Where to Look When You’re Hurting

There’s a little voice inside all of our heads that likes to speak up when we’re in the midst of trouble and hard times.

And this voice likes to say something along these lines: “If God really loved me, and if God really had his eye on me, and if God is all-powerful as he claims to be, then why wouldn’t he prevent all these troubles and hardships? What’s the point? Why would a loving, powerful God want to see me suffer like this?”

That voice can be a powerful voice at times. And listening to it can really derail our faith.

“God has forgotten me,” it tells us.

Or, “God does not want me,” or “God hates me,” or worst of all, “There is no such thing as God.” After all, we think, if there really were a loving God, why would he continue to let me twist in the wind in such agony and misery?

This is why it’s so important to constantly go back to the promises of the Bible and have our hearts and minds informed from the word of God rather than from our own human reasoning based on current events in our lives. If we try to figure things out without the word of God, our judgment will be clouded and we’ll end up reaching the wrong conclusions.

Paul directed the Romans’ attention to God’s promises and God’s heart, reminding them that God’s true intentions with all of us are motivated by love. When we’re determined to go our own way, he may allow us the freedom to go that way. But his goal is never our destruction or death. He takes no pleasure in rejecting us or removing us from his presence.

God’s end game is always to move us toward reconciliation and eternal salvation. Think of the story of the Prodigal Son. Everything he does is designed to lead us back into his loving, forgiving and merciful arms.

“For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all” (Romans 11:32, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, July 28, is 1 Chronicles 4:9 – 5:26, Romans 11:11-32 and Psalm 89:19-29.

Lord, help me to always look to your words and promises in tough times. In my troubled heart, I am tempted to believe that you are so angry with me that you want to cut me off from your love. Assure me always that nothing pleases you more than when I turn away from my sins and return to you. Help me to know that you will welcome me with open and loving arms.

Header image based on "eyes" by Ahmed Sinan, CC By 2.0

God Made It Personal…

When Jesus lived a perfect life, when he then offered that perfect life as a perfect sacrifice for sin, he did it for the entire world.

Remember what John the apostle wrote?

“He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2, NIV).

It’s another both/and! Jesus lived and died to win forgiveness of sins for everyone. But it’s equally important to know that he lived and died to win forgiveness for you!

For you, personally.

You were on Jesus’ mind each day when he lived according to God’s laws perfectly in your place. You were on Jesus’ heart when he died on the cross, and when — three days later — he rose from the tomb.

In a town named Pisidian Antioch, the apostle Paul spoke to a group of Jewish believers in a synagogue. He wanted each person to know that he, Paul, was sent to personally seek them out. He was sent to tell them that through Jesus, forgiveness of sins is being proclaimed to them.

Each person who believes in that forgiveness — who believes in that Savior! — is set free from every last sin, Paul promises. He goes on to point out that this was something they could never have accomplished on their own by their obedience to the commandments that had been given to Moses.

The message is clear. God saw that you needed his help. You matter to God. And so God made it personal!

You — you, personally — are forgiven!

“Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses” (Acts 13:38-39, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Friday, June 19, is 1 Kings 6:1 – 7:22, Acts 13:13-41 and Psalm 75:1-10.

Jesus, thank you for loving me. Thank you for providing me with forgiveness of sins, because I matter to you. You have placed me personally on your own heart.

Header image based on "Good Friday" by Trish Hamme, CC By 2.0

One in Heart and Mind

Jesus is a uniting force. A powerful uniting force.

The believers at this time were going through a lot of tough things that could have quickly ripped them apart.

Who would lead them now that Jesus was gone? There easily could have been a battle for leadership of the apostles. Remember James and John asking to sit on Jesus’ right and left in his heavenly kingdom?

What about the heavy persecution and stress on the apostles from the Jewish religious leaders? They were constantly threatening to have them arrested and barred from speaking about Jesus. The martyrdom of Stephen is not far in the future.

The rapid growth in the number of believers is creating stress and strain on the infrastructure, and on the apostles themselves. An argument is brewing between the Greek and Hebrew speaking widows about the level of care they’re being afforded.

