Dear… – Week of August 19, 2019
When the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men stoop….
It wasn’t just their haircuts that marked them as military when they came into Walmart. Backs straight, stomachs flat, muscles taut—they were standing tall and strong.
He wasn’t. Shoulders slumped a little. Hands shook a little. And his feet shuffled.
He smiled to see them. Once, he had been like them. He still felt a kinship. Once, he too had worn the uniform. At one time he had rappelled with ease. Once upon a time, he had jumped out of airplanes.
Now, he sits on a stool and says, “Hello!” as people enter the store.
Now he is only an elderly greeter.
Thirty years ago, he was in control of his life—so he thought. Thirty-five years ago, his strength and skill could overcome any trouble—so he thought. Forty years ago, he knew he needed no one’s help. He knew he needed no God.
That was not smart.
By divine inspiration, the smartest man ever was prompted to write the words, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, ‘I find no pleasure in them’…” (Ecclesiastes 12:1).
Such wise words demand our attention.
We might not be able to predict future world events, but we surely can foresee a certainty in our life. Unless we die young, we will grow old. We will grow feeble. And then we will die.
The 12th chapter of the book of Ecclesiastes is worth reading at any age, but especially when we are young and healthy. It forces us to put our life into perspective.
With dramatic wording, Solomon describes how it is to grow old: when life is no longer bright; when chewing is difficult; when eyesight fades and sounds grow faint; and when one drags himself through the day.
His words, “when the strong man stoops” make us think of that former paratrooper now sitting on a stool in Walmart.
And then what? “The dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:7).
A depressing picture. No wonder Solomon laments, “Meaningless! Meaningless!” “Everything is meaningless!”
Our skills and strength, our health and vitality, our whole life is, indeed, meaningless—but only if it is lived without God.
It’s true, we are only dust. But that is not the whole story.
“Remember your Creator!” We are not just some organism brought to life by a fluke. We are the handiwork of the eternal God. He gave us the gift of life for a purpose. From him come our strengths and skills. To him should be given our lives filled with thanks and faithfulness.
Old age is not our master. Frailty is not our endgame. The One who said, “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Genesis 3:19) also said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die…” (John 11:25).
But he does not condemn his servants to a miserable existence until they finally deploy to heaven. The body may weaken and fail, but the soul, the “real us,” can grow stronger. Our spirits can soar, even if our shoulders sag.
This is his promise: “But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31).
Let the young remember their Creator. He alone is their strength and their life. Let the old remember their Creator. He alone is their strength and their life.
The time will surely come when strong men stoop.
But we will overcome.
Prayer: Eternal Father, strong to save, show us the picture of our lives. Point out the bleakness of our inherent frailty. But show us, as well, the brightness of your glory that lifts us above and beyond the strains of life to soar on high. Amen.
Written by Pastor Paul Ziemer, WELS National Civilian Chaplain and Liaison to the Military, Belle Plaine, Minnesota.
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. Note: Scripture reading footnotes are clickable only in the web version.
From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. “Get out of here, baldy!” they said. “Get out of here, baldy!” He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys. And he went on to Mount Carmel and from there returned to Samaria.
2 Kings 2:23-25
Elisha the prophet
In the short three verses of our reading, a number of things happen. A bunch of boys made fun of Elisha, a prophet and leader of Israel. Elisha called down a curse on them for their sin. Then bears came out of the woods and mauled the children. Afterwards, Elisha goes on his way without another word.
What is the lesson from this story?
When I was young, I thought this lesson from God’s Word was to teach us not to mock those God has placed over us—those serving the Lord in their lives to the best of their imperfect ability—otherwise you will be punished like those who were mauled by bears. But there is more to the story.
Think about the words of Hebrews 13:17: “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.” (NIV 2011) The lesson of Elisha is more than a lesson on punishment that we deserve for not respecting and honoring those in authority over us, it is a powerful reminder of what God wants us to have—joy in loving, obeying, and having confidence and trust in those God has given to take care of us.
That’s not always easy. When a parent completely embarrasses you in front of your friends, you may feel like calling them names or saying bad things about them to your friends. When you are frustrated by your teachers’ high expectations of you in school, you complain about them to fellow classmates. When people in charge of us do things that bother us or seem unfair, all kinds of names, phrases, and disrespect bounces through our brains and comes out of our mouths.
But God has given them to you so that you might honor and obey them. God has given them authority over you for your benefit. And he wants you to see him when you see them. These authorities that are over you—teachers, parents, pastors, government—these are his representatives. He has put them there to exercise his authority. When you honor them, you honor him! And when you dishonor them, you dishonor him. So when these boys called Elisha “Baldy,” they were disrespecting God.
Learn from this strange story. Apologize for your disrespect. Confess it to God. Confess it to the one you disrespected. See that these people over you are standing in for God. See those authorities differently and give them respect that is due them.
Thank you, God, for the authorities that you have placed over me. Thank you, Father, for forgiving me when I forget to show them respect and giving me a new day to show it again.
All that I am and love most dearly—
Receive it all, O Lord, from me.
Let me confess my faith sincerely
And help me your own child to be!
Let nothing that I am or own
Serve any will but yours alone.
(Christian Worship 294:4)
After Ehud came Shamgar son of Anath, who struck down six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad. He too saved Israel.
Shamgar the judge
What can you do with a 10-foot pole? It’s an odd question. Shamgar used one, called an oxgoad, as a weapon. An oxgoad was a long, pointed tool used by farmers to prod their cattle and make them move when they decided to stop and rest for a while. God called Shamgar to use his oxgoad for more than oxen. It was a strange weapon to use to kill 600 men, and the odds seemed impossible for Shamgar. How could Shamgar believe that a stick with a sharp iron point would be all he would need? Shamgar knew it wasn’t the stick or his ability that accomplished the seemingly impossible. It was God’s power that gave Shamgar the confidence to fight and God’s grace that gave him victory.
The previous two chapters in Judges show that time and time again Israel decided to leave God, follow the world, worship false gods, and enjoy the sensual sins that accompanied the worship of those false gods—in essence forgetting the true God altogether.
It’s rather sad. The God of grace was always before his children—saving them, providing amazing homes they took for granted, blessing them with parents who tried their best (flawed as they were) to put food on the table and clothes on their backs—only for another opportunity to save them when they decided to completely take him for granted and go their own way…. Suddenly, we are talking about more than the Israelites.
How similar we are to them! It’s not just the Philistines that deserve to end up at the end of a prodding pole. Our sin has earned us even worse. God gave Israel Shamgar and used him to save Israel in an amazing act of power, justice, and love!
God gave us Jesus. Taking on flesh, leaving his throne of grace, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! He saved you, in an amazing act of power, justice, and love! Now God prods us with the stick of his Word, driving us beyond ourselves and our selfishness to see not the oxgoad that skewered 600, but the staff of the Good Shepherd that pulls us along, guides us in truth, and seeks to steer us away from danger and sin every day. Better yet, we see the big piece of wood that held our Savior—his cross!
