Make the Turn

There’s nothing God wants more than for people to turn to him in faith. God is our deliverance. God is our strength.

He is the deliverance and strength of the entire world. And, as Isaiah told the Israelites, “there is no other.”

He has earned our worship and thanksgiving. But even if we don’t believe that, our knees will recognize it one day, anyway.

So why not make the turn now?

Listen to the sound of God’s mercy and forgiveness. Hear the comforting notes of God’s faithfulness and love, his deliverance and strength. Recognize the pleading voice of your Creator and Redeemer.

And let those grace notes pull you around to Jesus, your Savior.

“Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. They will say of me, ‘In the Lord alone are deliverance and strength.’” All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame. But all the descendants of Israel will find deliverance in the Lord and will make their boast in him” (Isaiah 45:22-25, NIV).

Lord, I hear your voice. I am so grateful for the gospel. May the sweet music of your grace turn my heart toward your merciful heart for forgiveness, new life and salvation.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, September 19, is Isaiah 44:24 – 46:13, Galatians 4:21 – 5:6 and Psalm 108:6-13.

Header image based on "Turn" by Bill Smith, CC By 2.0

Busy, Busy, Busy…

We are busy people these days. Whenever we have issues we want to resolve or troubles that we’re facing, we begin actively looking for allies. We busy ourselves with finding the right solution, then we get to work laying out a plan, and finally, we run hard getting that plan implemented.

The problem with all this busy-ness is that we can fall into a habit of seeking solutions and help from everyone but God. We make plans that don’t include consulting his word, or seeking him in prayer. We get busy working a plan that takes us further away from God rather than closer to him.

Why would we do this? All kinds of reasons, really. Sometimes in our ignorance or arrogance, we think we have a clearer view of the situation than God does — and thus, a clearer view of the right path forward. Sometimes we are driven by fear to do things we wouldn’t normally do. We’re scared.

At other times, it’s selfishness and greed. We want what we want when we want it. Right now, if possible. Or a form of selfishness and greed — lust — drives us to chase things that make us feel good, no matter what it costs the other people affected. Often those solutions are very short-sighted, and later, the personal fall-out can be quite serious.

The Israelites were like this. They were busy, busy, busy. They had powerful friends, an active social life. And those friends — well, they were in all the right places. If hard work and great connections always brought success and salvation, they should have been prime candidates.

But instead, they were failing. And they were falling. Their relationship with God was a mess. So God — the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel — says to them through Isaiah the prophet: “Slow down. Stop talking. Quit thinking that the Egyptians are the answer to your problems.”

“Pharaoh is not the one to look to. I am! Turn back to me. Quietly examine your hearts. Rethink your beliefs — and the words and actions that flow from those beliefs. Stop all the activity, find a quiet place to sit down, and meditate on my forgiveness, power, love and faithful help.”

So, what’s your “Egypt”? Who’s your “Pharaoh”? What activity do you need to stop doing for a little while? What plans do you need to set aside for a moment?

And where is that “quiet place” in your home, or in your neighborhood, or somewhere within a few hours travel, where you can just go and think? Take your Bible. Prepare your heart for prayer. It may be time for a little repentance, a little rest, a little quietness and a little trust.

“This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it'” (Isaiah 30:15, NIV).

Lord, stop me from chasing constant activity, busy-ness and human allies. Help me to step aside from the rush, reconnect with you, and repent of my sins. Help me to remember that rest and quietness coupled with repentance and faith are my salvation. Remind me to find time to look to Jesus, listen to him, and be reminded he is the real Solution for all my problems.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, September 12, is Isaiah 29:1 – 30:18, 2 Corinthians 12:11-21 and Psalm 107:1-9.

Header image based on "busy schedule?" by flik, CC By 2.0

Coached Up!

Every now and then we need to be “coached up.” It’s never a pleasant experience. Having your coach confront you and point out corrections that need to be made can be tough.

It’s usually not that great for the coach either. But what makes it all worthwhile for the coach is when he gets to witness his coaching bear fruit. When positive changes get made, and people line up with the right way of doing things — well, then it’s really rewarding for everyone concerned!

