A Promise is a Promise

February 19, 2018

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless.” – Genesis 17:1

It had been 24 years since God had promised Abram that he would have a son with his wife, Sarai. He was now 99. She was 89. If the prospect of having a son at ages 75 and 65 was extraordinary, having a son when he was almost 100 was surely humanly impossible. Yet God came to Abram once again to remind him that whether something seems possible or not is of no consequence to the Almighty. He gave Abram this gentle reminder, “I am God Almighty.” He was saying, “I have not forgotten my promise, Abram. I will still give you and Sarai a son, even in your old age. Doing the impossible is what I do. I will keep my promise.” Abram had not always been faithful, and he had been far from blameless. He and his wife doubted God’s promise at various times. Yet the Almighty God could and still would keep his promise to Abram.

So often, like Abram, we forget that God is almighty, that nothing is impossible for him. Whether we face health problems, conflicts in personal relationships, or just the frustration and worry of daily life in a sinful world, we easily fail to trust in God’s promises to provide and to work in all things for the good of his people. Like Abram, we have not been faithful and certainly we are not blameless.

But our God is Almighty and keeps his promises. He kept his promise to Abram and gave him a son. From that son came a nation and through that nation God sent his Son to save unfaithful, blameful sinners like us. Jesus, the Son of God, gave his holy life on the cross to forgive us and rose again to make heaven our eternal home. God does what is impossible for us to do by ourselves. Through faith in Jesus, he makes sinners into saints. He brings us from death to life. He changes us from being his enemies to being his sons and daughters.

So walk before God Almighty knowing that he has all power. Walk before God Almighty knowing that he can do what we may think is impossible. Walk before God Almighty knowing that he keeps his promises. Walk before God Almighty because through faith in Jesus he makes you faithful and blameless.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, for the sake of my Savior, Jesus, forgive me when I waver in my faith. Remind me and reassure me that you are my Almighty God who keeps his promises. Amen.

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I Am Sorry for My Sins, Why Does God Treat Me This Way?

February 12, 2018

Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD? – Isaiah 58:5

I told God I was sorry. I made myself feel real bad about that sin. I repented like he wanted me to. Why isn’t he treating me better?” How easily those thoughts creep into our minds! Do you see the grave danger hidden in them?

What’s the underlying mindset propping up those words? Isn’t it: “Well, I’ve done my part, God”—whatever that part might be. The original hearers thought their fasting proved their repentance, and so they deserved God’s favor. Is it your tears, your effort, your faithfulness, your religiousness that tempts you to imagine: “Well, God, I’ve done my part?”

How deadly! For that mindset exchanges the Lord of free and faithful grace for a god who requires his pound of flesh.

But our Lord freely gave his flesh and blood for sinners like you and me—and not only for us but for the world, for this wicked world. What grace! His unmerited kindness sacrificed himself for the undeserving. That’s you and me.

Such grace and love changes our mindset. We now hate our sin and cling to Jesus alone for forgiveness through God’s unconditional promise. That’s repentance. Because of God’s love for us, we love others without thinking what we’ll get out of it. And that love for others shows itself in our actions of kindness and helpfulness. That’s the fruit of repentance.

God’s grace continues to strengthen us to show kindness. When we call out to him for help, he answers: “Here am I. I am with you in my word and sacraments. My grace will never fail you.”

Prayer:

Not the labors of my hands
Can fulfill thy law’s demands.
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save and thou alone.

Nothing in my hands I bring,
Simply to thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to thee for dress,
Helpless, look to thee for grace
Foul, I to the fountain fly—
Wash me, Savior, or I die!
Amen.


Just Another Face

February 5, 2018

God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are. 1 Corinthians 1:27-28

It’s another Sunday morning. Into the church they come for the worship service. And what a sorry mess they are.

Don’t misunderstand. On the outside they look calm and pleasant enough. But on the inside it’s different. On the inside, each one is carrying bruises and wounds and scars.

Right side, third pew from the front. Middle-aged couple. For years, she has longed for her husband to open up to her, to let her in. He cannot shake the fear that he has been a disappointment to her.

