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 Lord is Near

What’s your perception of God’s proximity to you? Does he seem far away? Does it appear to you that he’s distant and unengaged, uninterested in the heartaches or challenges you’re facing?

Paul says that no matter what our perception might be, there is only one truth. God is actually quite near. He’s much nearer than most of us ever realize. He’s immediately at hand.

God’s being near at hand is important, Paul writes. And there are vitally important blessings and benefits that come along with God being near to us.

  • God’s nearness helps us maintain a joyful attitude at all times — no matter what the outward circumstances might be.
  • God’s nearness allows us to be gentle in the toughest, most provocative situations.
  • God’s nearness enables us to banish anxiety whenever it threatens to destabilize our mind.
  • God’s nearness encourages us to talk to him in prayer, make requests, and say our “thank-you’s” when he helps us.
  • God’s nearness gives us a peace that transcends reason, a peace that safeguards our heart and mind.

Paul concludes with the three most important words of all, “in Christ Jesus.” For us to understand and enjoy God’s nearness, we must have faith in Christ Jesus. Jesus communicates all these blessings — joy, gentleness, prayer and peace — through faith.

Jesus is the Son of God. He is our Lord and Savior. Nothing pleases him more than to grant us peace and joy. Nothing is more wonderful to him than to hear our voices in prayer. Nothing makes him happier than to see us imitate his gentle meekness.

And what makes all this possible is to know, by faith, that Jesus is near at hand.

And he is. Never forget it. Never lose sight of him. Because he’s right here at our side.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:4-7, NIV).

Lord, help me to remember at all times how near at hand you are. And may your nearness be the source of my joy, peace, gentleness and vibrant prayer life.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, October 3, is Jeremiah 6:1 – 7:29, Philippians 4:2-23 and Proverbs 24:5-14.

Header image based on "Philippians 4:5-7" by Tyler Neyens, CC By 2.0

Tangible vs. Intangible

As human beings we are so attached to the tangible. Because of that we tend to want to turn the practice of our faith toward physical things — things we can see, taste, hear, touch.

For the Christians in first-century Rome this became a thing about what food believers should eat, and what food they shouldn’t eat.

Over the years, there have been various manifestations of this same debate, all of them involving things that God gives us complete freedom to choose. I’m talking about things like…

  • What Christians should wear
  • How Christians should have fun
  • What music Christians should listen to
  • What are the only “correct” worship practices for Christians
  • What habits should Christians have
  • What jewelry Christians should wear

Paul instructs the Romans that God has left certain things in the area of Christian freedom. He’s left it up to us to make choices, and we are completely free to make our choices. Choose to eat, or not to eat. Choose to wear it, or don’t choose to wear it. There’s no commandment from God on this particular aspect of life, so it’s up to you.

The only check on our choices is that we would make loving choices, taking into account the consciences of others, and not going out of our way to trip others up in their faith.

Where Paul wants our focus to be is on the intangibles. He mentions the important ones specifically.

  • Righteousness
  • Peace
  • Joy

Pursuing these is what pleases God. Pursuing these is what builds faith. Pursuing these will often, Paul notes, even lead to the admiration and respect of those around us.

Interestingly, pursuing righteousness, peace and joy — in God’s way of working things — really means not running away from them. Because in reality, we’re not the ones pursuing God. God is the one pursuing us, and he is the one who wants to give us righteousness, peace and joy.

How does he pursue us with these gifts? He sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to be our Savior. Jesus pursued us through living a perfect life in our place, by going to the cross for us, and most of all, by rising from the tomb. He did this all so he could give us his divine, perfect righteousness, peace and joy.

And he still pursues us with these gifts. Today he pursues us by sending the Holy Spirit, which he promises to do when we read and listen to the Bible, or when we have the waters of baptism poured on us, or when we eat and drink Christ’s body and blood in communion.

And where do we get these things? Most of us find them at church.

So, what are you waiting for? Get yourself down there!

“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval” (Romans 14:17-18, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Friday, July 31, 1 Chronicles 9:1 – 10:14, Romans 14:1-18 and Proverbs 18:17 – 19:2.

Lord, help me to enjoy my Christian freedom in the areas where you have left things open to my judgment. Most of all, help me keep my eyes and my heart focused on the pursuit of your righteousness, peace and joy, which I find in my Savior Jesus.

Header image based on "Roadside Church" by Nicholas A. Tonelli, CC By 2.0

Stay Sharp!

Life is often full of constant activity, consistent pain, and confusing issues. And frankly, there’s quite a bit of pressure that goes along with all these situations.

