Taking Inventory

Have you ever taken inventory? Grocery stores take inventories of their food shelves. Factories take inventories of their stock. In a little twist on the same theme, for those in Alcoholics Anonymous, taking inventory is one of the recovery steps. It’s a self-examination of what’s in their heart, and what’s on their mind.

In Psalm 139, David asks God to take inventory of what is in his heart. He tells him to search the shelves of his heart so that he can test and know the kinds of thoughts that are there. He wants to have a completely transparent and authentic relationship with God.

Most importantly, he wants to know that he is on track to enjoy everlasting life in heaven. Is his heart pointed toward the promised Savior? Are his thoughts focused on God’s grace? Is sin an issue that needs to be dealt with? Have his anxious thoughts been replaced by thoughts of forgiveness and God’s acceptance, of God’s certain love and constant protection?

This is a prayer that every Christian should pray daily. It belongs with every confession of sin. It is a great way to begin reading and studying God’s word. It is a tremendous prayer for before the Lord’s Supper. It is an awesome way to end the day, and ready one’s heart for a peaceful night of rest.

It means that we simply want to have a frank, open, honest, authentic and transparent relationship with our God. And we do not want to hold on to any thoughts or feelings that might block or hold back our relationship to him.

“Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24, NIV).

Prayer: Repeat the words above from Psalm 139.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, December 8, is Zechariah 5:1 – 8:23, Jude 1:1-25 and Psalm 139:17-24.

Header image based on "Pre-Packaged Bread/Peanut-Butter Department" by Anthony Albright, CC By-SA 2.0

Rend Your Heart

It’s the most unnatural thing in the world. “It” is saying we’re sorry for something wrong we’ve done.

There are so many other “better” approaches to wrongdoing — to sin. Or so it seems to us.

There’s denial. “I didn’t do it.” Or, “I didn’t know that it was wrong.” Or, “I didn’t understand what I was doing.”

There’s cover-up. Pointing the finger. Comparing yourself to someone who’s done something “much worse.”

For many of us, confession is not good for the soul. Guilt and shame don’t even make sense. Why should we pummel ourselves? Won’t that just bring us down? Isn’t it just unnecessary negativity? Won’t it destroy my self-esteem and self-confidence?

The Bible contends for another path to understanding our worth. The real way to self-esteem and self-worth is via a healthy relationship with God. And how does a relationship with God become healthy?

One word. Forgiveness.

Are you ready to recognize your need for forgiveness? In the time of Joel the prophet, that was the appeal he made to the children of Israel. Return to God. Recognize that your loving God has only created his laws to bless and protect you. He wants to see you thrive.

Be broken over your sins. They are going to wreck you if you stay on your current path. So, instead, recognize your wrong-doing, and take your guilt and shame to God so that he can forgive you. Simply turn back to your compassionate God and to his ways.

“Rend your heart,” as Joel puts it.

He is kind and merciful. You don’t need to earn his love. He loves you even though you are sinful. And he will always be patient with you. No one wants your relationship to be restored more than he does.

After all, he gave his one and only Son to make that restoration and reconciliation possible. The cross equals certain forgiveness for hurting sinners.

“‘Even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.’ Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity'” (Joel 2:12-13, NIV).

Lord, I am sinful. I have wronged you and I have sinned against my neighbor too. I have transgressed your laws in my thoughts, my words, and my actions. Please forgive me. I want to return to you. I long for your grace and compassion. I know that true peace is found in your sure love for me, a sinner.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, November 1, is Joel 1:1 – 2:17, Hebrews 3:1-19 and Psalm 119:137-144.

Header image based on "Red Heart" by Brandon Zierer, CC By 2.0

Foolish and Stupid Arguments

Have you ever been in a foolish or stupid argument? I’m guessing you know what I mean — if you’re a human being, that is. I like how Dr. Emerson Eggerichs describes these kinds of disputes in his book Love and Respect. One person reacts to an event without love. This causes the second person to respond with disrespect. And thus “The Crazy Cycle” begins.

Dr. Eggerichs goes on to say, “The point is simple: Craziness happens when we keep doing the same things over and over with the same ill effect. Marriage seems to be fertile ground for this kind of craziness. Ironically, there are more books being published on marriage today than ever before… but with all our knowledge, the craziness continues” (Love and Respect, p. 29).

Intriguingly, when we look in the Bible we find that another fertile field for this kind of craziness also exists. It happens to exist in the church. Maybe that’s because the church is also “family.” We can so easily and inadvertently fall into the crazy cycle with our brothers and sisters in Christ, and keep on having the same foolish arguments over and over with ill effect.