Kudos go to the apostle Paul, the “coach” of the Corinthians. And praise also goes to the Corinthians for taking the apostle’s coaching in the right way.

Instead of becoming angry and petulant about the coaching Paul had given them, they took it in, made the necessary changes and came back stronger than ever. Instead of feeling sorry for themselves and retreating into their shell, they came out fighting and successfully put their house in order.

How do you take coaching from those who care about your soul? Is it tough to take direction and advice? Is it difficult to receive correction? Do you resist admitting wrong, or avoid saying that you’re sorry for sins you’ve committed?

Do you tend to become angry and petulant? Do you feel sorry for yourself and feel a strong urge to retreat into your shell?

Because these are all common temptations for every one of us, Paul carefully reminds us how critically important our spiritual coaches are. And even more, he demonstrates how important our humble attitude is. Godly sorrow leads to salvation. And what could possibly be more important than staying on course to reach that destination!

“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter” (2 Corinthians 7:10-11, NIV).

Lord, I thank you for the spiritual coaches in my life who call me to repentance for my sins. Help me to listen to their coaching and allow godly sorrow to rule my heart. Keep me from worldly sorrow and feeling sorry for myself. I want to be earnest and eager, as the Corinthians were, to clear myself of the tangles of sin and always be ready to walk a straight path with you, longing to please you.

Our Bible reading for Friday, September 4, is Isaiah 5:8 – 8:10, 2 Corinthians 7:2-16 and Psalm 105:23-36.

Header image based on "Coach (Dad) Pumps Up the Team" by Jim Larrison, CC By 2.0

Get Ready for What’s Coming

Life is nothing more than a blip, really. So, it’s actually amazing that we have some time to think about what’s coming next after this blip is over. But we do, by the grace of God.

What’s next is eternity. Heaven. Our salvation is near and our destiny is drawing closer. And that means that this blip of a life is going to end sooner than we realize. Before we know it, we’ll have blown right through the blip.

So one thing Paul wants us to remember is this. We have only so much time here on planet earth to fully live in our new identity as children of God through faith in Jesus Christ. The time is short for us to put aside the deeds of darkness, with its key goals being to “party hardy,” stay high, get wasted, sleep around, divide people, devastate relationships, and self-centeredly wish I had more of this or that than anyone around me.

Paul says that the way we get ready for what’s coming is to get rid of all of that and put on the Lord Jesus Christ. And what he means by that is that we need to have a faith-relationship with Jesus. We need to trust that he is our Savior, and our Lord.

God will provide this for us. Through baptism. Through his word. And through the sacrament of holy communion.

Time is short. If we refuse to put ourselves in position for God to reach us through the word and sacraments, God will not come to us in any other way. We need to quickly put down the deeds of darkness and the desires of our selfish, sinful self. We need to give Jesus space to work on our hearts.

We can’t, in other words, put on one set of clothing until we’ve taken off the old set. In this case, “layering” just isn’t going to cut the mustard. There’s no “both-and” to be had here. This is a definite “either-or”.

So which set of “clothing” do you want to put on? Remember, “what’s next” is coming very, very soon. And it’s very clear that we need to have the right set of “clothing” on right now!

So get ready for what’s coming!

“And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh” (Romans 13:11-14, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Thursday, July 30, is 1 Chronicles 7:1 – 9:1a, Romans 13:1-14 and Psalm 89:38-45.

Jesus, thank you for giving me your perfection as my new clothing. Help me to treasure it and to be ready for what is coming.

Header image based on "Stopwatch" by William Warby, CC By 2.0

Freely You Have Received, Freely Give

Paul had made a huge u-turn. But this u-turn had not been Paul’s doing. Not at all.

Paul had not chosen to make the turn. Jesus had chosen to take hold of and capture Paul’s heart — and thus turn him around. In fact, he would do more than turn Paul’s life around. He would turn it upside down as well.

As Paul explains many years later to a large crowd in front of the gates of the temple in Jerusalem, he had devoted his life to persecuting the followers of Jesus, “arresting both men and women and throwing them in prison.” (Acts 22:4, NIV). Paul acknowledges he would have been completely content to continue on this track of persecution.

