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 Way Up Is Down

The way God works is sometimes counterintuitive. This happens in so many areas of our life. With God, for instance, we don’t find happiness by pursuing happiness. We find it by pursuing God. We don’t discover our true selves by looking to ourselves and following our own path. We discover our true selves by looking to Jesus and following his path.

And it works that way with moving upward in life. Most of us hope to see some kind of progress in our life. So we try to climb the corporate ladder. Or we try to move the needle on our saving accounts upward. Or we take the extended trip to discover ourselves. All of that, we hope, will tell a story of us moving on up.

We try to go up by going up. Seems natural.

But this too, with God, requires a counter-intuitive approach. God’s grace is the operating principle of the Christian’s life. That is, God’s undeserved love and favor on our lives is what makes our life truly move in a positive direction.

Earning God’s grace and favor is not possible. But we certainly can ward off that grace and favor. We do that with a prideful heart. By definition, grace requires a person to know that he doesn’t deserve it, to realize that he has not earned it. Pride says, “I did this. I have earned the credit for achieving and accomplishing this result.”

The two attitudes cannot coexist.

Which is why James says we are to humble ourselves before God, and submit ourselves to his will. Shout a loud “No!” to Satan, and a quiet but firm “Yes!” to God.

That may mean hitting rock bottom. It may mean pain, grieving, and getting really, really tired of where our rebellious streak is leading us. It may mean a period of time in our lives that is dark and gloomy and depressing. The fun and games are over. Hitting rock bottom hurts because rock bottom is hard.

But it also humbles us enough that we become willing to cry out, confess our sin, grieve over the hurt we have caused ourselves and our God, and finally — finally! — stop trying to lift ourselves up and make our own progress.

Because lifting us up is God’s job. And he promises to get his job done.

“But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:

‘God opposes the proud
    but shows favor to the humble.’

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (James 4:6-10, NIV).

Father, humble me so that you can lift me up.

Our Bible reading for Friday, November 20, is Ezekiel 38:1 – 39:29, James 4:1-7 and Proverbs 28:7-17.

Header image based on "Morning Workout" by Dawn, CC By 2.0

I Am Third

Jesus stepped into our world because he valued us more than his own life. He might have refused to get involved. He could have put his own interests ahead of ours.

But that’s just not Jesus. Jesus is the very embodiment of love. He is the incarnation of humility and service.

He laid out this servant’s mentality himself, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45, NIV).

What a different attitude from that which our culture teaches us. How often haven’t we heard, “If you’re going to do “x”, don’t do it for someone else. And certainly don’t do it for me. No, make sure you’re doing it for yourself.”

Paul gives the opposite advice. He tells us to imitate Jesus’ humility and love. Live your life not to be served, but to serve. Give your life away for others, as Jesus first gave his life away for you. Be ready to say, “God is first. Others are second. I am third.”

Many people live to get honor and respect from others, or to earn perks and privileges for themselves. Christians too — much as we know about Christ’s gracious and generous mindset — can struggle with selfishness, greed and pride. Ambition and conceit are much too frequent guests in our hearts.

But in the Spirit’s power, we have been given the gift of choice again. The apostle Paul points us in the right direction. Now we are ready to adopt the same mindset as Jesus. We begin to value others above ourselves. We choose humility over pride. We select service over selfishness.

And we do it because we remember that Jesus chose us over himself.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:3-8, NIV).

Lord, I am sorry for all the times when I have put myself ahead of others, and even ahead of you. Please forgive me. Grant me your Holy Spirit and the wisdom that comes from above so that I can have the same mindset as you, Jesus. Help me to value and serve others above myself as you first valued and served me above yourself.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, September 30, is Jeremiah 1:1 – 2:30, Philippians 1:27 – 2:11 and Psalm 115:1-11.

Header image based on "Let Jesus Bring You Light" by Vinoth Chandar, CC By 2.0

A Foundation of Humility

Saint Augustine, one of early Christianity’s greatest leaders, once said this: “Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility.”

What do you think? Which verse or story in the Bible hit home with Augustine on the topic of humility?

It’s not an easy question. Because the topic of humility is a frequent topic in the Bible. In today’s reading, we’re encouraged by Isaiah to tremble at the word of God, and be humble and contrite. He tells us that God wants us to be remorseful and regretful over the sinful things we have done.

