Get Your Bucket!

Isaiah does something interesting as he writes. At certain points in his prophetic narrative he breaks into songs of praise. Isaiah 12 is one of those places where he switches from prophecy to worship.

Writing in 700 B.C., Isaiah knew that God had a right to be angry. The Jews have been rebellious against God. They have chased idols. They have measured their life’s success not by their closeness to God, but rather by their own personal power, prestige, possessions, positions and playthings.

But one day that will all end, and their lives will once again center on the Lord. One day they will turn back and experience God’s grace and forgiveness. They will understand that salvation is theirs, as a gift from the Son of God, the Messiah long-promised.

What a day that will be! Because that day will bring the demise of fear, and the rise of faith. It will replace all weakness with true strength. It will replace hurt and sadness with joy and peace.

Isaiah taught that all this would be the result of “drawing water from the wells of salvation.”

Today, 2,700 years later, it’s still critical to draw water from the wells of salvation. But in 2015, we call it being regular at worship, joining a growth group or Bible study, making regular use of the sacraments, finding a time and a place in our daily schedules for personal devotions and prayer, and making Christian music and hymns part of our regular listening repertoire.

That’s how we come to live by faith rather than fear. It’s how we replace puny, weak spiritual muscles with big, strong spiritual muscles. It’s how we find our joy again, maybe even when it seemed to us to be lost forever.

Get your bucket. That’s the well we definitely want to be drinking from!

“In that day you will say: ‘I will praise you, Lord. Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you have comforted me. Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation.’ With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” (Isaiah 12:1-3, NIV).

Lord, you are amazing. Thank you that you not angry with me for my many sins. Help me by your Spirit’s power to constantly draw from the wells of salvation. You are my Savior. You are my strength and my defense against the devil, the world and my own sinful flesh. I will trust in you and not be afraid.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, September 6, is Isaiah 10:20 – 13:22, 2 Corinthians 8:16 – 9:5 and Psalm 105:37-45.

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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.”

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All In

Jesus makes it clear that eternity is on the line. And when the stakes are high, most of us realize that it’s time to be “all in.”

We do it all the time. When deciding on our educational path. When meeting our future spouse. When selecting our career. When opening our business.

In areas of life like this, we know that whatever we decide upon, we need to put our back into it and go for it.

Wholeheartedly.

Well, Jesus says that there will come a day when all mankind will be judged. And following that, heaven will be the eternal home of those who have been declared righteous by faith in Jesus Christ. Sadly–no, devastatingly!–for those who do not believe in Jesus there is only hell.

The stakes are most definitely high. Whatever it takes, Jesus tells us, obtain the kingdom of heaven. It’s worth everything you’ve got!

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:45-46, NIV).

Lord, help me never to take you, or your kingdom, lightly. You want to give me eternal life. And you have already won heaven for me. By your grace, you want to give a “pearl of great price” to me as a gift. Amazing. Send me your Spirit so that I can be all in!

Our Bible reading for Monday, January 19, is Genesis 38:1 – 39:23, Matthew 13:36-58 and Psalm 11:1-7.

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Wrestle God Down.

It’s so interesting when one Bible passage informs another. It might be two different books of the Bible, written by different authors, written hundreds of years apart even. But when you lay the two passages alongside one another, they show us exactly what God desires for us, and from us.

Today the lesson is this: Sometimes it’s just about grabbing hold and not letting go. Jacob wrestled with God, and God could not overpower him. God even wrenched Jacob’s hip out of his socket, and still Jacob wouldn’t let go.

“So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, ‘Let me go, for it is daybreak.’ But Jacob replied, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me'” (Genesis 32:24-26, NIV).

Wow. Really? I will not let you go unless you bless me. That’s saying something, isn’t it? This guy is Navy SEAL tough when it comes to getting God to bless him.

In Proverbs 2, Solomon writes to us. And while he uses different language, he means exactly the same thing. Grab hold, don’t let go. Don’t release him, or his wisdom, until he blesses you.

My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding—indeed, if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God” (Proverbs 2:1-5, NIV).

God, I will wrestle you down!

Our reading for Friday, January 16, is Genesis 32:1 – 33:20, Matthew 12:22-45 and Proverbs 2:1-11.