Left side, second pew from the back. Single man in his twenties. He’s polite, well-mannered. But he feels like a hypocrite. His drinking with friends is getting out of hand. It’s led to things that mock the very God he claims to worship. He wonders if he’ll end up like his father.

Left side, half-way up. A young family of five. He runs his own garage. She keeps the books. Business has been down. The creditors are calling. And the kids are getting sick of Mom and Dad never having any time.

Right side, towards the back. Single mom, two small children. She’s always tired. And she can’t remember the last time she was able to listen to an entire sermon.

Left side, front row. Woman in her seventies. It’s been ten years, but the ache from her husband’s death has never left her. It still hurts to come to church alone.

Right side, middle pew. A divorced man in his late forties. His daughter seldom calls. And when he thinks about all the things he’s left undone, he cannot blame her.

And yet, in this sorry group of broken souls, the Lord Jesus is at work. He is calling them to repentance. He is healing them with his forgiveness. He is sweetening their tears. He is quieting their fears. He is refreshing them with his promises.

And when they leave this place, this rag-tag band, they will touch the lives of others. And the Word will spread. And others will come.

Prayer: Dearest Jesus, I am just a broken soul, afraid and alone. But you have rescued me in your blood. You have healed me in your gospel. Thank you for the privilege of doing the greatest work there is to do. Amen.


God’s Golden Rule – Tarnished by Us

January 29, 2018

“In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.” Matthew 7:12

These words from Jesus in Matthew chapter 7 are commonly known as the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” Many, if not all of us, have heard those words spoken to us often by parents, teachers, and anyone else trying to teach us good morals. Whether we were arguing with our siblings or squabbling with a classmate, we likely heard the encouragement to treat others as we would like to be treated.

It sounds nice, doesn’t it? It sounds reasonable. It sounds like a nice goal. If we all followed the Golden Rule, we would all get along wonderfully and we wouldn’t have problems or conflicts with anyone. That sounds great! It sounds so easy!

But it isn’t. Like most things Jesus teaches us in his Sermon on the Mount, putting the Golden Rule into practice in our lives is very difficult. More than that, it’s impossible. We’ d much rather, and so often, end up treating others the way they treat us—eye for an eye, insult for insult, and sarcastic comment for sarcastic comment. If someone cuts us off in traffic, we shout angrily. If someone offends us, we lash out at them. If someone slights us in the least, we strive to settle the score.

Isn’t it remarkable how Jesus is so very different from sinners like you and me? Had you and I been on that cross suffering for sins we didn’t commit, we would have shouted terrible things at those who insulted us. We would have called on God to strike those who were tormenting us. But in love for sinners, Jesus instead prayed: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And to one crucified next to him he said: “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”

Our Savior Jesus, rather than retaliate and get back at us for every time we have sinned against him, willingly gave his life on the cross for you and for me. He is the only one who ever perfectly kept the Golden Rule. By the grace of God, you and I get the credit for our Savior’s perfect life and our sins are paid for through his innocent suffering and death in our place.

Jesus’ amazing love moves you and me to follow the Golden Rule in thankfulness for all he has done for our salvation.

Prayer: Dear Jesus, thank you for never getting even with me. Forgive me for the shabby way I have treated others. Fill me with your love that I may do to others what I would have them do to me. Amen.


L.I.F.E. – Living in Faith Everyday … by living sexually pure and decent lives

January 22, 2018

Lord God, our heavenly Father, who has been faithful to us through Jesus Christ, enable us by the power of your Holy Spirit to trust in Your faithfulness and walk in faith every day, through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. – Titus 2:11-12

Where to Start – Living our faith with sexual purity does not begin with the Sixth Commandment, “You shall not commit adultery.” It begins with the Second Article and the grace of God in Jesus Christ. He brings us salvation and puri es us to be His own (Titus 2:14). Purity of living does not begin with what we should strive to be but with what God has made us to be in Baptism—pure in Christ.

Grace Training – Law training says, “Don’t do these things because they are bad.” Grace training says, “You don’t have to do these things because God is good and He revealed His goodness in Jesus.” Our Trainer does not see us as sexual beings but as human beings created by Him, puri ed in Christ, and gifted with sexuality. Puri ed people who live in Baptismal grace can choose purity! We can be trained!

