Saturday, February 19, 2011

February 17, 2011

"For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us." (Psalm 103:11-12)

Pitchers and catchers have reported to Spring Training, and before we know it the competitive 2011 version of America's Greatest Pastime will be underway. I would imagine that it's safe to say that most of us know the basic rules of baseball, but I will be the first to admit that I have no clue how to score a game and also probably couldn't be considered an expert at analyzing any of baseball's detailed statistics. One statistic that I do know is important however, when judging a player's worth in the game of baseball, is batting average. How many times out of a thousand does a player get a hit? Hitting "1000," would be perfection. Today in the Bigs, if you hit in the "300's," (or 300 times out of a thousand you get on base) then you are considered an All-Star batter. From this baseball jargon comes the sarcastic slang phrase, "I'm sure batting a thousand today..." Which really means that I'm failing at everything I'm attempting today and I'm just striking out at everything I swing at today.

After looking at the Old Testament Lesson and the Epistle Lesson and the Gospel Lesson for this upcoming Sunday (Epiphany 7), I got the sense that these passages were heavy on Law and light on Gospel. Finally in the Psalm of the Day, Psalm 103, I found the gorgeous glorious guarantee of the Gospel in the verses we are considering above.

The Old Testament Lesson tells us to, "Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy." (Leviticus 19:2). After looking in the mirror it's not hard to see that our own holiness doesn't even compare to the holiness of the LORD our God - it's a swing and a miss for all of us. The Epistle Lesson speaks to the fact that our bodies are temples of the Holy spirit. (1 Corinthians 3:16-17) After looking in the mirror we might remember all the times we used, or rather misused or bodies as though they were our own - this too is a swing and a miss for us. The Gospel Lesson speaks to the fact that we should be loving not only our neighbors and those who treat us well, but also our enemies and those who don't treat us well. After taking an honest look in the mirror we might see ourselves doing things to both our enemies and our neighbors that couldn't be considered anything other than hateful - another swing and a miss. The Gospel Lesson closes with the command to, "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:48) and we don't even need to look in the mirror to know that we're swinging hard and missing hard on this one. When we used these passages as a mirror to see how we look, and compare that to how we should look, we will quickly realize that when it comes to what God demands of us in these passages that sarcastically speaking, "we're sure batting a thousand!" The apostle Paul realized this very same thing: "I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. What a wretched man I am!

Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:18,24,25)
Because of His immeasurable love, God didn't leave us on our own to keep swinging and to keep striking out. He put in a pinch-hitter, His only Son Jesus, who actually could, and actually did literally "bat a thousand," - as he lived a perfect life for us, in our place. And then because He died on the cross and rose victorious from the grave, we are now the winners. Jesus took all our transgressions and knocked them not only out of the infield, not only out of the playing field, not only out of the park, but knocked them to infinity and beyond! Our transgressions are removed, forgiven and forgotten. When God looks at the "Jumbotron" for the replay of our at-bat, He doesn't see all of our swings and misses. “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more. (Isaiah 43:25) Jesus gives us a new uniform, as he clothes us in robes of righteousness, so that when God looks at the replay He sees us in our new uniforms ,totally right with Him, literally "batting a thousand." "I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness.." (Isaiah 61:10)

The more we look into the mirror of God's Law, the more we will see and realize how often we whiff - how often we swing and miss. The Law forces us to easily realize that when it comes to obeying God's commands that we are sarcastically speaking: "really batting a thousand." (this of course doesn't mean that we shouldn't keep swinging - God gives us the strength to hit some pitches and conquer temptations- which is a topic for another devotion)... But the more we look at the perfect play of God's Gospel, the more we will see and realize how awesome it is that the only person who could literally "bat a thousand" when it comes to following God's commands - Jesus - has hit perfectly. And through the gift of faith in Jesus, His perfect record is ours. Thanks be to God that in His immeasurable mercy and grace for us, He put in the pinch-hitter Jesus, who has knocked our transgressions so far out of the park and away from us, that they are now even out of God's sight.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

February 10, 2011

"However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit." (1 Corinthians 2:9-10)

High school sweethearts celebrating their 30th anniversary might say to one another - "I just can't imagine my life without you."

