Unlimited… Even with the Limits On.

Sometimes we feel like our situation or circumstances limit us. And that can be hard to take. We like to live our lives without limits.

But often the limits are not nearly as limiting as we think they are.

Paul demonstrated this when he came to Rome and was placed under house arrest, with a Roman soldier guarding him. It would have been easy for Paul to cave and think that this would hinder him from accomplishing his goal of sharing Christ with the Romans.

But instead, Paul maintained his focus on his purpose — glorifying God and sharing Christ. He wore Jesus’ heart on his shirtsleeve, and was warm and welcoming to any who came to visit him. And he used the exceptionally powerful weapon that he had at his disposal — the gospel.

He simply went about his business, and didn’t let the imposed limitations disturb him or distract him from his appointed mission.

When we remember that our real purpose in life is to glorify God in all that we do, limitations don’t seem so limiting any longer. Paul could glorify God from his rented house in Rome.

When we recall that our job description is always, “Love!” the limitations fall away because we can show the love of Jesus wherever we are.

When we wield the powerful word of God as Paul did — it’s the sword of the Spirit! — we realize that all we ever need to accomplish our mission is to teach about the Lord Jesus Christ. Wherever we might be, we can do that with boldness and without hindrance.

We become unlimited, just like Paul did, even when serious limits might seem — to the casual observer — to be present.

“For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!” (Acts 28:30-31, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Saturday, July 11, is 2 Kings 22:1 – 22:20, Acts 28:17-31 and Proverbs 16:28 – 17:4.

Jesus, help me to move beyond all limitations — whether self-imposed, or imposed by others — and continue to share you and your salvation boldly with others.

Header image based on "Fenced In" by Jeff Golden, CC By-SA 2.0

Four Causes of Salvation

When we look at the Bible, we can see that it uses “both-and” language in describing the spread of Christ’s kingdom.

On the one hand, the grace of God deserves the credit for people coming to faith and the kingdom growing. The faithful and undeserved love of God causes him to see our guilt and misery. And it causes him also to freely forgive us of all of our sins because of Jesus’ perfect sacrifice on the cross. This is the key to our salvation.

Theologians call this the “impulsive cause” of salvation.

But if you look at the Bible closely, you’ll also find that it’s people who bring God’s grace to those who need to hear it. In today’s reading, for example, we read of Barnabas sharing the gospel with the people of Antioch. And it’s clear that he played a role in the salvation of the people of Antioch. He was Christ’s agent and ambassador to carry the message of grace to this city.

Bible scholars call this the “ministerial cause” of salvation.

But did you know that when the Bible talks about the salvation of souls, it’s actually a “both-and-and-and” situation?

For instance, there’s the gospel in word and sacraments, which is also credited with leading us to salvation. This is the powerful tool that ministers are given to use to spread the kingdom. God the Holy Spirit creates faith and gathers the church through the gospel.

This is known as the “instrumental cause” of salvation.

And finally, there is the root, the very heart of our salvation: God. Everything originates with him — with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Without God, there is no grace, no minister to share the gospel, no Bible, no baptism, no Lord’s Supper.

Because of this, God is the “principal cause” of our salvation.

Count them. Four “causes” of salvation. Both-and-and-and. But is this just theological hairsplitting? Or is there a very practical and very necessary aspect to understanding the four causes of our salvation?

In short, the answer to that question is, “Yes!” Because once we know the cause, we can use the cause to produce the effect. In other words, if you want faith, if you want to help the kingdom grow in others, if you hope for salvation, now you know exactly where to go!

Go to God. Go to his grace and mercy, his steady and unfailing love and forgiveness. Go to the gospel in word and sacrament. Go to the people who want to share these with you. And be one of the people who wants to share them with others.

Clearly, Barnabas had a good handle on this, and that’s exactly what he did:

“News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord” (Acts 11:22-24, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, June 17, is 1 Kings 2:13 – 3:15, Acts 11:19 – 12:19 and Proverbs 15:1-10.

Lord, help me to be your agent in the world to share the gospel with others, pointing them to you, and to your amazing grace.

Header image based on "Antioch" by FotoGuy 49057, 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

Should We Fear God?

What does it mean to “fear” God? The verb, in the Hebrew language, which is the original language of the vast majority of the Old Testament, is an interesting one.

The basic meaning of the Hebrew word is actually “to be afraid of, to be aware of a threat, to be in terror.” Certainly, God does provoke fear in this sense. As we see throughout the entire Bible, those who are about to incur God’s wrath because of unbelief and unrepented sin have every reason to be afraid.

The book of Hebrews reminds us, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31, NIV).

But this is not the best definition of the word for the believer who has learned of God’s grace and forgiveness, who knows Jesus as their Savior and who is in a loving relationship with God through faith in Jesus.