Thank God for Shamgar and his oxgoad. Most importantly, thank God for sending a Savior—the living, faithful, powerful, grace-filled Jesus Christ! Through water and the Word in baptism, he saves us!
Baptized into Your name most holy,
My faithful God, you fail me never;
Your promise surely will endure.
Oh, cast me not away forever
If words and deeds become impure.
Have mercy when I come defiled;
Forgive, lift up, restore your child. Amen.
(Christian Worship 294:3)
Go ahead, try it. Name the seven dwarfs from memory. Can’t? You’re in good company. Hopefully, it also explains why the devotion series for August make sense. Each week in August will share a name of a biblical person that you may not know. But amazingly, they also served God’s purpose—each in their own unique way. Instead of Happy, Bashful, Grumpy, or Sleepy, you will hear names like Shamgar and Rahab. God help us to see who he has made US to be. Despite our flawed pasts, he uniquely gifts us to glorify him every day!
Then Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. “Go, look over the land,” he said, “especially Jericho.” So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there.
When I was in high school, I had a teacher who said “One of the reasons I love the Bible so much—besides the amazing grace of Christ—is that it’s filled with broken people, like me.” I have never forgotten those words. And they still mean the world to me. I pray they do (or will) to you too.
I find it hard to imagine someone more broken than Rahab. She was a woman whose livelihood came from selling her body to be a “spouse for an hour.” That’s what a prostitute does. Rahab was a prostitute. Throughout the entire Bible she is called “Rahab, the prostitute” except in one place—the genealogy of Jesus. This broken woman who spent too much of her life in sin and loaded with guilt became an ancestor of Jesus himself! (Look at Matthew 1:5.)
What does this mean? The answer is simple: God’s grace smashes our guilt. God’s love completely wipes away our past. God’s gift of faith calls the most broken soul and conscience and says, “I am making you a brother or sister of Jesus now.”
Jesus didn’t just live perfectly for Rahab; he lived perfectly for you. The Bible says he was tempted in every way as we are. That includes Rahab. That includes you. Yet he faced it without falling. Jesus didn’t only die on the cross for his great-great-great grandmother Rahab; he died on the cross for you. Jesus didn’t just rise from the grave on Easter to prove that Rahab’s sins really were forgiven; he rose on Easter for you, to prove that your sins are forgiven too.
The Holy Spirit didn’t just come to create faith in Rahab through the message of the spies or whoever she heard it from first; the Holy Spirit came through water and the word, through the healing Gospel of Jesus to create that same “Rahab-faith” in you—broken, guilty, and despairing. The amazing thing is God didn’t just save Rahab, he used her to protect the spies. He included her in the family tree of Jesus. God didn’t just do that for her, he did that for you too. He intended to include you in his kingdom. He intends to use you in his kingdom, in ways that you can hardly begin to imagine.
God bless your week of growing, sharing, loving, and mending. PGFWABF (Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow!) ALWAYS!
Prayer: Baptized into Your name most holy,
O Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
I claim a place, though weak and lowly,
Among your saints, your chosen host,
Buried with Christ and dead to sin.
Your Spirit now shall live within. Amen.
(Christian Worship 294:1)
Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of a friend springs from their heartfelt advice.
Good smells and good advice
Walk by Bath and Body Works at the nearest mall, and you will be bombarded by vanilla, fresh rain, and summer berry (whatever that is). Step outside on the Fourth of July, and it’s likely you’ll be able to tell that someone in your neighborhood is grilling. Smell is a funny thing. A good smell can lift our spirits. A bad smell can kill our mood. Solomon compares good advice to a wonderful smell.
At times, our friends need our counsel, but our advice isn’t very good or very godly. Someone wrongs them, and you are filled with rage on their behalf. “You should totally get back at them!” Your friend wants to do something you know is wrong, but you want to be supportive, so you blurt out: “You should do what makes you happy!”
Sometimes you are the one who needs good advice but get bad instead. You needed someone to tell you a hard truth, but the people around you just told you what you wanted to hear.
Later in the aftermath of bad decisions, the smell of this bad advice makes us sick to our stomachs. Why didn’t we just say/seek the right things? A cloud of stink only enhances our misery.
Jesus gives the best advice. To the guilty and burdened he advises, “Come to me and find rest.” To the fearful and anxious he says, “Cast all your anxiety on me.” To those wrestling with relationship issues he says, “Love as I have loved you.” To those who are feeling lonely he says, “Know that I am with you always.” To someone about to do something harmful to their souls he says, “Be careful that you are standing firm on what I’ve taught you.” These pieces of wisdom are so good, they are better than even the smell of summer berry (whatever that is). They are so valuable because they come from God himself.
What does Jesus teach us here about wisdom for our friends? 1) Make sure your advice is well grounded in God’s Word. That’s yet another reason to make Bible study a priority. 2) Surround yourself with friends whose heartfelt advice comes from a heart where Jesus makes his home. I thank God for friends over the years who told me exactly what I did not want to hear and kept me from making terrible mistakes in the heat of the moment. 3) Be the friend and surround yourself with friends who tell you about the love and forgiveness of Jesus. I’m so grateful to God for friends whose wisdom took me back to Jesus’ cross and empty tomb again and again. The fragrant smell of their words still brings me joy to this day!
Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, only you can teach me to be a good friend. Help me not only give sound, biblical advice but also surround myself with people who will do the same for me. Amen.
Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on a wound, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.
Choose your song carefully
There was a sharply dressed older man. He had on his best black suit. For the last hour he stood in the church entry and greeted a long line of people who had come to say goodbye to his wife. They had told him they loved him and that everything would be okay; they reminded him that his wife was in a better place. He nodded and smiled. He knew all those things were true, but now he was just tired. He allowed himself to slump down into a comfortable chair and he stared straight ahead, wondering how long all of this would hurt.
Finally, one more visitor walked through the church doors. It was an old friend who had lost his own wife a year or so ago. He said nothing. He nodded hello and just sat down in the next chair. They sat like that in silence for a long time. It was the best thing that had happened all day. Sometimes it’s enough to know that someone else understands your pain.
When one of our friends or someone we know is going through something hard, we often feel like we have to say something. We want the person to stop crying, stop panicking, stop being negative. We want to make it better. So, we try telling a joke, and it is WAY too soon. We read someone’s cry for help on social media and respond with a praying hands emoji. We get under that heavy heart and try to lift it with all our might … but it won’t budge. It’s as sensible as thinking that stealing your friend’s big puffy jacket in the middle of winter would be a favor to them. That’s what Solomon is trying to say in this proverb.
