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

New Strength for a New Year

All the research indicates the same thing. More and more young people are shying away from attending church on Sundays. They’re feeling it’s become old school and irrelevant.

Of course, the reality is, it’s not just young people, but people of all ages who have determined to ditch church for greener pastures. And I kind of get it.

Listening to music that might not be anywhere near my preferred musical style, followed by a lengthy monologue — even a relatively interesting one — and then after all that, being asked to fork over some of my hard-earned cash. That kind of sounds like a recipe for disaster in today’s fast-paced, attention grabbing, economically challenged world.

Who wants this anymore? This is supposed to build up our spirits and give us strength to face life’s challenges? How does that work?

I’m going to take a stab at responding to these questions. More than that, I’m going to take on the even more daunting task of challenging you to make getting back to church on Sundays your number 1 New Year’s resolution.

In Old Testament times, the children of Israel had been serving a sentence of exile that lasted — for many of them — over 70 years. When they finally returned from Babylon to their homeland, they were so grateful to be home that they demanded their “pastor” Ezra come out, read the Bible, and teach them.

The sermon lasted something like 6 hours. Yikes!

But something strange happened. The people listened like their lives depended on it. The people stood still, perked their ears up, and asked themselves, “How is this relevant to me? How does it apply to my life?”

What they heard from God’s word brought them to their knees. It grounded them in divine, spiritual reality. It rang true in their hearts and compared favorably to their life’s experiences. “Amen!” (“This is absolutely true!”) sprang from their lips.

So many people were eager to learn that they broke into small groups where they could ask their questions, and have other teachers respond. The Levites dove back into the Bible and worked with the people, explaining the meaning so they could be clear on what God was telling them.

Then their leader Nehemiah stood up and reminded them why they had so strenuously sought to have Ezra and the Levites teach them. It was to bring them out of their grief and restore their strength.

And where would that strength come from? God’s words and promises would remind them always. The joy they receive from the Lord would be their strength. God’s love, mercy, grace, the Lord’s peace, provision and protection — these would be their joy. And that joy would be their daily strength.

Who doesn’t need peace, joy and strength in their lives? My challenge to you this New Year’s is simply this: Take a serious look at the Israelites’ example. They believed the Bible’s teaching would give them these things and they gave God a chance to make good on his promises.

How about you? Will you give God a chance to make good on his promises in 2016?

It might just lead to surprising new strength for you in this new year!

“All the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel.

So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.

Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, ‘Amen! Amen!’ Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.

The Levites… instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there. They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.

Nehemiah said, ‘Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength'” (Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-8, 10, NIV).

Lord Jesus, let your joy — the joy of the Lord — be my strength. Help me to stay faithful to you and your word in the coming year, and grant me your Holy Spirit so that I may live in your love, forgiveness and power in the coming year.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, December 27, is Nehemiah 7:4 – 8:18, Revelation 18:17 – 19:10 and Psalm 148:1-6.

Header image based on "2016 Calendar..." by Jeff Djevdet, CC By 2.0

Tribal Faith

Seth Godin, author of the book Tribes, gives us an excellent definition of what a tribe is: “A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea… A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.”

What better word to describe the people of God than “tribe”? We possess all the characteristics of that term. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we are deeply connected to one another because we are all members of the family of God. As Christ-followers we have a strong connection to our leader, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And we are firmly connected to an idea — an idea that the Bible calls the gospel.

We are definitely a tribe.

And if we follow what Godin says next, then there are two things we need to be a tribe. We need a shared interest and we need a way to communicate.

Our shared interest is to love, thank and honor the God who first loved us and gave his Son as the perfect sacrifice for our sins. And our way to communicate with God is through worship. We listen to God as we hear the preaching and teaching of the word. We speak to God in prayer.

Perhaps that’s why the two concepts — tribes and worship — are connected by the author of Psalm 122. As the Psalmist writes, “the tribes of the Lord” go up to Jerusalem, they ascend to the temple, the house of the Lord. And why do they do this? To praise the name of the Lord.

Every Sunday we have a chance to “go tribal”… to show our connection to one another, to our Lord Jesus, and to God’s brilliant idea, the idea called the gospel. We have the opportunity to show that we are part of a cause, a “shared interest” in honoring God. And best of all, we have a sacred time set apart to communicate with our God, and to have him communicate with us.