Within this relationship, to “fear” God is to be respectful and reverent toward him. It is to esteem him who is our Creator, our Redeemer and our Counselor — to treat him with the honor he deserves. It is to submit to his will, recognizing in trust and obedience that his ways are true and correct.

It is to be confident that his ways are “what’s really best for me.”

This fear starts with hearing the gospel and having our hearts and minds transformed by this beautiful message of forgiveness of sins. It continues with listening to the laws of God and loving those laws because we now love the Law-giver.

The fear of God is more than an emotion or an attitude. Fear of God leads us to walk in his ways and be obedient to him. It’s putting God’s law into practice (even the ones that seem impossible for us, or unreasonable to us).

It’s living with the purpose — the very purpose that God has given us. To fear God is to actually live in the wisdom that goes far beyond the wisdom of this world. Never perfectly, of course. We are still way too sinful for that, and always will be in this life.

The “fear” of God, put simply, is to really believe that what we believe is really real.

Such fear of God has its rewards. And those rewards are pretty sweet. Solomon writes about a few of those rewards in the book of Proverbs:

“Whoever fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for their children it will be a refuge. The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, turning a person from the snares of death” (Proverbs 14:26-27, NIV).

Lord, I repent of all the times in life when I fail to fear you. I know that you love me. I know that I am forgiven through the blood and the merits of Jesus Christ. Send me your Holy Spirit and give me the love and wisdom to fear you every day of my life.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, June 13, is 2 Samuel 20:1 – 21:22, Acts 8:4-40 and Proverbs 14:25-35.

Header image based on "Commandments" by Charles Clegg, CC By-SA 2.0

A Rally Cry

Perhaps some of you saw the news report yesterday regarding the most recent Pew survey entitled, “America’s Changing Religious Landscape.”

The major finding of the study was that “the United States is a significantly less Christian country than it was seven years ago.” Alan Cooperman, Pew’s Director of Religious Research, was quoted as saying, “the trend is big, it’s broad and it’s everywhere.”

My initial response was, “Do we really need a survey to tell us this? Anyone with a pair of eyes or a set of ears could tell you this. It’s written all over the pages of our 21st century American culture.”

But then I got to thinking about the emotions that could be raised by the reports. You see many of those same emotions displayed in the Bible when it appeared to believers that skepticism and unbelief were winning out against faith in Christ.

Just to preview a bit for you, in today’s Bible reading alone…

  • Delilah and her Philistine masters seem to win out against Samson and the Israelites
  • The Israelites’ devotion to God’s order of things is questioned time and time again by the refrain we find in the book of Judges: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit” (Judges 17:6, NIV).
  • Jesus himself is attacked by the very people who were expected to provide leadership for God’s people in matters of faith
  • David, feeling rejected by God, cries out in the Psalms: “You have rejected us, God, and burst upon us; you have been angry—now restore us!” (Psalm 60:1, NIV).

So, this isn’t our first rodeo. For followers of Christ, experiencing setbacks and losses, along with the accompanying feelings of rejection or fears of dismissal, have all been around as long as faith in God has been around.

And that takes us to my favorite verse from today’s reading. Immediately following David’s lament above, he goes on to say this:

“But for those who fear you, you have raised a banner to be unfurled against the bow” (Psalm 60:4, NIV).

In other words, for those who remain steadfast in faith, this is a time of opportunity. It’s a call to rally around Jesus Christ as our banner, to fight courageously for the cause of faith, and to proclaim the gospel more boldly and strenuously than ever before.

In ancient sea battles, a banner was unfurled to rally the troops. A banner was lowered on the bow to identify which nation you were fighting for. A banner was proudly displayed to encourage and strengthen the resolve of those who believed in the cause.

In other words, David says, “This is not the time to be discouraged. In fact, it’s prime time to be encouraged, and to fight all the harder for Jesus. It’s an opportunity God is providing to struggle for the sake of the gospel.”

The Bible shows us again and again, “With Jesus at our side, who knows what great things — and great victories — he has planned? After all, didn’t he die, and then come back to life? Hasn’t he promised to return one day with greater glory than we have ever seen?”

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, May 13, is Judges 16:1 – 17:13, John 7:45 – 8:11 and Psalm 60:1-4.

Lord, help me to be bold to share the gospel of your Son, Jesus Christ, with others. Rally your church around the cause of loving others with the love of Jesus, and proclaiming in words, in music, in actions and in sacraments the message of your forgiveness, grace and peace.

Oh, and by the way, sandwiched in the Pew research is this little paragraph that may give a measure of encouragement to those who hold to Biblical, historical and conservative Christian beliefs. Does this perhaps foreshadow the direction of Christianity in the U.S.?