A friend talking to a friend about another friend who was just diagnosed with a debilitating terminal illness might say - "I just can't imagine what they're going through."

A Green Bay Packer's fan talking to another Green Bay Packer's fan about Aaron Rodgers winning his first Super Bowl might say - "I just can't imagine what it would feel like to be Number 12 right now."

Usually when we say that we can't imagine something, what we are really saying is that it would be difficult to imagine, or to relate to, or to visualize, or to conceptualize. It would be difficult to imagine - but not impossible. What is absolutely impossible to imagine or to conceive on our own is the message of the Gospel and the meaning of the Gospel - "what God has prepared for those who love Him." It's more than just hard to relate to, because there is nothing to relate it to. There's nothing that our minds have thought of, there's nothing that our eyes have seen, there's nothing that our ears have heard, that can do justice as a decent comparison with the love and actions of our Savior God. The Gospel message is absolutely foreign to the senses of someone who hasn't been affected by the Spirit. To the unbeliever, the love God has is Foreign to the point of being totally incomprehensible. What God has prepared for those who love Him is alien to those who don't love Him. Without the help of the Spirit, we literally just can't imagine what God has prepared for us.

We humans lost true comprehension of God way back in Eden when sin created a great barrier between God and man. Because of sin, Adam and Eve's offspring would by nature know of God, but by nature wouldn't love God. Isn't it interesting that part of the lure that the devil used to get Eve to take the forbidden bite had to do with the desire for increased knowledge? Remember what snake told Eve? “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5) The devil told lies of diametric proportions. When Adam and Eve followed the devil, their knowledge base wasn't increased - they didn't suddenly know what God knows . One thing they did know and realize was that God is powerful - which is one reason why they hid. Our limited natural knowledge of God can imagine that God is powerful, but nothing in nature, or in our own nature that is sinful, can tell us about the Good News - nothing in nature can tell us about what God has prepared for those who love Him. "For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened." (Romans 1:20-21) Adam and Eve's foolish and futile sin tainted minds and ears and eyes couldn't have seen or heard or thought up a plan to find their way again. God had to enter and intervene and reveal to them His plan, or in other words: what He had prepared for them - which was the substitute Christ, the second Adam. The same is true of the inability of our ears, eyes and minds to - on our own - hear, see, or picture what God has prepared for us.

"From hearts depraved, to evil prone, flow thoughts and deeds of sin alone;
God's image lost, the darkened soul, nor seeks nor finds its heav'nly goal.

But Christ, the second Adam, came to beat our sin and woe and shame,
to be our life, or light, our way, our only hope, our only stay." (CW 378:3,4)

Christ is our only life, our only light, our only way, our only hope, our only stay. But the only way we can find our life, light, way, hope and stay is if God the Father reveals Him to us through His Spirit. Without the Spirit we can't imagine that Jesus can do or be anything for us. All this Luther so succinctly summarized when he wrote, "I believe that I cannot by my own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel" (Third Article, Small Catechism).

"It was grace in Christ that called me, taught my darkened heart and mind,
else the world had yet enthralled me, to your heav'nly glories blind.
Now I worship none above you; for your grace alone I thirst,
knowing well that if I love you, You, O Father loved me first." (CW 380:2)

We once were Spiritually blind but now because of the Spirit's love and revelation, we see. We once were Spiritually deaf, but now because of the Spirit's love and revelation, we now are able to hear and receive the wonderful message of the Gospel. We once were Spiritually dumb, but now because of the Spirit's love and revelation, our minds have been renewed and we now know what God has prepared for us who love Him. Through faith we arrive at the point where we can't help but say, "I just can't imagine life without Him!"