There was a younger man in his early thirties at a different funeral. The man made no attempt to hide the tears streaming down his face. He was sad for his friend who was dead. He was sad for the two sisters this dead friend had left behind. He was sad because none of this was the way this world was supposed to go. This younger man is Jesus. He’s weeping at the funeral for his friend Lazarus. Even though he is well aware that Lazarus will soon be walking around alive again, Jesus takes the time to listen to Mary and Martha, joining in the sad song their hearts were singing. Jesus, as a good friend, gets down in the dust and ashes with them and with us.
What’s the lesson from Jesus? Listen. Take the time to listen. Then, consider carefully what someone needs in the moment. Remember that God’s design for us includes a healthy need to complete the grieving process. Sad songs can be just what we need at certain times. At other times, a different song is good to direct them to the words and promises of God.
Choose carefully the song that you “sing” to your hurting friends. Ask the Spirit for wisdom to discern what their heart needs to hear at the right time. Don’t be afraid to get down in the dust and ashes with them. Don’t be afraid to sit with them and walk with them in their pain.
Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, only you can teach me how to be a truly good friend. Give me the wisdom to know how to lovingly help those who are hurting. Amen.
A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity. One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
Proverbs 17:17; 18:24
Stand by me
I was doing yardwork this past Memorial Day when my neighbor pulled into his driveway. He served in the U.S. military for many years, so I took the opportunity to thank him for his service. He thanked me politely and then looked down for a few seconds. When he looked up again he said, “I miss the friendships…What I miss most is the friendships.” Then he walked inside his house. I spent the next few minutes behind my lawnmower thinking about those friendships built between my neighbor and his brothers in arms as they faced all kinds of adversity.
We need a friend who will stick by us during times of stress and trouble. That person becomes more than just a friend, they become a brother…a sister.
Can you picture the disciples sprinting away from Gethsemane in the moments after the soldiers began tying Jesus up? Can you see the desperate glances thrown back over their shoulders? The adversity has hit them hard, but they are certainly not acting like they are Jesus’ brothers.
It’s sad to consider how little adversity it can sometimes take for us to stop being someone’s friend. Maybe there was someone you used to hang out with in grade school, someone who was like a brother or sister to you. Lots of memories from sleepovers at each other’s houses. Then you got to high school, and other people decided that friend of yours was weird. Nerdy. Someone to be AVOIDED or MOCKED. You saw it happen. You saw the abuse they were taking. Rather than drawing close to them during their trouble, did you run away instead?
Jesus didn’t give up on the disciples as he was led away to the cross that night. He doesn’t give up on us bad friends either. In fact, his entire existence on earth was to prevent our ruin. He refused to leave us, even when it cost him dearly. He continues to stick closer than a friend or brother. Look at yourselves through Jesus’ eyes. You were the perfect candidates to be ignored and avoided. Yet Jesus still seeks a closer relationship with us and never leaves us.
As I think about the people in my life that God has graciously placed around me, I think about sitting on a dorm room bed and talking with some of them about guilt, about family struggles, about worries for the future. I think about them sticking up for me, even when they would have been better off sprinting away, casting desperate glances over their shoulders. I am grateful for friends who are closer to me than brothers and sisters, and I am well aware that I don’t deserve them. I pray that God allows me to be the kind of friend who supports people on the battlefield that is this entire life.
Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, only you can teach me how to be a truly good friend. Give me the love and courage to support others, even when it will cost me something. Amen.
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.
The foundation for friendship
He says that he loves her. She is the best girlfriend ever. She makes him so happy. But he’s cheating on her. Every week at the same time after school. Does he really love her? Does he really?
The young woman claims this person is her friend. They have been through so much together. They’ve laughed and cried. But as soon as her friend leaves the room, the young woman immediately begins to criticize her. The way she dresses. The way she complains. How annoying she can be. Does she really love her? Does she really?
It is embarrassing to consider the things you have done or said to your family and friends. Think of all the passive aggressiveness. Think of the ways we have manipulated people to get what we want. Consider the ways we have failed to give the people whom we claimed to love what they truly needed. They needed us to sacrifice our time or energy. A friend needed our support when they were struggling. They needed us to sacrifice our pride and forgive them. But we just wouldn’t. We say that we love and care for people, but our emotions and actions project a different message.
Martin Luther said that there was a teaching that would be the key to a church standing securely or falling with a terrible crash. It was the teaching that we are declared not guilty in God’s courtroom because Jesus lovingly laid down his life for us, his terrible friends. That’s also the teaching on which our love for our friends will either stand or fall. If our love for others does not have Jesus’ cross as its foundation, that love will inevitably reveal itself to be fake.
His cross is both the foundation for our love and supreme example of what loves does. There the love dripped from his head, his hands, his feet, as he died. Here is perfect obedience to the Father’s command to love. “Whatever these people need,” Jesus said, “I will gladly do.” Jesus says he loves us. Does he really? Absolutely! Look at the cross and see it! Its selflessness covers all the times that our selfishness prevented us from loving in a real way. That is Jesus’ love for you.
Over the next month we’re going to think through what friendship looks like and what a good friend does. I want you to think about this question: “What does a good friend do?”
For now, rest on this foundation: Jesus is your best and greatest friend. He only thought of your needs and your salvation. Whatever you needed, that’s what he gave. He gave no thought to what it cost him. He only thought about what he gained, you. That’s true friendship.
Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, only you can teach me how to be a truly good friend. Forgive me for my selfishness and lead me to love selflessly. Amen.
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” … [Jesus] said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
Perhaps the most popular passage in our culture today is “Judge not!” (Matthew 7:1). Many pervert what Jesus is saying here. Some believe that Jesus doesn’t want us to ever point out anything someone does that is wrong. Of course, this isn’t true.
To save the world, Jesus had to point out sin. Jesus had to judge all hearts, whether they were sorrowful over sin and trusted in him or not. Jesus was all about saving, and he wants us to be too, just like him. He wants us to point out sin, first in ourselves, and then in others, not to stone them to hell, but to save them by the gospel.
A perfect example of how to judge someone to save them is John 8:1-11. Jesus encounters a woman who is clearly guilty of adultery, aa sin punished by death. Does Jesus condemn her? No, Jesus offers her “no condemnation,” telling her to leave her life of sin.
Like Jesus, do the same. Start first with yourself. See your sin. Then hear the most beautiful judgment ever declared, “Not guilty!” in Jesus. What a beautiful message to share with your friends whether straight or gay. To you and all your forgiven friends Jesus encourages, “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
Prayer: Lord Jesus, help us to remember that on all issues of sin, your Scriptures were written not to condemn but to save people. As surely as you have saved us by your Word of truth and grace, help us share your Word with others in all truth and grace. Amen.
This devotion is part five of five devotions on the topic of LGBTQ. Be sure to search out the previous devotions for more insight from God’s Word on how to address this issue.
Blessed is the one who always trembles before God, but whoever hardens their heart falls into trouble.
Can LGBT people be saved?
