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

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

It’s All God, From Start to Fuel to Finish!

What God starts, God fuels. What God fuels, God finishes.

Sounds a little bit like running a distance race, doesn’t it? You make your start. You make sure you’re fueled up during the race. And then you overcome all the obstacles and “walls” and make it through to the finish line.

But in the race of faith, the subject of all those sentences is God. God makes my start. God fuels me up. God overcomes the obstacles and walls and sees to it I make it through to the end. That’s important to know. Because what this means is that we don’t have to start this race, fuel it, or finish it.

That might sound pretty crazy at first, but think of it this way. God chose us and called us by the work of the Spirit to come to the starting line. He did this by having the gospel taught to us — typically through someone he sent. It might have been a parent, a friend, a family member, or just someone we know at work or in our neighborhood who invited us to church.

God then fuels our faith. Again, this is not our work, but the work of the Spirit. He does this through Bible teaching, and through sacraments like baptism and the Lord’s Supper. This fueling of faith is typically done at a church. Paul told the Thessalonians, they had only to stand firm and hold fast. In other words, don’t push the Spirit away. Don’t stop listening to the word. And as it imperfect as it can certainly be at times, don’t despise the church.

And it’s God who finishes the work, too. By grace he encourages us to eternity. By his steadfast love he gives us good hope. And with his forgiveness and power, he strengthens us to experience life-change. Our deeds and words change over time and become more and more attuned to the deeds and words of Jesus. Stay in touch with word and sacrament, with Christian friends and leaders, with growing and serving, and God will finish his work in you.

In the book of Hebrews, God is called “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” And in the book of Philippians, we read that the apostle Paul is confident that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

That’s really what Paul is also saying in today’s reading. But here in his second letter to the Thessalonians, he gives us just a little more detail about how that works. Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther described the process beautifully in his explanation to the third article of the Apostle’s Creed:

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church he forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.

But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word” (2 Thessalonians 2:13-17, NIV).

Lord Jesus, you are the impetus, the fuel and the finishing power in my race of faith. Give me the strength to overcome every obstacle and wall in my race. By your forgiveness, your wisdom, your power, and most of all, your love, take me through to victory!

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, October 14, is Jeremiah 29:24 – 31:14, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-17 and Psalm 119:33-40.

Header image based on "Spartan Race 092411 472" by Edwin Martinez, CC By 2.0

Keep in Step

Everything we are as Christ-followers is the work of the Holy Spirit. That statement is one of the distinctives of the Christian faith. Christianity holds that all that we are (and all that we can become) is a gift from God.

Think of fruit. Fruit is produced by a tree not by force of willpower. It’s produced because that’s the nature of the tree itself. An apple tree produces apples. A peach tree produces peaches.

What it is is what it produces.

This idea is so different from what every other philosophy or religion teaches: Focus. Self-reliance. Hard work. Responsibility. Willpower. Those are the things that lead to strong character and success, according to the dominant theories of culture and religion.

Paul teaches us that if we want to be people of strong character, the way to do that is not to build it through focus, self-reliance, hard work, responsibility and willpower, but rather through walking with the Spirit and keeping in step with him.

When we do that, the Spirit changes who we are. He strengthens us to become what we have already been declared to be in Christ: A dearly loved child of God, bought with the blood of Jesus Christ. And what we are is what we will produce.

The secret of success? Belong to Jesus Christ. Not to self. Keep in step. Not, “Step it up!”

The signs of success will be obvious. The kinds of character qualities most of us are seeking in life will come. Keep in step with the Spirit, and you’ll keep the fruit of the Spirit growing!

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-25, NIV).

Lord, help me to keep in step with your Spirit by reading my Bible daily. Remind me of the importance of regular attendance at church, at my growth group, and making use of the Lord’s Supper. In these ways, you will fill me with your Spirit and help me stay in step with him. I want you to produce the fruits of the Spirit in me — all for your glory, Lord.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, September 20, is Isaiah 47:1 – 49:7, Galatians 5:7-26 and Psalm 109:1-20.