And about others who are still Spiritually blind, deaf and dumb, we might wonder and we might say, "I just can't imagine how they're going through life without Him." "I just can't imagine living without knowing the cure for the terminal illness of sin." "I just can't imagine life without true comfort". "I just can't imagine life without true hope." God wants everyone to have the unimaginable knowledge of what is true - the knowledge of truth. "God our Savior wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth." (1 Timothy 2:4) We might be tempted to ask ourselves, "if God wants all men to be saved, then why doesn't he just put the Spirit in the drinking water, or put the Spirit in the air that we all breathe, so that all men will come to the knowledge and be saved?" If we find ourselves asking this question, let's remember what the Spirit through the prophet Isaiah has revealed to us about our ideas as compared to God's ideas: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:8-9) All we can know is what the Spirit has revealed to us, and what has been revealed is that there is a gap between humans who don't yet know God's love, and the saving effect of the love and mercy and grace that God has for them. What we also know is that we, who have come to the knowledge of the truth, are to be the gap fillers who bridge that gap - as we direct the lost to the Word and the Spirit, who works through the Word, to reveal what God has in store for those who love Him. Let's be the bridges. And then let's pray like the Apostle Paul, "that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give [them] the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that [they] may know him better." (Ephesians 1:17)

Before the Spirit opens our eyes and ears and minds, we literally can't imagine what God has in store for us. But praise be to God that He has revealed it to us by His Spirit! And now we just can't imagine what life would be without Him! And we also just can't imagine what life is like for those who are without Him. And so out of love for others, and motivated by and patterned in the love He had for us, we tell others who still just can't imagine. We direct them to the Word and to the Spirit who works through the Word. We act as the bridge over the gap between the unimaginable and the unbelievably amazing, which God has prepared for those who love Him!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

January 27, 2011

"... the LORD has a case against his people; he is lodging a charge against Israel. “My people, what have I done to you? How have I burdened you? Answer me. I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam. My people, remember what Balak king of Moab plotted and what Balaam son of Beor answered. Remember your journey from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the righteous acts of the LORD.”

(Israel's response):

"With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? " (Micah 6:2-7 NIV2010)

You see it play out in the movies, possibly because it's true to life: The young, wealthy, spoiled character, who was given - by his affluent father - everything that money can buy (including trouble), is now in trouble with the law. And the character doesn't pretend that he didn't do what he is accused of doing - in fact everyone knows he did it. Maybe he's sorry he got caught, but for sure he's not sorry that he did it. He just wants to cut to the chase with the judge to find out how much it's going to cost this time to get himself out of trouble - how much of his father's money is he going to have to cough up to pay the fine or to pay the penalty for whatever he did.

If you think about it, the Israelites were kind of like this spoiled character. God blessed them tremendously. In fact everything they had, including their freedom, their land, their cattle, was given to them by their most affluent Father - God. And yet they found a way to use what they had been blessed with to get into trouble and to do anything and everything but what God, their Father, wanted them to do. And when confronted with their sins, the Israelites, like the character in the movie, wouldn't be sorry - at least not truly sorry or penitent. According to Micah's insight into the Israelite's spirit and thought process, all the Israelites wanted to do was to figure out what kind of sacrifice they could offer up to appease God. What's it going to cost this time: a calf, a thousand rams or a thousand rivers of oil, or maybe if that wasn't enough - their first born?

How about us? Can we draw any similarities between the attitude and actions of the Israelites, or the attitude and actions of the character from the movies, and our own actions and attitudes? Have we not also been ridiculously blessed by God? Even in the midst of a serious economic recession, we are still living in a land of virtual milk and honey, and most importantly a land where we are still free to worship the true God. Not to mention how we have all been ridiculously blessed Spiritually speaking. We all have the sure hope that we will one day be brought from the wilderness of this world - from our own personal Shittims, to Gilgal, to the Promise Land of heaven. This is how God has treated us, and yet don't we sometimes choose to use what God has blessed us with to serve interests that conflict with God's law and will? If we are honest in our self-examination, we will realize that we are like the character in the movie and like the Israelites, in that we have been blessed, but in many cases have gone prodigal with the blessings by sinning.