There seems to be the thought among Christians that gay people can’t go to heaven. That is absolutely not true. There are plenty of awesome children of God who have same sex attraction. Whoever believes that gay people can’t be saved simply does not know Scripture as they ought. Furthermore, what do people think about their own salvation, if they believe gay people are beyond saving but they are not? Do such people believe that their good works save them? Paul is pretty clear in Romans 3:20 that “no one will be declared righteous by keeping the law. Rather, through the law we all become conscious of sin in our lives.” We also see our need for a Savior. No one is good enough to save themselves, not even in part. No one is beyond God’s grace either, especially not gay people.
Sin is sin. All sin condemns equally, and all sin is equally forgiven by Jesus. The issue, then, is not homosexuality but the attitude in the heart of the individual. This is true for any sin.
The most important issue is repentance. Are you sorry for your sins? Is a gay person sorry for their sinful thoughts, words, and actions? Is the liar sorry for lying? Is the thief sorry for stealing? Do we trust that Jesus has truly forgiven us? Then by grace we are saved! That same grace covers the person who struggles with same sex attraction. The gift of God’s grace causes us to hate our sin and fight it all the more, striving toward holy living day by day.
What is the unforgiveable sin? It’s not homosexuality. The only unforgiveable sin is the hardened sin which rejects Jesus and the forgiveness he brings. The only unforgiveable sin is refusing to embrace in faith the Savior from sin.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, sin can be so tempting. Continue to lead us out of temptation. May we never choose sin over you and our salvation. Forgive us for all our sins and especially for our sinful natures which would only harden us against you. Amen.
This devotion is part four of five devotions on the topic of LGBTQ. Be sure to come back for more insight from God’s Word on how to address this issue.
Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.
Born this Way
“I was born this way. I was born gay.” Did you know there is a way to understand that to be true? That’s because people are born sinful, and none of us were born any differently. This is what David confessed about himself when he said, “Surely I was born sinful from birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). The apostle Paul helps us understand more clearly how devastating the effects of sin are on all of us. In Romans 7:18a, Paul shares that sin corrupts us absolutely: “I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.”
This means all people have the capacity to be any kind of sinner. We all have the same capacity to be liars and thieves as being gay. At the same time, we each have our different sins and gravitate toward particular perversities for various reasons. If it helps, think of all sin in your heart as either asleep, waking, or active and dominating your life. Usually when people say they are born gay, they are confessing that homosexuality is active in their life.
Although saying, “I was born this way” is biblically true, sin is not okay with God. That is also biblically true. Jesus points out in our passage from John 3:3 that the whole reason he came as our Savior from sin is because we weren’t born right with God. When Jesus tells us that a person must be born again, that means there’s something wrong with our first birth.
Thanks be to Jesus that he came to give us second birth, and you have been given second birth through faith in the waters of baptism. Keep holding on to your second birth! It is your forgiveness in Christ. Keep pointing others imprisoned by their first birth to the freedom of being born again.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, we are all born sinful. Help us to remember that you give second birth through your Spirit. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for giving us baptism where we are born again. Help us to live holy lives, born anew. Amen.
This devotion is part three of five devotions on the topic of LGBTQ. Be sure to come back for more insight from God’s Word on how to address this issue.
Change is hard. For all of us, at any age.
This past year, we transitioned our two-year-old from her crib in the nursery to a toddler bed in the room she now shares with her older sister. Our five-month-old had outgrown the bassinette in Mom and Dad’s room, and she really needed the crib. Time for my two-year-old to upgrade to a “big girl bed.”
Only she didn’t see it as an upgrade.
I’ll never forget that first night. She was absolutely beside herself—confused, frightened, frustrated, angry. Her torrent of sobs wrenched my heart. I sat by her bed, trying to soothe her, rubbing her little back, waiting out the storm.
Change. It stirs up quite a storm in us big people too. And changes involving our church can be some of the hardest.
We look to our church as a refuge from a stressful and scary world. We take comfort in our Sunday morning routine, in familiar ways of worship, in a church calendar that stays the same from year to year. We love the familiarity of our pastor and longtime staff. We breathe a sigh of relief walking through church doors, finding security in our church building itself.
When change hits, we feel that our security has been ripped away. Then we may let the stormy waves of fear or anger overtake us.
We may even try to stop the change, or make it unsuccessful, with sinful actions or sinful inaction. We may hurt our leaders, and our body of believers as a whole, with sinful words or sinful silence. We may question why God allowed the change, and how it could be good for us or for our church.
God does not keep silent or answer us in anger, though his anger would be justified. In love, this is what he tells us:
“’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).
From my vantage point as an adult and a parent, on that difficult night I saw a much bigger picture than my distressed two-year-old could see. This change ultimately was good for her and necessary for our whole family. Always, I explain what I can. But there is much I cannot explain because she cannot comprehend it.
The change with which we struggle fits into a much bigger whole. The “big picture” our Almighty Creator sees is infinitely, infinitely more than we could ever comprehend. The children’s song has it right: No matter how things look with our limited vision, he’s got the whole world, including our church, including this change, in his hands.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Yes, our faithful God is working all things, all things, even a difficult transition, for our good.
If he promised to send a Savior and did it; if he promised to raise Jesus from the dead and did it; if he promised to send the Holy Spirit to give us faith and power and did it; then let us trust him when he assures us all things.
He works this change for my good, personally. And he works always for the good of his church as a whole, his beloved family.
“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the Shadow of the Almighty. He will cover you with his feathers and under his wings you will find refuge” (Psalm 91:1,4).
God himself provides the security we crave and the protection we need. He knows that these cannot come from a building, a worship format, a routine, a schedule, or our called workers. Change can reveal that we were relying on these blessings from God for our sense of security, rather than on him. He wants to shelter us by the only means we can be protected eternally—through his Word and Sacraments. These he uses to pull us and keep us under the safety and security of his wings.
“The LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).
Her first night in the new toddler bed, I was right there beside my daughter. Our Heavenly Father, our perfect parent, assures us that he goes with us into those hard transitions, and never leaves our side.
As a mom, I love my children so much, and yet that love is only a dim shadow of God’s love for us. We are so precious to him that he sent his Son to pay for our sins of failing to trust in his presence and his good purpose during times of change. Jesus paid too for our sinful words, actions, and our failures to act and speak. He carried our sins of clinging to God’s blessings rather than to God alone. He was forsaken by God, so that we could become God’s children and live under the awesome assurance that our Father will never abandon us.
For us, his precious children, he employs all his wisdom and strength to work every change for our good, to make us truly secure in him, and to stay with us always. His words of truth, comfort, and love enable us to face any difficult transition with hope and even joy.
Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, I praise you for your wisdom and power, acknowledging that these are far above my own. Forgive me for sinning against you during times of change. In humility, I thank you for working all transitions for my good, and never leaving my side. Strengthen my church, my church body, and your body of believers everywhere. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11
The trouble with googling an issue is that you can find a lot of wrong answers that sound right. This is true when it comes to the issue of homosexuality. If you want to find arguments showing why God is for homosexuality, you can. The thing is, these arguments are not biblical. Sure, they may even reference Scripture, but they do so unfairly. They do so out of context.
