Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. Psalms 139:13-14

I touched her long black hair and delicate little fingers. I stroked her cheek and looked into her eyes as she searched out her surroundings. I held a miracle in my arms and I fell in love. Such were the feelings as I held Natalie, my granddaughter, this past weekend. I marveled at the complexity of her body and saw the miracle of creation. Only God could make something so complex – a human being that breathes and can explore her world at just two days of life. How could anyone believe in evolution when they look at the complexity of the human body? Only God could make something as individual and beautiful as this.

Then I thought about how unique she is. Her black hair and cute nose and, yes, I think I see the McArthur chin on this miracle of God. God took parts of Dave and Karen and knit together a unique child. God formed her just the way that He wanted her to be. He already has a path in life planned out for her that will use the unique gifts that He has given to her. It will be a joy to watch that plan unfold over the rest of my days. It will be a delight to see the person that she will be as a child of God. She will be baptized and her parents and grandparents will see that she knows the Lord on a very personal level so that she can be all that He has determined.

I could feel God as Natalie was baptized this past Sunday. He was there at her baptism holding her and telling her and her parents how much He loved my granddaughter. I feel sad that so many children are born who will never travel down the path that the Lord has planned for them. They will not be baptized or they will be baptized and fall away before they realize that goal. They will live lives without a God who wants to wrap His arms around them. They will live without a God who wants to provide for them and protect them every day of their lives. May more children have the love of the Lord as Natalie does.

I am lost without you Lord

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? Psalms 42:1-2

We were just south of Montreal, Canada and Sunday was approaching. I had looked online before we left and was unable to find a Lutheran church that had an English service in this land of French Canada. We could sit at the campground and Joan and I share a devotion together. It just wouldn’t be the same. We longed to be with the Lord. We wanted to thank the Lord for the help He gave us driving through Boston and Montreal. We wanted to be fed as we listened to a sermon and sang the hymns. Life gets out of joint when we miss our time at His feet. It just doesn’t seem to go as smoothly and it just seems to be filled with more troubles.

It wasn’t the first time we had struggled to find a service. We had sat on logs in a National Park with the kids listening to someone who didn’t know what they were doing. We had gone to a Baptist Church on the edge of Mammoth Cave National Park because there weren’t any Lutheran Churches nearby. We had also had great experiences like worshipping at a historic Lutheran Church in Charleston, South Carolina or worshipping at a friend’s church in Colorado Springs. You take the good and the bad when you worship on vacation. You are just glad you got to be with the Lord and let Him set the tone for the coming week.

In Canada, we asked at the campground office and a very nice young lady named Catherine looked online and found a Roman Catholic service nearby that would be led in English. The service was small and in a community center. It was the church’s mission to the English speakers in the area. Much of the service was the same as my Lutheran service and the priest’s five-minute message was uplifting words on “fear not”. As I sat down that day, I thanked the Lord that He had led us to find a place where we could be with Him. I have to admit that I am lost without the Lord. Like a drug addict who needs a fix, I just don’t function without some time with the Lord. Thank you, Lord, for always being there and for helping us when we are away from home and just need a chance to be with you.

Revival: Honor God as Your King

Focus: Neh. 10:27-39

The Jews knew how to honor a king. You bowed to the king because he held your life in his hands. Americans think that the President must bow to them. They elect the president and tell him what to do in polls and with protests. They slander him in newscasts and on late night talk shows. No wonder we struggle with God as our king. We want to treat him the way we do a president. We expect that our prayers will be answered in the way that we want God to work. If God doesn’t do so, God is discarded and mocked. That is dangerous. God is wiser and stronger than any Persian king that the Jews faced. Those who do not bow down to God and listen to Him do so at their own peril.

The danger of mixed marriages and families. v. 30 The Jews had intermarried with the surrounding nations. They began to worship the gods of the other nations along with the true God. Slowly, the values of Israel eroded as people ignored the laws of God and grew distant from their faith. A Christian brings blessings on a non-Christian spouse. A non-Christian spouse makes it harder for the Christian to worship or to give generously. A non-Christian makes it more difficult to raise Godly children. Families that have non-Christians in them should do all in their power to witness to the non-Christian. Their lives impact us more than we think.

The danger of no time set apart for God. v. 31 The gentiles around Jerusalem treated the Sabbath like any other day. It was a time to socialize and to do business. It was easy for the Jews to rationalize that they needed this business because they were poor. Our world sees Sunday as just another day. Children are encouraged to be at soccer games and Boy Scout campouts. Parents are taught to help at Sunday charity events instead of spending time with the Lord. This busyness keeps us from God. Satan loves to keep Christians busy with good things that keep us from better time with God. Soon we are running on empty and distant from God.

The danger of giving God second best v. 35 Malachi, a contemporary of Nehemiah, complained that the people gave blemished animals to the Lord and robbed the Lord of the full tithe. They gave God the leftovers instead of giving Him the best. No one would have dared do such a thing to a Persian King, but somehow God was not as important. Churches struggle to do the ministry and are falling into disrepair as God is not seen to be worth the bother. Malachi’s words of God getting the leftovers are still appropriate. People in Nehemiah’s day and our own expect God to give the "good life" while they allow His house and worship to fall into decay.

For the Jews, it was a time to start over. The past was forgiven but not forgotten. They had learned the lesson that life is better in God’s kingdom and they wanted to live in that kingdom and enjoy the blessings of a relationship with God. They wanted to have what their ancestors had missed. It was a time to begin under God’s grace. It is time for the church to begin to live under God’s grace. Our God is a God of second chances and new life. It is time to live as subjects of the kingdom and listen to our God and obey His will so that we might prosper.

Revival: God lifts us past our weaknesses

Focus: Nehemiah 9

Failure was all around them. They stood in a place of greatness, but all around them was failure and decay. The temple above them on the hill had once gleamed with gold. Now, their temple was simple and the walls made of burnt and broken stone. The glory of David and Solomon was long past. Would they ever be great again? It can feel the same way in the church today. We remember the days when it was fashionable to go to church and the Sunday school was filled with kids eager to learn. Now we step into half-filled sanctuaries, and the population of the church is graying. Times have changed, but God has not. God can lift us past our weakness.