But this is where the similarity ends though, right? There's no way that we, living in New Testament times, would ever attempt to appease God with our own sacrifices. We know we're forgiven by faith alone and by grace alone. We know that it's only through Christ's sacrifice that we are forgiven... When we've felt guilty for something we did or didn't do, rather than fall on our knees and ask for mercy, have we ever stayed standing? Have we ever had the devil plant the idea in our minds that we should actually try to do something to try and butter God up - as though we can somehow get ourselves back in God's good graces - as though we can somehow earn God's favor and get Him to want to continue to have mercy on us? God is good and merciful and continuously gracious towards us all on His own. This held true even when we were His enemies -keep in mind, "while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8) When we realize we have gotten caught up in breaking God's law and going against His will, the temptation can be to look to try and do something to appease, but all God wants is our hearts. We humans tend to look for outward action, but "the LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7) When we part ways with God's will, in order to return, God doesn't want us to do anything, He has done it all already by sacrificing His son Jesus for us. What God wants is our hearts. He wants our contrite hearts. "You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." (Psalm 51:16,17)

The great American Lutheran hymnist Jaroslav J. Vajda realized the condition of man's heart and captured the spirit of true contrition as he suggests who to turn to in order to have our heart disease healed. Vajda reworked Martin Luther's great hymn of true penitence, "From Depths of Woe I Cry to You." Vajda titled his hymn, "In Hopelessness and Near Despair," here's verse 2:

"I see my heart's condition now, my heart's diverse affections.
Why do I love the things you loathe; I'm torn in two directions:
Now prodigal, now Pharisee. O God, be merciful to me;
Who else but you can help me?" (CWS 738:2)

When we, like the Israelites (and the character in the movies), go prodigal with what God has blessed us with by sinning, let's avoid trying to turn to ourselves for the solution. We have nothing to bring to the redemption table. Rather than doing something, let's keep in mind that Jesus has already done it all. Let's do nothing except dropping to our knees to ask for mercy and continued grace, recognizing that Jesus has already made the complete sacrifice for us - once for all: "First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them” (although the law required them to be made). Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:8-10) Jesus has made the sacrifice for all our transgressions, all God desires is that our heart, through contrition and faith, trusts in Jesus and the sacrifice He made for us. Let's humbly pray with the Psalmist David: "Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me." (Psalm 51:10-12). Once our hearts are pure again, then our heartfelt natural response will be to want to do something to express our thanks to God for Jesus - God's Sacrifice that trumps all other sacrifices. The LORD is pleased with this post-redemption action of thanks and praise.

Thank you Jesus for being the perfect sacrifice. Thank you for the sacrifice you made for us prodigals. Amen!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

January 20, 2011

“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” (Matthew 4:19 NIV 2010)

Have you ever seen a bumper sticker on the bumper of a car that you were following, that had lettering in extremely small font - so small that you would only be able to read it if you were right on the tail of the car you were following? I have seen a number of these, and often the phrase you will find, if you are able to make it out, turns out to be something vulgar in nature. But once I saw one of these stickers that I could actually appreciate - it posed the question (again in very small font only visible from short distances) "Are you following Jesus this closely?" It's a question worth asking ourselves. Can we truthfully say that we are "tailgating Jesus?" Or have we allowed other "cars" like self-centeredness, or the world and its pleasures, or some other kind of car to get in between our car and Jesus bumper? Of course if it were up to us and our own driving skills, we would have lost Jesus' lead, be down the wrong road, and crashed in no time... I am by no means a follower of pop-culture, but the refrain of a pop song made famous by Carrie Underwood happened to pop into my head, and while including it seemed a little silly, it also seemed to be a fitting plea for us reckless drivers: "Jesus take the wheel, take it from my hands, 'cause I can't do this on my own. I'm letting go so give me one more chance to save me from this road I'm on. Jesus, take the wheel." Even as we accept the invitation to follow Jesus, we must realize that we absolutely need Jesus to take the wheel, to guide us, and to draw us ever closer to Him so that we are able to follow.

