Psalm 119:24

Lord, your decrees are my delight, they are my counselors.

Luke 2:46

Jesus’ parents found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.

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How honestly can you say that God’s decrees are your delight? Have you read Psalm 119 and gotten nearly bogged-down with the 176 ways the Psalmist extols the commands, words, decrees, laws, rules, and precepts of God’s word? After a while are you not at least close to the point of saying, “I get it. I get it!”

Just for the record, I love God’s word. I do delight when God speaks to me. But I’ve had those moments when those thoughts have entered my mind. I know better, but I have to resist the temptation to discount the value of God’s word.

Deep in my heart, however, there is a new man, created in Christ Jesus, who loves God’s word and commands. In my true self, created in Christ Jesus, I yearn to know and meditate on God’s word. It drives me to my computer every morning to write this blog. It directs my behavior and shapes my values in all of life. God’s laws, decrees, commandments, precepts, and words are my delight and my counselors.

That’s all and only because Christ lives in me. The boy Jesus in the temple perfectly embodied this love for God’s law and word. His whole life was given to loving God (the first and greatest command of the law), and loving his neighbor (the second one that is like the first). I still struggle with the temptation to neglect or devalue God’s word. Sometimes I give in to that temptation. But Jesus is my righteousness, joy, salvation and peace. I want to live by faith in him (cf. Galatians 2:20).

Ezekiel 12:25

For I am the Lord; I will speak the word that I will speak, and it will be performed. It will no longer be delayed, but in your days, O rebellious house, I will speak the word and perform it, declares the Lord God.”

2 Thessalonians 3:5

May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.

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These printing presses were on display in Mainz, Germany, the home of the first movable type printing press. We were also able to see a Gutenberg Printing press that was actually functional. What a boon for the Word of God to be more widely available to people!

Some people (perhaps yours truly) like to under-promise and over-deliver. They think that keeping others’ hopes in check so that they can out-perform expectations is a good way to look good and avoid the embarrassment of not meeting performance goals. Others will promise the moon but fail to deliver – hoping that people would forget what they had promised and having enjoyed their moment of adulation and fame while people had previously anticipated great things from them.

God is like neither. He has no need to under-promise, or over-sell. God, after all, is the one who is, the great I AM. He needs no justification for his being, no adulation to make his day complete, no acknowledgement to keep his self-esteem in good shape and no pointed reminders to keep his ego from being over-inflated.

God promises to hear our prayers. And he does. God promises to be with us in all situations. And he is. God says he will protect us with his holy angels. And he does. God spoke the words, “Let there be light.” And there was light. God said he would send his Son to redeem the world. And he did. God’s word is pure, sure, true, reliable, and powerful. He is no better or less than his word. How refreshing…especially in these politically-charged word-weary days!

Deuteronomy 16:17

Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord your God that he has given you.

1 Peter 4:10

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.

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I’ll never forget the day I walked to the mailboxes in our apartment in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and found a plain envelope with no return address. Inside were three one-hundred-dollar bills. It was 1976, and we had recently moved from Springfield, Illinois where I had finished my first year to seminary training. Our financial situation was very bleak. We had some medical bills, Diane had gone without a job for a couple of weeks (though she had recently found work), and we didn’t know how we would pay for school. I had even thought of quitting school and taking a year off to earn some money. That $300 was like a message from God: I will take care of you.  Later that week we learned that someone had given us enough money to pay tuition and buy books.

I recall looking forward to the time when we would be able to give: God had provided for us so abundantly. We would one day be able to give to help others along the way. When I finished seminary, and we moved to our first church, we determined that we would give the first 10% to the Lord at the church we were serving. It has been a practice since then. I like to say that we may have, on occasion, run short of funds. But it’s never because we gave too much to God; it was because we went once too many times to K-Mart, or Jauch Pennee, or McDonalds.

Since that time, God has put us in places of incredible abundance. We have material blessings beyond our expectations. With that comes a strong sense and desire to give back. We are convinced that God’s blessings do not come merely for our benefit. We are blessed to be a blessing.

Our great desire in giving is really two-fold. We want to be faithful, honoring God as the giver of every good and perfect gift. We also want to express God’s love to others through our giving. We believe that all we have is a gift from God. He has blessed us richly. It is our great desire to honor him and bless others with the blessings we have received from him.

Isaiah 55:8

My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.

Mark 9:38–39a,40

John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him. Whoever is not against us is for us.”

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Entrance to The Lighthouse Church in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. The building once served as a Jewish synagogue in the town.

When I was in college I decided to join the Lutheran church. That process involved taking a 12 week Bible study in which I learned some things that impressed me greatly. Key to my desire to identify with those who call themselves Lutherans are these two pillars:

  • the grace of God in Jesus Christ is central to Lutheran teaching; and
  • the Bible is grounding of all that we believe, teach, and confess.

The clarity and emphasis with which these were taught, and the fact that all that was embraced and taught in the Lutheran Church is held up by these two pillars made a strong impression on me.

There are those who stand for nothing and fall for anything. They have no true center, no clear confession, their watchword is tolerance. There are also those who draw their lines so sharply, and make the walls so confining that I wonder sometimes whether more than one person can live within those constraints. It distresses me that sometimes I find myself in one or the other of those camps.

Thankfully God does not operate under such constraints nor, however, does he opt for a no-matter-what-you-believe-as-long-as-you-believe-it-sincerely kind of orthodoxy. God has clearly expressed his identity as the Father who sent his Son, who gave his life for the sins of the world, and sent the Holy Spirit, who brings us to faith and compels us to share God’s love. Jesus reminds us here, that we are his people, along with whomever he embraces with his love, and that we need to worry less about who’s in the club, and more about whether we are following Jesus.

