He Delights in Us

What makes God happy? His redeemed people do. What does he delight in? He absolutely loves to take people who are in humble situations or adverse circumstances and lift them up. He loves making winners out of losers.

The biggest example of this, of course, is when God became man. He did this to take us from being lost, alienated and condemned sinners and bring us into the kingdom of those he loves. That’s where, as his found and forgiven children, we can enjoy his presence and kindness forever.

But there are many smaller (though still quite momentous!) examples throughout the Bible. Abraham and Sarah, a couple who couldn’t have children, became the parents of a people as numerous as the stars in the sky. David, a shepherd boy, would slay a giant and become a king over God’s people. Paul, a murderer, would transform into a missionary apostle and the author of much of the New Testament.

Whenever we go “from zero to hero,” our response of faith is to think, “I couldn’t have done that without God.” That’s what all three of the above certainly believed. They rejoiced to think that God was their Maker and their King.

And in that joy, they worshiped.

As you think back over the past year, perhaps you recognize that you were the object of God’s delight. There were blessings that came from your Maker and King. Perhaps God took you once or twice from a losing situation to a winning one. It’s quite certain that he provided for you and protected you in 2015 — especially through the difficult times and in the hardships you experienced.

That’s not to mention that he daily forgave your sins, and strengthened your faith through the teaching of his word and the blessing of the sacraments. And he enabled you through the Spirit’s power to walk a little closer to him, a little more deeply in his grace, a little more obedient to his holy will.

In that joy, let us worship. Because, clearly, he delights in us. And again and again, he crowns us with victory.

“Let Israel rejoice in their Maker;
    let the people of Zion be glad in their King.
Let them praise his name with dancing
    and make music to him with timbrel and harp.
For the Lord takes delight in his people;
    he crowns the humble with victory.
Let his faithful people rejoice in this honor
    and sing for joy on their beds” (Psalm 149:2-5, NIV).

Lord, thank you for your provision and protection in 2015. I praise you for redeeming me from my sins and unbelief. I know from this — and from my own life experience — that you delight in me, your child. And I rejoice that you will crown me with eternal victory through your Son, Jesus Christ.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, December 29, is Nehemiah 9:38 – 11:21, Revelation 20:1-15 and Psalm 149:1-9.

Header image based on "never underestimate the joy of victory" by Kira Westland, CC By 2.0

Not the Usual Picture of Jesus

When I think of Jesus, the words that first come into my head are words like this: Savior, Lord, love, forgiveness, grace, mercy, help in time of need. And I find great comfort and peace in thinking about Jesus this way.

So when I read John’s description of Jesus in Revelation chapter 19, it’s a little shocking to think of words like this: king, judge, warrior, ruler, powerful, truth, justice, punishment. Frankly, I feel frightened and discomforted when I think of Jesus in these terms.

And it makes me want to ask, “Will the real Jesus please stand up?

Am I right to be comforted by thoughts of Jesus? Or should I be frightened by him… frightened of him?

The answer, as we’ve seen so many times in the Bible, is that Jesus is “both/and.” And perhaps I’m going against the grain here, but I’m going to argue that “both/and” is not only who Jesus is, it’s also exactly who we would want him to be.

When I’m seriously wronged, treated unjustly, or injured by the selfish, greedy, arrogant, envious acts of others, I want to know that there’s justice in the universe. I long to know that there is someone “officiating” this game called life, someone who is interested in fairness and rightness.

If you don’t like the sound of this — of a Jesus like this — it may just mean that you haven’t yet been truly, deeply, seriously wronged in life.

Then again, when I’m the wrongdoer (which I all too frequently am), and I feel guilty and ashamed of the hurts I’ve caused God and others in my life, I want nothing more than mercy and forgiveness. I want to know I’m loved unconditionally, and will be shown grace by a Savior who doesn’t demand that I earn his love with my goodness.

The following picture of our Lord’s anger at the sin and rebellion he sees in his world is without question a frightening — even terrifying — picture of him. But, as John says here, this is the Savior who is Faithful and True.

And this means that Jesus is also faithful to his promises to forgive your sins and love you. And he remained true to you all the way to the cross, where he bled and died for you. He remained faithful and true to you all the way to the empty tomb, where he rose again, and now lives at the right hand of the Heavenly Father, constantly interceding for you in love.

