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What Do You Believe In?

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“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

Belief. What do you believe in?

As Christians we speak to one another the faith that we share in the words of the Apostles’ Creed. A creed, in simple terms, is a statement of belief. We confess, state, that we believe in God the Father who created everything and loves it, and in His Son who saved us from sin and was resurrected to give us an eternal future, and finally in the Holy Spirit.

It is the Holy Spirit who is too often forgotten or even ignored. Yet it is the Holy Spirit who is essential to the work of the Trinity. As Luther reminds us in his explanation to the third article of the Creed, “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel…” It is the Holy Spirit who works faith in us and then nourishes that faith through Word and Sacrament that we might grow into Christian maturity. We cannot create our own faith. We are dead in our sins apart from Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit. But as saved and maturing Christians, we become increasingly different than the world around us. Our choices and decisions are driven by a God-centered focus and less on a me-centered worldview.

The great truths contained in the Apostles’ Creed are not simply interesting facts to know, but rather are realities that inform our lives and daily actions. As the Holy Spirit, who has called you to faith, works in your life today, pray that others may see God at work and give glory to Him.

Gracious God, You sent Your Son into the world to give me eternal life through faith in Him alone. Thank You for sending the Holy Spirit who worked that faith in me and has allowed me to believe and confess that Jesus is Lord. Guide and direct me this day so that You will be glorified for Jesus’ sake. Amen.


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The Week Following Easter

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26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:26)

 

I wonder what the conversation was throughout that week. On Easter evening, Jesus appeared to the disciples, who were locked behind closed doors. It was His first appearance to the group following His resurrection. Thomas wasn’t with them. Jesus departed before Thomas returned. When it was announced to him that Jesus was alive and had been in their midst, Thomas would not believe. Proof! That’s what he needed. Physical proof that the crucified and buried Jesus was indeed alive.
 

It wasn’t until the next Sunday that Jesus appeared again to the disciples. This time Thomas was in their company.
 

But, before we continue with that account, let’s ponder what that week must have held for Thomas. I’m sure the rest of the disciples spoke all week about the resurrected Jesus. The women most likely shared their accounts of meeting Jesus outside the tomb. The disciples who, on Easter evening, were met by Jesus on the road to Emmaus, must have continued to tell their amazing story. Picture the scene—those who had seen the resurrected Savior were excitedly talking about their shock that turned into joy the moment they realized Jesus was alive. They each shared the first words spoken to them by the Victorious Lord. Each of them excitedly recounted those glorious moments.
 

Except for Thomas. I wonder what went through his mind. So many of his friends claimed to see the Savior. Their excitement was obviously something more than an imagination gone wild. But still, how could he believe a tortured, battered and beaten Jesus could ever come back to life?
 

Thomas experienced what we encounter throughout our lives. Perhaps that week of Thomas’ life can represent our lives from the time we are called to faith until the day we see Jesus face-to-face. Like Thomas, we too hear the Gospel message, but so many times we doubt. We might not doubt the resurrection itself, but we are often found doubting God’s plans, God’s will, God’s presence.
 

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus warned His disciples that, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). I’m sure Thomas truly wanted to believe that Jesus was alive, but human reason got in the way. Our imperfect reason often gets in the way of our faith walk. There are times we wonder and question and yes, we doubt.

And Jesus still loves us. He still comes to us, inviting us to embrace Him by faith and find the peace that He offers through His resurrection that assures us sin is forgiven, life is renewed, and life is eternal.
 

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for the victory You won on the cross and through the open tomb. Bless me with such a faith that I may embrace You and all Your truths. I pray this in Your name, Lord Jesus. Amen.


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What He Said Week 9

TO THE COMMITTED

 

Study Nine: WHERE YOU’RE GOING AND HOW TO GET THERE

 

TAKING IT IN:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.