“I rejoiced with those who said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.’ …That is where the tribes go up—the tribes of the Lord—to praise the name of the Lord according to the statute given to Israel” (Psalm 122:1, 4, NIV).

Lord, help me to see that I have a huge privilege in being able to worship you together with all my brothers and sisters in the Christian “tribe.” I thank you that you have included me in this tribe, and I pray that you will instill in all of us a joy in going to the house of the Lord — and a deep desire to praise your name.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, November 10, is Ezekiel 19:1 – 20:44, Hebrews 10:1-18 and Psalm 122:1-9.

Header image based on "Worship Cafe" by Sentinelle de mattino International , CC By-SA 2.0

Cut Through the Clutter

“Most people don’t have that willingness to break bad habits. They have a lot of excuses and they talk like victims,” says Carlos Santana, pioneer musician, winner of multiple Grammy awards, and the person listed by Rolling Stone magazine as number 20 on its list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.”

The author of the book of Hebrews understood this little “secret” about people too. We of the human race tend to have a self-defense mechanism that resembles the defense system of modern military aircraft. When a radar-guided missile is fired at it, it dispenses a cloud of chaff — small, thin pieces of aluminum or metallized glass fiber — in an attempt to distract the missile from its target.

In our case, the missile is guilt. When guilt threatens to strike us in a vulnerable place, a place that strikes close to home, we tend to dispense the chaff of our excuses. The reality is just as Santana said. It’s really a self-protective measure we use to stanch the hurt, and avoid having to break our bad habits.

We forget that God sees past all the excuses. He knows our hearts and our minds. He can see to the core of our being. With him, we have no secrets.

Praise God, he loves us enough that he has given us a tool to help us move beyond the excuses. He gave us his word, and it knifes through all the excuse-making and the blame-shifting. The word of God cuts through all the clutter and gets straight to the heart of the matter.

God knows and sees everything very clearly. With the help of his word, we can begin to see everything very clearly, too — even the motives of our own heart. And that will help us break our self-destructive bad habits, eliminate excuses, and put an end to the victim-mentality.

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:12-13, NIV).

Lord, help me to set aside all my excuses. I want to trade in all my excuses for the forgiveness of Jesus and true life-change. Keep me studying the Bible so that your word can cut through all the clutter and help me to break bad habits. I know your love and your mercy are the true power to change my heart and my life.

Our Bible reading for Monday, November 2, is Joel 2:18 – 3:21, Hebrews 4:1-13 and Psalm 119:145-152.

Header image based on "050810-F-9032T-010" by poter.simon, CC By 2.0

Light for Your Path

It’s one thing to fear physical darkness and things that go bump in the night. Every year, at the end of October, we get our fill of movies and TV programs that feed off of those kinds of fears.

It’s another thing entirely to endure emotional darkness. Emotional darkness takes many forms, and none of them are the least bit pleasant. Confusion, depression, feelings of deep shame and guilt, fears of being exposed as a fraud, obsessions and compulsions that we feel powerless to overcome — all of these can lead to feelings of deep darkness.

But the worst kind of darkness is spiritual darkness. Because it’s a deceptive, stealthy kind of darkness — a deep shroud of darkness we may not initially recognize as darkness. In fact, many who walk in spiritual darkness are absolutely convinced that they’re walking in the brightest of light. But sadly, it’s the complete opposite. It’s the very deepest kind of darkness.

Paul, the apostle, talks about those trapped in spiritual darkness as he writes to Titus. He says, In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good” (Titus 1:15b-16).

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

By the grace of God, we have been given a light that can drive out the deepest spiritual darkness. It can flood our hearts with light. It can shine a spotlight on our footsteps, and show us the path to God.

God’s word is that light. And you can pick up that light as easily as picking up your Bible. It probably doesn’t even weigh as much as that flashlight you keep in your kitchen drawer. But spiritually, it has megawatt power and great luminous intensity!

“Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Psalm 119:105, NIV).

Lord Jesus, I thank you for your word. And I thank you that your word points me to you, my Savior and my Lord. May the Bible always shed the light of your grace into my heart, guide my footsteps, and light my path until I am at your side eternally.