God lifts us past our weaknesses because He is dedicated to us v. 19 The Jews were a story of disappointments and struggle. Ezra reminds the people that God did not let Israel die in the desert, and He will not let them die now. God still does not abandon his people. His people leave Him and chase after other things that they consider more important than God. They will chase after jobs, entertainment and “stuff” They will get too busy to take time for God in worship or bible study. God does not abandon His people. When times get tough enough, they will get down on their knees and look for Him again. He will help His church and its people. God is dependable even if we are not.

God is patient with us v. 30 While the people of God lived in sin, God actively waited. He sent prophets to let them know that God was ready to help if they would just call. He watched and cried as He saved them in the time of the judges and kings only to be forgotten by the next generation. God has patiently waited as Christians have become too busy to take time for their Lord. He has watched families put soccer, scouting and “quality time as a family” ahead of time with Him. God sits on the edge of His heavenly throne just watching and waiting for the church to cry in prayer and to put their trust in Him. He is ready when people realize that He is the only hope.

God keeps His promises v. 32 Why would God care so much? The simple answer is love. He has made promises to His people from the time of Adam and that gives hope. They could look back and see how God had time and time again in their history saved his people. God still cares. We look around at the sorry state of the church and feel discouraged. Instead, we should be looking at all the things that the Lord has done for his church over the years. As long as people cling to the Lord, they still have hope. God will keep His promises. We just need to put our lives in His hands and follow His path for our future.

There are two steps to a new future. The first is to admit reality in confession. v. 33 The glory that had once been Jerusalem didn’t fade because God had neglected them. They had filled His temple with idols and filled their hearts with greed and pride as they pushed God away. The church will have a new future when it stops making excuses about the culture or those people out there. It will only have new life when it admits that it has been too busy for God. Second, we need to look forward and commit to the Lord. v.38 Having confessed their sins, they made a written and binding agreement. It was a commitment to God, but it was also a commitment to their future and themselves. Without God, the future would look as bleak as the present.. It is time for Christians to make a pledge. It is time to define by God’s standard what it means to be a Christian. We need to commit ourselves to grow in our faith so that we are in the word and share salvation to the people around us.



Revival: It starts with Scripture

Focus: Nehemiah 8

 Information can change our lives. If you need to unclog a sink, you can google the question, and a host of sites on the internet will tell you how to do that safely with step by step pictures. If you want to know how to plant a tree or fix your car, that is there as well. The people of Judah had finished the wall, but they had forgotten their God. What they required was information. The people needed to know who the God who helped them rebuild their walls was. They needed how God wanted his people to live so that they could thrive and be a strong nation again. They needed a revival, and that new life would start with God’s word. 

If the Bible is going to help you, you have to read it v. 8 Having finished the wall, the leaders chose to assemble people by the water gate so that they could have the refreshment of the scriptures. This day marks a changing point in the Jewish nation. From this time on, the Jews would become the people of the book. They would read and study the Bible so that they built their lives on it.

Take time to celebrate God’s love v.9 When they heard the message, they realized all the pain that they had caused themselves by not being in the word. They felt the law and not the gospel. For this reason, Ezra told them to celebrate and not to weep. God gave his word so that we might know the depth of His love and commitment to the people of Israel.

God’s word can help you if you obey it v. 13 Reading the Bible is not enough. Ezra and the other teachers told the people to follow what they were learning. Like a map, the Bible is not very useful to you if you do not follow its directions. If you ignore it, you do not profit from its information. The wise person will hang on every word from God and make this wise advice their guide.

You want a better life, be in the word. The walls were up, and they were beautiful, but they would offer no protection if the people forgot God as their grandparents had done. If the nation was to thrive and to survive, they needed to be a people of the book who learned the Bible and taught it to their children. It needed to be the guide for the nation and the pattern for their future. Revival starts with the word of God. It brings God into your life so His power and love can help you. It is the source of His time-tested wisdom that will work in every situation.

If you want a better world, be in the word. It is hard to get a family member to go to church or know Jesus if you are not in the word. It is hard to be a person that has real character and the admiration of others without being in the word. Those who are in a deep relationship with the Lord in word and prayer are the only ones who can change the world and bring peace and harmony.

Revival: Do you really want it?

Focus Nehemiah 6:1-19

The revival of a church is not easy. That should not surprise us for some of the best things in life are not easy. You want a baby. Are you willing to put up with morning sickness, 2 AM feedings, and three-year-old temper tantrums? You want to be in business or be a lawyer or doctor. Are you ready for four to eight years of college and a large student loan? Is the dream worth it? A lot of people want a great church, but they want others to do the work. My question is how much do you want a great church? God wants it and will work miracles to have a healthy church. Nehemiah will show us how to prepare for revival with a few items from his revival boot camp.

It is about focus, not compromise v. 3 The wall is up, and all that has to be done is to get the gates in place. At this point, the enemies of Israel offer to help and want Nehemiah to stop the work and meet with them. Nehemiah sees through them. He knows they want to harm him and stop the work. Nehemiah has focus. God has called him to build the wall, and he will not let anything stop him.

You need to listen to God, not the naysayers v. 6 Slander is a favorite tactic of Satan. The enemies of the Jews slandered Nehemiah in an open letter. They accused him of building the wall for his own advancement. Nehemiah responded with the truth about his motives and with a trust in the Lord. He placed his enemies in God’s hands rather than bothering to reason with them.

You will find that faith, not fear overcomes failure v.11 One of Satan’s greatest weapons is fear. The enemies of the Jews hired a prophet to try to convince Nehemiah that his life was in danger. Nehemiah should stop the project and hide in the temple with the prophet. Nehemiah countered fear with faith and would not commit the sin of entering the Holy Place to save himself.

Never let your guard down v. 18 It is possible to fail even when you have reached your goal. The wall and gates were up, but Satan was not done. He was ready to defeat the Jews even as they were celebrating. Spies reported everything to Tobiah so that this enemy could plan his next move and intimidate Nehemiah or cause the people to stumble.

