Transparent Waiting

Transparency of heart is when the thoughts and feelings of our heart are apparent to all who watch us in action. For the follower of Jesus Christ, one of the marks of a transparent heart is a deep desire to do the will of God — to live a holy and godly life. It is not self-centeredness, but “Christ-centeredness.”

In the apostle Peter’s day, those who wanted to live a self-centered life would scoff at the idea that we are waiting for Christ, our King, to return. They wanted to live their selfish lives as if there was no King, no Judge and no day of judgment.

Sadly, their selfish way of life was deceiving some of Peter’s listeners. So Peter is forced to reaffirm that Christ is not going to be a “no-show.” His return is timed perfectly to match God’s patience. And God is patient because he wants as many people as possible to repent and be saved.

We don’t know what that timing is. But come he will. Swiftly and unexpectedly. And on that day, everything around us will be destroyed. Our entire material world will be laid bare.

As we wait for our King’s return, we are to live as people who know that the King is alive. We know this because we daily witness the living King’s work in our own hearts. Being transparent people, our actions allow people to see through to our hearts. And to see Jesus living in our hearts.

Meanwhile, we look forward to the glorious return of our King. And we wait for it expectantly — we speed its coming, as Peter says — when we live holy and godly lives. Living with a transparent heart is, in other words, the very best preparation for the return of our King.

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming” (2 Peter 3:9-12a, NIV).

Jesus, my King, as I wait for your return, help me to live transparently, with holiness and godliness. Forgive me for the times when my sinful heart takes over. Wash me clean again in your blood, shed on the cross for me. I want to give you glory every day as I anticipate your coming.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, November 29, is Daniel 4:19 – 5:16, 2 Peter 3:1-18 and Psalm 135:13-21.

Header image based on "Greta Oto (wings open)" by Alias 0591, CC By 2.0

Sorting Out Treasure from Trash

“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” goes the old saying. But it’s equally true to say, “One man’s treasure is another man’s trash.”

We often treasure a good reputation, for instance. We want people to think highly of us. We want to be evaluated by our public persona, our outward acts of goodness, our abilities, our intellect, or our own righteousness.

As a former Pharisee, Paul certainly would have related to this self-actualized approach to life. In fact, such things had at one time been the apostle’s treasure.

But then Paul encountered Christ. He discovered how broken the Pharisee’s system of work-righteousness was, when compared to the grace and mercy of God. And he immediately recognized that he had to trash his old belief system and his former way of life.

Our true treasure is the righteousness of Christ — the righteousness that comes by faith. To toss our own righteousness in the dumpster and gain Christ is the only way to a restored relationship with God.

This is the very heart of the gospel, and the key to finding true peace. We can stop all the striving. We can forget about trying to bridge the gap sin creates by our own power or initiative. How ironic that our goodness gets in the way of our relationship with God just as easily as our sin does!

We have the joy of knowing that Jesus has already done it all. We can throw everything else out — our goodness as well as our sins — and simply focus on treasuring Jesus.

“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith” (Philippians 3:7-9, NIV).

Lord, give me the discernment and grant me the strength, so that my spiritual trash never gets in the way of my true treasure, Jesus!

Our Bible reading for Friday, October 2, is Jeremiah 4:10 – 5:31, Philippians 3:1 – 4:1 and Psalm 116:1-11.

Header image based on "Escaped Souls" by Kurt Bauschardt, CC By-SA 2.0

The Great Exchange

There are two answers to a question Solomon poses in chapter twenty of the book of Proverbs. Solomon inquires,

Who can say, “I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin”? (Proverbs 20:9, NIV).

The first response is: No one. No one can claim that they have kept their heart pure. There’s not a single human being that can say that they are spiritually pure. Not a one of us can crow, “I am without sin!”

By nature, each of us is a lost and condemned sinner.

And the second answer is: Anyone. Anyone, that is, who trusts in Jesus as their Lord and Savior. A believer has kept their heart pure because they have had a heart “transplant.”

In the sight of God, Jesus’ heart has been substituted for their heart. A Christ-follower can claim that they are clean and without any sin, because Jesus’ purity and Jesus’ righteousness have been transferred to their account by God, the Father.

By faith, each of us is a holy and sinless child of God, perfect in his sight.

This transformation of status before God is what Jesus’ perfect life and his innocent death on the cross accomplished for us. This is what Jesus’ resurrection perfectly guarantees us. It’s the “Great Exchange!” He took all our sins on himself. And he gave us all his purity and holiness.