Our Bible reading for Monday, October 26, is Jeremiah 52:1-34, Titus 1:1-16 and Psalm 119:105-112.

Header image based on "Lighting the way" by Stephen Bowler, CC By 2.0

Diligence and Vigilance. Doctrine and Life.

God loves to see us progress in our faith. And that’s what Paul tells his young protege Timothy. As you grow, he says to Timothy, let everyone notice your progress.

Diligence and vigilance are the key ideals Paul employs when he urges Timothy to make progress in his faith. Once we become believers, it can be easy to coast. We can be lulled into being satisfied with the minimum. And we can drop our guard — forgetting that the devil is out there prowling around like a roaring lion.

For Timothy, as a leader in the church, diligence and vigilance were doubly important. Because he was setting an example for others. As he “gave himself wholly” to his ministry and to his own faith, his followers would take note. As he kept a close eye on his way of life and his doctrine, he would help not just himself, but also his hearers.

Notice here, that Paul mentions both doctrine and life. Not doctrine or life. Doctrine and life. Both are critical for Timothy to have a healthy life of faith that sets the tone for those whom he is teaching.

This is good for us to remember too. When we are diligent about our faith, when we watch to see that our teaching conforms to the Bible, when we live according to God’s commandments, we show our progress and we help others make progress as well. And when we persevere and keep on doing this, people notice our habits.

Lots of “ands” here. Diligence and vigilance. Doctrine and life. Perseverance in these helps us make progress in our faith. And it helps others make progress in their faith, too.

“Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:15-16, NIV).

Lord, help me to stay diligent and vigilant. I know that it is impossible for me to do this on my own. So strengthen me to keep close watch on both my doctrine and my life, so that I may progress in my faith, and help others progress in their faith as well.

Our Bible reading for Monday, October 19, is Jeremiah 40:7 – 42:22, 1 Timothy 4:1-16 and Proverbs 25:11-20.

Header image based on "KEEP ON THE WATCH" by whologwhy, CC By 2.0

It’s All God, From Start to Fuel to Finish!

What God starts, God fuels. What God fuels, God finishes.

Sounds a little bit like running a distance race, doesn’t it? You make your start. You make sure you’re fueled up during the race. And then you overcome all the obstacles and “walls” and make it through to the finish line.

But in the race of faith, the subject of all those sentences is God. God makes my start. God fuels me up. God overcomes the obstacles and walls and sees to it I make it through to the end. That’s important to know. Because what this means is that we don’t have to start this race, fuel it, or finish it.

That might sound pretty crazy at first, but think of it this way. God chose us and called us by the work of the Spirit to come to the starting line. He did this by having the gospel taught to us — typically through someone he sent. It might have been a parent, a friend, a family member, or just someone we know at work or in our neighborhood who invited us to church.

God then fuels our faith. Again, this is not our work, but the work of the Spirit. He does this through Bible teaching, and through sacraments like baptism and the Lord’s Supper. This fueling of faith is typically done at a church. Paul told the Thessalonians, they had only to stand firm and hold fast. In other words, don’t push the Spirit away. Don’t stop listening to the word. And as it imperfect as it can certainly be at times, don’t despise the church.

And it’s God who finishes the work, too. By grace he encourages us to eternity. By his steadfast love he gives us good hope. And with his forgiveness and power, he strengthens us to experience life-change. Our deeds and words change over time and become more and more attuned to the deeds and words of Jesus. Stay in touch with word and sacrament, with Christian friends and leaders, with growing and serving, and God will finish his work in you.

In the book of Hebrews, God is called “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” And in the book of Philippians, we read that the apostle Paul is confident that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

That’s really what Paul is also saying in today’s reading. But here in his second letter to the Thessalonians, he gives us just a little more detail about how that works. Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther described the process beautifully in his explanation to the third article of the Apostle’s Creed:

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church he forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.

But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word” (2 Thessalonians 2:13-17, NIV).

Lord Jesus, you are the impetus, the fuel and the finishing power in my race of faith. Give me the strength to overcome every obstacle and wall in my race. By your forgiveness, your wisdom, your power, and most of all, your love, take me through to victory!

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, October 14, is Jeremiah 29:24 – 31:14, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-17 and Psalm 119:33-40.

Header image based on "Spartan Race 092411 472" by Edwin Martinez, CC By 2.0