As Paul writes this message, he realizes he is about to be martyred. So when he counsels a much younger pastor Timothy, he is giving him the benefit of his many years of leadership experience in the church. And he is doing this from the perspective of someone who doesn’t have much time left, so it pains him greatly to see anyone investing precious resources in the pursuit of foolishness.

“Don’t waste time and energy on quarreling over dumb things,” he advises Timothy. Paul was always up for a good fight when it involved important matters. He was not one to shy away from conflict by any means. But inane arguments and discussions? Paul tells Timothy: “Have nothing to do with them!”

“Replace an argumentative bent with kindness,” Paul encourages Timothy. “And don’t let anger take root in your heart. Because that will only lead to bitterness and long-term resentment.”

“When someone stands up to oppose you, be a gentle listener — a teacher who keeps his cool. Be firm, but very, very patient with those who refuse to listen to you.”

“After all,” Paul reminds Timothy, “God is intimately involved in all the affairs of his church. He is present. So we should always remember that God might wake them up and turn them around to see that what they are doing and saying is really from the devil. And then, with their eyes opened, they can escape the trap Satan has set for them.”

Great advice for the church in Paul’s day! And it remains wise counsel for us in the church (or the Christian family) of today!

“Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:23-26, NIV).

Lord, I am sorry for all the time I’ve wasted in foolish and stupid arguments. Please forgive me, Jesus. Thank you for shedding your blood to forgive me for wasting valuable time. Help me to rid my heart of all bitterness and resentment. You had every right to stay angry with me forever, but you did not. You forgave me, as the prophet Micah proclaimed long ago: “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy” (Micah 7:18, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Friday, October 23, is Jeremiah 49:7 – 50:10, 2 Timothy 2:1-26 and Proverbs 25:21 – 26:2.

Header image based on "Argument" by Kurt Bauschardt, CC By-SA 2.0

Make the Turn

There’s nothing God wants more than for people to turn to him in faith. God is our deliverance. God is our strength.

He is the deliverance and strength of the entire world. And, as Isaiah told the Israelites, “there is no other.”

He has earned our worship and thanksgiving. But even if we don’t believe that, our knees will recognize it one day, anyway.

So why not make the turn now?

Listen to the sound of God’s mercy and forgiveness. Hear the comforting notes of God’s faithfulness and love, his deliverance and strength. Recognize the pleading voice of your Creator and Redeemer.

And let those grace notes pull you around to Jesus, your Savior.

“Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. They will say of me, ‘In the Lord alone are deliverance and strength.’” All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame. But all the descendants of Israel will find deliverance in the Lord and will make their boast in him” (Isaiah 45:22-25, NIV).

Lord, I hear your voice. I am so grateful for the gospel. May the sweet music of your grace turn my heart toward your merciful heart for forgiveness, new life and salvation.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, September 19, is Isaiah 44:24 – 46:13, Galatians 4:21 – 5:6 and Psalm 108:6-13.

Header image based on "Turn" by Bill Smith, CC By 2.0

Coached Up!

Every now and then we need to be “coached up.” It’s never a pleasant experience. Having your coach confront you and point out corrections that need to be made can be tough.

It’s usually not that great for the coach either. But what makes it all worthwhile for the coach is when he gets to witness his coaching bear fruit. When positive changes get made, and people line up with the right way of doing things — well, then it’s really rewarding for everyone concerned!

Kudos go to the apostle Paul, the “coach” of the Corinthians. And praise also goes to the Corinthians for taking the apostle’s coaching in the right way.

Instead of becoming angry and petulant about the coaching Paul had given them, they took it in, made the necessary changes and came back stronger than ever. Instead of feeling sorry for themselves and retreating into their shell, they came out fighting and successfully put their house in order.

How do you take coaching from those who care about your soul? Is it tough to take direction and advice? Is it difficult to receive correction? Do you resist admitting wrong, or avoid saying that you’re sorry for sins you’ve committed?

Do you tend to become angry and petulant? Do you feel sorry for yourself and feel a strong urge to retreat into your shell?

Because these are all common temptations for every one of us, Paul carefully reminds us how critically important our spiritual coaches are. And even more, he demonstrates how important our humble attitude is. Godly sorrow leads to salvation. And what could possibly be more important than staying on course to reach that destination!

“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter” (2 Corinthians 7:10-11, NIV).