"Draw us to thee; oh grant that we may walk the road to heaven!
Direct our way lest we should stray and from thy paths be driven." (CW 170:3)

When we are drawn to Jesus, when we are tailgating Jesus, one thing that we will be following is His example. When we follow Jesus closely we will quickly see that compassion and love for people dominates His attitude and actions. Doesn't it seem like we are almost to the point that if the people of this world aren't loving themselves, then they aren't loving at all? Jesus Himself warned, "Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold." (Matthew 24:12) If we find ourselves following the world at all, it is likely that our love, if it doesn't grow cold, will for sure grow colder. But when we follow Jesus we will see that in all Jesus' healings and in all His dealings, His feelings of love and compassion predominated.

"Come follow me," the Savior spoke, "All in my way abiding,
deny yourselves; the world forsake; Obey my call and guiding.
Oh, bear the cross, what e'er betide; take my example for your guide." (CW 453:1)

In following Jesus, we will find out that what the Psalmist wrote is true - "The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love" (Psalm 145:8) When we follow Jesus we would do well to pray that He would Kindle in us the fire of His love, that we may imitate Him and show warmth and love and compassion towards others whose love is growing cold. "Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. " (Ephesians 5:1-2) When we imitate Jesus and follow Jesus and His example closely, our own sense and level of love and compassion for our neighbors will be heightened. And how can we show our love for our neighbor more, or be more compassionate towards our neighbors, than by being concerned with their Spiritual needs? And so when we follow Jesus' example and follow Jesus' command, we will find ourselves being busy making disciples - fishing for men. Our fishing can follow Jesus' example by starting out by being genuinely compassionate towards people and their problems, showing genuine care and concern, and providing help when possible. But then above all else, nothing is more compassionate or shows more love towards our neighbor than getting them hooked on God - than getting their own car following, and then closely following, and eventually even tailgating Jesus.

"Are you following Jesus this closely?" When we follow Jesus our Savior closely - or more accurately when He in mercy steers us closer to Him - we will be comforted by the tremendous amount of love and compassion that He showers upon us and everyone He comes in contact with. The more time we spend following Jesus, and the closer we follow Jesus, the more we will be prone then to follow His example of compassion and love, and then direct that compassion and love towards others around us. "If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:1-5) Ultimately the best way to follow Jesus' example of looking to the interest of others and loving and showing concern for others, is to fish them - to share Jesus and His love with them, and get them hooked on Jesus, so that they will want to follow Jesus closely too.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

January 13, 2011

"Listen to me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations... [God] says: “It is too small a thing for you [Jesus] to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:1,6)

Under the premise, "nothing is impossible with God" (Luke 1:37), imagine for a minute what it would be like if God would interfere with the laws of nature as we know them. Imagine if God were to make it so that the food that was eaten, by anyone in the world who didn't have a certain people's blood running through their veins, Haitian blood for example, that the food would no longer nourish their bodies. Imagine if God were to make it so that the water that was drunk, by anyone in the world who didn't have Haitian blood running through their veins, would no longer hydrate their bodies. Imagine if God were to make it so that the sun would no longer bring heat or light to anyone who didn't have Haitian blood running through their veins. What you would be imagining, would be the majority of the people of the world dark and dead and destroyed.

As dismal as this imaginary painted picture may be, how much more dismal it is ,that Spiritually speaking, the majority of the world is actually currently Spiritually hungry, thirsty, dark, dying and on the road to destruction. "For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it." (Matthew 7:13) BUT, this is the case NOT because they have the wrong blood flowing through their veins. And while God may use the laws of nature as we know them to pull the plug and turn out the lights, causing certain nations to rise and fall according to His will and purpose, Spiritually speaking, God doesn't leave any people of any nation of the world to starve to death in darkness. The Apostle Peter recognized this, "Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right." (Acts 10:34-35) The Apostle Paul puts it this way in his letter to the Romans, "For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." (Romans 10:12-13)