Ananias and Sapphira are about to undergo God’s judgment for lying about their gift to the Lord. I wonder how the members of the church felt about God’s response to their dishonesty. Did some leave in fear?

Today also, there are many reasons for sinful members of an imperfect church to splinter into a hundred different factions. CrossWalk is no exception. We too have our challenges.

Should we purchase land and build a building?

How will we personally be part of God’s solution to our operating budget shortfall?

What about that person on my ministry team that wasn’t so kind or “Christian” to me recently?

How come my growth group can’t seem to stick together in tough times and help out where needed?

But our God is a more powerful unifying force than any of these issues are a dividing force. When we’re studying and meditating on God’s word together, then we can trust that the Holy Spirit will keep us bonded. When we’re enjoying the blessings of the sacraments together, the peace of Jesus will guide us through the divisive issues. Our Father has the love and the power that’s necessary when sinners like us try to pull together in one direction.

And our God is not just a unifying force! He is also a “sharing force.” He loves to help us share — our time, our talents, our treasures — so that all can enjoy his care, and be one in heart and mind.

“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had” (Acts 4:32, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Monday, June 8, is 2 Samuel 13:1-39, Acts 4:23 – 5:11 and Psalm 71:9-18.

Father, you sent your Son Jesus to make all believers one in heart and mind. I thank and praise you for community, for my Christian family, for my CrossWalk family. It is an amazing blessing to have so many brothers and sisters in Christ. Help me to work wholeheartedly and sacrificially to preserve community, to honor what your Son Jesus did to establish it in the first place!

Header image based on "Share!" by Juli Crockett, CC By 2.0

Where Does Kindness Start?

Sometimes a caricature of the Old Testament is drawn, in which people paint a picture of God (or God’s people) only being interested in judgment and punishment.

Yesterday I wrote about kindness being a hallmark of the very first New Testament church in Jerusalem.

So today, it really stood out for me that David, the “man after God’s own heart,” also is portrayed as having a strong predisposition toward acts of kindness.

First of all, he wants to take care of Saul’s descendants. A son of Jonathan named Mephibosheth is identified and David takes him into the palace and cares for him.

“David asked, ‘Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?'” (2 Samuel 9:1, NIV).

Then a little later, David seeks another opportunity to show kindness when one of his allies dies, and he wants to show kindness to his son, the new king. This story does not end well, and shows that kindness is not always rewarded with kindness in return. I’ll let that hang right there. Read 2 Samuel 10 and you’ll see what I mean.

“David thought, ‘I will show kindness to Hanun son of Nahash, just as his father showed kindness to me.’ So David sent a delegation to express his sympathy to Hanun concerning his father” (2 Samuel 10:2, NIV).

Sandwiched between these two stories is this statement, which shows David’s true motivation for kindness. He wanted to show others the kindness that had first been shown to him by God!

“The king asked, ‘Is there no one still alive from the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?'” (2 Samuel 9:3, NIV).

So, if you study these three passages carefully, you’ll see that kindness can start with another person first being kind to you. But the true place kindness starts is with God. His kindness is the best, most powerful kindness, because it encompasses the gift of his Son, Jesus Christ.

And Jesus is the greatest kindness that any of us will ever experience!

Our Bible reading for June 6, 2015 is 2 Samuel 9:1 – 10:19, Acts 3:1-26 and Psalm 70:1-5.

Lord, thank you for your kindness, displayed in the gift of your Son, Jesus. But your kindnesses are truly many! I experience them every day. I am so grateful. In gratitude, help me not just receive your kindnesses, but also, as David did, look for others to whom I can show your kindness.

Header image based on "Mark Twain Kindness is a language..." by BK, CC By-SA 2.0

What Church Can Look Like

Church comes in for some pretty tough criticism at times. And to an extent, it’s probably understandable. The hard knocks and the accusations are not always without some basis in the facts.

But church can be beautiful. Very beautiful.

Luke gives us a peek into the life of the very first church that sprang into existence in Jerusalem after the day of Pentecost. It was shortly after the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the apostles.

What this church looked like should seem somewhat familiar to us. That’s because it’s not very different — if at all — from what love looks like.