Let this picture of Jesus — this image of his faithful and true grace — be the picture and the image that lingers in our hearts, even as we acknowledge the truth of (and the need for) the picture John gives us here of a Jesus who fights back against sin and injustice.

“I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. ‘He will rule them with an iron scepter.’ He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:

KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (Revelation 19:11-16, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Monday, December 28, is Nehemiah 9:1-37, Revelation 19:11-21 and Psalm 148:7-14.

Lord, I know that I deserve your justice, your anger and your punishment. I am sinful, and I have far too often rebelled against you. Thank you for remaining faithful in your love and forgiveness toward me. Please be gracious to me and give me what I do not deserve. Give me instead what you have earned for me through your perfect life and innocent death.

Header image based on "Jesus Christ Wallpaper" by spurgeon1888, CC By 2.0

The End of Accusation

The Greek word for devil is “diabolos.” And this word refers to someone who is a slanderer or a false accuser.

Satan is our adversary, and one of the ways he loves to fight against us is through lies and accusations. Have you ever wondered why your heart still makes you feel guilty and filled with shame, even when you know in your mind that Jesus has forgiven you for your sin?

This is the way it is when Satan is at work. Even many years — sometimes decades — after we have committed a particular sin, and after being told again and again that Jesus has forgiven us, the devil will still call our past sins to our attention. Guilt floods in. Shame overtakes us.

But the message of Christmas, and the beauty of the book of Revelation, is that the accuser is defeated. We can stop listening to him.

Because Christ, our King, is born. His salvation, his power, his kingdom and his authority are ascendant. And our accuser has been hurled down.

We triumph over Satan today, and over his accusations, when our eyes move from the manger to the cross. There our Savior bled and died to win our forgiveness. We triumph over the power of the devil when we go back to God’s words and promises, and hear once again of the righteousness Jesus won for us through his perfect life and his innocent death.

Christmas (and Good Friday, and Easter) makes us conquerers. It is the end of accusation, because the accuser himself has been banished.

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:

“Now have come the salvation and the power
    and the kingdom of our God,
    and the authority of his Messiah.
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters,
    who accuses them before our God day and night,
    has been hurled down.
They triumphed over him
    by the blood of the Lamb
    and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
    as to shrink from death” (Revelation 12:10-11, NIV).

Lord, Jesus, thank you for becoming a man like us and triumphing over the devil, our accuser. Help me by your gospel promises to remain confident in that forgiveness every day, and to refuse to listen to Satan’s lying accusations. I no longer have to subject myself to his constant accusations because you have overthrown him. I am forgiven, truly forgiven!

Our Bible reading for Sunday, December 20, is Ezra 6:1 – 7:10, Revelation 12:1 – 13:1 and Psalm 145:8-13.

Header image based on "El belen azulgrana" by jacinta lluch valero, CC By-SA 2.0

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

Heart of Stone

“The embarrassment and the disgrace are too much to bear. What I did, what I said, what I thought and felt was just wrong. I’m disgusted with myself. I feel so ashamed and so dirty.

How did my heart ever get so hardened? Will my conscience ever again feel clear? Can my soul ever be cleansed?”

When we have fallen in a big, public way, and the ugliness and uncleanness of our horribly wrong choices are out there for everyone to see, we may feel as if we will never recover. Things will never be the same for us again.

In the process much more than our reputation may have gotten demolished. Perhaps our rebellion against the will of God has also destroyed our relationships, our home, our health, our savings, or even our faith.

Such was the case with the Old Testament people of God. After centuries of idolatry, selfishness, and greed — with few, feeble attempts to turn things around and repent — God had finally scattered his people to the nations as a discipline for their sins.

But God’s love for sinners would not allow him to leave it at that. God’s love for us will not allow him to live it at that, either. He has a way of taking our stone-cold hearts and turning them into warm hearts — beating once again with spiritual life.

Through the gospel he calls us and gathers us back to himself. Through baptism he cleanses us. Through faith in Jesus Christ he softens our hard hearts and restores our sin-shattered minds.

He gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit through word and sacrament. The Spirit motivates us through the message of Jesus’ love and forgiveness to return to God and willingly follow his laws.