I appreciate how my wife recently identified herself as “a follower of Jesus Christ who worships in a Lutheran community.” I am happy to identify myself with the Lutheran Church in which I serve. Moreover, however, I am deeply thankful for the grace of God and the truth of the Scripture, and I rejoice whenever anyone embraces Jesus, who is the embodiment of grace and truth.
A Max Lucado story comes to mind…

Some time ago I came upon a fellow on a trip who was carrying a Bible.

“Are you a believer?” I asked him.

“Yes,” he said excitedly.

I’ve learned you can’t be too careful.

“Virgin birth?” I asked.

“I accept it.”

“Deity of Jesus?”

“No doubt.”

“Death of Christ on the cross?”

“He died for all people.”

Could it be that I was face to face with a Christian? Perhaps. Nonetheless, I continued my checklist.

“Status of man.”

“Sinner in need of grace.”

“Definition of grace.”

“God doing for man what man can’t do.”

“Return of Christ?”

“Imminent.”

“Bible?”

“Inspired.”

“The Church?”

“The Body of Christ.”

I started getting excited. “Conservative or liberal?”

He was getting interested too. “Conservative.”

My heart began to beat faster.

“Heritage?”

“Southern Congregationalist Holy Son of God Dispensationalist Triune Convention.”

That was mine!

“Branch?”

“Pre-millennial, post-trib, noncharismatic, King James, one-cup communion.”

My eyes misted. I had only one other question.

“Is your pulpit wooden or fiberglass?”

“Fiberglass,” he responded.

I withdrew my hand and stiffened my neck. “Heretic!” I said and walked away.

[A GENTLE THUNDER, Max Lucado p. 139, 140]

 

Exodus 20:14

You shall not commit adultery.

Hebrews 13:4

Let marriage be held in honor.

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A dragonfly perches on a water lily as it closes up for the night.

I once heard a radio talk show host opine that 75% of married couples had cheated on one another – that is that at least one had done so. I remember hearing caller after caller agree with his assessment. I was stunned. They certainly lived in a world different than mine. Surely that was not actually the case.

Now I read that a Barna study has determined that a majority of Americans believe in cohabitation as a good idea before getting married. It might be that this is a result of people seeing the destroyed landscape of marriages gone bad. That sacred union has been shattered time and again, hurting children and parents, and leaving deep scars. It’s as if we’ve witnessed a grave cultural earthquake, and no one wants to go back into the destroyed houses and buildings that we once thought safe.

The sad thing, however, is that the supposed safe haven to which many have fled is not really safe. Some think that checking out how people will get along before tying the knot will preserve them from graver harm. But when two people connect sexually they become one flesh. And no matter how one might deny it there will be emotional scarring when the one is ripped apart into two.

When two people commit to each other in an exclusive relationship, and remain faithful to each other in the bonds of marriage, God is honored. They give witness to the loving relationship between Christ and the church. This is God’s calling for his people and expresses our true identity as brothers and sisters in Christ: the family of God.

Psalm 97:10 (NKJV)

You who love the Lord, hate evil!

1 Peter 2:15–16

For it is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish. As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil.

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This beautiful altar is in a small church outside of Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

Does the juicy bit of gossip beckon for your attention and sharing? Is it the thrill of taking someone down and adding another notch in your belt that calls you away from the path of love? Is it the lure of money? The excitement of illicit sex? The determination to chart your own course that undercuts your parents’ honor? Do you so wish to be righteous in other people’s eyes that you fail to get honest with God about your need for his mercy and forgiveness? Do you so wish to look better than everyone else that you’ll hide your blemishes with the pancake makeup of outward appearances rather than the broken heart of a sinner deeply thankful to God for his grace?

There is always a beauty, benefit, or other pay0ff promised by the deceiver in order to lure us to embrace evil. Even when we know better, we too easily fall prey to the false notion that we can cover up evil and forego the need for God’s grace.

Jesus, the lover of sinners, called even his closest followers “evil” (cf. Matthew 7:11). He regularly poked his finger in the eye of those who claimed their own righteousness. The moment we think we have evil licked is the very moment it wins. It’s enough to make you hate evil, and pray most earnestly, “deliver us from evil.”

Evil was conquered 2000 years ago when Jesus, in perfect faith, love, obedience, and hope endured the cross. He remained faithful even to the point of death and never let evil get the upper hand. Thanks be to God, for without him we would have no hope. Evil would thoroughly win. And no matter how good it might look initially we would all too quickly discover its bitter core and horrid impact.

Psalm 39:1

I said, “I will guard my ways that I may not sin with my tongue.”

Ephesians 4:29

Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 

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I will have the opportunity today to speak words to people for whom I have great respect and love. I will also have opportunity to speak about some people today for whom I have few warm fuzzies. Part of that has to do with the context of my interactions these next two days. I will be at the national convention of The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In the elections yesterday for the board of directors of the Lutheran Church Extension Fund (LCEF), I was not re-elected. I learned about this from Rich Robertson, the CEO of the LECF who sent me a kind message, expressing his sadness at my exit from the board.

This is a little thing. There are much more grave situations in which words can have huge impact: the memorial service for the slain Dallas police officers yesterday offered such an opportunity. I especially appreciated  this report from a friend of (former) President George Bush’s comment: “Too often we judge other groups by their worst examples, while judging ourselves by our best intentions.” I’m certain there were others who spoke words that build up and give grace to those who hear.

I’m hoping I can keep this in mind today. Whether in the heat of political argument, the debate of theological issues, or the challenging moments of personal conflicts, our words have power to hurt or to heal. Our calling as sons and daughters of God is to speak the truth in love, and build one another up in our faith and holy calling.

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