12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

 

GETTING AT IT:

When were Jesus’ disciples “all in?”  Was it when they left their jobs to follow him, not sure exactly what that would mean?  How about when in John 6 many walked away disillusioned and Jesus said to the twelve: “You do not want to leave too, do you?”  Peter responded, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” Then there was that time, as they were about to travel into harm’s way in Judea, that Thomas said: “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”  Still, on the night of Jesus’ betrayal, there was confusion, uncertainty, cracks in their commitment.  Their faith was confirmed after Jesus’ resurrection, of course, but maybe “all in” best describes the disciples on Pentecost with the Holy Spirit’s coming.

The fact is that discipleship is a growing thing, with spiritual pratfalls and leaps forward, as the Spirit through the Word increases our understanding and matures our faith.  God isn’t finished with us yet.  The important issue isn’t when the twelve were all in, whatever that means.  What is important is that Jesus was all in on his disciples, and for you and me.  As the ultimate expression of Jesus’ commitment approaches, his death for sinners, he speaks to the committed words of comfort and encouragement, truth and love. 

What commitment means probably has as many definitions as there are Christians, with each of us facing our own doubts and challenges as well as times of spiritual awe and lucidity.  Help us, Lord, to follow you.

 

DIGGING INTO IT:

In 1 Corinthians 15:19, the apostle Paul wrote: “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”  Jesus’ disciples had been promised persecution, not prosperity.  Like their Master, they would face hardships and trials in the pursuit of his mission.  Yes, there are countless blessings in this life that accompany faith in Jesus: peace with God and the loving fellowship of other Christians.  But the real “win” for a follower of Jesus is in the next life, when being with him is forever. In the Upper Room before his capture in the garden, Jesus lifted the sights of his disciples, past the anxiety and uncertainty of the next three days to the everlasting life he would earn for them at the cross.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Of course the disciples’ hearts were “troubled.”  Jesus had informed them that his death was imminent.  He’d spoken of betrayal and denial in their midst.  Their anxiety was ramped up when he told them he’d be with them only a little while longer and that they couldn’t come where he was going. Because they couldn’t understand what was coming, he urged them to believe, to trust the God who governs the universe and his Son whom they had come to know so well. That is the fall-back position of the committed.  When we don’t understand what is and fear what’s coming, we trust the God who loved us so much that he watched his Son suffer so we wouldn’t and the Savior who took on our guilt so we could share his glory.  The cross would cement their commitment, and ours.

Rooms, homes, dwelling places, mansions – the translations are varied, but the point is clear.  There is a place for us with our God in eternity, plenty of room for the many who believe.  Like the perfect host, Jesus would ascend to make everything perfect for our arrival.  In his timing, he will take us to be with him.  On the last day, he will raise buried bodies and reunite them with the souls who are with him.  He will come back.  Jesus didn’t provide details about what and where heaven is.  The important message is that followers will be with him.  To be with Jesus is everything.  So that they would be sure, he made a statement that was almost a question: “You know the way to the place where I am going, right?

 

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

Leave it to Thomas to say what the others were, no doubt, thinking.  His blunt honesty when he missed Jesus’ Easter appearance to the other disciples further captures his personality.  The resurrection and ascension would clear all this up, but in the moment it was confusion expressed. Jesus patiently answers Thomas’ question, and ours, with the most explicit and exclusive statement defining Christianity.  Jesus is the way to eternal life with God.  Not one of many different religious paths, but the only way to know and be with God.  Jesus is the truth, truth about God and about us and about life and about eternity.  Not a truth, as though different people can have different and contradictory truths; Jesus is and teaches absolute truth.  Jesus is the life, the creating source of all life and the one who renews life for people dead in their sin and ignorance.  All this is true because Jesus is one with God the Father.  He is God in human flesh; so when you see Jesus, you see God. . . not physical characteristics, but who and what God is.  At the beginning of John’s Gospel we’re told: “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.”

 

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.

The cynical challenge of every atheist and the deep longing of every Christian is to see God.  Philip gets it, and yet he missed the point.  He added one plus one plus one and got three; but the Trinity isn’t math.  One God in three persons; and Philip was looking at the second person of the Trinity.  (Jesus adds the Holy Spirit just a few verses later in John 14.)  The three persons of the Trinity speak the same truth.  They work together to accomplish one and the same will and plan. 