Sin doesn't show favoritism either however. Sin affects and infects all people from all nations. There is no person, no matter what nation they belong to or what kind of blood is running through their veins, who was born Spiritually full or Spiritually alive. "We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:9-12) The Good News, strike that, the Great News is that God made Jesus a light, not only for those who have Israelite blood, the blood of Jacob, running through their veins, but also to ALL who are alike under sin, even those from the distant nations and even to the ends of the earth. Through faith all people, no matter what kind of blood is running through their veins, are redeemed, are justified, and are right with God. "This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:22-24)

Because the Servant Jesus brought salvation to the ends of the earth, no one of any nation has to remain Spiritually hungry or Spiritually thirsty or Spiritually dead: "Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:35, 57-58) Because the Servant Jesus brought salvation to the ends of the earth, no one of any nation has to remain Spiritually thirsty or Spiritually dead: "Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14) In the Beatitudes we learn, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled." (Matthew 5:6) In John's Revelation we see those from all nations who through faith will indeed be filled forever: “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, “they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst." (Revelation 7:14-16) Because the Servant Jesus, the Son, brought the light of salvation to the ends of the earth, no one of any nation has to remain in Spiritual darkness or has to remain Spiritually dead, "When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

Because the Servant Jesus brought the light of salvation to the ends of the earth, no one of any nation has to remain Spiritually hungry, Spiritually thirsty, in Spiritual darkness or Spiritually dying; but they will, unless they call on Jesus' name and become one of His disciples. "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?" (Romans 10:13-14) People of any and every nation who are still starving and are still parched and are still in the darkness - people who are Spiritually dying, need to hear that Jesus has brought salvation and relief to the ends of the earth - so they can believe - so they can be saved. "God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation." (2 Corinthians 5:19) We who know the message, have the privilege and responsibility of sharing the message, as we do what Jesus has told us to do, to "go and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19)

If you cannot speak like angels,
If you cannot preach like Paul,
You can tell the love of Jesus,
You can say He died for all.
Take the task He gives you gladly;
Let His work your pleasure be;
Answer quickly when He calleth,
“Here am I, send me, send me.” (CW 573:2,4)

Through Jesus the light of the world, God has brought His salvation to the ends of the earth. As beneficiaries of that salvation, our response will be to gladly take that message of love and relief, that message that Jesus has saved ALL, to those of every nation who are still Spiritually starving to death. A good place to start is with the people who we encounter everyday in our little end of the earth. Let's gladly take the message of salvation to the ends of the earth!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

January 6, 2011

"As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17)

Maybe this phrase has almost fallen out of use completely, but occasionally I still hear a waitress or a barkeep ask, "what's your pleasure?" Spiritually speaking, if we carefully considered it, our answer to the question "what's your pleasure?" would be the old safe Sunday School default answer to any religious question - "Jesus." And boy would we be right! Offer anything in the world and put it next to Jesus and you can "Take the world, but give me Jesus." Jesus, the one whom God is well pleased with, is also our pleasure. Jesus is our greatest and purest pleasure.

"Hence, all earthly treasure! Jesus is my pleasure; Jesus is my choice.
Hence, all empty glory! Naught to me thy story, told with tempting voice.
Pain or loss or shame or cross, shall not from my Savior move me, since he deigns to love me." (CW 349:4)

The very reason Jesus is our purest pleasure, is because the only reason God the Father can be well pleased with us, is because of Jesus and what Jesus did for us. When we have faith in what Jesus has done for us, we are pleasing to God, but "without faith it is impossible to please God." (Hebrews 11:6) Without Jesus we have nothing to have faith in. With Jesus and through faith in Jesus - who accomplished well the will and purpose of God the Father, which was to make us holy - we are pleasing in the Father's sight. What God's will was, and what God was pleased with was the sacrifice that Jesus made for us all. "[Jesus] said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you [God the Father] did not desire, nor were you pleased with them” (although the law required them to be made). Then [Jesus] said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:8-10)