We are to remember that God is the One who made us. Without him, we don’t even exist. So he certainly has the right to set the rules for his creation. We should listen to what he says, and try to do it, Isaiah asserts.

That was just the Old Testament portion of today’s reading. Moving on to the New Testament letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul encourages the same quality of humility. He reminds us that God not only created us, he also recreated us. He didn’t simply form us. He transformed us. He took us from the dark side to the side of the light.

On that side, we are not to keep on trying to figure out what please us, but start finding out what pleases God.

And that takes great humility. It takes a sense of modesty and meekness to say, “God is smarter than I am. If there’s any debate whatsoever about what I should be thinking, feeling, or doing, then I’m going to go with God’s way, not my way.”

In other words, faith, not pride, will show us the way to what is good, right and true. What Augustine said is really true. Humility, not arrogance, will build the tower that pierces the clouds.

Because humility starts with Jesus, not with me. Humility knows to think much less about self, and think much more about clinging to our Savior so that we can receive his goodness, righteousness and truth — all given to us as a free gift. Humility leads us to the cross for forgiveness, and to the empty tomb for power and life.

As you ponder your own humility (or need thereof), think of it this way. No humility, no foundation. No foundation, nothing else lasting gets built. Humility is the essential first step to a life of noble purpose.

“This is what the Lord says: ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?’ declares the Lord. ‘These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word'” (Isaiah 66:1-2, NIV).

“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8-10, NIV).

Lord, grant me a humble heart. Give me repentance that leads my heart to the cross and the empty tomb — a heart that looks to Jesus for all that is good, right and true in life.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, September 27, is Isaiah 65:17 – 66:24, Ephesians 5:8-33 and Psalm 113:1-9.

Header image based on "Foundation" by ArmchairBuilder.com, CC By 2.0

Shake Off the Gloom

It was a very dark period in the history of the children of Israel. Despite warning after warning, they had hard-headedly developed a longstanding habit of idolatry and rebellion. This led to God sending various nations against the children of Israel intended to shake their faith in their false gods and erroneous, deceptive beliefs.

God’s intent was that the children of Israel would notice how little their false gods could protect them. He wanted them to repent of their sins and be renewed in their trust of his promises. Most of all, he wanted them to turn around, and return to him.

God’s discipline led to periods of gloom and despair for the children of Israel. This teaches us that God does not always keep us from trouble and sorrow — in fact, sometimes they are part of his discipline, his attempt to get us to think!

If we have rejected God over and over again, is there not some point where he is going to try and get us to connect the dots? Will a loving God not demonstrate for us where our sinful choices will eventually lead us?

He does that to shake things up and lead us back to him. He does that to get us to realize the choices we are making are leading to failure, not success.

We may sometimes fear that our period of gloom and distress will never end. We begin to believe that we are doomed to failure, trouble and sorrow. But God assures us that this is not his goal. His goal is to get us back into the light.

And that goal becomes clear when we remember that our Father sent us Jesus, his one and only Son, to make it possible for us to be forgiven, restored, and reunited with him. Jesus is our true light. You might recall that Jesus made this claim about himself: “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8;12, NIV).

If you’re going through a period of distress right now, it may be that God is trying to teach you something. Step back, look carefully at what the Bible teaches about God’s holy will for your life, and ask yourself, “What changes is God asking me to make? Do I need to return and place my faith in Jesus? Is it time for me come back and walk in the light of his truth and love?”

Then remember that God does not intend to leave you in distress forever. So, take your sins to Jesus. In him, you are forgiven. You are free. Stand up and walk into the light of Jesus’ love for you. Shake off the gloom and experience the peace that the Prince of Peace has for you!

Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—

“The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned…

… For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:1-2, 6, NIV).

Lord, grant me a humble heart. Help me to willingly and regularly examine myself — my heart, my mind, my words and my actions, too — to see where there are changes that need to be made. Where there is gloom and distress, direct my eyes to your Son, Jesus. He is the true light. He is my forgiveness, my peace, and my joy. He is the One and Only who can help me turn my life around — with eternal benefits!

Our Bible reading for Saturday, September 5, is Isaiah 8:11 – 10:19, 2 Corinthians 8:1-15 and Proverbs 21:27 – 22:6.