This is going to be exceptionally helpful and valuable to us one day, as Solomon indicates one verse previous to his question.

“When a king sits on his throne to judge, he winnows out all evil with his eyes” (Proverbs 20:8, NIV).

When God “winnows” from his throne on Judgment Day, we will not be separated from God forever. He will not judge us and throw us out of his presence. Because we, by Jesus’ blood and righteousness, are no longer evil, but good.

I hope that’s a confidence builder for you, starting right now!

Our Bible reading for Sunday, August 16, is 2 Chronicles 5:2 – 7:10, 1 Corinthians 10:14 – 11:1 and Proverbs 20:5-14.

There is no greater blessing than the Great Exchange! Thank you, Jesus, for making this valuable exchange for us. Help me, by your Spirit’s power, to trust you always as my Savior and my Lord.

P.S. You might wonder, “What is winnowing?” Well, after the grains have been removed from the stalks by threshing (in this case, by oxen), the grain is collected in a basket, the basket is raised, say, to shoulder height and tilted, and the grain is allowed to fall to the ground.

Winnowing separates the grain from the chaff. As the mixed grain and chaff fall from the basket, wind carries away the lighter chaff while the grain, which is heavier, falls into a pile on the ground.

Chaff, in case you’re wondering, is “the inedible, dry, scaly protective casings of the seeds of cereal grain . . .”

Header image based on "Winnowing the Grain, Axum, Ethiopia" by Alan, 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

Zeal Plus Knowledge

It can be easy to be led astray by people’s passion and sincerity. When we see people who have a lot of zeal for their faith and their religion, we naturally want to applaud that kind of heartfelt devotion.

Paul saw this heartfelt devotion when he looked at the Jews. In fact, he knew this zeal from the inside-out. Because Paul himself had been a zealous member of the Pharisees, the most passionate of the Jewish sects.

Paul loves these passionate people — as only a former insider could. He says in the first verse of Romans chapter 10, Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1, NIV).

But Paul also realizes how important it is for them to temper their zeal with knowledge. He knows that there are really only two approaches to a relationship with God. One works. The other does not. Paul wanted the Jews’ religious zeal to be mingled with the knowledge of which of the two approaches is the effective approach.

We see the same in our world today. The first approach says, “Lord, I believe I am a good person, certainly good enough to go to heaven. Let me show you how good I am. I have a good heart. A good mind. And even though my actions are not always perfect, I think I do enough right things to be acceptable to you. You’ll see that I’m your kind of person, God. Lovable, even if not perfect. Just the kind of person I know you would want to hang out with for eternity.”

The second approach says, “Lord, you are an amazing God. A good God — morally pure and upright in everything you do and say. Holy. And also an astoundingly kind God. Show me how good and kind, and especially merciful and gracious you are. Because my heart is dark. My mind is filled with ugly things. And my actions? They’re not even close to being consistent with what you ask of me. I could never in a million lifetimes come close to being the kind of person you want to hang out with — at least not by my own actions. In your grace, you sent your own Son, Jesus Christ, to be my righteousness. May his complete fulfillment of every right feeling, thought and act — his fulfillment of every law that reveals your holy will for me — be mine. Forgive my sins, and cover me with the righteousness of Christ.”

Paul is clear which approach is the correct approach, and which is not. The issue of “zeal without knowledge” stretches far beyond any single religion. Why? Because work-righteousness is the default “religion” of every human heart. And it is the religion the apostle Paul begs all of us to forsake for the faith that is singularly effective in producing a relationship with God.

And that is faith in Jesus Christ. Talk about passion and zeal… for all the right reasons, Jesus is someone we can truly get passionate about. Faith in Jesus as our Lord and Savior is zeal and knowledge, perfectly wedded!

“For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (Romans 10:2-4, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Sunday, July 26, is 1 Chronicles 1:1 – 2:17, Romans 9:22 – 10:4, and Psalm 89:14-18.

Jesus, grant me your righteousness. By faith alone, I want to have a right relationship with my Heavenly Father. Help me forsake  my heart’s natural religion, and no longer seek to establish a relationship with God by my own righteousness. Thank you for your grace and mercy that allows me to make such a request and be completely confident that you will fulfill it.

Header image based on "Freeway Choices" by sacks08, CC By 2.0

Law and Gospel

Early in Paul’s letter to the Romans, we have the beautiful basics of Christian teaching — law and gospel.

God’s law teaches us what to do and not to do. Initially, this can be deceptive because it makes us feel good to know precisely what God expects of us.

