Friday, July 22, 2016

What is the purpose of trials in our life?

Readings for the Day
1 Peter 1

Verses for the Day

Verse 6. "Now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls."

Thoughts for the Day

The book of 1 Peter is written to Jewish Christians, who have been scattered throughout Asia Minor. After Paul started many of these churches, as they grew, they faced intense persecution. Peter's letter is to encourage them by reminding them they have an inheritance that will never fade away. They are born again though faith and receive a living hope. Their hope is is anchored in Jesus' literal and bodily resurrection from the dead. And through that same power God will shield them through their faith in him.

In our verses for today, Peter explains to them that there is a purpose for the trials they are going through. The trials have come to refine and prove the genuineness of their faith. Like gold, the fiery trials burn out any impurities. Why? Because when your faith is tested, by staying strong your faith grows. It is easy to trust God when things are going well. But when bad things happen to us or those whom we love, we wonder why. As we stand firm trusting in the promises God has made to us through faith, we are proving the genuineness of our faith. Finally, Peter says that our faithfulness in the midst of trials will result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus returns in great and promised glory.

Where is your faith be tried right now? Don't be surprised because in living as an obedient Christian there are bound to be various kinds of trials that will produce suffering. After all Jesus was made pure by his suffering, and there is nothing we go that he has not already endured. As we suffer for him, we become more like Him. And when he returns we will see Him as he is and receive our heavenly inheritance. If you are growing weary in a temptation or trial that doesn't ever seem to go away, keep your eyes on your Savior, Jesus Christ. He will shield you and give you power from His Spirit to not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Is Your Faith Dead?

Readings for the Day
Isaiah 32-35, James 2

Verses for the Day
Faith and Deeds
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

Thoughts for the Day
The book of James is often misunderstood because of its emphasis on works. Some theologians, including Martin Luther, were not too fond of it. James is dealing with a situation where the Christians were neglecting the poor and favoring the rich. See the rest of the chapter. And while James is not saying that faith is not needed, or that somehow our works justify us before God. What he is saying that is if faith does not lead to works, especially to those in need, it is dead. It is not living and active. Would anyone disagree with that statement?

It doesn't necessarily mean that they don't have faith, but it is not active in love. Part of trusting in Jesus in faith is also having faith to do the works he has showed us to do. One could say that if someone has a living faith in Jesus, they can't but help do the works he prescribed for us to do. As we are transformed by saving faith, we are given the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit leads us to do good works, and reach out to those in need, both in the body of Christ and in the world. Another way of looking at dead faith is someone who quenches the Spirit. It doesn't mean they don't have the Holy Spirit. We don't ever lose the Spirit, but we are not living by it and fanning into flame the gift that is given to us by God when we come to faith.

While we are not saved by works, we are created in Christ to do good works. In another context Jesus tells us to let our light shine and be the salt of the world. As we see what is happening in our world today, Christians need to stand up and be counted. When evil abounds, grace needs to abound. We are told in the bible to overcome evil with good. That doesn't happen by us sitting around and complaining about how bad things are out there.

What good is it my brothers to claim to have faith and not participate in good deeds? While salvation is God's gift to us, we are saved to serve. We are saved to consider others interests as greater than our own. That is how our master teacher Jesus asked his disciples to live, and he urges us as his followers today to do the same.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Remember Your Leaders!

Readings for the Day
Isaiah 25-28, Hebrews 13

Verses for the Day
7 Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 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.

Thoughts for the Day
In the closing chapter of Hebrews, the writer (in chapter 13 sounds like it is the apostle Paul) concludes with some practical applications for the Christian life. He encourages them to show hospitality to strangers, love one another and keep the marriage bed pure, meaning no sexual immorality/adultery. In the two verses above, he tells them to remember and have confidence in their leaders. Though there doesn't seem to be a ton of structure and hierarchy in the church yet, there were obviously leaders. In this case they are described as those who spoke the word of God to you.

Importantly they are not just teaching the Word, but also living it out. They have an authentic walk with Cnrist that is observable by its positive outcome. He asks them to consider their lives and imitate their faith. Leaders not only lead, but must practice what they preach. Without spiritual integrity, they surrender their leadership.

He tells them not only to imitate their way of life, but also to submit to their authority. The authority given to a pastor to watch over the flock entrusted to them, comes from God. It is God's call to word and sacrament ministry to a particular group of people. When a congregation calls a pastor they trust he or she has been called by God, and submit to their leadership. And the pastor or leader is also accountable to God for the authority they have been given. So we see the value of leadership and authority, which is not human authority but God-given. So when a member submits to their pastor's authority they are submitting to God who ordained this person to shepherd God's flock.

