Letters from Home

Augustine of Hippo (350-430 AD), one of the early Church Fathers, and a deeply respected theologian and philosopher, once said about the Bible, “The Holy Scriptures are our letters from home.”

If you’ve ever lived far from home, you know the power of that statement. When you are on the other side of the country (or the other side of the world) and you get a letter from home — you treasure every word. You pore over it again and again. Those words reconnect you with your loved ones.

Paul encourages young pastor Timothy to treasure every word of the Bible like a letter from home. In the previous verses, he has just reminded Timothy that he lives in a world that is not friendly territory for the Christ-follower. He says, “There will be terrible times in the last days… in fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:1, 12, NIV).

But as Timothy lives like a stranger in a strange and hostile land, he can stay connected to his Father through these letters from home. Timothy had grown up in the scriptures. They were familiar territory to him. And this was not the time to abandon them. Rather, he should double-down on them.

Paul explains why. The Bible is useful. And the Bible is inspired. If Timothy wants to be wise and ready for eternal salvation, he simply needs to keep on studying the Bible. If Timothy wants to know the things that will make him wise for life right here, right now, he can read the Bible and meditate on it.

There’s nothing like the Bible to show us the truth, and keep us safe from self-deception, the world’s myths, and the devil’s lies.

There’s nothing like the written word of God for exposing our personal rebellion against God, for correcting our mistakes, or for training us to live God’s way.

Better yet, there’s nothing like the gospel to point out Jesus’ love for rebellious sinners, Jesus’ willingness to pay the price for our mistakes, or Jesus’ self-sacrificial kindness in taking our place and living God’s way on our behalf.

These letters from home remind us where we came from and whose we are. And they show us how to get home again from this strange, hostile land we now live in.

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:14-17, NIV).

Lord, help me to continue in what I have learned from you in the Bible. Help me to stay convinced by your Spirit’s power that Jesus is my Lord and my Savior. Help me to place full confidence in your word, and to know that it is truly useful to me.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, October 24, is Jeremiah 50:11 – 51:14, 2 Timothy 3:1-17 and Psalm 119:89-96.

Header image based on "Letter from Kenya" by Jeff Turner, CC By 2.0

Memorize and Meditate

Sadly, both memorization and meditation have become lost arts in today’s world.

Stephanie Weisman, author of the book, The Secrets of Top Students, and founder of the valedictoriansguide.com, writes about the serious consequences, “Memorization has gotten a bad rap recently. Lots of students, and even some educators, say that being able to reason is more important than knowing facts; and besides, why bother committing things to memory when you’ve got Google?”

Stephanie continues, “My response to this – after I’ve finished inwardly groaning – is that of course reasoning is important, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know facts as well. It’s not like you have to choose between one or the other. Besides, facts give you a foundation on which to reason about things.”

That last statement is so important: “Facts give us a foundation on which to reason about things.”

The author of Psalm 119 would have supported that. Clearly he believed in memorization: “I have hidden your word in my heart.”

And just as importantly, he also knew the value of meditation: “I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways.”

So what is your memorization plan to “hide” some of God’s word in your own heart? Do you have a list of 5 or 10 key verses that you’d like to always have at your fingertips because you’ve got them memorized?

And what is your meditation plan? Do you have a regularly planned “quiet time” each day when you can simply reflect on God’s words and promises?

The practical advice offered us in Psalm 119 would suggest that it would be extremely wise to weave both memorizing and meditating into the daily fabric of our lives.

Looking for a place to start? Here are a few passages that I really enjoy, and find useful for meditation:

“I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. Praise be to you, Lordteach me your decrees. With my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth. I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches. I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word” (Psalm 119:10-16, NIV).

Lord, help me to hide your word in my heart, meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I want to seek you with all my heart, as the Psalmist did. I want to remain on the path of your commands. And most of all, Jesus, I want to know your grace and forgiveness, won for me at the cross.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, October 10, is Jeremiah 21:1 – 23:8, 1 Thessalonians 2:17 – 3:13 and Psalm 119:9-16.

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Grow Deep Roots

Never be satisfied. There’s always more to do. There’s constantly another another step to take… to understand and deepen the peace you are experiencing, and to take hold of and grasp ever more firmly the grace God extends to you.