Revival is not doing right things, but being right with God v.9 It would be tempting to try and find the steps to building a church in the pages of Nehemiah. If we look for a method, we miss the point of Nehemiah’s experience. Success came from being right people not right things. Nehemiah was connected to God and knew his Bible. Nehemiah knew his God and trusted God fully to provide what he needed. If any church is going to have revival, we will need to be right people. We will need to be people of the book like we have never been before. Nehemiah succeeded because he was devoted to God, and the people saw what they were doing as important.


Easter is Believing

Focus: John 20:24-31

We often know him as “Doubting Thomas,” yet his sin was to be demanding and not doubting. Being a Christian means that you have doubts and questions. You can either come to God with an open heart or a stubborn mind. You can come asking why someone had to die or why life can be hard and find the answers you are seeking or demand God show you the proof before you will believe anything. Thomas made demands. This text shows us the vast gulf between coming humbly to our Lord with questions before His throne and crossing our arms and demanding that the Lord convince us with overwhelming evidence before we will believe.

A. The proof was demanded, not questions searched out. V.25 The Greek New Testament says that the other disciples kept telling him about their visit from the Lord. Thomas didn’t ask questions so that he could share in their excitement. He demanded that Jesus gives Him proof. It happens when people say that they will not believe in the Lord unless Grandma is healed. It occurs in a discussion when people say that they can’t believe in a God who would allow suffering in Africa.

B. The proof will come in Jesus’s time. V. 26 Thomas had demanded proof, but Jesus didn’t come right away. He waited for seven days so that the Thomas had heard the resurrection news dozens of times. Jesus doesn’t listen to our demands and pops back in when it is convenient for us. He comes at a time that will bring the most benefit. He comes at a time that He knows will lead to the most people coming to faith or growing in faith. The proof is on his timetable.

C. Proof may be gentile or scary. V. 27 How gracious it was for the Lord to stoop down and answer Thomas’s request. Seeing Jesus was all that he needed. God’s answer to our stubbornness may not be so gentle. Paul saw Jesus on the Damascus Road and was blinded. Nebuchadnezzar mocked God and was reduced to living like an animal. Sometimes Jesus answers our demands if we are open giving a rebuke but coaxing us toward faith. Others are so stubborn that He may have to break them before they are humble enough to listen

D. How will you respond? V. 28 It is all about our response. Thomas saw His Lord and friend standing before him and believed. He believed in the resurrection. He believed that Jesus was truly God. It is still about the response. A person’s life will be shaped by their willingness to accept and submit or their stubbornness and dismissal of the message God gives. Those who believe will find God’s help in the midst of their hurt. Those who dismiss God will be doomed to live in their pain perhaps for the rest of their life.

Turn to scripture when you have questions and doubts. V.31 The Holy Spirit abides there. As you read the words of scripture, He can chase away the demons that would pull you down and torment you. The dread of Satan will be replaced with the promises and hope of our Lord. Scripture is filled with stories of God working in the lives of His people. The Holy Spirit will use these words to fill you with life and expectation of God working in your life. God wants to answer your questions. He wants you to do so, however, with an open heart and a mind ready to believe everything in Scripture.

Easter Is Life Changing

Focus: John 20:10-23

Are you open to change? Easter is meant to change lives. The first thing that you notice is that Jesus didn’t march into the temple and confront the religious leaders or say “got ya!”. They would not have listened any more than Ebenezer Scrooge. Jesus revealed himself after his resurrection only to believers. He revealed himself only to those who were ready to change and to accept the gracious gifts that He had to give on that first Easter. He would not waste his time or His gifts on the hard of heart. The question is whether you are open to change. If you are unsure about who Jesus is, are you ready to listen to his gifts to you? If you are already a believer, are you willing to move to a new level in your relationship with Him? The Easter story features four life-changing statements from Jesus for you and me.  

A. Why are you crying? v. 15 Under normal circumstances, this would have been a silly question. Mary is standing at the tomb of a loved one, and his body is gone. Jesus knew what His resurrection meant. “Open your eyes Mary and see me so that you can leap for joy.” Many have not let that simple message hit home. Joy is right before them, but they are confused and not willing to accept it or have never really thought about the meaning of the empty tomb.

B. Go to my brothers v. 17 In the past, Jesus had called the twelve disciples servants or friends. Now He calls them brothers because they share in His resurrection power and glory. You are brothers and sisters in Christ. You call God Father every time you pray the Lord’s Prayer. Easter has elevated you just as it did the disciples.

C. As the Father has sent me, I am sending you v.21 Jesus gave them Shalom and called them to go and spread His peace to the world. The message of Easter would take away the guilt of the burdened and bring hope to those who were lost and confused about the future. Easter is your call to spread this message as well. So fan out and tell others what Jesus has done. Jesus is here, and He will help.

D.  Receive the Holy Spirit v. 22 How will we bring God’s peace to others? The disciples and everyone who heard the Easter news was empowered with the Spirit to get the message out. They would speak the gospel message and the Spirit would change the hearts of many who heard the message. Now you receive the Spirit. He empowers you by giving you the words to say to your friends and family.

What makes Easter Different? There were at least five resurrection appearances of Jesus on the first Easter. Everyone was to a believer so that their life could be transformed and their sorrow turned to joy. Easter was not a day of doctrines, but a day where people could touch the wounds in his hands and feel the love in His voice. It was a day in which Jesus transformed the disciples who were scared and discouraged into men and women who were excited and who never wanted to let go of the salvation and love of Jesus the rest of their lives. They became bold and even willing to die rather than lose Jesus from their lives. Reach out and touch Jesus today. Touch his wounded hands as the disciples did and believe. Open your heart so that you might be changed.

Romans: Relationships and Not Rules

Focus: Rom 14:1-12

They may have had the same parents, but often brothers and sisters end up very differently. I have known families where you begin to wonder if the two kids came out of the same gene pool because they act and look different. Was one swapped at birth in the hospital?  You could argue with them about everything in life but you agree to disagree and accept them as they are because they are family. Paul, in this text, is telling us to do the same thing with our Christian brothers and sisters. Accept them even though they have faults without passing judgment on them. Love them and build the relationship so that you can help them be the best Christian that they can be. Consider three things before you judge them.