And the end of all that grace, mercy and forgiveness is the gift of citizenship in heaven. We’ll be God’s people. God will be our God — and we’ll never be separated again!

Yes, maybe we’ve tumbled far and fallen hard. But by God’s grace, we will recover. In his forgiveness, we rise again.

“For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God. I will save you from all your uncleanness” (Ezekiel 36:24-29a, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Thursday, November 19, is Ezekiel 36:1 – 37:28, James 3:1-18 and Psalm 129:1-8.

Lord, thank you for your immense love and forgiveness. You have cleansed me from all my sins. By your blood you purified me of all transgression. By your Spirit you changed my heart and inspired me to follow your ways. Grant me the hope and peace of eternal life.

Header image based on "Ezekiel 11-19" by New Life Church Collingwood, CC By 2.0

The Big “Why” for Practicing Forgiveness

It is tough to live with people whose nature is to bully, abuse, oppress and torment. To live at peace with such people is nearly impossible. Because if this is their nature, they don’t — and they won’t — be sorry for their ill behavior, or try to change.

How do you forgive such people? How do you move past it?

Intriguingly, the people to whom the book of Hebrews was written were under persecution. And likely, this was not just occurring from one group of people, but from two groups of people — both the Jews and the Romans. Socially, the Hebrew Christians were becoming outcasts. And physically, they stood to lose their income, possessions, property and even their lives.

Sadly, many of their brothers and sisters in Christ were leaving the church because that seemed the only way to avoid persecution. So imagine facing stiff opposition while simultaneously feeling like your closest friends and allies were deserting you. It would feel like an act of betrayal.

Yet, the author still tells the believers, “Don’t allow all the bullying and the abuse get to you. They may oppress and, at times, even torment you. And don’t allow your brothers’ and sisters’ betrayal suck the life out of you either.

Whatever steps are necessary to avoid holding a grudge, you should take those steps. Don’t allow your anger to become bitterness. Because bitterness inevitably leads to jealousy, dissension, and even immorality.”

Wow. Talk about a tall order! But the author wasn’t done yet. He pushes the bar still higher: “Be at peace with everyone — including your tormenters. And even when they don’t act right, you still must. You are set apart, and you must show that you are set apart, even when all around you are being unholy.”

But the most important thing is not the “wow!” It’s the “why?”

The author is here to remind us of the why. We are here, he says, to insure that everyone — even our enemy — knows about the grace of God. We are here to help others understand how generous, how forgiving, how merciful our Savior Jesus is. Bitterness and unholiness will only hinder and prevent us from sharing God’s love in Christ — and that just can’t happen!

Peace, forgiveness, holiness and sharing the beautiful message of the gospel is the way to make sure no one falls short of the grace of God.

“Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (Hebrews 12:14-15, NIV).

Lord, help me to have a forgiving heart, as you have a forgiving heart toward me. By your Spirit’s power, rid my heart of bitterness and fill my heart with holiness. Have mercy on me when I fall short. I want to help others know of your grace.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, November 15, is Ezekiel 28:1 – 29:21, Hebrews 12:14-29 and Psalm 126:1-6.

Header image based on "Why?" by BuzzFarmers, CC By 2.0

A King’s Ransom

The blood of Jesus — the blood of the perfect Lamb of God offered for our sins — has cleansed us of all our wrongs and transgressions. Our consciences are clear. In the sight of God, we have been pardoned and granted the status of child of God.

Inside and out, we have been purified and readied to receive heaven. This readiness is not the result of anything we’ve done. It is entirely the work of Jesus, who stood between God and mankind and mediated this agreement at the cost of his own life.

The price was far too high for us to pay. It was a king’s ransom. And only the King of kings could have ever paid it.

“How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant” (Hebrews (9:14-15, NIV).

Lord Jesus, I thank you and praise you for mediating a new covenant and freeing me from my sins. You “mediated” by shedding your own blood, and sacrificing your own life. Help me to always remember the sacrifice you made — a kings ransom! — so that I could be called a child of God and have an eternal inheritance in heaven.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, November 8, is Ezekiel 16:1-63, Hebrews 9:1-15 and Proverbs 27:5-14.

Header image based on "J JAMES TISSOT - eloi eloi" by Waiting for the Word, CC By 2.0