Realize, to know Jesus as your Lord — you have been given a huge gift! Now, Paul says, don’t stop there. Keep on going. And keep on growing.

You believe. Now, actually live in him. Send deep roots down into Jesus — study his life, his heart and his words — as if you were a tree and he is the most fertile soil you could imagine. And as you do that, Jesus will flow through you, building you up spiritually and extending your influence like branches stretching out into the sky.

It’s the word of God that makes this life in Christ possible. As you are taught from the Bible, the word will strengthen you. The gospel will fill your heart with deep gratitude.

And with increasing intensity the peace of God will fill your heart and mind. God’s grace will more and more become your life’s driving force.

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness” (Colossians 2:6-7, NIV).

Lord, keep me going, and keep me growing, so that my faith in you and your promises gets stronger each day. Help me to make time to read and study my Bible, because your word is the power for me to grow deeper roots into you, Jesus.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, October 6, is Jeremiah 11:18 – 13:27, Colossians 2:6-23 and Psalm 118:1-16.

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Get Your Bucket!

Isaiah does something interesting as he writes. At certain points in his prophetic narrative he breaks into songs of praise. Isaiah 12 is one of those places where he switches from prophecy to worship.

Writing in 700 B.C., Isaiah knew that God had a right to be angry. The Jews have been rebellious against God. They have chased idols. They have measured their life’s success not by their closeness to God, but rather by their own personal power, prestige, possessions, positions and playthings.

But one day that will all end, and their lives will once again center on the Lord. One day they will turn back and experience God’s grace and forgiveness. They will understand that salvation is theirs, as a gift from the Son of God, the Messiah long-promised.

What a day that will be! Because that day will bring the demise of fear, and the rise of faith. It will replace all weakness with true strength. It will replace hurt and sadness with joy and peace.

Isaiah taught that all this would be the result of “drawing water from the wells of salvation.”

Today, 2,700 years later, it’s still critical to draw water from the wells of salvation. But in 2015, we call it being regular at worship, joining a growth group or Bible study, making regular use of the sacraments, finding a time and a place in our daily schedules for personal devotions and prayer, and making Christian music and hymns part of our regular listening repertoire.

That’s how we come to live by faith rather than fear. It’s how we replace puny, weak spiritual muscles with big, strong spiritual muscles. It’s how we find our joy again, maybe even when it seemed to us to be lost forever.

Get your bucket. That’s the well we definitely want to be drinking from!

“In that day you will say: ‘I will praise you, Lord. Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you have comforted me. Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation.’ With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” (Isaiah 12:1-3, NIV).

Lord, you are amazing. Thank you that you not angry with me for my many sins. Help me by your Spirit’s power to constantly draw from the wells of salvation. You are my Savior. You are my strength and my defense against the devil, the world and my own sinful flesh. I will trust in you and not be afraid.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, September 6, is Isaiah 10:20 – 13:22, 2 Corinthians 8:16 – 9:5 and Psalm 105:37-45.

Header image based on "Thor's Well" by Bill Young, CC By 2.0

God-Loved, God-Lover

We move past the four first books of the New Testament called the gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And the story of Christianity is not ending. It’s barely beginning.

One of those four authors of the gospels is compelled to tell the rest of the story. Luke wants the entire world — Gentiles as well as Jews — to hear what Jesus taught and did while alive.

But that’s not all! Luke also wants them to know about the things that occur after Jesus dies. He wants people to hear about the resurrection, the 40 day period Jesus was still here — over and over again convincingly proving to people that he had risen from the grave — and Jesus’ ascension into heaven. He desires the whole world to know the story of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the apostles and the dramatic growth of the Christian church in the early years.

So Luke writes a book titled, “The Acts of the Apostles”. It is addressed to a gentleman named Theophilus, a double-entendre name which means both “the one loved by God” and “the one who loves God”. What a great both-and!

This book is a necessary reminder of the power of the resurrection, the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit, and the passion of Jesus — and later the apostles — to spread the kingdom of God.

Why a “necessary reminder”?