God is still working with the every one of us. (v. 4) No Christian is a finished product. We are all God's work in progress. This is particularly the case for a new Christian. They are still just learning what it means to be a child of God. They will slip and say a cuss word. They are still learning to give generously of their talents and their resources. Give God time to work in the lives of every Christian to help them become more like Him. If we see someone who doesn’t understand what it means to be a Christian, we are to teach them rather than judge.

Only God can read the heart. (v.6) Only God can see the motives that people have. Only the Lord is in a place to judge whether it is ignorance, honest differences or sinful arrogance that makes a person do what he is doing. Why does one give up something for Lent and another refuse to do so? Why is one person sensitive to gossip or another sensitive about drinking? Often it is something in their history like a gossip who destroyed their character or an alcoholic father.

Relationships help build people up more than rules. (v. 7) The church’s goal is not to look good to the community or the world. It is about helping people grow and mature in Christ so that they can serve each other and the world. We are not to worry what the world thinks, but about how people are developing and changing. Give someone acceptance for who they are and some mentoring to who God wants them to be, and you will see people do miracles. They will be able to overcome their past and grow into the child of God who can mentor and help others.

If we focus on building relationships and on improving each other, we can have a better church. God wants us to build each other up so that the church as a whole is stronger and more like the Lord. Such a church is committed to each other. God's people genuinely love one another. They love each other so much that when they see a weakness in each other, they don’t ignore it but try to help their brother or sister. They also teach each other and encourage each other. He wants us to build the relationships with each other that bring lasting change from the inside out.

Romans: Leaving a Legacy

Focus: Rom 13:8-14

 Your legacy is the footprint in the sand that you leave behind the journey of life. Some people leave footprints filled with bounce and joy in the company of others. Others leave a legacy that looks like a monster came out of the deep and tore up the beach. You create your legacy in relationships and your impact on others. It is what will be said or not said at your funeral. It is about the lives that you touched and the people you helped. I am a Christian, so what? Paul seems to say in this section that we need to leave a legacy of love. Jesus has touched our lives with His love and gave us the chance to reach others with His love.

You build that legacy by being known for an attitude of love. v. 8 Love is a debt that we can never repay to God. It is a debt He wants us to repay forward to others that he loves. It is as if God is saying to us, “As I have loved you, now go and be kind to one another.” No one can repay God for the cross or even for all the things He does for us each day. Instead, we pay it forward to our fellow Christians and to the stranger I meet on the street. If we love others each day, you begin to surround yourself with an aura of love. People want to be around you because they sense you care. Soon people will love and care for you back.

Having such love is not easy. We have to let the Lord get rid of the things not compatible with love (v.13) and clothe us with a love that comes only from Him (v. 14). All of us have a darkness buried deep in our soul. We have jealousies and anger over past hurt. Paul would have us open ourselves to the Holy Spirit so that He can purge us from such things so that they don’t destroy us or others. In their place, the Holy Spirit can fill us with characteristics of Christ-like joy, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control. We trust God to take care of us so that we can have the freedom love others without being worried if we will get something back.

The time for such love is now (v.11). Your legacy is the sum of your life. It is not something that you can do in the last moments of life. It is the daily investing in people who can be changed or helped by your love. It is living with a quality that shows everyone that you belong to Christ. It isn’t a chore but is an opportunity to feel good about yourself and to have others who will feel that love and love you back.  What does it mean to be a Christian? Paul would tell us to have a legacy of love. Shower others with love and enjoy it when others love you back. Sharing love through your actions and by witnessing to Jesus so others can feel the love from the cross is what you were reborn as a Christian to do.

Romans: Christian Citizens

Focus: Rom. 13:1-7

Revolt against the government is everywhere. It seems weekly marches against the government and its policies have become the norm. Everyone is standing up for their rights and demanding their priorities. Sadly, it has led to a division in Washington that makes it hard to care for the needs of the people. If ever there was a time for people to take up arms against a government, it would have been in the time of Paul. Paul is writing the Christians in the city of Rome in 57 AD during the time of Nero. Nero is the Roman Emperor who began the persecution of the Christians. He is the emperor who had both Paul and Peter put to death for being Christians. Paul would challenge us to appreciate the benefits that we have in government.  He would point to three things that government does for the people. Our challenge is not to overthrow the government, but to make it better than it is now.

When the government is working right, it commends what it good and punishes what is bad. Government supports those who do what is right v.3. It gives people a chance to succeed by providing opportunities for education, a good job afterward and our slice of the American dream. You have to work hard for those things, but here in America because of our government, that is still an option. Government works to bring to justice those who steal or harm our bodies v.4. They are God’s agents against those who would do wrong. Can you imagine what it must be like in third world countries where there are few consequences for theft, murder or rape? God gave government so that the righteous prosper and the evil is punished. Because of government, the people can flourish and live in safety.

When the government is working right, we have the services that we need. No one likes taxes, and often they seem anything but fair, but they help the governments that God has created provide us with the core services that we need on a regular basis. Taxes are a pooling of our monies to provide necessary things like libraries, fire departments, and schools. God gives government so that we can have a better quality of life. People struggle in third world countries where there is no water or sewer or even paved streets. The government is God’s way of pooling our resources so that we can have a better way of life with all the benefits that He provides.

Paul wants us to submit to the authorities v. 5. Paul would say that we have a responsibility to make the government as helpful as possible. The first way to do that is to submit to the authorities and obey the laws that our government has passed. You need to follow the stop lights and speed laws. You need to pay your taxes on time. No one said that we get to decide what laws are good and bad and force governments to follow our will by a show of strength. Good government comes when we have a sense that we are all in this together. The nation is strongest when people look to the greater good and not to their benefit. In such a place they encourage leaders to find long-term solutions even if there is a short time hardship. I am a Christian – so what? Paul would say in this text that we need to be good citizens who try to make our country secure. We will be the beneficiaries of a strong America where its people serve one another.