But ultimately the law fills us with a sense of foreboding, as we try to obey God and do what he tells us to do. As we live our lives, constantly striving to fulfill all the law and keep all the rules, we eventually run out of steam. All the “Do’s” and “Do Not’s” wear us out. We hit a wall. We discover that we can’t meet God’s expectations. No matter how hard we try, we fall short.

In the end, God’s law makes us conscious of our sinfulness and our shortcomings. But it doesn’t show us the way to fulfill the whole law or restore our broken relationship with God.

Enter the gospel. The gospel points us in a completely different direction. It points us away from ourselves to Jesus Christ. It instructs us in all that God has already done for us by sending his son, Jesus. The gospel takes away the “To-do list” and replaces it with a “Done!” list.

The gospel makes us aware of God’s plan to save us. It shows us the immensity of God’s love and mercy. It points us to the perfect sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross. It points us to the hope that the empty tomb holds for us. It tells us that while we can’t meet God’s expectations, Jesus can and did.

When Jesus walks into our lives, he simplifies everything. He will be our substitute. He will earn — and then give to us — the perfect righteousness that God demands from us. We can cease all the striving. We can simply rest in Jesus’ grace and mercy.

In this way, God never gives up even a single ounce of this righteousness. Nor does he ever give up a single ounce of this grace. It’s a perfect “win-win!”

“Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood — to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished — he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:20-26, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Thursday, July 16, is Amos 3:1 – 4:13, Romans 3:9-31, Psalm 85:8-13.

Lord, thank you that you have given me your Son, Jesus Christ, to be my Savior. Thanks for the free gifts of forgiveness and eternal life. Send me your Spirit so that I may cling to Jesus in faith and live in him forever!

Header image based on "Jesus in a Jar" by SurFeRGiRL30, 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

The Tones of Trust

As we live our lives we discover what we can trust and what we can’t.

One thing I’ve noticed is that both of those seem to go together with music. Just listen to country and western music and you’ll learn all about the things you can’t trust.

But a lot of beautiful music has also been written about the things (and the people) we can put our faith in.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but over the centuries, there’s something that has inspired a lot of music. Something that has inspired even more music than romance, or heartbreak, or bars, or cars.

And that’s because there’s no one you can trust like this…

“Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy. For the word of the Lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does. The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love” (Psalm 33:3-5, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Thursday, March 12, is Leviticus 25:1 – 26:13, Mark 16:1-20 and Psalm 33:1-11.

Lord, thank you for your faithful and unfailing love. Thank you for loving me enough to give me your word. I know I can trust you. Forgive me for the times when I doubt. Help me by your Holy Spirit’s power to trust you with all my heart.

Header image based on "Licht und Klang" by Krienke, CC By-SA 2.0

How to Stay in the Day (and Stop Worrying So Much!)

Have you ever noticed that when you’re busy and active, you have less time to worry? Well, Jesus takes this one step further.

He says that if we correctly identify, and then stay busy with, our highest priority, then we will have far less time and opportunity to worry about tomorrow. It will be far easier for us to stop worrying about tomorrow, because the little things we tend to worry about will fade into the background.

We’ll have an important truth running through our mind: “Let tomorrow worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own.”

So, what is our highest priority? Jesus gives that one to us. Our highest priority is to seek God’s kingdom and his righteousness.

This means we start taking time to connect with God through word and sacrament, and asking God to rule in our hearts and minds, as Paul says, “…and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5, NIV).

It also means we stop thinking that a restored relationship with God is about what we do, and realize that Jesus has arranged for us to receive his holiness and righteousness as a gift (and how great that moment of realization is!).

Once we’re busy and active seeking these every day, then the worries about what we’re going to eat, or drink, or wear, or what kind of home we’re going to live in, or what kind of car we’re going to drive, etc. will fade into the background. We will commit ourselves to seeking Jesus in this day and stop worrying so much about the next day.

So, busy your mind, your heart and your hands! Worry will fade, and God’s kingdom will come.

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:33-34, NIV).

Lord, I repent of seeking to please everyone and obtain everything except you. Forgive me. Give me Jesus’ righteous record of seeking you. Make his obedient record my record. Help me to change and invest my life in seeking your kingdom and your righteousness above all else. As I do this, help me to stay in the day. I submit all my plans to you, and I commit myself to not worrying about tomorrow.

Our Bible reading for Thursday, January 8, is Genesis 17:1 – 18:33, Matthew 6:25 – 7:23 and Proverbs 1:8-19.

Header image based on "Worried!" by Alon, CC by 2.0