Sorting Out Treasure from Trash

“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” goes the old saying. But it’s equally true to say, “One man’s treasure is another man’s trash.”

We often treasure a good reputation, for instance. We want people to think highly of us. We want to be evaluated by our public persona, our outward acts of goodness, our abilities, our intellect, or our own righteousness.

As a former Pharisee, Paul certainly would have related to this self-actualized approach to life. In fact, such things had at one time been the apostle’s treasure.

But then Paul encountered Christ. He discovered how broken the Pharisee’s system of work-righteousness was, when compared to the grace and mercy of God. And he immediately recognized that he had to trash his old belief system and his former way of life.

Our true treasure is the righteousness of Christ — the righteousness that comes by faith. To toss our own righteousness in the dumpster and gain Christ is the only way to a restored relationship with God.

This is the very heart of the gospel, and the key to finding true peace. We can stop all the striving. We can forget about trying to bridge the gap sin creates by our own power or initiative. How ironic that our goodness gets in the way of our relationship with God just as easily as our sin does!

We have the joy of knowing that Jesus has already done it all. We can throw everything else out — our goodness as well as our sins — and simply focus on treasuring Jesus.

“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith” (Philippians 3:7-9, NIV).

Lord, give me the discernment and grant me the strength, so that my spiritual trash never gets in the way of my true treasure, Jesus!

Our Bible reading for Friday, October 2, is Jeremiah 4:10 – 5:31, Philippians 3:1 – 4:1 and Psalm 116:1-11.

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

The Final Word

Solomon writes the book of Ecclesiastes as a warning to those who want to live their lives as if God doesn’t exist.

He does that by stepping into the shoes of someone who believes that this life is all there is. So, many of his statements in this book are written from the point of view of someone who doesn’t trust in God, or believe in eternity.

Without that understanding, Ecclesiastes can be a very confusing book to read. Over and over again Solomon makes the statement that “Everything is meaningless!” And then he defends the statement with one illustration and argument after another.

Now that doesn’t sound very much like a believer’s point of view, does it?

Because it’s not. Solomon, in essence, is authoring a one-person drama in which he is both the antagonist and the protagonist. The antagonist has major doubts about God. But the protagonist — though he only appears on rare occasions in the drama — boldly states his fear of God, and his trust in God.

Solomon ends the book of Ecclesiastes by moving back one final time into the position of the protagonist. Here he tells us “the conclusion of the matter.”

And what is that conclusion?

The conclusion is, “Listen to the words of the Wise Shepherd. His words are constant and faithful. They are like nails that can’t be pulled out because they are so firmly and completely nailed down.”

“And yes, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of self-improvement books written every year. But you don’t need to add anything to what your Shepherd teaches you. He has all you need.”

“Just respect him, put his words into practice, and most of all, trust his gracious, hope-giving promises of forgiveness, new life, and eternal salvation.”

“Because, Jesus, your Good Shepherd, will bring you to and through the day of judgment by making a gift of his goodness and righteousness.”

“The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails—given by one shepherd. Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them.

Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.

Now all has been heard;
    here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
    for this is the duty of all mankind.
For God will bring every deed into judgment,
    including every hidden thing,
    whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:11-14, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Friday, August 14, is Ecclesiastes 9:13 – 12:14, 1 Corinthians 9:1-18, and Psalm 96:1-13.

Lord, I am sorry for all the times when I’ve doubted you and your word. Please forgive me. Restore me to a place of complete trust in you, Jesus, so that your words, your promises and your commands are never far from my heart. I believe, Lord. Help me with my unbelief.

Header image based on "The Good Shepherd 136" by Waiting for the Word, CC By 2.0

Faith: Personal, But Not Private

Interestingly, there are two definitions of the word “personal” and they often intertwine. But in the case of faith, the two definitions really need to be separated.

Definition one is “of, affecting, or belonging to a particular person rather than to anyone else.” This definition fits well with our Christian faith. Your faith in Jesus is personally planted in your heart by the Holy Spirit, who does his work on your heart via the Bible and Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Many people may share your faith. But your faith and your relationship to God is yours. No one can force this faith on you, as John the apostle points out in his gospel: Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:12-13, NIV).