But as Paul was going to a city named Damascus to find and arrest more Christ-followers, Jesus came and personally turned Paul away from this life of attacking his followers.

There on the road, he called for Paul to repent and stop persecuting him (interesting, isn’t it, that Jesus here equates persecuting his followers to persecuting him?). Jesus called Paul to put his faith in him as the true Messiah.

And right there on that dusty road, Jesus gave Paul the very thing he was demanding of him. Jesus gave him repentance and faith.

A few days later, a man named Ananias was sent by Jesus to speak with Paul in Damascus. In his conversation with Paul, he made one thing very clear…

Paul had been freely given a gift. And now Paul was to freely give away that same incredible gift to others.

And turn even more lives upside down.

“Then he said: ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard'” (Acts 22:14-15, NIV).

Lord Jesus, you have given me the wonderful gift of faith. I know you as my Lord and Savior. This is all your doing, not mine. I would gladly have stayed on my sinful track. But you called me away from a life of sin to a life of following you. Now that I have been freely given forgiveness, faith and salvation, move my heart to freely give away these wonderful gifts to others I meet.

Our Bible reading for Thursday, July 2, is 2 Kings 4:38 – 6:23, Acts 21:27 – 22:21 and Psalm 79:1-13.

Header image based on "Give me..." by Matthias Ripp, 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

What Page Are You On?

It’s so easy — and dangerous — to get consumed with the hopes and desires of the present.

Following Jesus’ bread of life speech, and a realization by many in the crowd that Jesus was not merely around to serve their daily needs or meet their earthly goals, many of those who had been Jesus’ disciples began to turn back and stop following him.

They failed to see that to follow Jesus is to get on Jesus’ page. They just were not willing to go there. It’s important to know that Jesus doesn’t want us on his page because he’s on some sort of power trip. He wants us on his page because that’s what’s truly best for us.

The other day I was in an airport, and I saw a family — a Dad and a Mom with two little girls about 3 or 4 years old. The girls had matching rolling bags that they brought with them. The younger of the two little girls kept wanting to stop to get things out of her bag. This happened several times, with her parents patiently trying to explain that they needed to move their way more quickly through the airport.

The little girl was having none of that, and she was persistent about what she wanted for herself (and apparently her entire family as well) — frequent stops so she could dig around in her bag.

At last, her father simply took hold of the bag, and gently relieved her of it. The response of the little girl was not pretty, as I’m sure you can imagine. She pouted quite loudly for a really, really long time.

Sometimes we behave like that little girl. We want God to hold everything up — including his own gracious plans — for us. After all, in our minds, who’s more important than we are?

Jesus had just made it clear that he had come for his own purpose and glory. This involves the eternal salvation of mankind. So wasting a lot of time baking bread for people (or even just miraculously making it!) wasn’t on the agenda. Instead, he was going to be busy helping people see him as the bread of life. His concerns were far more of an eternal nature.

The people — like the little girl — didn’t like being told someone else’s agenda took precedence. So they turned away. It was just too tough to swallow.

Jesus watches them go, and then turns to his inner circle, the twelve, and ask them, “Do you also want to leave?”

Their answer shows that the disciples — by the Spirit’s power — had gotten on Jesus’ (eternal) page with him.

“Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God'” (John 6:68-69, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Monday, May 11, is Judges 12:1 – 13:25, John 6:60 – 7:13 and Psalm 59:9-17.

Lord, I repent for the times when I want to be on my own page, rather than on yours. My mind and heart want to dwell on the present, and on my own worldly needs, rather than on eternity, and your eternal desires for me and for the world around me. Please forgive me! Jesus, I want to be on your page with you. Send me the Spirit, who gives life, through your words. You have the words of eternal life, because you are the Holy One of God.

Header image based on "Studied Godspel" by Daniel Paixao Fontes, CC By 2.0

The Surprising Way Back to God

Some people work so hard to ingratiate themselves to God. They follow one law and one rule after another. They build and build, work upon work, until they feel confident of their own righteousness.

But to be in a right position with God is so much easier. And so much harder.

Instead of climbing a ladder of righteousness we have built out of our own goodness, we need to put that ladder down. Then we simply ask God to love us, to forgive us, and to show mercy to us. We beg him not to treat us the way we deserve to be treated.

