiah 42:1-7, one of the servant songs. God is identifying Jesus as the Suffering Servant of God who will be despised and rejected by men, pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities. We clearly see Jesus’ messianic identity as Son of God and His messianic mission as Suffering Servant who will pay for the sins of the world.

 

January 9, 2020

Good Morning Church,

“Behold, he is praying.” (Acts 9:11)

 With these words the Lord announced that Saul of Tarsus has become Christian. Saul had been a bitter foe of Jesus’ followers. When Jesus appeared to Saul on the Damascus road, the Holy Spirit began to work in the heart of the Christ-hater. Later the Lord sent a believer names Ananias to speak with Saul. Ananias hesitated. The Lord reassured him that Saul was praying and that Saul would become a Christian missionary.

 Being Christian and praying go hand in hand. As a hymn writer reminds us:

            Prayer is the Christian’s vital breath,                                                                                                 

            The Christian’s native air.

 We are about to get better acquainted with the prayer that God’s people call the Lord’s Prayer or the Our Father. It will mean more if we first think about the wonderful privilege of praying.

Jesus suffered, died, and rose to “save” all men. Those who believe in Him are saved. To be saved includes many blessings. We can sum it all up by saying that a believer is a child of God—in this world and forever.

 Since God is their Father, Christians want to talk to Him. God also wants His children to talk to Him.

 The privilege of prayer flows from God’s love. God commands His people to pray to Him. His command is really a gracious, gentle invitation. It is no harsh order when He says, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” (Psalm 50:15)

God shows His desire to hear His people’s prayers when He promises to listen. There is no mistaking the promise in His offer, for He says, “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7)

In prayer, Christians show what a blessing it is to have such a wonderful God. He is their Creator. He is their Redeemer. He is their Protector. He offers them eternal life.

God is worthy of their worship. This “worthship” of their God is a highly important matter for the Christian. The word “worthship” is related to the word “worship.” And that is what worship is—telling God in respectful words how wonderful we think He is. Prayer is at the very heart of worship.

 Men everywhere feel that belief in God and prayer go together. Even those who believe in false gods try to pray. The prophets of Baal cried all day to their god. Only Elijah, who prayed to the true God, received an answer. Prayer is answered only when directed to the living God. Jesus Himself rejected prayer to any but the true God, saying “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.” (Matthew 4:10)

 Christians emphasize that prayer must be made in Jesus’ name. Only in Jesus do we have the right to pray, and in His intercession our prayer has power. On several occasions Jesus reminded His followers of this blessed privilege, for example, “If you ask anything of the Father, He will give it to you in My name.” (John 16:23)

 How much do we pray? St. Paul says that we should never stop praying (1 Thessalonians 5:17). An unbeliever might exclaim: “A lifetime of prayer? What do you find to talk about?”

 Ask a Christian or study the prayers in the Bible. Sometimes Christians adore God. They confess their sins to Him daily. As they go through life, God showers them with blessings. For these they thank Him. As they need many things for body and soul, they request God’s gifts in prayer.

In asking for physical blessings, Christians leave the outcome to their loving Father. They add “if it be Thy will” to their requests. In asking for spiritual blessings, they know that it is His will.

When they have finished praying for themselves, Christians have just begun to pray. They take also the needs of their fellowmen to God. Like Moses (Numbers 21:7), they have the right, the privilege, and the responsibility to pray for others. Hence they pray for their families, friends, and church and pastor. As good citizens they pray for their country and its leaders. They pray for those who are ill, in danger, or in need. They even ray for their enemies. In this way they truly act as “priests of the Lord.”

 St. Paul urged that Christians carry out a “ministry of prayer” when he wrote “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in positions.” (1 Timothy 2:1-2a)

 Christians are confident in prayer. They pray humbly, sincerely, often, and in Jesus’ name.

 

January 8, 2020

Good Morning Church,

Hebrews 13:15  Why do we praise? What causes us to lift our voices and worship God? From the beginning of time, all of humanity has had reasons to praise almighty God - from creation of the heavens and the earth to the promise of new heavens and a new earth, from the gift of the promised land to the gift of salvation through the promised Immanuel. Indeed, God is great and greatly to be praised!

How should we praise the Lord? How can we lift Him high upon our praise? We do that when we live to glorify Him. How many ways can we praise God? As many ways as we can imagine. David played his harp; Solomon ruled with wisdom; Paul wrote letters to churches; C. S. Lewis wrote great literary works. But most important, we praise God when we enthrone Him in our lives - making everything we do a sacrifice of praise to Him.
 

God is great, glorious, and excellent. May our lives reflect His power and glory. May His praise be ever on our lips, for He is greatly to be praised!

 

January 7, 2020

Good Morning Church,

Isaiah 64:8  Yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.

The work of a potter is serious business. If you've ever watched a potter at the wheel, you know the time it takes to create a clay jar, bowl, or pot. The clay must be prepared properly, first removing all impurities that would cause the vessel to crack under the heat of firing. The potter works the clay, cutting, pounding, and kneading in order to remove bubbles. Then he shapes the vessel, working deftly with his hands as the wheel spins. Finally, the vessel is fired to nearly twenty-four hundred degrees. All of this is done to produce a strong, usable, high-quality vessel.

How blessed we are to have the Master Potter molding us! He prepares us with His Word and removes all our impurities through His loving forgiveness. He makes us stronger as we endure the cutting, pounding, and kneading of trials and difficult circumstances.

Then a most remarkable change takes place. He takes us, ugly lumps of muddy clay that we are, and forms us into items of great beauty and usability. He shapes us into exactly what He wants us to be, then He burns His love into our soul.

Undergoing the process of being molded may not always be comfortable, but the end result is always worth it. Ask God to mold you and make you, for when He does, He makes you more like Himself.

 

January 6, 2020

Good Morning Church,

Matthew 2:1-2  After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him."

Many Christians use nativity sets to celebrate Christmas. Some sets are ornate; some are simple. Some contain many figures; some contain a few. In most nativity sets, you will find three wise men (called Magi in our reading) with gifts for the newborn Savior. Throughout history there have been some misconceptions about these Magi. Despite what some think, the Magi were not present on the night Jesus was born. They came at least a few months later, if not longer. The Magi did not visit Jesus at the manger. Mary and Joseph were living with Jesus in a house in Bethlehem. And the Bible does not give us the exact number of Magi.

So who were these Magi? The Bible talks about Magi in the book of Daniel. They were an influential religious class in Babylon. They were astrologers and astronomers. In 586 B.C., the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and the temple, and they took some Israelites to live in Babylon. During that time, Daniel became the overseer of the Magi. Naturally, Daniel would have taught these Babylonians Magi about the true God of Israel and the promise of a Savior.

Fast-forward five hundred years or so, and we see that the promise of a Savior was still being taught among the Magi. On Epiphany we celebrate the trip these Magi took to come and worship the newborn Savior. It teaches us this: Jesus is a Savior for all nations.

We need that reminder when we're tempted to think there's no way a particular person could ever come to faith in Jesus. We need that reminder when we are uncomfortable around someone because he or she looks different language, or has different customs. We need that reminder when our own sin weighs on our shoulders.

Jesus is a Savior for all nations. What a beautiful truth that is, because that means Jesus is a Savior for us. Jesus came to lay down his life for us. Jesus came to take away our sin. Jesus came to win a place in heaven for us. Jesus wants all people to know this truth and to trust in him.

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