Romans: Demonstrating Love

Focus: Romans 12:9-21

Love is necessary for survival and is often missing in life. From the child shuttled between divorced parents to the older adult sitting in the nursing home hoping that someone will come and visit this week, everyone needs love. Love is more than politeness. It is more than people being civil saying please and thank you. It is a bond and connection with someone where you know that this person is on your side and will give of themselves to help you and to care for you. Such people will give you their time and use their resources for you. You matter to them and touch their inner heartstrings. Such is the love we need and such is the love of Jesus shown by the people of the church to each other and to the world around them.

Such love will love fellow Christians in spite of their faults (v. 10). Let’s face it, every Christian faces a simple problem. We are called to love imperfect people. We are called to love the person who is always thinking of themselves and the liar that we feel we can never trust. Yet, as Christians, we are all part of a family. God is our father and the people sitting around us in the pews are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Genuine love allows for weaknesses and imperfections. Brothers, sisters, uncles and cousins don’t have to be perfect to be in the family and to be loved. Neither do fellow Christians. We need each other and belong to each other. If my fellow Christian feels loved and prospers, it makes my life better as well.

A company of Christians who you love and who love you gives you the strength to face the world with love. I know I have value and so I don’t have to badmouth a coworker who is always rude to me. I can reach out to help others because I know that God will help me. I can even empathize with people in my community (v.14-15) who are in crisis and celebrate when they have joys. I can serve them and help them. When I find someone who just seems to have no goodness in them, I can pray for them and turn them over to the Lord (v.19) so that He can punish them for their evil and allow me to remain someone who is known for doing good. Paul knows that only God can turn them around just as He took Paul from being a persecutor of the church to a humble servant of others.

Love is powerful. The Christian has the ability to change the world as he or she fills one of man’s basic needs. The love shown in a kind act encourages others to show kindness as well and shames those who are selfish. Love breaks the cycle of evil by not returning evil for evil so that it is harder for people to be evil back to you. It can create special bonds with acquaintances and turn an enemy into a friend. Having told us that we were saved by the cross in the first section of the book of Romans, Paul challenges us to be people of love just as our God is love. In this cold and sometimes heartless world, people who can love with the love of Jesus is just what the world needs.

How would a deeper relationship with someone else change your life and theirs? What is your first step to growing that relationship?




Romans: Who Am I?

Today we are going to start a series of devotions on the second half of Romans. In the first chapters, Paul explains how we are saved by grace through the cross. In the second part of the book, Paul tells how that applies to our lives. The cross has changed who you are. 

Focus passage: Rom. 12:1-8

In a sea of opportunities, it is easy to get lost. A century ago, if your father was a blacksmith, you were going to be a blacksmith. If your family lived in small town Kentucky, you were probably going to marry and live the rest of your life within twenty miles of the place you were born. Things have changed. Now there are so many possibilities that our youth get lost and our adults have second thoughts about the path that they have chosen.

Having spent eleven chapters telling the Romans about salvation under the cross, Paul now begins to tell them what it means. You have been saved by Jesus. So what? In the sea of opportunities, Paul shows us that we have even more opportunities because of Christ, but also a greater sense of who we are if we will but listen. Such clarity is based on the relationships that we have.

The first relationship is with God v.1. If I am to achieve my potential, I need to offer myself to God. He is my coach and guide in life who will help me free my body from sins that enslave me and help me think clearly.  God helps me with the relationship I have with myself v.3. He helps me be honest with myself so that I am not filled with pride or am too hard on myself. It is a careful balance between seeing how much I can do with God and how little I can do by myself.

The final relationship that I have is with other Christians v. 5. Having learned what my gifts from God are, I need to use them in coordination with others. Christians can do more together than they can do as a set of individuals. Your body is a wonderful mixture of parts working together and accomplishing more as a group than the parts can do by themselves. Likewise, a church is a group of people serving others and being served in areas that they can’t serve themselves. It is almost impossible to be a Christian apart from the local church. It would be like being an arm without lungs or heart to keep you alive so you can serve.

That runs contrary to the rugged individualism of our culture. We find others trying to look inside themselves so that they can maximize their advantages without concern for others. In Christ, we look to the community and lay our broken and imperfect bodies before the Lord asking for His mercy and the help of other Christians. Who am I? I am a Christian saved by the cross of Jesus and planted in a local church. Here I can help others to achieve their Godly potential as they help me achieve mine. We have the power of prayer and a guidebook called the Bible to lead the way. With God, I can do things others can’t dream of. Without God, I am just like everyone else lost in a sea of opportunities that overwhelm them instead of empowering them.

How is your life different because of your faith? Who are you now that you are a child of God? 

Psalms of Thanks: Praise for Deliverance

Focus Passage: Psalm 118

We are called to rejoice in what God has and will continue to do in our lives. Psalm 118 is the last song of the Hallel section of the psalms and was probably the last psalm that Jesus sang as He left the upper room and went to Gethsemane to pray. He was hours from the cross and yet He could rejoice. Where are you? Are you like Jesus with a great burden that you must face? Are you one who has just come through a tough time and are rejoicing that God has or will bring you through the tough times? This psalm reminds me that it is the Lord who helps us navigate the ups and downs of life. God helps us so that we reach the end with joy. The simple truth is that those who trust in the Lord will have happier endings.

Always give thanks to the Lord v. 1 It is a time of celebration. This psalm probably was written during the time of Nehemiah when the walls of Jerusalem had finally been built. The walls of Jerusalem are up and the city has safety for the first time in decades. People of Israel give thanks to your Lord. When I was a child, this was our table prayer after every meal. The prayer is more than just thanks. It is a statement of confidence that the Lord loves us and will not forget us. We are to give thanks even when times are tough. Like the Jews, we know that the Lord has a plan. We know that the Lord takes care of those who trust in him and believe in him.

Trust the Lord in every crisis v.8 In their trials they cried to the Lord and he answered them by setting them free from the bondage that they faced first in Egypt and now at the hands of those who oppressed them. They had learned how it was better to trust in God than to trust in men or even in themselves. Just because you get through one problem doesn’t mean that life will be problem-free. We can not control the future. We are surrounded by people and circumstances that bring us pain and harm. All of these things are bigger than we are. You can’t protect yourself. Rejoice, trust in the Lord and seek Him as your guardian. Satan may try to cause us pain, but the Lord will bring us through that pain.