“The new survey indicates that churches in the evangelical Protestant tradition – including the Southern Baptist Convention, the Assemblies of God, Churches of Christ, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the Presbyterian Church in America, other evangelical denominations and many nondenominational congregations – now have a total of about 62 million adult adherents. That is an increase of roughly 2 million since 2007, though once the margins of error are taken into account, it is possible that the number of evangelicals may have risen by as many as 5 million or remained essentially unchanged.”

Header image based on "White Flag Concert" by Scott Calleja, CC By 2.0

God’s Kingdom, Built to Grow

Jesus encountered a great deal of opposition as he went around teaching the gospel, healing and helping people.

There was the obvious opposition of people like the Pharisees and other religious leaders among the Jews. But there was also the more hidden opposition of people who heard the message, but didn’t respond to it.

Jesus tackled this opposition head-on. He warned about a fig tree that didn’t produce fruit. He also sternly addressed people like the Pharisees — and did so very directly, calling them “hypocrites.”

With all this resistance to the gospel message, one might naturally wonder, “Does God’s kingdom even have a hope? Does the gospel have a prayer?”

How easy it would have been for the disciples to become discouraged. They had left everything to follow Jesus. They had boldly confessed and declared that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, the hope of the world, the Redeemer of all mankind.

But with this kind of constant opposition? What should they expect now? Would their work all end up amounting to nothing?

Perhaps this is why Jesus reminded everyone that his kingdom is designed to grow. The gospel is a powerful force. It will not return empty! It will always have an impact on hearts and minds.

How important it is we remember this! Because today too, we live in a world that seems so opposed to the gospel. We ourselves have hearts that most naturally resist Jesus, and his message of grace, mercy and forgiveness.

We too may become discouraged — until we hear Jesus remind us, as he first reminded the disciples: “My kingdom is built to grow! It is as natural as a tiny mustard seed growing into a tree. It is as expected as yeast penetrating throughout an entire lump of dough.”

“Then Jesus asked, ‘What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches.’ Again he asked, ‘What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.'” (Luke 13:18-21, NIV).

Lord, thank you for reassuring me that you designed your kingdom to grow. I know there is great opposition to the gospel in our world, and I sometimes get discouraged by this. But your promises about your kingdom encourage me. Bless my efforts to share the gospel with others who do not yet know it.

Our Bible reading for Friday, April 10, is Deuteronomy 13:1 – 14:29, Luke 13:1-30 and Proverbs 9:1-12.

Header image based on "Mustard seeds" by Jessica Spengler, CC By 2.0

Opportunity Knocks

I love the old saying by comedian Milton Berle: “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.”

In today’s world, there are many doors for us as Christians. Opportunity knocks all over the place. It’s gotten easier and easier for us to stand out for all the right reasons.

While fraud, cheating and selfish coldness grow everywhere around us, the spiritual darkness of sin just causes our heart’s generosity and transparency to shine that much brighter. Watch this video, and you’ll see how dark our sinful hearts can sometimes be.

These are opportunities that are way too good to be missed. So…

  • Don’t let the world’s darkness infect you and dim the beautiful, bright light the gospel has lit inside your heart
  • Don’t get tired of or disenchanted with spreading God’s goodness around in the world all about you
  • Don’t overlook the many opportunities to help your neighbor — and by “neighbor,” I mean anyone to whom Jesus has given you an opening to be helpful

Because this is what Jesus’ love does for us. And it’s what we do when our heart is filled with his love. We build doors. And we answer the call when opportunity knocks.

“No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light…

Then the Lord said to him, ‘Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.

Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.'” (Luke 11:33, 39-42, NIV).

Lord, help me shine your gospel light in this dark world. I want to make a difference for others as you have made a huge difference for me.

Our Bible reading Tuesday, April 7, is Deuteronomy 6:1 – 8:20, Luke 11:33-54 and Psalm 42:1-6a.

Header image based on "Milton Berle If opportunity doesn't knock, build a door" by BK, CC By-SA 2.0

The Single Most Valuable Thing You Possess

Jesus taught his disciples to put the right value on things. And he made it clear that one should not value anything more highly than their own soul.

Whatever a person needs to sacrifice to gain their soul, Jesus said, they would be well-advised to give it up willingly.

Even if someone could promise you that he could deliver on your fondest wishes.

Even if someone could promise you the winning Powerball ticket.

Even if someone could promise you the person of your dreams, the mansion of your wildest imagination, the fulfillment of your greatest vision.

Even if you could gain the whole world.

Let it go. It would be far, far better to hold tightly to your soul. Don’t ever forfeit that.

Not for money, not for power, not for the most gorgeous woman or the most understanding man. Not for fast cars, sex, drugs or rock and roll.

Just don’t do it.

Because your soul is the single most valuable thing you possess. And Jesus died to redeem it from sin, death and hell. He paid a precious price for that soul.

And he wants you to keep your soul for eternity.