Trained for What?

“To renounce ungodliness and worldly passions.”

  • Uphold the God-given sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman (Genesis 2:24).
  • Rejoice in our differing vocations as male and female and renounce behavior that distorts, belittles, or denies this truth (Genesis 1:27-28; 2:18-23; Ephesians 5:3-11).“To live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in the present age.”
  • Honor our marriages and our spouses (1 Corinthians 7:4; Ephesians 5:21-25; Hebrews 13:4).
  • Live in sexual purity of thought, word, and deed.
    (1 Corinthians 6:18-20; Ephesians 5:3-4; Philippians 4:8).Where to Finish – When we fail to obey our Trainer, we fall before Him on penitent knees for He remains our Savior. He forgives, cleanses, and puri es anew (1 John 1:9). We press on toward our goal of sexual purity to make it our own, “because Jesus has made [us] his own” (Philippians 3:12).

Prayer: Lord God, our heavenly Father, who has been faithful to us through Jesus Christ, enable us by the power of your Holy Spirit to trust in Your faithfulness and walk in faith every day, through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.


Our Father’s Justice

January 15, 2018

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his law the islands will put their hope.” This is what God the Lord says—he who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and all that comes out of it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it: “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.” – Isaiah 42:1-7

React to this statement: “The Lord will bring justice to the nations; he will establish justice on earth.”

If you are focused on all the evil and atrocities in the world and society, you are probably cheering, “Finally, the wicked will receive their ‘just deserts.’ Finally, some fairness.”

I get your applause. I can’t stand the evil either. But be careful of sounding and acting like a Pharisee. Because, if you are focused on the real evil and atrocities in life, you’d search your own heart. With an honest search, I don’t imagine you are as excited about justice coming. Justice strikes grave fear because we know the evil of our heart deserves the grave. Justice coming to others is one thing. But justice coming to us is the scariest thing.

But when you read about “justice” in Isaiah 42:1-7, do you read anything about destruction? Do you read anything about fire and brimstone? Do you read anything about hell? No. Rather you read about a Servant, chosen by God, to bring a different justice than you would expect.

This servant doesn’t bully you into a corner, start yelling at you, and beat you up, like you might expect. He doesn’t make you feel worse than you already feel. If you are broken because of your sin, he doesn’t break you more. If you feel like your faith is dying out, he doesn’t extinguish it for you. Instead he treats you with gentleness and care.

  • He opens your eyes to his sacrificing love on a cross where he received your “just deserts.”
  • He frees you from your prison sentence of hell by having been sentenced himself.
  • He brightens your life with the promise of paradise.

This servant has a name. His name is Jesus. His name is his message to you: “The Lord saves.” That’s his promise.

Prayer: Dear Lord God, thank you for choosing Jesus to be my Savior. Amen.


Absolutely Objective

January 8, 2018

Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. – 1 Peter 1:17

Are you a “Christian-By-Association”? In other words, do you consider yourself a Christian because you can point to your familiarity with the trappings of Christianity? Perhaps you can rattle off happy memories of going to Sunday School or a Christian Day School. Perhaps you can recall what it was like to be in a children’s Christmas program on Christmas Eve. Perhaps your parents and grandparents were active in church life and you’ve inherited some family connections with various pastors and teachers.

If that’s all you’ve gotten out of your exposure to Christianity, however, you’ve got nothing.

God is objective. It does not matter to God how active your parents or grandparents were at church. It does not matter to God how many songs you sang in Christmas Eve services of your childhood. It does not matter to God how many Christian pastors and teachers you know by name. If you or I think God will accept us because we’re familiar with some trappings of Christianity, then we are not hearing him. And a moment is coming when we’ll be in for a real shock.

What matters to God is our relationship with Jesus. What matters to God is our trust in Christ as our Savior from sin. What matters to God is the forgiveness we possess through faith in Jesus’ perfect life and death in our place. What matters to God is that my personal eyes of faith are fixed upon his Son.

No more pretending. Only Jesus. He alone makes all the difference in the world. Your world too.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, forgive me for all the times I have not focused on your Son. Wash me in his blood. Renew my zeal for the good news of salvation through Jesus. Amen.