Glorify the Lord after every victory v.21 Open the gates to the temple that we may come and worship you. The people of God as one voice raised their voices so that the whole world would know of the greatness of their Lord. Here is another call in the psalms to praise the Lord. Come and worship him with other Christians and recount what the Lord has done. Let others know how the Lord cares for his people so that they may rejoice with you. Thanks will not be silent; it will proclaim God’s deeds so all may see our God. We know the true source of our blessing is the Lord. God is the one we trusted in during our distress. God has brought us to this place.

God gives us a reason to rejoice v.24 Most people don’t enjoy feeling glum. It is no fun for most of us to spend hours worrying about problems or about recounting them to others. We want to dance and sing and tell people about the good things that are happening to us. Such joy comes when we think of the end instead of the middle. It is no fun to work hard to fix a sink or study for a test. Yet that is easier if we envision the project complete or a good grade in a tough class. It is not where we are, but where we finish that matters. As Christians, we have even greater joy for we can think of God and the future that He brings. Keep your eyes on the end and especially on what the Lord is doing so you can rejoice. Rejoice, those who trust in the Lord and follow Him will have many happier endings.



Psalms of Thanks: The Power Of Prayer

Focus: Psalm 116

 Parents like it when you phone home. I can sense the change in their voice when my parents figure out that I am on the other side of the line. The questioning hello, as if to say, “who are you?” turns to joy when they say, “How are you doing Mark?” My parents often even thank me for taking the time to call. Yet, they are not the only ones that benefit from my calls. I benefit, too. It is nice to hear a loving voice on the other end of the line. It is nice to share my life and get their advice. I find that my prayers do the same thing. I wonder if God feels the same way as my parents do when I call. My guess is that He does. Now that my children are grown, I love to talk to them on the phone. There is power in our relationships with our family and with God. We need those connections for many reasons. We need to pray because it is powerful and can change our lives. It is in prayer that I see so much of the character of God.

Prayer teaches me that God is compassionate v.5 The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. The first thing that we need to know is that God cares. The psalmist knew that the Lord loved him. He knew that he didn’t have to force God to listen or force God into some kind of relationship with him. God had already made him part of His family. God had called the Jews his people. We live in a world where a lot of people have never felt the love of family. They don’t know what it is to have someone who cares. Prayer is a time to be with someone who really cares. Prayer is time to be with someone who wants to be with you even more than you will ever want or need Him. God is love and He wants to be part of your life every day.

 Prayer teaches me that God is generous v.8 For you, O Lord, have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, He loves us so much that he will surprise us. The psalmist asked for a little help in a hard situation and found a God who gave him more than he expected. Here is a God who held him up like a mother holds a child. Here is a God who walked beside him to protect him from his enemies. In prayer, we are often surprised by how much God will do for us. When we ask for help from a friend or a family member, we often are afraid to ask for too much. We know that people have limits and can only do so much. Our God has no limits. God hears our cry in prayer and gives us everything that we need. He doesn’t do things halfway. He is a God who wants us to succeed in life. He wants us to thrive and so He generously supplies the needs when we ask Him.

Prayer teaches me that God is loving v.15 Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. I am one of four children of my parents and I know that every one of us is precious to them. We are precious in life and we would be a precious loss if any of us were to die in a car accident or from cancer. God is the same with his children. How he grieves when we make bad choices or when we don’t come to him for help. How he rejoices when he sees us succeed or when he gets to help us with a problem that we have been wrestling with for a long time. Helping us is not a bother. It is a joy. We think that we have to barter for his help. We think that there are problems that we have that are too small to bother him with. Those thoughts don’t know God and they don’t recognize our value to him. Repeat after me, “I am precious to God. I am someone that God wants to help and wants to succeed.” We never have to beg.

 What if we don’t pray? V.2 Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live. The psalmist makes a pledge to call on the Lord as long as he lives. He prayed and God answered. Yet, what if we don’t pray? The answer is simple. We cut ability for God to work in our lives. The bible says “Ask and it shall be given you”. It never promises I will read your mind and give you what I know you are thinking. Help from God is based on relationships. It is based on prayer. Most Christians don’t pray often. They sometimes haven’t learned what the psalmist says about the character of God. Sometimes, it is that we get just too busy and don’t take the time to pray. In the process, they make life tougher and busier because they are doing it all without God’s help. When we don’t pray, we don’t build a relationship with God and we hurt ourselves. Pick up the “prayer phone”. God is just waiting for you to call so He can help you and show you His love.

Psalms of Thanks: Thanks to an Unseen God

Focus Passage: Psalm 92

 Have you ever seen electricity? Have you ever seen gravity? Have you even ever seen love? My guess is that none of us have ever really seen any of them. We have seen the effects of those things on our lives. We plug in the appliance at home and motors start working. We don’t float off into space if we are not holding on to something. Most people believe in all of those invisible things because we have seen their effects. Yet, we struggle to believe in an unseen God. The ancient Jews had no pictures of their God like the Palestinians had of Baal or the Egyptians did of the many gods in their universe. We picture Jesus, but we struggle to picture God with His great power and might. We find it hard to communicate to others what God is like. Perhaps, we are trying to show Him in the wrong way. Like gravity or love, we need to show them the effects of having God in our lives. Show the effect of God and people will know how powerful He really is.

Talk about what God is doing in your life v. 4 For you make me glad by your deeds, O Lord; I sing for joy at the works of your hands. The psalmist begins with his voice speaking about all the good things that the Lord has done for him. Worship is the natural outflow of the heart that appreciates what the Lord has done for them and loves him for it. Why is it that we are so good about praying for help from God but so poor at telling others when God has helped us? Let people hear about God’s healing when you were sick or the job that God gave you when you prayed. Silent thanks to God is not enough. Tell others so that they can see God working in our life. Only then will people know what God can do and how He can work in their lives.