Definition two is “of or concerning one’s private life, relationships, and emotions rather than matters connected with one’s public or professional career.”

Look at anyone in the Bible who was a disciple of Jesus and you’ll soon realize that with faith in Jesus, what’s there privately in our hearts will always make it’s way publicly out of our mouth. It’s called professing our faith. And all the disciples written about in the Bible did it.

Paul says that publicly professing our faith is actually a necessary response to having faith in our hearts — necessary, that is, in the sense that it will always occur. Paul himself is a great example of this. We read about Paul in the days following his conversion to faith in Jesus that, “At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God” (Acts 9:20, NIV).

It’s such an important distinction for every Christ-follower to understand. Is your Christian faith personal? Of course! It’s deeply personal! Your relationship with Jesus is your relationship with him, and it belongs to no one else but you. You filter your life, your thoughts, your emotions, and your experiences through the “eyes” of faith that the Holy Spirit has given you.

Is your Christian faith private? Only if you are living in fear rather than faith. Because the most natural act of the person who believes in Jesus is “at once” to profess to others that Jesus is the Son of God.

“But what does it say? ‘The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,’ that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, ‘Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame'” (Romans 10:8-11, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Monday, July 27, is 1 Chronicles 2:18 – 4:8, Romans 10:8 – 11:10 and Proverbs 18:7-16.

Lord, help me to profess with my mouth what I believe in my heart about Jesus.

Header image based on "I profess" by Leon Fishman, CC By 2.0

No Excuse

It’s not easy to talk about these things. These are decidedly inconvenient and unpleasant truths.

But the apostle Paul did not hold anything back. He really wanted to tackle a question that he must have been asked many times. I know I have been asked this question more than once.

And the question is this: “What about all the people who haven’t had a chance to hear about Jesus? What is God going to do with them? How could God ever consign such people to eternal condemnation in hell?”

Paul’s answer is that God has not hidden from anyone. He’s given us instincts. And he has shown up in creation. Anyone who is willing to study a bit, open their eyes and see — in other words, listen to those instincts — will understand that there has to be someone who designed all this.

Have you ever had a spiritual moment in nature? Have you ever gazed at the stars through a telescope, or observed a living cell through the lens of a microscope? Have you ever watched a lion or a cheetah pursue it’s prey, or an elk nurse its young?

Have you ever felt a close bond to a pet? Or an attraction to a cute puppy or kitten at the pound?

Why is the ocean so beautiful? Why are the mountains so majestic? Why are the waves of grass on the prairies so mesmerizing? What makes the wind blowing through the trees or the drumbeat of raindrops on the roof sound so magical to our human ears?

Do the sights, the sounds, the smells of nature ever make you think of the possibility of heaven? The scent of pine trees does it for me!

If your answer, like mine, is yes, then know that you’re not alone. That’s exactly the way God designed it to be.

And that’s why, as Paul says so bluntly and clearly, we are without excuse if we choose to screw our eyes and ears shut and ignore all our instincts:

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (Romans 1:18-20, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Monday, July 13, is 2 Kings 24:8 – 25:30, Romans 1:18-32 and Psalm 84:8-12.

Lord, open my eyes to see you and know you as the only true God, and to trust in Jesus Christ whom you have sent for my salvation.

Header image based on "Yosemite falls and tourists, CA, USA" by Dzhingarova, CC By 2.0

We’re Not in Kansas Anymore, Toto!

Did you get the feeling today? By that, I mean the “We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto!” feeling…

Let’s face facts. Those who hold that the Bible is completely true in all its parts, and absolutely relevant and applicable to our lives today are now in the minority in the United States. Honestly, we probably have been for a while.

So, it’s not always easy to be a Christ-follower. Our world has become increasingly foreign to us. Sometimes we’re not the most popular people. And certainly, our views about things are, at times, totally detested by the majority culture in the United States (and elsewhere around the world).

As our culture moves further and further from a Biblical worldview, we need to look more and more closely at the apostle Paul.  He operated in a world that actually knew nothing about a Biblical worldview. Further, Paul’s world had absolutely no history or cultural memory of such a worldview. Imagine that world for a moment!