Lord, I thank you for the spiritual coaches in my life who call me to repentance for my sins. Help me to listen to their coaching and allow godly sorrow to rule my heart. Keep me from worldly sorrow and feeling sorry for myself. I want to be earnest and eager, as the Corinthians were, to clear myself of the tangles of sin and always be ready to walk a straight path with you, longing to please you.

Our Bible reading for Friday, September 4, is Isaiah 5:8 – 8:10, 2 Corinthians 7:2-16 and Psalm 105:23-36.

Header image based on "Coach (Dad) Pumps Up the Team" by Jim Larrison, CC By 2.0

Changed Hearts = Changed Habits

Human change is often worked from the outside in. We set up rules and guidelines. It’s all about clarity of what the boss desires.

In contrast, Godly change works from the inside out. The good news of our salvation and forgiveness in Christ changes our hearts. This kind of change is all about clarity of how big God’s grace is, how much he loves us. And all that despite our sins.

Roman society was very prone to promote outside in change. They had accomplished a lot by using military force to impose the emperor’s will. The Jews, in particular the Pharisees, had taken the same approach to changing people, and had been somewhat successful with it. So when Paul writes to the Romans, he wants to emphasize that God’s change will come about in a different way.

After he became a Christian Paul realized that when God changes hearts, he also ultimately changes habits. In this way we become people of integrity. What we think and feel on the inside will be reflected by our words and actions on the outside. When we fail to act with integrity, we go to Jesus for forgiveness. When we want more power or authority to live with integrity, we go to Jesus and ask him to send his Holy Spirit. In this way, Jesus is the root of all true integrity.

“A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God” (Romans 2:28-29, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, July 15, is Amos 1:1 – 2:16, Romans 2:17 – 3:8 and Proverbs 17:5-14.

Lord, change my heart, so that my habits will also change. Give me integrity and a willing heart to obey you. When I fail and fall short, forgive me through Jesus’ shedding of blood. Allow me to seek praise from you, rather than from people.

Header image based on "lifted" by istolethetv, CC By 2.0

Character Outweighs Talent

Every person has their strengths and weaknesses. Thank God for those strengths! And man, how those weaknesses can challenge and threaten everything!

Solomon was a man whose wisdom was an astoundingly big strength. God specially blessed him when Solomon asked him for wisdom at the beginning of his reign as king. As a result of that blessing, he became a “Renaissance Man” 2300 years before the renaissance even began.

He wrote thousands of of proverbs (a few of which are in the book of the Bible called “Proverbs”). He composed over a thousand songs. He was a scholar and a scientist, with expert knowledge in botany and zoology. He skillfully managed thousands of government officials, and served as commander-in-chief of the Israelite military.

Yet, he was also a man who allowed himself to be trapped by greed and lust. He could never seem to get to a point where he could say, “I have enough.” Whether it had to do with the size of his kingdom, the wealth of his household, or the number of wives and kept-women he surrounded himself with — more was always better.

And that led to his ultimate downfall.

This is something for all of us to keep watch for. We may have a lot of talents and abilities. We may be blessed with a quick intellect, ready answers and solid advice for people. But each of us will still struggle with sins that can result in our own downfall.

It’s good to be thankful for the talents God has given us. It’s even better to be watchful and vigilant about character defects that can destroy and demolish our lives and our faith.

Jesus is the answer. He has the forgiveness we need for the times when we fail. He also has the strength we need to heal our hurts, build a godly character, and replace the habits and hang-ups that can blow up the things we cherish most in life.

At the end of the day, character outweighs talent. No matter how talented we might be, our character flaws can demolish everything we’ve invested a lifetime building.

Including, even, our relationship with God.

“God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore” (1 Kings 4:29, NIV).

Lord, thank you for giving me the talents and abilities I have. Please forgive me for the sins I commit and help me build a godly character so that I can honor you. Thank you, Jesus, for your steadfast love, for sacrificing yourself for me and for helping me not to self-destruct through my character flaws.

Our Bible reading for Thursday, June 18, is 1 Kings 3:16 – 5:18, Acts 12:19 -13:12 and Psalm 74:18-23.

Header image based on "House No More" by James McCauley, CC By 2.0

Repentance that Leads to Life… and Celebration!

The basic meaning of repentance is “a change of mind.”

Repentance is what began to happen with Gentiles as the apostles moved out beyond Jerusalem and shared the gospel with non-Jews. God clearly wanted this. He even sent an angel to be the set-up person so that Peter could meet the Roman centurion Cornelius.

But when Peter shared the gospel with Cornelius, as well as a large group he had gathered in his house, another mini-Pentecost occurred. The Holy Spirit was poured out on them, and they began — just like on the original Pentecost — to speak in various languages.