 Show God’s love to the world v. 2 to proclaim your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night. Love is a special gift and unique to the Christian faith. Many religions speak of a code that their god expects them to live by. Only Christians and the Jews before them ever spoke of their God loving them. Most Christians have felt God’s love when all their other friends seem to have abandoned them. Most of us can share story after story from scripture where the Lord showed His love to the people He called His own. Christians should be showing the love of God by the way that they interact with the community and each other. Why do we let the world around us think of God as only this just God who punishes evil? Why don’t we share the love that we feel and the love that God has shown to millions of others? People need to know that our God is different and that we live in love, not fear.

 Live a life that works v. 12 The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; The Jews often prospered when they followed the Lord and the nations around them noticed. They began to see the blessings of following the Lord instead of Baal or Ashtoreth. The lives of the people proved the greatness of God by showing that God took care of his people and that God could handle anything. God wants us to live with His values and character and train our children to live moral and Godly lives. Such lives will prosper and the world will notice. They will see that your children are different. They will see your kind and loving nature and wonder what makes you different. When something works in the world, people will notice and ask you what gives you an advantage. You can tell them about how your God is what makes you different and makes you thrive.

 They may not be able to see God, but they can see Him through us v. 15 "The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him." Our world needs God as much now as it ever has before. Most of us find it hard to witness our faith and tell people about our God. Often they do not believe in him anyway. Yet, people normally will listen to us as we tell them about our good fortune. Let them see your God through the life help, the love and the values that He has given you. Be vocal about why you are different and how God gives you an advantage in life. Be willing to mentor others as they “try out” what it means to be a child of God. They may not be able to see an unseen God, but they should be able to hear and see the effects that God is making in your life. It will be in your telling that people will come to know and want the unseen God in their lives, too.



Psalms of Thanks: Praise for a Miracle

Focus Passage: Psalm 48

Do you need a miracle? We find ourselves with less money than we had last year as salaries don’t keep up with the cost of living and with taxes. We find ourselves with one more ache or pain and feel five years older. We worry about the future and see so much that we can not control. Many think this psalm is set in the days of Hezekiah (Isaiah 37) when Jerusalem was surrounded by 185 Assyrian troops mocking God and wanting complete surrender. Hezekiah went into the temple to pray asking God for a miracle. That evening, the angel of the Lord went out and destroyed the Assyrian army and saved the city. Here are some lessons that Hezekiah and the Jewish people learned that day.

A. Safety is found in our God v.3 God is in her citadels; he has shown himself to be her fortress. The city of Jerusalem was set on a hill 2500 feet above sea level with deep valleys on all sides. It was so strong that the mighty Assyrian army could not attack it. It could only try to starve the people out. Yet it was not the city walls that provided the real strength. The turning point in the battle was when Hezekiah turned to the Lord for help by praying on his knees in the temple. He prayed and the power of the Lord was unleashed. The Lord made himself known to his people and to the world. He would not be mocked. Our strength will be determined by our willingness to get down on our knees and pray to the Lord.

B. Praise God draws others to God v.10 Like your name, O God, your praise reaches to the ends of the earth; your right hand is filled with righteousness. God does miracles to save his people and to show his power. People from all over Judea came to Jerusalem to see the work of the Lord. They marveled at the sea of tents left behind. They came starving from the outskirts of the city to be given food to eat. God answers the prayers of His people for the same reasons. He loves us, sure. But think of the revival that would happen if the church got on its knees so that the heavens opened with their power. Some would scoff, but many who have lost faith in God would see him in a new light.

C. Don’t be foolish and forget the Lord v.12 Walk about Zion, go around her, count her towers, The mistake of the Assyrians was to count the towers and walls of the city and figure that Jerusalem could be easily beaten. What the Assyrians missed was the truth about the God who dwelt with His people. The people had forgotten God and that was why they had been surrounded. The psalmist tells them to go and see how weak their defenses were so that they will not forget the Lord again, but will depend on him. When people underestimate or forget God, trouble comes. The wise will depend on God. He alone is our hope and our strength.

The greatest danger is not from the enemies to the state or the problems that we face personally. The greatest danger is when we forget God and try to overcome our problems by ourselves. The nation of Israel in the Old Testament had good times and bad. Every one of the good times could be traced to a time where leaders and people worshiped and depended on God. The bad times with wars and famine and poverty were times where God had been forgotten. This psalm is a reminder that we have much to praise the Lord for and that He does work in the lives of his people. Disaster occurs when the people of God forget him in their time of need.

Psalms of Thanks: Grace for the overwhelmed

Focus: Psalm 40

If nothing else, the Bible is real. It is filled with struggling people who are overwhelmed by grief and problems. Job has boils all over his body. Nehemiah cries over Jerusalem in shambles. No holy platitudes here, just real people. The psalms more than any other place are filled with such raw emotion. I look around me and I see a lot of struggling people. They all say that they are doing fine, but their eyes say different. David and others pour out their hearts and wear their problems on their sleeves. Here David feels like he is in a slimy pit. The solution for all of them is to turn to God. Perhaps that is why they are so loved by Christians. There are days that I am one of them. I feel powerless to change things and uncertain what to do. God is our answer and help in difficult times.

It is not easy to wait for God’s grace when you are in pain. V.1 I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. You cry about it with God and nothing happens right away. In your head, you know that God is the only answer, but your heart is breaking from the pain as you wait. You know God will not let you down, but you have trouble waiting for the guy to fix the washer. Success or failure in trouble and in life will depend on whether we can wait for the Lord or whether we try to solve the problem ourselves. God’s solutions always work and lift us out of our troubles. Our solutions often cause us greater pain and suffering. Here are three things to do when life is overwhelming

A. Think back on what God has done v.2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. When fears start to overwhelm you, look back on all that the Lord has done for you. David speaks of what the Lord did for him in his trial. First, God turned to him and heard his cry. God paid attention. With the entire world to rule, God saw David’s need and focused on him. Even before help comes, God is acting and watching. At the right time, he lifts us out of the pit and puts us on solid ground. We think that no one cares, but God is there all the time and God will act at the right time.

B. Seek God not his favor v.6 Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but my ears you have pierced burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. David knew that you can’t buy God. Old Testament Jews thought that they had to do these things to get God’s attention. We get caught in the same trap. So often trouble comes and we want to bargain with God. God help me with this problem and I will come to church faithfully for the next year. David knew that that the real answer was to build a relationship with God so that you know what his promises are. To let him truly work in your life, you have to give him your life.