By which I mean loving God with all your heart, your mind, your soul and your strength. And loving your neighbor as you love yourself.

Rooted in the gospel, touched deeply by the grace of God displayed in Christ, and moved to action by the power of the resurrection, these Christians spoke the language of kindness to one another.

And kindness is a language the whole world can understand.

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-47, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Friday, June 5, is 2 Samuel 7: 1 – 8:18, Acts 2:22-47 and Proverbs 14:5-14.

Lord, help me by your Holy Spirit’s power to make church a place that personifies love. Fill my church with the love of Christ and the wisdom and grace of the Holy Spirit. Make me a force of kindness in my own church, to bring about in the 21st century what believers in the 1st century brought about — moved by Christ’s love and the Spirit’s power.

Header image based on "Seeking Human Kindness" by Enver Rahmanov, CC by-SA 3.0

God-Loved, God-Lover

We move past the four first books of the New Testament called the gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And the story of Christianity is not ending. It’s barely beginning.

One of those four authors of the gospels is compelled to tell the rest of the story. Luke wants the entire world — Gentiles as well as Jews — to hear what Jesus taught and did while alive.

But that’s not all! Luke also wants them to know about the things that occur after Jesus dies. He wants people to hear about the resurrection, the 40 day period Jesus was still here — over and over again convincingly proving to people that he had risen from the grave — and Jesus’ ascension into heaven. He desires the whole world to know the story of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the apostles and the dramatic growth of the Christian church in the early years.

So Luke writes a book titled, “The Acts of the Apostles”. It is addressed to a gentleman named Theophilus, a double-entendre name which means both “the one loved by God” and “the one who loves God”. What a great both-and!

This book is a necessary reminder of the power of the resurrection, the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit, and the passion of Jesus — and later the apostles — to spread the kingdom of God.

Why a “necessary reminder”?

Because you may be a “Theophilus” as well. You are one who loves God because you were first loved by God. You want to have the entire account of Jesus’ work. You want to hear once again how God loves you, and not only you, but the entire world. You want to be reminded that he still wants us to share his kingdom, and you love to watch the Spirit go to work in our world.

It’s a “necessary reminder” because our world today is a very tough world when it comes to matters of faith and Christ. Please don’t be discouraged or disheartened by that. We can be confident in the Holy Spirit’s power! If he could spread the kingdom aggressively in Luke’s world, he can certainly, through word and sacrament (and through us), do the same today!

Be convinced!

“In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:1-3, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, June 3, is 2 Samuel 3:22 – 5:5, Acts 1:1-22 and Psalm 69:13-28.

Lord, I am convinced! I trust that you can and will keep your church alive and thriving, as it was in the days of the early church. May the book of Acts be a strong encouragement to me to keep sharing the gospel with others. I know that I am passionately loved by you. Send me your Spirit through word and sacrament that I may be one who loves you passionately — and shares your love with the world, as Luke did.

Header image based on "The earth and the sea" by khrawlings, CC By 2.0

Love-Hate Relationship

It’s a love-hate relationship. By which I mean I love it way too much. I need to hate it more. And the “it” I’m referring to is life in this world.

There’s an old proverb that tells about a monkey who reaches into a tree trunk for some acorns that have been collected by a squirrel. But a problem develops, and what seems like treasure ends up becoming a trap.

The problem is this. As long as the monkey holds on to the acorns, he cannot extricate his fist from the hole in the tree. The tiny knot in the tree is only large enough for the hand to come out if the monkey flattens his hand. Of course, he doesn’t want to do that, because that means losing the treasured acorns.

In the end, sadly, the greedy monkey dies of his unwillingness to let go of the acorns.

Sometimes people are like that. We are so busy collecting and holding on to the things of this life, so consumed with all the little opportunities this life seems to offer, and so unwilling to give any of these up, that we lose something far greater — our eternal life.

Because of his great love for us, Jesus did it differently. Jesus willingly uncurled his hand and gave up his life here so that he could redeem all mankind. He unselfishly sacrificed everything he could have had as an earthly king so that he could provide an eternal kingdom for each of us.