Header image based on "Apple orchard in Tasmania with fruit on trees DSC_5957" by Apple and Pear Australia, Ltd., CC By 2.0

Are You Powered Up?

I bought a sweet new Kobalt hedge trimmer this week. It was on sale at Lowe’s so I “saved” big money buying it now. I love it! It has 24-inch dual action blades that move at a speed of up to 2,800 strokes a minute. Can you imagine?

With 40 volts of power this amazing tool can cut branches up to 3/4 of an inch thick. How cool is that? And with a 5-year hassle free warranty, I’m sure I’m going to enjoy using this trimmer for many years to come, literally slashing through the bushes in my yard and keeping them trim and tidy.

There’s just one problem. Without a battery, the trimmer won’t do a thing. Those 24 inch blades? Nada. If I don’t insert the battery, do you know how many strokes a minute I get? You got it. Zero. And cutting power? It won’t cut a leaf, much less a branch.

When it comes to spiritual matters, Paul the apostle says something very similar about us human beings. Without our “battery” we have no power at all to understand God, grasp God’s love and mercy, be in tune with God’s purpose and plan for our lives, or find the path that God has laid out for us to join him in heaven.

What is the “battery”? The battery is the Holy Spirit. Who “installs” the Holy Spirit so that we have power to grasp spiritual matters and have a faith relationship to Jesus? God does. The Holy Spirit comes from the Father and the Son.

And this process of installation is not nearly as mystical as it is practical. The Holy Spirit is “installed” in our hearts when we read the Bible, and when we make use of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

At the end of the day, when we are “plugged into” the word and sacraments, that’s how we get the power to trust in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, discover grace and forgiveness, lead a changed life, and inherit eternal life.

It’s vitally important for us to be “powered up.” So open the “box” for the battery (remember, you call it the Bible, or the sacraments). God will install the Holy Spirit from there. And the good news is, when the Holy Spirit is installed in our hearts and minds, all of us become spiritually powerful. Let’s just say I’m talking way more than 40 volts of spiritual power here.

Paul puts it this way: “But we have the mind of Christ.” How’s that for being powered up?

“However, as it is written: ‘What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived’—the things God has prepared for those who love him—these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. 

This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for, ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:9-16, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Thursday, August 6, is 1 Chronicles 22:2 – 23:32, 1 Corinthians 2:6-16 and Psalm 91:9-16.

Lord, thank you for your Holy Spirit. Keep me strong — not in my own power — but in his! I know that I am spiritually dead without your Spirit. I want to be alive in the Spirit, and strong to live out your purpose in my life.

Header image based on "Battery" by Quinn Andy Armstrong, CC By-SA 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

They Know

I have to imagine that he was choosing his words very carefully. This was Jesus’ “final shot” at teaching his disciples, reminding them of the things he wanted them to remember always.

He wanted them to know that although he would be leaving, he would return. He told them that he was returning to his Father, and that while he was there, he would be preparing places where the disciples would one day join him.

He assured them that he would listen to their prayers, and that great things would be done by them.

He promised them that he was not leaving them alone. No, he would send his Holy Spirit to live with them, to be their counselor and advisor, and to bring them confidence, joy and peace — whatever life might throw at them!

Jesus saved some of his most challenging and comforting words for that last meeting with his disciples. And those words are words we still need to hear today.

Jesus will return. That’s not guesswork or conjecture. It’s a certain promise from the Son of God himself.

Jesus hears our prayers. And he wants us to be confident and courageous knowing that we always have the ability to connect with him through prayer. We matter to him.

Jesus gives us his Spirit as we listen to the gospel and as we celebrate the sacraments. And the Holy Spirit continues to bring us confidence, joy and peace when life throws the kitchen sink at us.

Others may not be able accept this to be true. But the ones who have experienced this peace, this joy, this confidence in the face of adversity?

They know.

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you” (John 14:16-20, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Sunday, May 24, is 1 Samuel 14:24 – 15:35, John 14:1-31 and Proverbs 12:28 – 13:9.

Header image based on "fire" by Soreen D, CC By 2.0