If you want a divine answer about what God says about homosexuality, the passage for our consideration is absolutely clear and an easy reference. There are plenty others, but this is excellent for at least two reasons:
First, the English is very clear in this translation and practically all others. Even in the ancient Greek, the biblical word used to express homosexuality as sin covers all its forms.
Second, homosexuality is grouped together with other sins that we are all guilty of. Notice that Paul doesn’t suggest that homosexuality is a greater sin which automatically condemns a soul to hell. Not even close. In fact, at the close of this passage, Paul notes that those who have committed sins of homosexuality but believe in Jesus are washed clean in baptism, just like any other Christian and any other sin.
Remember 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 for these two important reasons. Memorize it. All sin is sin before God. But all sin was also forgiven at the cross. Since we have been washed clean, let us leave our lives of sin and have compassion on all others embracing sin, whether homosexuality or anything else.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, even as we live in a culture that does not care about your word, help us to take your Word at face value. Help us to never pervert your words to justify sinful behavior. Help us also see that all sin is equal, and it has all been washed away by your grace in baptism. Amen.
This devotion is part two of five devotions on the topic of LGBTQ. Be sure to come back for more insight from God’s Word on how to address this issue.
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
If you google “Christian LGBTQ” (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Questioning), you’ll find out from the links that these are two communities in opposition. You’ll find arguments full of emotion, sometimes hatred, and rarely love.
Does that bother you? Does it especially bother you that many well-meaning Christians don’t come across as loving to LGBTQ? Many times, it almost feels like Christians forget about the souls on the other side of the issue. They can be quick to quote chapter and verse but forget about love. What good comes of it when Christians speak and act this way? The apostle Paul says that speaking the truth without love only sounds like clanging cymbals even if you have the voice of an angel (1 Corinthians 13:1). What’s a Christian to do?
Our passage today is the answer: “Love one another.” First, remember that we are disciples of the One who bled and died for all people, gay or straight. Second, act in love towards all, just as Christ acted in love. Jesus showed exactly what love in action looks like in the opening of John 13. He washed his disciples’ feet. Following John 13, he showed love again. Jesus forgave his enemies and died for them, even though they rejected the truth and continued in their hardened ways. Jesus was compassionate to all, not wanting any to perish but all to come to the knowledge of the truth and embrace forgiveness through faith and repentance. Those precious souls include you and me, once enemies of God but now are his children by grace. Jesus loved in both word and action as he also spoke the truth to everyone.
Saved, forgiven, and loved, we are called to do the same: Befriend those who identify as being gay. Build a relationship with them as you look to genuinely care for them. When the opportunity comes, point them to Jesus who can save them from their sin of homosexuality.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, help us show love to all people, whether they are gay or straight. Help us to point fellow sinners to you and confess how much we all need your love and forgiveness. Finally, Lord, open the hearts of the people to whom we show love. May they see we are your disciples. Amen.
This devotion is part one of five devotions on the topic of LGBTQ. Be sure to come back for more insight from God’s Word on how to address this issue.
But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.
If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven.
1 Corinthians 15:35, 42-47
Did you ever transform a plain white egg into a work of art? You know, the dying of Easter eggs. Do you remember the pride you felt, if one of your parents complemented your egg?
Jesus transformed our bland and basic lives into works of art. We weren’t very pretty. Our lives daily cracked and broke by the consequences of our sins. Our inner hearts smelled of the stench of sin. How incredible that God’s powerful love transformed us. Easter displays the handiwork of Christ who cleansed of sin and made us holy. Like colorful dyed eggs, we reflect what Jesus has already made us on the inside. We do that through works of service and works of love that the rest of the world can see. Our motivation starts from the inside and slowly works its way out to our outward appearance like the colorful dye on the egg.
Someday, God promises another transformation. Just as Jesus was resurrected with a glorious body on Easter, God will ornament our bodies into the works of art that will last forever! As we put off the worldly bodies, we will be renewed and regenerated with glorified bodies and a spiritual perfection. You will be God’s perfect work of art!
Prayer: Savior of eternal transformation, we thank you for removing our sin and guilt so that we can boast about our new spiritual condition. Lead us to accept our new calling as transformed sinners by your grace. Encourage us to look forward to the transformation of our bodies and souls when you accept us into our eternal home in heaven. Amen.
For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the first fruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.
1 Corinthians 15:21-28
The final stomp
In the 2007 movie “Stomp the Yard,” a troubled teen tries to bring his own unique style of dance and interpretation to school. He wants to leave an impression on his peers and a special girl.
Jesus brought a new message of love and victory to a troubled class of sinners. Jesus stomped the yard in a way that had never been witnessed before. He left no doubt that all powers and authorities are squarely under his feet, especially Satan and the sway of death. Death held us hostage because of our mistakes. Which ones? All of them. Every bad choice or desire. It doesn’t matter how big or small, intended or accidental. Jesus realized the everlasting effects of our sin. So he literally stomped out the power of death by his death! In its place, our Savior lays claim to our lives and now wields lasting power over our long-term destination.
Death died a violent death as Christ secured his claim to victory on the cross. Death has been pushed off to the side margins of our personal diaries, and a new entry now appears as “Life Eternal in Heaven.” You can now stomp the yard with your own personal victory dance because of Christ’s victory.
Prayer: Lord of our personal destinies, you alone have charted our personal passport for eternal life. You have given us a face and a name through our conception and births. You have stamped our destination of heaven with your personal sacrificial blood. As we approach the customs gate of heaven, we have full confidence that you will accept us because of our faith and trust in your eternal sacrifice and your love for us. Amen.
If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
1 Corinthians 15:17-20
Signed, sealed, and delivered
Take a step back in time. The year is 1970, and Stevie Wonder is singing one of his many hits. This one is entitled “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours.“ These words especially connected with the teenage crowd since teens were starting their personal search for “the one,” the person they could call their own.
The reality is that whether you are married or single, you have someone you can call your own. There is no denying that a person who dies in your place exemplifies love. Therefore, if a person denied that love exists, they are denying an undeniable truth. The same logic applies, if someone denies that Christ rose from death, the empty tomb and hundreds of witnesses of his resurrection would prove the opposite. The resurrection signed, sealed, and delivered the fact that God is alive and sin is dead! Here’s God’s promise to you: Your past no longer dictates your future with him. We often can’t hold the pieces of our life together, so God sent his son to make us whole again, redeemed, restored, and forgiven. Christ’s resurrection is his final signature for mankind that his total victory over sin, death, and Satan was completely accomplished. He shows you his hands and feet and body broken for you. He says, “I’m yours, and you now belong to me.”
How do you know that you truly are forgiven? Look in the empty tomb! Look at the living Jesus! It’s the proof you need—signed, sealed, delivered!
Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for giving me all the proof I need in your holy Word that Christ came out of his tomb while my sins stayed buried. Help me to live my life today reflecting that undeniable truth! Amen.
Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.
1 Corinthians 15:1-5
First things first
If you returned from the dead, who would you want to see first? What message would you want to deliver? In our reading, Paul shares the short version of the “Jesus diary” of accomplishments for human kind.
Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection put his followers into a tailspin about his person and mission. But Jesus returned to reveal himself to the apostles he personally trained over his three years of ministry. Jesus first appeared to Peter, the person who betrayed him. Then he appeared to the rest of the apostles who turned and ran from him in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Which group would you fit? Would you be a “denier” or a “garden runner?” Who needed the most assurance of Christ’s forgiveness? Jesus chose to assure Peter that he was alive first. Perhaps it was because Peter felt responsible for letting his Savior down when Jesus needed his support.
“Of first importance”, Paul says, is this: “Christ died for our sins … was buried … was raised on the third day.” First things first, take your stand on those words! The one we hurt the most with our sins forgave us through his cross. Let that be your first thought every morning and last remembrance every night. With this understanding, may your appreciation grow for the one who makes YOU his first priority!
Prayer: Life-giving Lord, we praise you for giving us life at birth and then offering us second life through our baptism into faith. Your assurance of love through your death and resurrection constantly reminds us of your love for us and all humankind. Thank you for putting us first, so that through faith we can put you first in our lives and actions. Amen.
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
1 John 3:1
What God calls you
What you are called by other people matters. People who know you call you by your name because they know you and who you are. Those who are closest to you might even call you by a nickname because they know you deeply. That nickname is a sign of affection. Others may call you by hurtful and hateful names. They describe you with words meant to tear down and demean.
Which words and names do you remember more? We tend to remember the hurtful things more than the helpful, encouraging things. We tend to remember how people tear us down rather than how people build us up.
Take a moment to look at your own actions too. You know how good it feels to have people call you by endearing names. You know what it’s like to be called by names that hurt. Yet how easy do you find it to call others by cruel and unkind names?
There is a name that you don’t want. Nobody wants it. But it is an accurate description of all people: sinner. This is a name that you’ve earned because of your behavior.
But while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8), God demonstrated his great love for you. He calls you by a different name: “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” You are God’s child. How? God in his great love for you sent his Son, Jesus, to make sinners into his children. The Son of God loves you so much that he took all the hurtful names you’ve been called and all the unkind names you’ve called others, and he died on a cross to wipe them all away.
Child of God is who you are now! Child of God is your identity now, always, and forever.
So, when you hurt because of what others have called you, remember your identity in Christ. You are God’s child. He loves you infinitely more than the best earthly father ever could, more than you can even begin to imagine. He helps you, provides for you, strengthens and upholds you.
When you think of your sins and are weighed down by guilt, remember your identity in Christ. Your sin is washed away in Jesus’ blood. You are his forever. Child of God is who you are! Now go and live like the child of God that you are.
Prayer: Gracious Father, when I hurt because of the words and actions of others, show me in your Word that no matter what others say, you love and treasure me as your own child. When I hurt others, help me to recognize it and turn to you for forgiveness. Strengthen me to move forward as your child, seeking to show your great love for me to others. Amen.
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
From death to life
The message was urgent. “Lord, the one you love is sick!” Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were good friends of Jesus. Lazarus became gravely ill. His time was running out. So his sisters sent word to Jesus with the immediate plea, “Come quickly! Help!”
But he didn’t. He stayed where he was for two more days. By the time Jesus arrived at Bethany, Lazarus had died, and his body had been in a tomb for four days. Jesus was too late.
As Jesus approached their house, Martha went out to meet him. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” she said to him. Why wasn’t he there when Lazarus was dying? But Martha also knew something else, “Even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Shining through her sorrow was the glimmer of faith in Jesus, the miracle worker.
To say that the death of a loved one is terribly painful is an understatement. Life is never the same after someone near and dear to us dies. Maybe you know that grief and pain all too well. Maybe someone near and dear to you is sick. You pray and ask Jesus for help and healing, “Lord, the one you love is sick!” But what if he doesn’t answer in the way you hope he will? Does the thought of dying make you afraid?
“Your brother will rise again,” Jesus said to Martha. Then he walked up to the tomb and shouted into it, “Lazarus, come out!” And Lazarus did. Jesus brought the dead one back to life. He was there after all! He did something even greater than Mary and Martha even could have imagined.
Jesus is the resurrection and the life. He holds and uses absolute power over death. He showed it in raising Lazarus from the dead, and he proved it when he rose from the dead himself. That’s what we see on this Resurrection Day! Jesus will do for you exactly what he did for Lazarus. “The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” He will do the same for all who believe in him. Jesus will raise all of his believers from the dead one day, and they will never die again! They will live with him in glory forever.
In this world, you will wrestle with grief over the death of a dear one. You will face the end of your own earthly life. You will face death, but in Jesus, you have eternal life! Don’t be afraid! He has resurrection power to reverse death. Someday, Jesus will shout to you, “Come out!” And his promise will come true, “You will not die, but live again!”
Prayer: Lord of life, in the face of sorrow and even death, give me joy, confidence, and hope in the fact that Christ is risen, he is risen indeed! You are my resurrection; you are my life. Resurrect my faith today until the day you take me into glory. Amen.
Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
Fruitful in Jesus
Jane thought that her status as a good Christian was determined by how well she could follow God’s commandments. Day after day, she tried her best to follow them. But day after day, she found herself giving into temptations to do what God said she shouldn’t. She gossiped. She disrespected her parents, because she thought they didn’t understand her. She gave into peer pressure, because she didn’t want anyone to think less of her. It bothered her so much that she began to wonder, “How can I call myself a Christian if I can’t even follow what God tells me?”
Maybe you think this way too. It’s easy to think that being a Christian simply means to do what God tells us to do. We find our identity in what we do and how well we do it.
That’s not where Jesus tells us to find our identity. In John 15, he tells us that being a Christian is more than just following a set of rules. He said, “A branch cannot bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine… I am the Vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me and I in him is the one who bears much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.” If you cut a branch off a strawberry plant, you can’t expect that branch to have strawberries on it in the middle of summer. That branch must be connected to vine or the trunk to grow, bloom, and bear fruit.
To bear fruit in your life, you must be connected to Jesus, your Savior. Apart from him you can do nothing. He came to earth for you. He lived the perfect life you cannot live. He died on the cross to take away all your sin. He rose again to give you heaven. He saved you to live with him eternally! All of it is a gift freely given out of his love for you. When God connects you to Jesus through faith and brings you to realize that he did all of that for you, it changes you. The good works God wants from you will happen, not because of your effort, but because God has changed you.
Branches bear fruit because that’s what branches do when they are connected to the vine. You are a branch that bears fruit because you are connected to Jesus. Through that close connection with him, you are not alone to produce good fruit in your life! Stay connected to God in his Word and in the Lord’s Supper. You have his promise: God will make you fruitful in Jesus.