Header image based on "Gloom Clouds" by Joel, CC By-SA 2.0

Humility and Worship

Sometimes when we realize how much God has done — and is still doing for us every day — it’s very humbling.

All of creation. This entire universe was made for our benefit, made to provide for all our physical needs. All this beauty is ours. And we can make even more beauty using the materials provided by God. All this is provided so that we can have the comforts of home, awe-inspiring destinations for adventure, and an infinite outlet for our creativity.

All of redemption. When we dragged God’s perfect world — and ourselves — down into the dust, God pulled us back up again. He sent his Son, Jesus, to live a perfect life and die on a cross in our place so that we could be saved. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is proof-positive that our redemption is really real.

All of life-change. In our fallenness we often make a mess of things. When we couldn’t get our act together no matter how hard we tried, God sent his Holy Spirit into our hearts and minds. He transformed us into people who know and trust Jesus. We heard God’s life-giving word and with the Spirit’s help we are putting his word into practice. We are living as if we are God’s people. And that changes everything!

When we think about all of that, the only response is humility.

And worship.

“Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care” (Psalm 95:6-7, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Thursday, August 13, is Ecclesiastes 7:1 – 9:12, 1 Corinthians 7:36 – 8:13 and Psalm 95:1-11.

Lord, thank you for all you’ve done for me. Your works of creation, redemption and sanctification are awe-inspiring. I’m humbled by your love for me. Truly, you are worthy of my worship!

Header image based on "SQUINT: Birds over cross" by Keoni Cabral, CC By 2.0

Leaders AND Followers

Judges, chapter 19, features one of the most horrific accounts in the entire Bible. It is very tough to read.

You know it’s not going to end well when it starts with a man who serves God (as a Levite), and he has a concubine. And as you read on, you’ll notice the language change. He can’t seem to decide whether she is his kept-woman or his wife.

Bad decision follows bad decision. And the ending is truly tragic in every sense of that term. I’ll let you discover the outcome through your reading.

What I want to do is go back and focus on the very beginning of this tragedy, and the seven words that initiate it…

“In those days Israel had no king” (Judges 19:1, NIV)

Ironically, the previous chapter starts with the same words, and while that chapter is not quite as tragic as chapter 19, it doesn’t feature acts of great faith and devotion to the glory of God, either. Clearly, there’s a theme here!

Seven words. Yet those seven words are indicators that faithful Christian leadership is critically important to the story of God’s people. More than that, Christian leadership is shown to be vital to the faithfulness of God’s people.

In today’s world, authority is constantly under question, and even humble, faithful, men of God are carefully scrutinized. Not that this is entirely a bad thing. We all require accountability. But in a culture like ours, we also need to occasionally step back and be reminded of the importance of humble, faithful Christian leadership.

And, by the way, there is critical importance to humble, faithful Christian followership as well! No leader can lead without willing followers.

Of course, no Christian leader is exempt from sin. Each one has his weaknesses and his faults, just as the judges of this Old Testament book did. But those leaders fulfilled the vital role of guiding God’s people forward in times of severe testing, trials and, oftentimes, leading them back to God after serious stumbles in their faith.

This Levite in chapter 19 is a perfect example of the depths to which God’s people will fall without faithful Christian leadership. The Israelites were unwilling to follow God as their King. That’s the sad truth here. And it’s still sometimes the sad truth today.

So God gives human leaders as his agents — his “kings” — to shepherd people with him and for him. These leaders are worthy of honor and respect.

We serve the cause and the glory of God when we follow godly leaders faithfully.

Our Bible reading for Thursday, May 14, is Judges 18:1 – 19:30, John 8:12-30 and Psalm 60:5-12.

Lord, for those roles in my life where I am a leader, help me to lead humbly, faithfully and patiently, for your purpose and your glory. For those roles in my life where I am a follower, help me to follow humbly, faithfully and patiently, for your purpose and your glory. Forgive me for my sins, my weaknesses and my faults, whether leading or following. May the blood of your Son, Jesus, wash me clean, and prepare me for a new day of leading and following. Most of all, may today be for me a day of following Jesus!

Header image based on "Desert Leader" by Hamed Saber, CC By 2.0