God the Father was pleased that Jesus would accomplish His will, His good pleasure, which was to make us holy through Jesus Christ's sacrifice. "And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ," (Ephesians 1:9) God the Father was also well pleased with Jesus and His execution of His will and execution of His plan for our salvation. Right before Jesus began his public ministry leg of winning for us Salvation, the Father expressed His vote of confidence in Jesus to carry out the plan - at Jesus' baptism: "And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Right before Jesus began his Passion leg of winning for us Salvation the Father again expressed His vote of confidence in Jesus to carry out the plan - at the Transfiguration: While [Peter] was still speaking [to Jesus], a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5) Because God was well pleased with Jesus' substitutionary life and because God was well pleased with Jesus sacrificial death, we are now pleasing to God. And because we are now pleasing to God, we are well pleased with Jesus and the work He did for us. Jesus is our greatest pleasure.

“This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” God the Father knew what had to be done to save us, and God the Son did well what had to be done to save us. And with this God was well pleased. "What's our pleasure?" Our answer will agree with the words of the hymnist - "what pleases God, that pleases me!" Jesus is God's pleasure, and because God is also well pleased with us who have faith in Jesus, Jesus is our pleasure too!

"God knows what must be done to save me;
His love for me will never cease.
Upon His hands He did engrave me,
With purest gold of loving grace.
His will supreme must ever be;
What pleases God, that pleases me." (CW 414:2)

Friday, December 31, 2010

December 30, 2010

"I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better." (Ephesians 1:17)

It was Thomas Edison who once said, "we don't know one millionth of one percent about anything." Even someone who has devoted their entire life to studying something, and who is considered the premier expert in their field, probably really doesn't have command of all the idiosyncrasies surrounding their area of expertise. As complex as anything in this world is, that "anything" is still just the creation. How much more complex and deep is the creator of the creation! "Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?” For from him and through him and for him are all things." (Romans 11:33-36) It's obvious that if we humans can't even get a tip of the iceberg grasp on anything in the creation, that we will certainly never be able to wrap our minds around the complexity of the creator of the creation. But the good news is that the Holy Spirit uses the Good News and the Word of God to reveal no less than than all the wisdom and knowledge necessary for our eternal survival. Remember what we are told in the closing words of John's Gospel? "Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." (John 20:30-31) We have the written words that we may have life in His name. We have the "...Holy Scriptures, which are able to make [us] wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus." (2 Timothy 3:15)

Without the Holy Spirit however, the Holy Scriptures themselves would be nonsense to us - the Scriptures would be but foolishness that requires discernment that's beyond our comprehension. Luther had it right in his explanation to the 3rd Article of the Creed, "I believe that I cannot by my own thinking or choosing 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." Or think of what the Apostle Paul wrote, "No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit." (1 Corinthians 12:3) Without the Spirit, we would have no understanding or be able to conceive or percieve the message of the wisdom of God. (here comes a big chunk of Scripture - avoid the temptation to skim over it - allow the Spirit to use these words, "so that you may know him better") "We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Corinthians 2: 6-15) Thanks be to the Holy Spirit who has opened our eyes and minds, and who has revealed to us just what we need to understand about the out of this world wisdom of God!

Yes, none of us now know even a fraction of one millionth of one percent of the wisdom of God, but because of the work of the Spirit and through faith, all of us know one hundred percent of what we need to know to be prepared to share in the inheritance waiting for we who are God's holy people. Knowing enough however, shouldn't hinder our hunger for learning more, because the better we get to know Him and the more we grow in the knowledge of Him, the stronger our faith will become. While we are in the flesh and while we are in the world and while the devil is doing his best to find a way to devour us, our faith needs to be as strong as possible so that we may endure, moving forward day by day towards the perfection of fully knowing God, which we will experience when we begin to enjoy our inheritence in heaven. May God "fill [us]with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that [we] may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that [we] may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified [us] to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light."(Colossians 1:9-14) My prayer for you (and for myself) for the new year is that God would continue to "give [us] the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that [we] may know Him better!"

O Holy Spirit, thanks and praise
in this new year we render,
For you have led our eyes to see
Your truth in all its splendor
And thus enkindled from above
within our hearts true faith and love
And other Christian virtues. (CW 72:3)