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Plenty of Fish

The truth is that a Christian should expect to be unpopular. And he should fully anticipate that he will be treated that way.

Why? Truth is, sometimes it’s us. We’re sinful, and we put our sins on display far more often than we’d like to admit it.

But sometimes it’s not us. At all. In those cases, Jesus says it’s not personal. At least, it’s not personal to you or me. It’s personal to Jesus. We will be hated because of him.

His direction to us in these situations is clear. Hang in there! Stand firm. Don’t let go of Jesus. Don’t let your faith slip away.

And don’t feel compelled to stay where you’re not liked, either. When you’re rejected in one place, Jesus says, head on to the next. After all, there are plenty of fish in the sea. As a fisher of men, don’t waste a lot of time with those who don’t care much for your message. Find a better fishing hole and go on to those who are receptive.

Pull a page from Isaac’s book, in other words. Isaac was not well liked in his day. In fact, he was so disliked that anytime he and his men dug a well, his enemies would track him down and stop up the well, filling it with dirt. Or simply steal it outright. Each time, Isaac simply retreated to a new location and dug another well.

What Isaac did in the physical realm with obtaining water, is what Jesus recommends in the spiritual realm with sharing the Water of Life.

Open up the well. Share the Water. If someone resists you, don’t get hung up quarreling. Move on. God will take care of you. And God will take care of his message.

“You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another… 27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:22-23a, 28-31, NIV). 

Lord, help me discern who is truly thirsty when I share your gospel. You are the Water of Life. But you have not called us to force-feed anyone. As I trust you for the growth of your kingdom, make me ready to move on to the next person you have in mind for me, even when the unpopularity of the gospel message makes me feel discouraged. Help me to understand that hatred for your message is not unusual, or restricted to me. You “called it” 2000 years ago, and told me to expect this. And you will strengthen me and protect me, because I am worth a great deal to you–worth the very life of your Son, Jesus.

Our reading for Monday, January 12, is Genesis 25:1 – 26:35, Matthew 10:1-31, and Proverbs 1:20-33.

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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.

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How to Be a Wise Man (or Woman) in 3 Easy Steps

What in the world are “magi”? Strong’s Concordance defines the word this way: a magus; the name given by the Babylonians (Chaldeans), Medes, Persians, and others, to the wise men, teachers, priests, physicians, astrologers, seers, interpreters of dreams, augers, soothsayers, sorcerers etc.

It’s a pretty broad job description, isn’t it?

Matthew, one of Jesus’ disciples, writes about the wise men: After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him'” (Matthew 2:1-2, NIV).

Something in their education and experience told the wise men that this particular star was unusual, and the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy about the birth of a king.

Whatever it was that told them this, they dropped everything—their schedules, their jobs, their families, their friends, their familiar places of living—and went together to find Jesus.

Why? Because they knew the most important thing they could do in this moment of their lives was just that. Find Jesus, the king, and then worship him. But they also knew that their destination was far. And as the old saying goes, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Wise men, indeed!

What if you grabbed another person or two this year and did the same? You’re just three steps away!

Step 1: Commit to someone. Ask your spouse to pray and read the Bible together with you in 2015. In my humble opinion, way too few marriages feature spouses that pray and read the Bible together daily. Just saying. Alternatively, you could do the same with your children, or a buddy from church or your growth group. If you’re feeling particularly outreach-minded in 2015, you could even select someone from work, or school, or your neighborhood.

Step 2: Commit verbally. Say to the person(s) you have selected “Let’s do this! Let’s go search for Jesus, the King, together. We’ll pray with each other each day, share our SOAP journals, and go together to worship Jesus every day this year.”

Step 3: Commit the time. Put it on your calendar. Block out a daily opportunity with your fellow “wise man” when you can meet (even over the phone or via text) and share your thoughts about the King. Don’t forget to clear a space for prayer together daily, too.

Lord, help me to find you daily in the gospel. Help me to find someone with whom I can share this daily journey. And then, put your Spirit in my heart so that we may respond—mind, body, heart and soul—with worship.

Our reading for Friday, January 2, is Genesis 2:18 – 4:16, Matthew 2:1-18 and Psalm 2:1-12.

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