We will benefit greatly from studying his approach, because what we will see is that Christians who are both grace-filled and truth-filled can do very well in such a world. Even more, we will see that the Christian faith can not only survive in such a scenario, it can thrive and grow!

The city of Corinth was not exactly the kind of place that put godly morals on prominent display. Just the opposite! But the apostle Paul shows us we need not fear. It’s not necessary to shrink back and be silent. Rather it’s necessary to dive right into the fray.

Withdraw? Not at all! Instead, engage that world.

Notice, however, Paul’s engagement was not a political engagement. It was a law-gospel engagement. He “devoted himself exclusively to preaching.” We have a Savior to offer the world. We have divine truth to extend to our neighbors. We have amazing grace and certain forgiveness to give away. We have life and peace — in this life, and more importantly, in the life to come.

We, like Paul, need to teach and live in God’s grace and God’s truth — gently, winningly, and also pointedly. No, it won’t always be easy. We can expect that people won’t understand or agree with us. Some will actively oppose us. And some will go further than that and become abusive.

But that didn’t stop Paul. And it won’t stop us, either! When it comes to teaching about the truth and love of Jesus, we will not yield, but press on. When it comes to enduring abuse, we will not freak out or become unnerved, but quietly repay evil with good.

“Love!” is always our job description as Christ-followers. Love by sharing truth. And love by showing kindness.

“After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth… Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah. But when they opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, ‘Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent of it. From now on I will go to the Gentiles'” (Acts 18:1, 4-6, NIV).

Lord, help me to be bold to proclaim Jesus to a fallen world, to proclaim divine truth to a deceived world, and to proclaim God’s love to a hurting world.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, June 27, is 1 Kings 18:16 – 19:21, Acts 17:22 – 18:8 and Psalm 78:17-31.

Header image based on "Dorothy and Toto" by Alex Beattie, CC By 2.0

Powerful Tools and a Thoughtful Process

Paul was now on his second missionary journey. He had developed a methodical process for sharing the gospel.

He knows where he wants to begin. He would start with those who already had a base of knowledge about the true God — the Jews. In this way, he could quickly build up a congregation in a city or town. He would begin with people who were already mature in their faith in God, but simply needed to hear that God’s messianic promises had been fulfilled in Jesus.

He’s willing to invest time. In the case of the Thessalonians, he would devote three weeks showing the Jewish people that Jesus is the long-promised Messiah. His goal was to keep the conversation going from one Sabbath to the next, and then to the next.

He’s clear about his approach. Paul doesn’t argue. He doesn’t preach at the people from on high. Rather he simply “reasons with them” using the Scriptures as the basis for his reasoning. He explains the Old Testament prophecies and their fulfillments.

And finally, his goal is firmly in mind. He desires to demonstrate clearly — “to prove,” as Luke writes — that Jesus is truly the Messiah.

Generally, whenever we are using a powerful tool or instrument, it’s a good thing to have a process. Doctors have processes as they practice surgery. Special forces have processes as they utilize advanced weaponry to carry out a mission. Contractors have processes as they use heavy machinery or power tools to build homes.

Christians have powerful tools at their disposal too. The Bible. Baptism. The Lord’s Supper. These are supernaturally filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. And they have the capability of conveying the Spirit into the hearts of the people who listen to them and put them into practice.

Do you have a process, like Paul did, as you go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20, NIV)? 

Consider using Paul’s process…

  1. Know where you want to begin. Write down the names of some people you want to start with. Put that list in a place where you will see it regularly. Pray for them. And then, when the timing is right, begin to share your faith with them. Or, like Paul, think of a place that might be conducive to sharing your faith. At CrossWalk we have Bible classes at Starbucks, and guests sometimes just come and join us!
  2. Be willing to invest time. The Holy Spirit often does his work slowly and gradually. Just keep the conversation going. Use today’s conversation to set up the next one.
  3. Be clear about your approach. And there is no one right approach. The power is in the word and sacraments, not the approach. That being said, there is a lot to be said for an approach that is not argumentative or “preachy.” Use Biblical truth and reason with people on the basis of the Scriptures.
  4. Keep the true goal firm in your mind. You want people to hear about Jesus, about his grace, forgiveness, mercy and steadfast love. You may need to set this up by showing people their need for a Savior. But the goal is never to moralize or show someone how to be better in their own strength or wisdom. The goal is always to bring the grace and peace of Jesus to troubled hearts.