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Mark 8:36-37, NIV).

Lord, thank you for giving me an eternal soul. Help me to value my soul above all things, and be willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of my soul. Thank you for sacrificing your life for my soul, for bleeding and dying on the cross as the payment for my soul. Help me to cling to faith in you for the salvation of my soul.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, February 25, is Exodus 37:1 – 38:31, Mark 8:14 – 9:1 and Proverbs 6:1-11.

Header image based on "Light of Soul" by odysseus-Studio, CC By-SA 2.0

The Language of Love

It’s Valentine’s Day. And I want to share another love language with you.

Possibly you’ve heard of the “Five Love Languages” popularized by Dr. Gary Chapman in his book of the same name.

The five love languages Chapman identifies are: 1) gifts, 2) quality time, 3) words of affirmation, 4) acts of service and 5) physical touch.

But I believe there’s another love language, one that Chapman overlooks. And that love language is Jesus.

Sometimes when we think of sharing Jesus with others, we think of people we don’t know very well. Often, when we think of doing “mission work” our minds drift immediately to the other side of the world.

But what about the person who is right next to you, the one you love with all your heart, your “Valentine”?

“But they’re already a Christian,” you say? That’s OK. They still need a daily “valentine’s card” with the message of grace, mercy, love and the peace of Jesus. They still need to taste forgiveness and hope more than chocolate.

“They’ll never become a Christian and I’ve given up trying,” is your thought? Have you tried combining the love language of Jesus with one of the other five love languages? There’s more than one way to share the love of Jesus!

Yes, we absolutely want to share the “John 3:16 gospel.” We must! Otherwise there’s no way for our Valentine to know Jesus. We fully trust the power of the Holy Spirit to work through the gospel to change hearts.

AND, Jesus conveyed his love in many ways. So can we.

Jesus gave gifts. Jesus invested time in people. Jesus affirmed our status as children of God in words. Jesus came not to be served, but to serve. Jesus used the power of touch to heal. And as we see from Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus (and many others), he had a way of working the conversation gently toward the gospel message from there.

Sometimes when we obey the Great Commission and go, we don’t have to go that far in terms of geography. We just have to go farther in terms of love.

Therefore 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. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20, NIV).

Lord Jesus, help me to love the way you love, with all-out passion in every love language. Your love is self-sacrificial. Your love is caring and giving. Forgive me for the times when my “love” has been selfish and self-serving. Create in me a clean, new heart. Strengthen my by your Spirit’s power. I want to love the way you love.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, February 14, is Exodus 15:1 – 16:36, Matthew 28:1-20 and Psalm 21:8-13.

Header image based on "Happy Valentine's Day" by Jackie, CC By 2.0

Plenty of Fish

The truth is that a Christian should expect to be unpopular. And he should fully anticipate that he will be treated that way.

Why? Truth is, sometimes it’s us. We’re sinful, and we put our sins on display far more often than we’d like to admit it.

But sometimes it’s not us. At all. In those cases, Jesus says it’s not personal. At least, it’s not personal to you or me. It’s personal to Jesus. We will be hated because of him.

His direction to us in these situations is clear. Hang in there! Stand firm. Don’t let go of Jesus. Don’t let your faith slip away.

And don’t feel compelled to stay where you’re not liked, either. When you’re rejected in one place, Jesus says, head on to the next. After all, there are plenty of fish in the sea. As a fisher of men, don’t waste a lot of time with those who don’t care much for your message. Find a better fishing hole and go on to those who are receptive.

Pull a page from Isaac’s book, in other words. Isaac was not well liked in his day. In fact, he was so disliked that anytime he and his men dug a well, his enemies would track him down and stop up the well, filling it with dirt. Or simply steal it outright. Each time, Isaac simply retreated to a new location and dug another well.

What Isaac did in the physical realm with obtaining water, is what Jesus recommends in the spiritual realm with sharing the Water of Life.

Open up the well. Share the Water. If someone resists you, don’t get hung up quarreling. Move on. God will take care of you. And God will take care of his message.

“You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another… 27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:22-23a, 28-31, NIV). 

Lord, help me discern who is truly thirsty when I share your gospel. You are the Water of Life. But you have not called us to force-feed anyone. As I trust you for the growth of your kingdom, make me ready to move on to the next person you have in mind for me, even when the unpopularity of the gospel message makes me feel discouraged. Help me to understand that hatred for your message is not unusual, or restricted to me. You “called it” 2000 years ago, and told me to expect this. And you will strengthen me and protect me, because I am worth a great deal to you–worth the very life of your Son, Jesus.

Our reading for Monday, January 12, is Genesis 25:1 – 26:35, Matthew 10:1-31, and Proverbs 1:20-33.

Header image based on "Fishers" by McCaffrey, CC by 2.0