What the Greek word for “in” conveys is immense.  That Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in his Son means intimate oneness, inseparable unity.  The Trinity is not irrational, it is supra-rational, above and beyond the mere rational.  You’d expect no less from your God.  So significant is this that in John 17 Jesus repeats this oneness theme.  “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.” (verse 11) “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one.” (verse 22)   The oneness of the persons of the Trinity is the pattern for the oneness of Christians; and oneness with God is the goal of every Christian’s faith.

Admittedly, this is deep stuff.  We won’t plumb the depths of truth about our God and his will until we are with him, one with him.  But this isn’t some “leap” of faith.  Jesus points Philip to the fact that he knows Jesus.  He has been with Jesus and experienced the evidence of his deity.  Philip has heard the words of Jesus, words that are self-authenticating truth resonating with his soul.  Philip has witnessed the miracles which testify to divine power and authority.  Now, through Holy Scripture, we also have known and heard and seen.

 

12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

Discipleship is imitating Jesus, doing what he did.  His mission has become ours, his words our words.  But how believers “will do even greater things” is difficult to comprehend.  Jesus connects this “greater things” with his ascension, and that’s the key.  The ascended Jesus governs our world for his church, and he sends the Holy Spirit to work in and through believers.  Jesus accomplished everything necessary for salvation, but he left to his church the completion of his mission – the conversion of countless people through the Gospel.  The great miracle is the rapid spread of the Gospel and the millions saved by that Gospel.

“In the name of Jesus” can become a mere prayer formula.  It is so much more.  It reminds us and our God that Jesus has made us God’s children and promised to hear and answer us.  It means that we have bought into the will and purpose of the Savior as we claim his name, Christian.  It means that our intent is what Jesus intended for our prayers – “that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”  Jesus wasn’t making prayer akin to rubbing a bottle with a genie in it.  He’s not promising to give us whatever material blessings we’d like (see James 4:3) or even the health and well-being of those we love (see 1 John 5:14).  As ambassadors for Jesus, pursuing his purpose and trusting his will, we ask for what glorifies our God; and he grants it.  This is praying “in the name of Jesus.”

 

SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT:

The popular Christian song “I Can Only Imagine” by Mercy Me begins with the lyrics:  I can only imagine what it will be like When I walk by your side.  I can only imagine what my eyes will see When your face is before me.  I can only imagine.  Then the refrain: Surrounded by your glory, what will my heart feel?  Will I dance for you, Jesus, or in awe of you be still?  Will I stand in your presence or to my knees will I fall?  Will I sing Hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all?  I can only imagine.

 

So, imagine.  The Bible uses imagery for eternal life of a wedding banquet, a mansion, a countless worship by white-robed believers, and more.  There will be no tears, no hunger or thirst, no heat-stroke.  Above all, there will be Jesus.  Think about what you won’t have to deal with in eternal life.  Think about the promises and blessings of being in the presence of Jesus.  And as you imagine, experience peace, rejoice and be thankful to God.

 

SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT:

 

What would your perception of God be without Jesus?  Recognize how your answer may describe other religions.

How does knowing Jesus clarify your understanding of God and make him relatable?

 

To know Jesus better, talk about what he reveals about himself with the seven “I am. . .” statements in the Gospel of John: John 6:35; John 8:12 (and 9:5); John 10:7; John 10:11; John 11:25; John 14:6; and John 15:1.

 

 

SOMETHING TO PRAY ABOUT:

 

As you pray, “Thy kingdom come,” be specific about people and places where the Gospel is needed and God may be glorified.

 

 

SOMETHING TO DO ABOUT IT:

 

If a disciple is someone who does what Jesus does, what can you do to imitate your Lord.  Pick one example of Jesus’ caring, meeting people’s needs, confronting error or teaching truth; and find a situation where you can do something similar.