At Peter’s command, they even got baptized afterwards!

There are times in life when a complete course correction is needed. The life we’re living might even be a pretty good life, as Cornelius’ life was. He was a successful, well-respected man. But he still sensed that he needed to change his mind when it came to God. He wanted to know the true God. And Peter was introducing him to Jesus as the only true Son of God, and the only pathway to the Father.

So when Cornelius heard the gospel from Peter, the gospel touched his heart. He was drawn to believe in Jesus as his Savior, and his faith and repentance was evident to those around him.

No one could object, because this was a cause for celebration!

And that’s still true today. When we see someone baptized at CrossWalk, when we watch a person come to faith in a Class System class, or in a growth group or our Resilience Ministry, it’s still a cause for celebration that God has granted them repentance that leads to life.

“When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, ‘So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.'” (Acts 11:18, NIV).

Lord, grant us the ability to see many celebrations at CrossWalk, celebrations that acknowledge your Spirit’s power at work through word and sacrament. Through our ministry, bring many people to the repentance that leads to life: true sorrow over our sins, and true faith in Jesus as our Savior and our Lord.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, June 16, is 1 Kings 1:1 – 2:12, Acts 10:23b – 11:18 and Psalm 74:10-17.
Header image based on "celebration of light 2007" by Jon Rawlinson, CC By 2.0

Love-Hate Relationship

It’s a love-hate relationship. By which I mean I love it way too much. I need to hate it more. And the “it” I’m referring to is life in this world.

There’s an old proverb that tells about a monkey who reaches into a tree trunk for some acorns that have been collected by a squirrel. But a problem develops, and what seems like treasure ends up becoming a trap.

The problem is this. As long as the monkey holds on to the acorns, he cannot extricate his fist from the hole in the tree. The tiny knot in the tree is only large enough for the hand to come out if the monkey flattens his hand. Of course, he doesn’t want to do that, because that means losing the treasured acorns.

In the end, sadly, the greedy monkey dies of his unwillingness to let go of the acorns.

Sometimes people are like that. We are so busy collecting and holding on to the things of this life, so consumed with all the little opportunities this life seems to offer, and so unwilling to give any of these up, that we lose something far greater — our eternal life.

Because of his great love for us, Jesus did it differently. Jesus willingly uncurled his hand and gave up his life here so that he could redeem all mankind. He unselfishly sacrificed everything he could have had as an earthly king so that he could provide an eternal kingdom for each of us.

Jesus urges us to follow him in this. He warns us of the danger of holding too tightly to the things of this life. He points out that this is the way to lose everything. If we will simply open our hand and let go of the things of this life, Jesus promises, we will keep our life for eternity.

Though he certainly could have, Jesus doesn’t ask us to do what he is unwilling to do. He did first for us what he asks now of us.

It’s pretty simple, the way Jesus puts it: Follow me, and you will end up being with me.

And there, with Jesus, you will forever enjoy the honor of God the Father.

“Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me” (John 12:25-26, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Thursday, May 21, is 1 Samuel 8:1 – 10:8, John 12:12-36 and Psalm 65:1-13.

Lord Jesus, thank you for willingly sacrificing your life here, so that you could win life eternal for me. Help me to willingly “hate” my life in this world, so that I may keep it for eternal life. Help me to follow you, so that I may be with you, enjoying the glory of the Heavenly Father for eternity.

Header image based on "LoveHate" by Adam McGhee, CC By 2.0

The Surprising Way Back to God

Some people work so hard to ingratiate themselves to God. They follow one law and one rule after another. They build and build, work upon work, until they feel confident of their own righteousness.

But to be in a right position with God is so much easier. And so much harder.

Instead of climbing a ladder of righteousness we have built out of our own goodness, we need to put that ladder down. Then we simply ask God to love us, to forgive us, and to show mercy to us. We beg him not to treat us the way we deserve to be treated.

This may come as a surprise. But the way back to God is not to climb up. It’s to humbly — repentantly — bow down. Because you have a Savior who wants nothing more than to give you his righteousness.

But only the empty-handed can receive that gift. And that’s why you want to put the ladder down right away — just like the tax collector did, in a parable Jesus once told:

“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Friday, April 17, is Deuteronomy 28:15-68, Luke 18:1-30 and Psalm 47:1-9.

Lord, give me a humble heart. I am a sinner. But I want to be a penitent sinner. Please grant me forgiveness of all my sins. With this tax collector I pray: Please have mercy on me, a sinner.

Header image based on "Ladder to heaven" by Johan Hansson, CC By 2.0