“As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. ‘This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,’ he said” (Acts 17:2-3, NIV).

Jesus, help me to carry out the Great Commission you have given us to make disciples. Thank you for the powerful tools you have put at my disposal — the word and sacraments. Help me to have a wise and thoughtful process for putting them to use in my life, so that I can glorify you in the world, and share the love of Jesus with others.

Our Bible reading for Friday, June 26, is 1 Kings 16:8 – 18:15, Acts 17:1-21 and Psalm 78:9-16.

Header image based on "Black & Decker Circular Saw" by Mark Hunter, CC By 2.0

From One Generation to the Next

Asaph must have been a parent.

How can we guess this? Because we can hear the determination in the Psalm-writer’s voice when it comes to sharing the word of God with the next generation. The emotion here is so strong, it certainly appears to have been personal for Asaph.

And it may well have been a key motivation for his authoring so many of these songs we call the Psalms.

His children would know the Lord. His children would be taught all the the powerful things that the Lord had done. They would not only know them, but want to pass them on to the next generation after that!

What a powerful encouragement for us — to keep our hearts and minds on our own children today. Whether young or old, we still want our children today to trust the Lord, not forgetting his deeds, and keeping his commands.

As parents (or grandparents) this means surrounding our children with the word, and especially with the gospel. It means leading them to the waters of baptism. It means living our faith in Jesus in such a way that it is just a natural, normal part of everyday life. It means surrounding them with Christian friends and teachers. It means encouraging them in their faith and giving them the tools they need to “own” their own faith.

No one can ever guarantee what a child will do with such an upbringing. But we know this: God’s word and sacraments are powerful tools of the Holy Spirit. And he is the One responsible for creating and maintaining faith.

And let’s never forget this: The Savior-God who is as powerful as Asaph describes him to be, and as loving as the cross demonstrates him to be — he loves our children exponentially more than we do!

“We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lordhis power, and the wonders he has done. He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our ancestors to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands” (Psalm 78:4-7, NIV).

Lord, draw our children’s hearts to you. Help us to teach them your word, and share especially the beautiful gospel of Jesus Christ with them. And then, keep watch over them, so that if they wander, you will relentlessly search them out and draw them back to yourself.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, June 24, is 1 Kings 12:25 – 14:20, Acts 16:1-15 and Psalm 78:1-8.

Header image based on "child 3" by ann_jutatip, CC By 2.0

Worth Fighting For

This is the age-old debate. Is Jesus enough? Or do we need to add something of our own?

Paul and Barnabas were dealing with some people who had come into their home congregation in Antioch to teach the people that Jesus was not enough. They told the people in Antioch, “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” (Acts 15:1, NIV).

Paul and Barnabas knew this was completely incorrect. They knew the truth. Jesus is enough. He is completely sufficient. And he has taken care of everything we need for salvation.

So they pushed back. Big time. Even to the extent of traveling all the way from Antioch to Jerusalem to defend the truth that it’s all about the grace of God.

They knew well, there’s no ceremony, no tradition, no act of goodness, no performance of duty, and no obedience to the law that’s needed from us. It’s purely and solely by God’s undeserved love and unmerited favor that we are saved.

Jesus has done it all.

How amazing is that?! What peace there is for those who know of God’s grace! And neither Paul nor Barnabas were about to allow anyone to steal that peace from their brothers and sisters in Christ at Antioch.

For them, and for us, the grace of God is always something worth fighting for!

“No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are” (Acts 15:11, NIV).

Jesus, thank you for your amazing grace! Thank you for the peace it brings me. I trust that you have done everything needed to win forgiveness and eternal salvation for me. Help me fight away every thought or suggestion that would attempt to sway my heart or mind away from you, Jesus, and your pure grace.

Our Bible reading for Monday, June 22, is 1 Kings 9:10 – 11:13, Acts 15:1-21 and Psalm 77:1-9.