 

 

SOMETHING FOR FURTHER STUDY:

 

St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians is filled with the revelation of what has been called the “mystery” of Jesus.  Get to know Jesus better by studying Colossians 1:15-20, Colossians 1:27, Colossians 2:2-3, Colossians 2:9-10, and Colossians 3:1-4.


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Humility

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3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4  ESV)

A dictionary definition of “humility” is, “a modest or low view of one’s own importance.”  I agree with this definition in part.  There is truth to this definition.  The Scriptures do remind us that we need to look not only to our own interests.  Because of sin we are moved to think only of our own interests.  We live as if we are the center of the universe.  We act as if others should organize their lives around ours.  Their interests should be geared toward ours.  We begin to think so highly of ourselves and our own interests that we begin to think less of others.  It’s just who we are.

We do think of ourselves more highly than we ought.

If I were called to define “humility,” I would begin with the dictionary definition, but I would make an addition.  My definition of “humility” would sound like this, “a modest or low view of one’s own importance and an elevated view of others.”  Jesus’ displayed this humble love in His earthly ministry.  When the community ostracized “sinners and tax collectors,” Jesus took time to get to know them where they were so He could share with them the true life that only He can give.

This is the call Jesus gives to us.  As Christians were are not better than others.  We simply have the one thing needful for abundant life and eternal life.  We have faith in Jesus.  Humility calls us to stoop to the lowest of our community and share with them the gift of Jesus.

Heavenly Father, You are so good to me in so many ways.  I thank You for the gift of faith You have given to my through the power of Your Word by the working of Your Holy Spirit.  Allow me the humility to be an influencer through my relationships.  I ask this to Your glory and the benefit of others.  Amen. 


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Doubting Thomas

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24 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
(John 20:24-25)
 
I wonder what I would have said if I were in Thomas’ place.  It was Easter evening.  The disciples were in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus was taken captive by the Temple guards as if He were some heinous criminal.  It was then that Thomas and his cohorts ran off and locked themselves behind closed doors.  They were filled with fear.  They knew Jesus would be heading to the cross.  Their fear was that the same treatment would be coming to them—guilt by association.

That was three days earlier.  This was Sunday.  Thomas, no doubt, heard all the rumors about a resurrection.  Some of the women claim they saw Jesus—alive!  A couple of the disciples ran to the tomb, but found it empty.  That was still no proof that Jesus was alive.

Later on that Sunday, Thomas made his way out of the closed room.  Perhaps he was sent to bring back dinner.  Maybe he just needed to get out of the house for a walk.  Whatever the case, on his return he is met by excited disciples, shouting “We have seen the Lord!”  Right.  This was no time for practical jokes.  As the disciples are insistent that they saw Jesus alive, Thomas will ask for proof, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

And now we call him, “Doubting Thomas.”  It’s a shame, really.  It was much before Palm Sunday that Jesus told His disciples He was going to Jerusalem.  They warned Jesus not to enter that city, as there were many leaders of the church who sought to kill Him.  Jesus insisted.  This is the same Thomas, who, when Jesus told His followers He was going to Jerusalem, said, “Let us also go, that we may die with him (John 11:16).

How attitudes can change!  But we know that.  A simple examination of our own lives will bear this out.  How easy it is for us to proclaim our undying commitment to Jesus when things are moving along just as we planned.  But, when there is a bump in the road and life isn’t following our blueprint, it is easy for us to question God’s will, God’s plans—even God’s presence and love.  We become doubters. 

This may cause us shame, but the Lord still loves us when we question and doubt.  His love for us never ends.  The Good News is that our relationship with the Lord is absolutely based on His commitment to us, which moves us to hold to Him by faith.

Prayer: Father in heaven, You sent Your Son Jesus to be my Savior.  You sent your Holy Spirit to give me a living faith in my Savior.  Forgive me for those times my faith wavers and doubt creeps into my life.  Strengthen my faith that I may always be confident in Your never-ending love for me.  I pray this in my Savior’s name.  Amen.

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