This may come as a surprise. But the way back to God is not to climb up. It’s to humbly — repentantly — bow down. Because you have a Savior who wants nothing more than to give you his righteousness.

But only the empty-handed can receive that gift. And that’s why you want to put the ladder down right away — just like the tax collector did, in a parable Jesus once told:

“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Friday, April 17, is Deuteronomy 28:15-68, Luke 18:1-30 and Psalm 47:1-9.

Lord, give me a humble heart. I am a sinner. But I want to be a penitent sinner. Please grant me forgiveness of all my sins. With this tax collector I pray: Please have mercy on me, a sinner.

Header image based on "Ladder to heaven" by Johan Hansson, CC By 2.0

One Single Sinner

Every person is precious to God. Every single one.

And each time a single sinner repents and returns to him, he rejoices — and all his angels with him.

Think of King David. Or Peter. Or the apostle Paul, for that matter. Think of Thomas doubting, then seeing and believing.

Each time a sinner turned away from sin, or unbelief, he was received back and his relationship with God was restored immediately.

Remember the story of the prodigal son? The son is welcomed home into the loving arms of his father. Or do you recall the parable of the woman who loses a single valuable coin, and how she rejoices with all her friends and neighbors when she finds it again?

Anyone might readily think that the needs of the many should outweigh the needs of just one person. But Jesus says that, actually, the opposite is true.

In his kingdom, the needs of the few, or even just one, outweigh the needs of the many. Especially when it comes to forgiveness of sins, being reconciled to God and possessing the gift of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ — all it takes to make Jesus rejoice is one single sinner!

One single sinner turning back to Jesus. For Jesus, there’s no greater joy!

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. (Luke 15:3-7, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Monday, April 13, is Deuteronomy 19:1 – 20:20, Luke 15:1-32 and Psalm 45:1-9.

Lord Jesus, thank you for loving me, and searching for me, and pulling me back to yourself. I’m just one single sinner. But you make it clear that I mean the world to you!

Header image based on "The Return of the Prodigal Son" by Jorge Elias, CC By 2.0

Three Things God Will Not Do

God warned his people about allowing their hearts to wander away from him. He foretold that they would become lackadaisical in their faith. They would begin to allow idols to occupy their hearts. The true God, who had led them from Egypt to the Promised Land would be squeezed out as the people became more comfortable in their new home.

But God also promised them that even if they were scattered to other lands as a discipline for their unbelief and sin, all they would ever have to do is turn around and come back to him. They would need only to leave behind their idols and return God to his rightful place in their hearts.

How could they know that God would be there waiting? Moses said these words long before Jesus taught the famous story of the Prodigal Son. But the lesson is the same.

There would be three things that God would never do, no matter how rebellious, idolatrous and unbelieving the children of Israel became. They could always know that a loving, gracious and merciful Heavenly Father would be waiting for their return.

He would not abandon them. He would not destroy them. And he would not forget the loving promises he had made to their forefathers.

But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, then in later days you will return to the Lord your God and obey him. For the Lord your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your ancestors, which he confirmed to them by oath. (Deuteronomy 4:29-31, NIV).

What beautiful words for us to hear too! In our comfortable 21st century circumstances, we may easily find ourselves wandering away from God and finding “shiny things” that we make more important than God. We need to know that these promises are still true for those of us who are the “Prodigal Sons” of today.

This life is your time of grace. So in this life, God will never abandon you. God will not destroy you. God will not forget the promises he made to your faith-filled ancestors. He is patient with you, not wanting you to perish. God simply wants you back in the family.

So, what are you waiting for? Come on back home to Jesus!

Our Bible reading for Monday, April 6, is Deuteronomy 4:15 – 5:33, Luke 11:5-32 and Proverbs 8:32-36.

Lord, thank you for your assurance that you are merciful and forgiving. I am so grateful to know that despite my sins, my idolatry and my rebellious nature, you will always take me back. This life is my time of grace. Even if my heart wanders, you will never abandon me, destroy me or forget your promises to me. By your Holy Spirit, turn my heart back to you, Lord.

Header image based on "Three" by Hubert Figuiere, CC By-SA 2.0