If nothing else, we can simply end up feeling “busy, busy, busy!” on a constant basis. All of this is why it’s so important to have a place of spiritual retreat and rest, a time of recovery and restoring the soul’s batteries.

God gave us such a place. It’s called church.

God gave us the time, too. It’s known as worship time.

We just need to make sure that we don’t allow ourselves to feel so pressured, or become so “busy, busy, busy”, that we lose track of our need for recovery and restoration.

Remember, Jesus came to be our rest. When we find him and focus on him in our worship life, we benefit from that rest. He brings forgiveness, grace, mercy, peace and joy to our restless souls. He relieves us of the relentless pressures, the tiresome troubles, and the constant dull ache of our guilt and shame. He carries away the taxing burden of our sins.

As one famous author put it about a quarter of a century ago, we can be the “saw blade” that just keeps on cutting and cutting and cutting, but never gets sharpened. Eventually that saw gets dull and it becomes difficult to be productive with it.

Or we can, as God hopes we will, find time to sharpen the saw. The Psalmist points out that those people who take time for spiritual recovery will be “blessed, blessed, blessed.” He promises that they will find their strength in God, and go “from strength to strength.”

They stay sharp. They remain resilient.

1 How lovely is your dwelling place,
    Lord Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints,
    for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
    for the living God.
Even the sparrow has found a home,
    and the swallow a nest for herself,
    where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
    Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
    they are ever praising you.

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
    whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baka,
    they make it a place of springs;
    the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
They go from strength to strength,
    till each appears before God in Zion (Psalm 84:1-7, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Sunday, July 12, is 2 Kings 23:1 – 24:7, Romans 1:1-17 and Psalm 84:1-7.

Lord, I love my worship time each week when I attend church. I love my daily worship time when I sit with my Bible in prayer and listen to your voice. These are key times for me to rest and restore my spiritual batteries. Help me to repent of the temptation I sometimes have to forgo these times. Help me by your Spirit’s power to know the blessing of worship, and grant me the resilience you promise when I plug into your word and sacraments to get recharged.

Header image based on "Portrait of a Saw Blade" by Christopher Sessums, CC By-SA 2.0

Worship Shouting

Sometimes when I read about Old Testament worship, I get a picture in my mind that more resembles a World Cup match, or an MLB playoff game, than it does a church service.

It seems that the singing is joy-filled, brash and enthusiastic, as people contemplate all that God has done for them. And loud shouts seem to often accompany the singing.

The reason for all the enthusiasm is clear. As Asaph writes, the same eternal God who operated powerfully in the days of Jacob, is still operating powerfully in their own day many centuries later.

And that’s definitely worthy of a worship shout!

So when was the last time you let out a good, healthy worship shout? When was it that in your singing you could just feel the joy coming forth?

Because that’s what our Savior Jesus hopes for you. He wants you to have a song of victory on your lips, and a shout of pure championship joy forcing its way out from the depths of your belly.

Worship. It’s the sound of pure joy! It’s an uproar of victory!

“Sing for joy to God our strength; shout aloud to the God of Jacob!” (Psalm 81:1, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Monday, July 6, is 2 Kings 12:1 – 14:22, Acts 25:1-22 and Psalm 81:1-7.

Lord, renew in me the assurance of my salvation. Your Son Jesus has secured victory for me. Move me to unabashedly sing and shout as I worship you from a grateful and joyful heart. I want to be part of the worship uproar.

Header image based on "Baltimore Orioles Victory" by Keith Allison, CC By-SA 2.0

Jesus Did Many Things

Scarcity mentality is what it’s sometimes called. It’s the mentality that was adopted by Eeyore. You might recognize it. It’s the feeling that you just might be the one that’s being followed around by a dark cloud hanging over your head.

It’s a mentality that’s easy to develop. As humans, we tend to see trials and troubles, rather than gifts and victories. And it’s common for us to feel as if blessings are few and far between.

Scarce, in other words.

Moreover, it’s a point of view that finds it hard to see God showing up in our lives. We start to feel like God has left us to deal with life’s hardships completely on our own.

The apostle John saw it the opposite way. For him, the stories of the amazing, powerful, gracious things Jesus did during his lifetime were many.

Not scarce at all, but abundant.

If John were here today, this is what he would tell you: “This is your Savior, Jesus. His love for you is abundant. And his power at work in your life is abundant too. The Library of Congress cannot contain the stories of his love and power at work in your life.”

“Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” (John 21:25, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, June 2, is 2 Samuel 2:8 – 3:21, John 21:1-25 and Psalm 69:1-12.

Header image based on "Very cool dark clouds" by Josh, CC By 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