Prayer: Dear Jesus, you are the vine and I am a branch. Keep me connected to you through faith. As you promise, make me bear fruit and to do the things that you want me to do. Amen.
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
The only way
What are you going to do after graduation from high school? Are you going to college, or will you join the workforce or military? What occupation do you want to have? Is there a family business or line of work you can join, or will you blaze your own trail? What way are you going to take?
Answering questions like these is no small matter. Weighing those decisions can be confusing and overwhelming. The pressure of the decisions can give way to worry and fear: “What if I make the wrong choice? What if my life doesn’t go the way I want?” On top of all that, the pressure of these decisions can lead us to think only about the here and now, thinking that the most important thing in life is your career or your status. We can think only about earthly life instead of eternity and heaven.
On the day before Jesus died, he was together with his disciples. He only had a little time left with them. In that time, he comforted them. In John 14, Jesus told them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions… I am going to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to be with me that you may also be where I am.”
The only way that truly and eternally matters is the way to the Father’s house in heaven. Jesus has gone there to prepare a place for you to be with him in glory forever. The most important question we can ask is the one asked by Jesus’ disciple Thomas, “…how can we know the way?” Jesus gives the answer, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus is your only way to heaven. The truth that he suffered and died to save you from sin is the only truth you need. The life he came to give you is life unending in heaven. He is the Way. He is the Truth. He is the Life.
So, no matter the direction you choose to go in life, follow the Way. Follow Jesus.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, when I am confused about the direction of my life, when I am confronted with the temptations to worry about everything or to forget about you, grant me your grace and remind me you gave your life and rose again to give me a mansion in your Father’s house. Help me always to trust in you as the Way. Amen.
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
I am the Good Shepherd
Sheep are not very intelligent animals. In 2005, shepherds in Turkey watched 1,500 sheep walk off a cliff because the neighboring shepherds were not paying attention for a few minutes. Sheep are also defenseless. They don’t have horns, stripes, or speed to use as protection or for disguise. Sheep need a shepherd, because without one, they are an easy target for whatever predator gets to them first.
You also need a shepherd to guide you through life on the path to heaven. Trying to find your own path will lead to a terrible place. By nature, you won’t wander toward God but away from him. Following the crowd is dangerous too. Unless they know the true God, they are as lost as you are. You are also defenseless against the attacks of Satan. He is like a roaring lion looking to devour you. Temptation is always lurking for you, waiting to pounce like a tiger in the tall grass. Like sheep you are dumb and defenseless. Like sheep, you need a shepherd.
Thank God you don’t have an ordinary shepherd, but the Good Shepherd, Jesus. He said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.” You would have ended up in hell on your own, but Jesus laid down his life for you, his sheep, to lead you into heaven. Satan had his sharp teeth and piercing claws ready to pounce on you, but Jesus destroyed the devil on the cross. He has no power over you. He is no longer a threat to you because of Jesus.
Rest secure. Each day when you wake up ready to face everything the world is going to throw at you, remember that you have the Good Shepherd watching over you. He will lead you in paths of righteousness. He will not let any harm come to you that he will not work out for your good. Yes, Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He is YOUR good shepherd.
Prayer: Dear Jesus, my victorious Savior, I pray that your will be done. Destroy the work of the devil and his demons. Stop all of those who oppose your Gospel. As the Good Shepherd, guide and guard me, and bring me to glory everlasting. Amen.
Jesus said, “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world. … For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”
I am the Light of the World
“You believe in creation? Look at the scientific proof! Are you blind?”
“Why won’t you have sex with me? Look at what everyone else doing. If you watch The Bachelor, you’ll see that being a virgin is not a good thing for a relationship. Are you blind?”
“You think that just because I don’t believe that Jesus is the way to heaven, I am going to hell? Look at all the good, kind things I have done. Look at how loving I am. I know my loving God wouldn’t send me to hell. Are you blind?”
Do you ever feel blind? Do you ever feel like you can’t see what other people seem to clearly see?
Now let me ask this: is it better to see through the world’s eyes or to see God and view the world through his eyes? Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”
Jesus is the light of the world. He shows us God. We were walking around in darkness and uncertainty, but he has given us sight. We see the love the Father has for us in Jesus who died for our sins. We see our relationship with God restored so that we are his dearly loved children. We see the gates of heaven opened and the paradise that is waiting there for us. We see our lives in a new way. They aren’t for us to live for ourselves, but to live for God the way he calls us to live. We see everything clearly now. We were once blind, but now we see through Jesus.
So you—you stand in the light of Jesus. You clearly see your God, and he sees you. May this truth give you strength and encouragement to stay in the light as you walk through this world of darkness.
Prayer: Dear Jesus, you are the light of the world. I ask that you give me the strength to resist those things which try to pull me back into the darkness. Keep my eyes fixed on you until that day when I will spend eternity in your beautiful light in heaven. In your name I pray, Amen.
Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.” Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
I am the Bread of Life
What would it have been like to be an Israelite in the middle of the desert and have no food? A long time ago, the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. God freed them from their slavery and led them out into the desert. Eventually, their food ran out. There wasn’t a simple solution like a nearby Taco Bell for picking up some crunchy beefy Frito burritos. I can’t imagine what it would feel like knowing that if nothing changed, they would die. But God provided for them. He sent down bread from heaven called manna. The Israelites ate it and lived.
You too were in a situation where if things didn’t change, you were going to die. If God had not intervened in your life to give you faith and bring you to him, you would have wandered in this world. You have wandered in this world seeking satisfaction and rescue but never finding the bread that truly satisfies.
But God sent down bread from heaven to save you. Not bread from heaven like the manna God gave to the Israelites. God sent Jesus, the Bread of Life. Because of your sin, you were going to die eternally in hell. But God sent Jesus into the world. He lived a perfect life and died on the cross for your sins. He took away your sin and gave you eternal life. Just like bread in the desert, Jesus has given you eternal life.
Do you know what is better than bread? Free bread! Do you know what is better than Taco Bell? Free Taco Bell! Do you know what is the best part of Jesus, the Bread of Life? He was freely given! Jesus said, “My Father gives you the true bread from heaven.” God knew the tremendous cost of your sin. Instead of having you pay the full price, it came at great cost to him. He sent his Son to pay for it. Out of his grace and mercy, God has freely given you Jesus.
There is nothing better than the free Bread of Life. There is nothing better than Jesus. Believe it.
Prayer: O Lord God, you hold all things in your hand. I ask that you give me opportunities and courage. Give me opportunities to freely share Jesus, the Bread of the Life with those who do not yet have him. Give me courage to make the most of those opportunities to your glory. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
I am the Living Water
When your body gets thirsty, it starts quietly but then begins to shout, “Warning! We are lacking what we need to live.” It normally starts with a dry mouth or a dusty throat, but if the lack of hydration gets worse, the warning signs get stronger. The skin gets dry. The heart rate goes up. Eventually you might faint. All of these symptoms drive a person to look for relief. People are willing to do whatever it takes, even walk miles, just to find some water to relieve their thirst.