Finally, the writer says to do this so your pastor's work will not be a burden. I have been privileged to be a pastor for 20 years, and have been blessed by so many people God has brought into my life as a result of this call. These people have made my work an extreme joy, which I am forever grateful for. Take a moment to pray for your pastor, his or her leadership and faithfulness to their call to your church. And finally, for protection for them for we know the evil one loves to cause pastors and leaders to fall. As the writer says this will be a benefit to both you and them and will advance God's kingdom here on earth.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

What is Faith???

Readings for the Day
Isaiah 19-21, Hebrews 11

Verses for the Day
"Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." Hebrews 11:6

Thoughts for the Day
The writer of Hebrews has been teaching about how Jesus' once and for all sacrifice was superior to the Old Testament sacrifices of animals. The ritual sacrifices commanded by God for the Israelites, were a shadow of what God would do for all mankind through the sacrifice of His only Son. Today, he turns to the subject of faith. He defines faith and gives several examples of saving faith in the Old Testament. People like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and Moses had one thing in common, faith. They trusted in God's promises, as shown by their obedience to what God asked them to do. They had faith that trusting in and acting on God's promises would lead them to the best life which God had promised them.

The writer gives a concise definition of faith which is very helpful. He says, "Faith is being sure of what you hope for and certain about what you believe." Another great word for faith is "confidence". Faith is confidence that God will always do what he promises, even if we can't see the outcome right away. Then the writer says these incredible words, "Without faith it is impossible to please God". Why is that so? It seems like a sweeping generalization.

I think it means that God is pleased when we trust in him above all else. If we can do something without having to trust God, it isn't faith. Trust is relational and shows what you believe in and maybe more importantly who you believe in. We find the more we trust in God through faith our confidence grows. This doesn't mean we won't have times of doubting. Although doubting is the opposite faith, it is a very real and human tendency, especially when things go really bad. Rather than shaming or guilting someone who is going through a doubting period, we need to encourage and pray for them. Remember Jesus met Thomas in his doubt and allowed him to touch his wounds, after he was resurrected from the dead. God always reaches out to those who doubt in hopes they will believe and gives them evidence to do so.

Where is God calling you to trust in him in faith and reliance that He will do what He has promised? It usually is something we can't do without his help. The first temptation that Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness was to meet his own needs in his own suffiency. When Jesus was hungry in the desert, Satan tempted him to turn stones into loaves of bread. Jesus answered the test by saying, "Man does not live on bread alone, but every word that comes from the mouth of God." In that moment, Jesus trusted in God's promise that he knew and quoted from the Old Testament. Jesus memorized scripture and it was of great help to him in times of trouble. It reminded him of God's promises and he trusted in them.

As you recall how God has always eventually provided for you when you trusted in him by faith, it gives you the confidence to be sure of what you hope for and certain of what you believe!!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Why We Need Each Other!

Readings for the Day
Isaiah 15-18, Hebrews 10

Verses for the Day
24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Thoughts for the Day
The main purpose of the book of Hebrews is to show the relationship between the Old Covenant given to the Jewish people through Abraham, David and Moses, with the new covenant God has made with all mankind through Jesus. And at the heart of these two systems of how God relates to us, is how our sins are forgiven. The sacrifices in the Old Testament that God commanded his people to conduct, through the priests appointed to serve in the temple, were only a foreshadowing of the one, true and final sacrifice that was to come.

And Jesus fulfilled the new covenant, or promise God made, by offering his life as a perfect sacrifice. This sacrifice does not be repeated, and is God's final act of reconciliation with the world he made, and specifically human beings who were made in His image. As we trust in this sacrifice Jesus has made for us in faith, we can have confidence that we are saved and fully forgiven of our sins past, present and future. Any sacrifice we might try to make to God are abhorrent to him, because they negate the sacrifice Jesus made for us.

So what is the above verse all about? As the writer moves toward the end of the letter, he urges these people to persevere in their confidence because of what Jesus has done. And specifically he says, that even though we have been forgiven once and for all, we are still in process of being made holy. Meaning just because our sins are forgiven, doesn't mean we are perfect, and don't still sin. But this doesn't mean we don't need to persevere in our faith, and as the above verses say, we need each other.

How do we do that? By spurring each other on to good deeds. Even though good deeds don't justify us, they are still good. And as we do them together we spur each other on to do more. And guess what? When you are doing good deeds you are a lot less likely to do bad deeds. Second, the writer says, "don't give up the habit of meeting together." Some people say, "I don't need to go to church to be a Christian!" And while this is true, you need others to remain a Christian. A Christian without others is like a coal outside of the fire. It eventually goes out. Finally, the writer says, "encourage each other all the more as the day approaches." We will all go through times of discouragement and doubt. Some of it due to our own sin, and sometimes as a result of the sin of others. But encouragement keeps us focused on the prize and how even our trials are solidifying our faith and making us more like Christ.