Jesus urges us to follow him in this. He warns us of the danger of holding too tightly to the things of this life. He points out that this is the way to lose everything. If we will simply open our hand and let go of the things of this life, Jesus promises, we will keep our life for eternity.

Though he certainly could have, Jesus doesn’t ask us to do what he is unwilling to do. He did first for us what he asks now of us.

It’s pretty simple, the way Jesus puts it: Follow me, and you will end up being with me.

And there, with Jesus, you will forever enjoy the honor of God the Father.

“Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me” (John 12:25-26, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Thursday, May 21, is 1 Samuel 8:1 – 10:8, John 12:12-36 and Psalm 65:1-13.

Lord Jesus, thank you for willingly sacrificing your life here, so that you could win life eternal for me. Help me to willingly “hate” my life in this world, so that I may keep it for eternal life. Help me to follow you, so that I may be with you, enjoying the glory of the Heavenly Father for eternity.

Header image based on "LoveHate" by Adam McGhee, CC By 2.0

When Passing the Baton

The time comes when it’s necessary to pass the baton. You change jobs. You step aside from leading a ministry team. You walk your child into a kindergarten classroom. You retire.

Or even — as was true of Moses here — the time of your death draws near.

It’s never easy. The emotions are greatly mixed. You’ve run your leg of the race. So there’s joy, but also sadness. There is pride, but also fear. There is relief and anticipation, but also anxiety and trepidation.

In the midst of all this, the one thing that stands out above all is the hope and the peace that only God can give. And that’s the very thing to which Moses directs the eyes of the Israelites.

Their loving and powerful God!

As we move on to the next phase of our life, the anchor of our hope — for leader and follower, for teacher and student, for parent and child — is our gracious and merciful God. He is with us. He will go before us.

And he will do the same for those we love. Because he is their life, as he is our life.

Our journeys will go in different directions. But the same gracious God remains on both paths.

“This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Then Moses went out and spoke these words to all Israel: “I am now a hundred and twenty years old and I am no longer able to lead you. The Lord has said to me, ‘You shall not cross the Jordan.’ The Lord your God himself will cross over ahead of you. He will destroy these nations before you, and you will take possession of their land… (Deuteronomy 30:19 – 31:3, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Sunday, April 19, is Deuteronomy 30:11 – 31:29, Luke 19:11-44 and Psalm 48:1-8.

Lord Jesus, you are my life. And you are the life of those whom I feel responsible for. When it comes time for me to pass the baton, help me to do so with the same faith, hope, and love that Moses did. Guide all those I love even when I cannot be present with them. Guard their hearts and turn their minds back to you, their gracious Savior and their powerful Lord.

Header image based on "BXP135677" by tableatny, 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

Short Fuse or Long?

The disciples were ready to “go off” on the people of a village they were passing through. The villagers were completely unwelcoming toward them.

“Let’s rain down fire,” the disciples proposed to Jesus.

But, doing some “real-time coaching,” Jesus corrected them immediately. He reminded them what his heart is toward people who reject him and insult him.

He is patient. Forgiving. Willing to turn the other cheek. Just as he had once preached in his Sermon on the Mount as the way to respond to those who hate and hurt.

“As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?’ But Jesus turned and rebuked them. Then he and his disciples went to another village” (Luke 9:51-56, NIV).

Do you find that when others hurt you, you hope for immediate justice — like the disciples? Do you expect God to have a short fuse in those situations?

How about when you hurt others? Are you still wishing for speedy retribution? Do you hope that God will have a short fuse with you?

Or do you hope that God will be patient and forgiving?

Remember, Jesus wants us to use the same measure with others that we would want to be used with us. How glad I am that Jesus is patient with me. And I will pray for the Holy Spirit to help me be just as patient with others!

Join me in that prayer?

Lord, today we are celebrating Good Friday. What a great reminder of your patience, forgiveness and love! You paid the ultimate price to earn my forgiveness. Please give me the same patience toward those who sin against me as you have toward me when I sin against you.

Our Bible reading for Friday, April 3 is Numbers 35:1 – 36:13, Luke 9:28-56 and Psalm 40:9-17.

Header image based on "Burning Fuse Macro" by p.Gordon, CC By 2.0