The same thing happens spiritually. We will often do just about anything to find relief. Some find relief in the satisfaction they get playing video games. Some find satisfaction in success with grades, sports, or work. Some find satisfaction in being a perfectionist.
Others find relief in the abuse of substances that give them an escape. Still others find satisfaction in feeling loved in a relationship, even if it means they find that in pornography or a damaging relationship. Like drinking salt water, all of these may give temporary relief from spiritual thirst but end up leaving a person thirstier than before. None of these things can give relief or satisfaction.
Instead, true relief and satisfaction for spiritual thirst comes from the one who gives real and perfect relief. Jesus says, “Whoever drinks that water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
When your spirit is lacking, go to the one who gives you relief. When you need to feel valued, go to the one who gives you value and self-worth. Your Savior values you so much, he gave his life for you.
When you seek perfection, go to the one who has made you perfect. Your Savior Jesus lived a perfect life and gives you credit for his life.
When you need to feel success, go to the one who has taken all of your failures away. Go to the one who gives you relief that overflows, like looking for a sip and instead getting a fountain. Go to the one who will give you perfect and eternal relief in heaven.
Prayer: Dear God, there have been times I sought personal escape from my problems through temporary ways that leave me thirsting for more in life. Thank you for offering to be the perfect relief my parched soul needs. Now quench me with your promises to never leave me or forsake me—today, tomorrow and forever. May the water of your Word always flow into my heart. Amen.
A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”
This is God’s Son
What is an identity? Identity is the objective truth or fact of who a person is. It does not matter what a person thinks of himself or what other people think of that person, at the end of the day, a person’s identity remains fact. You are who you are. So, who are you?
The answer, believe it or not, is found in Jesus’ identity. You learn your own identity by understanding Jesus’ real identity from the true words of the Bible. You find who you really are in Jesus.
Look to that moment of his life when Jesus was on top of a mountain with his closest disciples, Peter, James, and John. There, before their eyes, Jesus’ face changed and became as bright and glorious as the sun, and his clothes were like a lightning flash. Then, the voice of God came from a cloud and said, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen, listen to him.”
Here we see Jesus’ identity as if we were looking at his driver’s license. Who is Jesus? He is God’s Son. If the bright sunshiny face is not enough to convince a person, then listen to God’s words. God cannot tell a lie, and before three witnesses he said, “This is my Son.” Who is Jesus? He is glorious. He is perfect. He is God’s chosen Son. He is loved by his heavenly Father, and so are you.
When you were baptized, the Bible tells us that you became united with Jesus. So, at the end of a day when people make you feel worthless by the way they treat you, remember who you are. At the end of the day, after you have committed such a terrible sin you think that God could never forgive you, remember who you are. At the end of the day, after the devil has been leading you to believe the lie that you are not good enough for God, remember who you are. You are a baptized child of God! You are glorious and perfect in God’s eyes. Your relationship with God is the same relationship God has with his dearly loved Son. That is who you are. That is your identity.
Prayer: My perfect God, you have given me my identity. I ask that you help me this week to live in a way that reflects my identity to others. Use me to bring others to faith in you so that they too may have the same identity I have. I ask this through Jesus, your dear Son. Amen.
Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.
Love and Marriage
Is marriage a good or bad thing? More important is that it be a God thing. In the beginning of the world, God instituted marriage to be a safe place for husbands and wives to enjoy each other intimately and to provide a healthy and secure environment for children to grow up and be loved.
The further we get from Creation, the easier it is to forget God’s good design. The apostle Paul reminds us of that design in the book of Ephesians and uses God’s love for his church to describe it.
Wives are to submit—to put themselves under the authority and guidance of their husbands just like the church puts itself under the authority and guidance of Jesus. Husbands are to love their wives sacrificially, just like Jesus did when he died on the cross for his church.
Let’s be clear: it would be absolutely incorrect to say this passage makes husbands more important and wives merely side-kicks in marriage. If that’s what you’re thinking, repent of it!
“The Lord God said, it was NOT good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). It was essential that a woman be brought to Adam to be a part of his life. She would be someone that he could love and protect from his position as husband.
Maybe this illustration will help: Picture ballroom dancers. The man leads. The woman follows. But they both need each other for it to be a dance. He gives strength and direction. She provides grace and beauty. The beautiful dance doesn’t stay beautiful. You’ll step on each other’s toes and fall many times—sometimes hard and it will hurt—but in Christ there is forgiveness as we strive to sacrifice and submit.
What a breathtakingly beautiful image of the interdependent dance God intends between a husband and wife! It’s loving and leading. It’s being loved and protected—just as Christ loved and led us by humbly submitting himself to death on a cross. He gave it all for his bride, the Church, of which you and I are a part. To be loved, protected, and guided … it makes us so happy! Our dependence on Christ not only makes possible, but BEAUTIFUL, the interdependence of husbands and wives. What love! What beauty! Christ makes marriage a beautiful thing!
Prayer: Jesus, marriage is a good thing because it’s a God thing. If it’s your will to give me a spouse one day, help me to be the best husband or wife that I can possibly be! Amen.
Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
1 Corinthians 7:8-9
Satisfied with God
When I was in college studying to be a pastor, I met with one of my advisors and he asked me, “Are you married?” I said, “No.” He then asked, “Are you dating?” Again, I said, “No.” Then he spoke of how important it was that I find a wife before I became a pastor, otherwise my ministry, not to my mention my personal life, would suffer tremendously.
I was 19 or 20 at the time and I took that conversation seriously. Every date I went on became an interview for marriage, which didn’t bode well for a second date. The ladies could sense the desperation radiating from me, and they wanted nothing to do with it.
Eventually I ended up at the seminary learning how to be a pastor. I met with another advisor who asked me the same questions, “Are you married? Are you dating anyone?” Again, the answer was, “No.” To my surprise, his response was completely different than the first. He said, “Good for you. I didn’t get married until I was in my 30’s. Enjoy your single life for a while.”
Both of my advisors gave me advice based on their personal experiences. I wish they had opened the Bible to 1 Corinthians chapter 7 and told me what God says about whether you are single or living the married life. If you haven’t read that chapter before, read it. It’s makes a lot of sense.
In short, God wants you to be content whether you’re single or married, because there are spiritual advantages to both. Single people can spend more time serving the Lord without having the responsibilities a family brings. Married people get to reenact God’s love story every single day with their spouse.
Whatever your situation, ask Jesus to give you a content heart that’s willing to serve him and a believing heart that trusts him to lead your future.
Prayer: Jesus, you and the apostle Paul were single and used your time to minister to others. Help me to find true contentment in my present state of singleness so that I can be fully devoted to you. Amen.
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