C. Follow God with an open heart v. 7 Then I said, "Here I am, I have come-- it is written about me in the scroll. David finally knew that when he was in trouble, he needed to follow the Lord. When the Lord called him to go in one direction, he needed to follow the Lord and not second guess what the Lord was doing. As we travel, we often follow a GPS to go places that we have never been. If you want to get to your destination, you need to follow the GPS. God sets a direction in the scripture for all of us to follow. He alone knows where we are to be. The key to success is to make trusting God a habit in our life. Each trial and God’s solution will teach us to trust him a little more.




Psalms of Thanks: Joy of Forgiveness

Focus: Psalm 32

Grace offered freely, but taken sparingly hurts us. David and Saul show us the power of God’s grace. David was an adulterer and a murderer. Saul had his problems. Yes, he had a pride. He offered a sacrifice when Samuel came too late. He was not perfect, but he never seems to sin as badly as David. Yet, David is honored and Saul is rejected by God. Why is that? I think that the difference can be found in what they did with God’s forgiveness. David repented and asked forgiveness when he was shown his sin. Saul would deny it and tended to brush off his sin as not being so bad. When grace was offered freely, David took it just as freely all his life. Sadly, many Christians are more like Saul than David. They try to manage guilt and not repent of it. David shows us why repentance is the best solution.

A. The folly of impenitence v.3 When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. David begins by telling of a time when did a grievous sin and tried to ignore it. This may be his sin of adultery with Bathsheba or another terrible sin. Yet God always knows and God does not permit His children to sin successfully. David began to feel the hand of the Lord on him and it caused him to get physically ill. It can happen to us as well. You see God chastens his children. He doesn’t want his children to just live with their sin. He wants them to change. God allows the pain because he loves us too much to watch us be destroyed.

B. The relief of forgiveness v.5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. When David sinned with Bathsheba, God sent the prophet Nathan to David to confront him with his sins. David stopped hiding the sin and immediately confessed it. God in that moment forgave David. There was no penance or probation. The guilt was taken away and the burden of sin was canceled. This is the joy that is offered to every Christian because of the cross of Jesus. Sin is taken away and we are given a chance to renew our lives and live with joy again.

C. The recovery as we hide in God v.7 You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance. He will also help us recover. When David sinned with Bathsheba, it let loose a string of consequences in his family. A son raped a daughter. A son killed his brother. Sin often has terrible consequences. Yet, David was able to keep coming back to the Lord in all his troubles asking the Lord to help him with the consequences that came from the sins of his life. Our God loves us and wants to rebuild our lives. When we fall into sin, only God can rebuild our life and set things right again.

With repentance, sooner is always better than later. David waited months from the time he committed adultery with Bathsheba to the time when he confessed his sin. The longer a sin continues, the more that it creates a barrier between us and God. We have all known people who back away from the Lord. First, bible study or prayer lessens. Then worship becomes harder and they start to back away. We always feel like there is plenty of time to repent or to “get right with God”, yet for many that is not really true. When they finally are drowning in the consequences of sin, things have gotten so bad that it will be much harder to confess and put a life that is that far gone back to joy. Christians are going to sin. Sometimes that sin is small and sometimes it is a whopper. Yet the life of David shows that God wants to forgive sin and to deal with its consequences. He loves us and wants us to have the joy of forgiveness.





Psalms of thanks: Thanks for healing

Focus passage: Psalm 30

Are unspoken thanks really any thanks at all? Each year my mother told me to write thank-you notes to the people who had given me gifts. Back then it seemed like a waste. Now, when people don’t send thank-you letters to me, I wonder if they even got my gift. Yet, thankfulness is a way to celebrate before others the blessings that we have. It is a way to tell those people how important they are. It can also be a chance to pause and think about our blessings. The background for this text appears to be forgiveness and restoration for David after a great sin. Many think that this psalm was penned after David had foolishly numbered his people when God had told him specifically not to do so. On the spot where the new temple would be built, David saw the face of the angel of God and did not die. He saw the mercy of God for himself and his people as a reason to give thanks.

Recovery v. 2 O Lord my God, I called to you for help and you healed me. David had destroyed the relationship that he had with God. Like Moses in the desert, he had claimed that the great things God had done were his own. He feared that he would be punished as Moses was or even be banished from the sight of this almighty God. Yet, there on the mountain top, he bowed before the angel of God who had a sword in his hand and was forgiven. He confessed his sin and offered his life for that sin. God then restored David. God’s love is greater than his anger.

Remembrance v.4 Sing to the Lord, you saints of his; praise his holy name. David celebrates publically what God has done. He builds an altar on the spot and offers burnt offerings to God. The Lord answers David by sending fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice like God would later do for Elijah on Mount Carmel. In this psalm of dedication, David calls upon the people to celebrate with him. God’s love is greater than his anger. God will forgive the penitent person who bows before him. For David, this is a time of mercy after a time of suffering and pain.

Refocus v.6 When I felt secure, I said, "I will never be shaken." There is another blessing in thanks. It helps us to focus on God and to learn from him. David had caused this great calamity with his pride. He had felt that he was so great that he could never be shaken. No army dared come against the mighty David. The punishment of God and the mercy of God had reminded David of who really was the great one. In so many ways, David was still just a shepherd boy. It was the almighty God who had made the nation great. Times of thanks should also be times of learning.

Response The response for mercy is praise. David speaks of what the gracious hand of God has done. Even God’s punishment of David was an expression of his great love for David and for the people. When he was forgiven, he could not help but dance and celebrate. David in this psalm pledges to praise the Lord forever. David will spend the rest of his life preparing for the temple that will be built on this spot. He will live a life of thanks devoting his fortune and his time so that there will be a place for everyone to give glory to God and to meet him on this holy mountain as David did on that special day. Lives change when we focus on thanking God for the wonderful gifts that He has brought into our lives. Thanks can be a time of celebration and learning. It is a time to see how truly merciful our God is for us all.