I hope you are encouraged that Jesus has given you the "once and for all sacrifice" for your sin. You will forever reside in Heaven if you trust in Jesus as your only Savior. Second, until Jesus comes back, we need to persevere in our faith, primarily aided by being a part of a vibrant faith community. A community that provides an environment for us to grow in our faith and be encouraged as we don't neglect meeting together.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Right Kind of Sacrifice!

Readings for the Day
Isaiah 11-14, Hebrews 9

Verses for the Day
25 Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. 26 Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

The writer of Hebrews compares the sacrifice that the high priest made every year on behalf of the people, with the sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross. The priest took the blood of the innocent lamb to cleanse the altar and atone for the sins of the people. As the passage says earlier, "there is no forgiveness without the shedding of blood." Why? Because payment needs to be made for justice to be had. We all long for justice when we see things go wrong in the world, except when it comes to our own sin. Then, we would prefer mercy. Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh, because he was afraid God would show mercy to his enemies, and he did.

But the problem was these sacrifices needed to be made again and again. Jesus however made the once and for all sacrifice for all of mankind. Jesus' sacrifice was superior because it was not the blood of bulls and rams, but the blood of the innocent Lamb of God. The writer states that we are all destined to die once, and then to face judgment. This by the way rules out "re-incarnation", or coming back a second time to right all of our wrongs. No, we die and face the judgment for the wrongs we have done to others and against God.

But though we deserve judgment, in God's mercy Jesus wiped away our sins once and for all when offerd himself on a cross to die. The one who was sinless gave his life for those who were dead in sin. Jesus paid a debt he didn't owe, for those who owed a debt they couldn't pay. Therefore, those whose hope is in Christ will not face judgment, but instead receive salvation. Salvation means healing. Healing from our sin, and deliverance from the power of sin.

So what might this mean for us? First, God doesn't desire for us to try and make our own sacrifice for our own sin. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken and contrite heart, and then trusting in the sacrifice Jesus made for us. Secondly, our sin past, present and future has been completely covered by the once and for all sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf. This is the Good News. This is the Gospel. This is what makes Christinaity different from every other religion. This is our fuel for living a life worthy of the gospel we have received and sharing it with others.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Why The Old Covenant Doesn't Cut It?

Readings for the Day
Isaiah 8-10, Hebrews 8

Verses for the Day
For if nothing had been wrong witH the first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. 8 But God found fault with the people and said:

“The days are coming, declares the Lord,
when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
and with the people of Judah.
9 It will not be like the covenant
I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they did not remain faithful to my covenant,
and I turned away from them,
declares the Lord.
10 This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel
after that time, declares the Lord.
I will put my laws in their minds
and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
11 No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest.
12 For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.”
13 By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.

The writer of Hebrews compares the old covenant of the Old Testament that God made with Abraham, Issac and Jacob; with the new covenant that was fulfilled through Jesus. So what was wrong with the old covenant? Why did the new covenant appear causing the old one to disappear?

The problem, as we see throughout the Old Testament, is that though God had promised to be their God and given them the Law to guide them, they consistently fell short. They continue to turn from the one, true God to serve other gods. The problem with the first covenant was that though God was faithful, His people weren't. They didn't have the power to obey.

While the old covenant was chiseled on stone tablets, the new covenant would be written on their hearts. God would remove their hearts of stone and give them hearts of flesh. And most importantly they would "know" the Lord in a new way. With the old covenant only the Most Holy Priest could offer sacrifices on behalf of the people. He was the only one who could experience the presence of the Lord.

But the Old Testament prophesied about a new covenant where God would write the law on His people's hearts. Instead of a high priest offering up an innocent lamb, God sent His only Son to die for our sins so that we would be forgiven once and for all. And the difference is that through the sacrifice Jesus made we can know God personally. To "know" means an intimate relationship and a fellowship that is not broken by sin.

These are the reasons the new covenant Jesus brought to all people is far superior to the old covenant. But the problem is we constantly want to go back to the old covenant. We want to be justified by keeping the law, rather than trusting in the only One who has kept the Law.

Sadly many who would call themselves a Christian might not know what it is like to "know" God. Though God desires an intimate relationship with us, we all too often settle for an arms-length relationship with Him. We see our relationship of keeping a few rules at our own discretion. We are back in control, but never experience "amazing grace" which sets us free.