Header image based on "IMS Home" by Drew Valadez, CC By 2.0

Four Qualities Produced By a Vibrant Faith

Every now and then we come across people in the Bible who are not prominent in the Biblical record. Though they play only a small role, a description of them reveals that they are people with a vibrant faith.

One of those was a man named Cornelius. He was a soldier in the Roman army, a commander. And he was a man of faith.

I love the way this man is described as he lived out his faith. The four items that were characteristic of his faith are good for us to know, and think about for ourselves.

Cornelius was…

  • Devout. He was devoted to God and a man of piety. His mind and heart were drawn frequently to God.
  • God-fearing. He held a deep respect for God born of his love for God, a love itself born of God’s love for him.
  • Generous. He gave abundantly to those who were in need as soon as he became aware of their circumstances.
  • Prayerful. Prayer was an important, vital and regular part of Cornelius’ walk in the faith.

“At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly” (Acts 10:1-2, NIV).

Lord, give me your Spirit and the amazing faith-qualities that you gave to Cornelius. Where I have fallen short, I ask for your forgiveness. Thank you for Jesus’ love and forgiveness. Knowing that I am loved faithfully and forgiven constantly only motivates me all the more to desire the qualities of a vibrant faith that Cornelius possessed.

Our Bible reading for Monday, June 15, is 2 Samuel 23:8 – 24:25, Acts 9:32 – 10:23a and Psalm 74:1-9.

Header image based on "Forestier: A centurion on the march" by Mike Bishop, CC By 2.0

Do Real Christians Have Doubts?

Do sincere Christians sometimes have doubts?

You be the judge. Let me introduce you to a person named Asaph. Asaph was a poet and a musician at the time of David. He was appointed by David to lead worship and write music for worship at the tabernacle:

“He (David) appointed some of the Levites to minister before the ark of the Lord, to extol, thank, and praise the Lord, the God of Israel: Asaph was the chief…” (1 Chronicles 16:4-5, NIV).

Asaph was such a remarkable worship leader that ultimately David even set apart Asaph’s descendants to lead the Israelites in worship. David’s son Solomon would end up building the temple in Jerusalem. And Asaph’s sons would continue to lead worship as it shifted from tent to temple.

Would you think that David would select a man of faith for a ministry like that?

Of course he would! Would such a man ever have doubts? Check out the first 14 verses of Psalm 73, which Asaph wrote:

Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. 

But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold.

For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong.

They are free from common human burdens; they are not plagued by human ills.

Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence.

From their callous hearts comes iniquity; their evil imaginations have no limits.

They scoff, and speak with malice; with arrogance they threaten oppression.

Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth.

Therefore their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance.

They say, “How would God know? Does the Most High know anything?”

This is what the wicked are like—always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.

Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and have washed my hands in innocence.

All day long I have been afflicted, and every morning brings new punishments. (Psalm 73:1-14, NIV)

If you have ever had a few doubts along the way, I pray that you will find comfort in Asaph’s struggles as he viewed the prosperity of unbelievers and wondered how they could be so successful. How could God allow it?

Ultimately, Asaph’s doubts did not win out. Jesus did. The Holy Spirit gained the victory in Asaph’s heart. Asaph ended up writing a full dozen of the Psalms, words of faith that still inspire us today.

Our Bible reading for Friday, June 12, is 2 Samuel 18:19 – 19:43, Acts 7:44 – 8:3 and Psalm 73:1-14.

Lord, I believe. Help me overcome my unbelief!

Note: The quote on the picture is from Francis Bacon, an English jurist, philosopher, statesman, scientist, orator, and author. Also a Christian! In 1626 Bacon stopped in the snow to conduct an experiment on the preservation of food, fell ill, and died on Easter Sunday. In his will, he included this final prayer: “When I thought most of peace and honor, thy hand [was] heavy on me, and hath humbled me, according to thy former loving kindness. … Just are thy judgments upon my sins. … Be merciful unto me for my Savior’s sake, and receive me into thy bosom.”

Header image based on "Certainty and Doubt" by Celestine Chua, CC By 2.0