Because you may be a “Theophilus” as well. You are one who loves God because you were first loved by God. You want to have the entire account of Jesus’ work. You want to hear once again how God loves you, and not only you, but the entire world. You want to be reminded that he still wants us to share his kingdom, and you love to watch the Spirit go to work in our world.

It’s a “necessary reminder” because our world today is a very tough world when it comes to matters of faith and Christ. Please don’t be discouraged or disheartened by that. We can be confident in the Holy Spirit’s power! If he could spread the kingdom aggressively in Luke’s world, he can certainly, through word and sacrament (and through us), do the same today!

Be convinced!

“In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:1-3, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, June 3, is 2 Samuel 3:22 – 5:5, Acts 1:1-22 and Psalm 69:13-28.

Lord, I am convinced! I trust that you can and will keep your church alive and thriving, as it was in the days of the early church. May the book of Acts be a strong encouragement to me to keep sharing the gospel with others. I know that I am passionately loved by you. Send me your Spirit through word and sacrament that I may be one who loves you passionately — and shares your love with the world, as Luke did.

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The Source

Idolatry is the root of all sin. We are constantly on the watch for something — anything — that we think will give us life, peace, joy, contentment. In some way or another, all of life is a hunt for these things.

Our pursuit of them is the reason that we worship idols. Whatever idols we pursue, we pursue them only because we hope that they can bring us one of these — life, peace, joy, and contentment.

Our idol might be money. It might be possessions. It might be a relationship. Or it might be chemicals. Or sex, or power, or respect, or education. Some idols are idols not because they are bad things in themselves, but because we see them as ultimate things.

We pursue them for what we hope they will deliver to us. We chase the thing we hope will give us the THING.

It doesn’t work. Not in the long haul, anyway.

And there’s a much, much better way. Pursue Jesus. Listen to him speak. Adopt his angle on life. Follow his commands.

The way to do this is to absorb his words into your heart, deep inside of you. And post his words as reminders all around you. Post them even on your hands or on your forehead, if need be.

Jesus is the one and only true Source of life, peace, joy and contentment. He is the Ultimate.

“Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them. Then the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and he will shut up the heavens so that it will not rain and the ground will yield no produce, and you will soon perish from the good land the Lord is giving you. Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads” (Deuteronomy 11:16-18, NIV).

Lord, help me to seek you, pursue you, find you. My heart naturally does the opposite. I am a sinner and and idolater. I look in every place but you for what only you can give. Please forgive me. Turn my stubborn and rebellious heart to you. Fix your words on my heart and mind. Give me a clean heart. Grant me a heart that trusts you above all else.

Our Bible reading for Thursday, April 9, is Deuteronomy 11:1 – 12:32, Luke 12:35-59 and Psalm 43:1-5.

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Eternity On the Line

Luke was a companion of the apostle Paul. It’s likely that Paul and Luke first encountered one another in the city of Antioch, in Syria. We know from the book of Colossians that Luke was a physician.

Luke’s Greek is grammatically excellent and proper. His descriptive references to ancient cities and towns, and his correctness in ancient terminology mark him as a careful scholar.

As Christians we know that the Holy Spirit divinely inspired the words of the gospel Luke wrote. But the Holy Spirit also chose Luke, the careful scholar, to be the one to do the research work that would allow him to provide us with an accurate and well-ordered account of the life of Jesus, our Savior.

God is so good. As Luke writes in the introduction to his gospel, God wants us to have certainty about the things we have been taught. He does not want to leave us hanging.

That’s because a lot is on the line here. Eternity, to be exact.

Our Heavenly Father wants us to be confident. He wants us to know the Bible is trustworthy. And most of all, he wants us to know that his work of sending his Son, Jesus, to be our Savior is fully reliable. All because he wants our eternity to be secure.

“With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:3-4, NIV).

Lord, thank you for showing us that your word is reliable. As the true author of the Bible, you carefully selected the men who would record your words. And they in turn, carefully did the research so that in the process we are left with an account of the life of Jesus that we can trust is completely trustworthy. So much is on the line. Thank you for such love!

Our Bible reading for Friday, March 13, is Leviticus 26:14 – 27:34, Luke 1:1-25 and Proverbs 7:1-5.

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