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Live in Harmony

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Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.  Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”  Romans 12:14-18

It would be a good idea for us to read these words every morning before leaving the house.  A concise, clear, beautiful reminder of how God would have us treat others.

But, oh, so difficult to pull off.

Because, let’s be honest, sometimes we deal with some difficult people during the day.  People who irritate us, fight against us, gossip about us.  People that seem to have it out for us for no particular reason.

Paul would have us love them…empathize with them…refuse to seek revenge…live peaceably with them.   He would have us check our egos at our door before leaving the house, and he would have us humbly listen to others’ points of view, instead of being “wise in our own sight.”

Living in harmony is hardly the mark of our society.  We are often a contentious, arrogant lot.  Always pointing out our opponents’ faults, while rarely acknowledging our own.  But Paul – inspired by the Holy Spirit – gives us a beautiful reminder of how God would have us treat others.

Perhaps after reading these words before leaving the house…we should pray that God would give us the strength to live them out.

Dear Heavenly Father, You are good and gracious and bless us in countless ways.  One of those ways You’ve blessed us is teaching us how to treat our neighbor in love.  Not only that, You’ve shown us what it looks like in Your Son Jesus Christ, who loved all and willingly suffered and died for all.  Give us by Your Spirit a Christ-like attitude and heart in dealing with our neighbors.  In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

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Lessons from the Vine (Part 1)

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“Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. . .  I am the vine, you are the branches.  Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit.”  John 15:3-5

What if a bird never figured out how to make a nest?  What if a salmon got tired of swimming upstream and wanted to be the grizzly bear?  What if a fig tree got tired of producing fruit and decided to just look pretty in leaves?  Well, we can answer that one.  Jesus cursed such a fig tree, and it was dead before another day dawned.  Most of creation has no confusion over why it exists, no unhappiness with the design of its Creator.  Just human beings.  Our first parents were told by Satan that there had to be something more to life; and they fell for it.  Ever since, people have been mistrustful of their Creator and dissatisfied with their circumstances.

In the analogy of the vine and branches, Jesus teaches you to be what you are.  What you are is clean, stripped of every wrong thought and sinful act in your life.  You have been declared righteous by the powerful Word of God, restored to a perfect relationship with your God by Jesus. Your life is not about trying to make God like you, or bless you, or at least get off your back.  You aren’t running away from your past or worrying about what’s going to happen when you die.  You are God’s dearly loved child.  That is your identity.  So don’t waste time in some philosophical search to “find yourself.”  Who you are and where you stand with your God were established at a cross two millennia ago.

What you are is purposefully connected to your Savior, like a branch to a grape vine.  You are not alone in the universe, some existential bubble floating on the sea of nothingness.  (I read that somewhere, but I don’t understand what that means either.)  You aren’t left to your own devices, as though God caught you in a free-fall toward hell and put you back on the tight-rope of self-righteousness to try again.  You aren’t supposed to make your way through life with your mostly good intentions and limited moral resources.  You are connected to Jesus by the new life of faith he birthed in you.  But get this straight, HE is the vine, not you.  So you don’t have to figure out what a branch is for or how to bear fruit.  Right after reminding us that our salvation is by grace through faith alone, St. Paul in Ephesians wrote: “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  In other words, the purpose of your life has already been designed into your new life of faith, and the ability to fulfill that purpose comes from the Savior who attached you to himself like a branch to his vine. 

Don’t make life complicated.  Treasure who you are and what you’re here for.  Don’t wish you had someone else’s gifts and personality.  Don’t make Christian life a burden or a problem.  Let Jesus live through you.  That’s how this works.

PRAYER: Thank you, Lord, for your grace in making me your dear child.  Help me to appreciate all that this means and to find joy in living as your dear child.  When doubts come and life gets complicated, bring me back to the reality you established at Calvary.  Amen.


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God Does Not Change

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James 1:17  “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

We change like shifting shadows.  At least, our emotions do, our feelings do, our attitudes do.  We go through some amazing ups and downs in our lives.  All of us are like this.  Think of Peter and his life during the ministry of Jesus.  On one occasion, Peter was bold and unstoppable, even to the point of stepping out on water, fully intending to walk on it toward Jesus.  On another occasion, he was sullen, defeated, even to the point of denying that he knew who Jesus was.  On one occasion, Peter was wise and full of faith as he made one of history’s most powerful and timely confessions, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.  On another occasion he had to be rebuked by Paul because he had given in to the pressures of viewing Gentiles as inferior.

Those who have children who are full of drama know that one minute, your daughter might be on top of the world because things are going well for her.  The next minute a comment, a tweet, an overheard conversation can send her into an emotional tailspin. 

God does not change like shifting shadows.  He’s the constant.  He is always loving, always powerful, always present, always gracious…no matter how we are, no matter how we feel.

These last few months in our society have been full of ups and downs, perhaps for many of us, like no other time in our lives.  We get deflated by news of rising illnesses.  Then we become hopeful when it looks like things may return to some sort of normalcy.  Then we fall backwards when we see violence happening rampantly in our society.  Ups and downs, ups and downs.  This is normal and human and expected.  Maybe that’s why God wants us to know that there is something, actually, Someone in our lives that is not tossed about by the waves, discouraged by the latest news, or defeated by something somebody says…Someone we can count on.

O Lord God, you do not change.  Through our ups and downs, may we be comforted by your steadfastness.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.


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Can I Trust Him?

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“If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son but gave him up for us all, how will He not also along with Him graciously give us all things?”  Romans 8:31-32

Can I trust Him?   God, that is.  Can I trust Him?  That’s the question we all struggle with.  Day by day, week by week.   Can I trust Him?

Can I trust Him to help me in the midst of this dying relationship.  Can I trust Him to see me through this illness.  Can I trust Him to help me accept the pain of this loss.  Can I trust Him to get me through the financial mess I’m in.  Can I trust Him when my perfect plans for life have been derailed.  Can I trust Him when I don’t understand why all of this bad stuff is happening.  Can I trust Him when I can’t see where I’m going in life…

Can I trust Him?

“He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will he not also with Him graciously give us all things?”

You see, the cross of Jesus says so clearly:  Yep, I can trust Him.

Because God is all in on this relationship.   If He was willing to give up His Son into death for us – and He was – then don’t you think He’s going to take care of everything else for us?

It’s not easy to trust.  Our weak and frail sinful nature wants God to do things the way we want Him to do things.  But He knows better.  Always. 

Lord, help me to trust You.  Because I know that You are for me in Christ.  Always.  Forever.

Gracious Heavenly Father, You have shown Your eternal commitment to me in the giving up of your Son on the cross for my salvation.  When I struggle to trust, point me always to the cross as the undeniable truth that you are for me and with me.  Help me by Your Spirit to trust Your plans, whatever they are.  Because You always know best.  In Jesus’ name, Amen. 


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Storms

Matt. 8:23-27: Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was great calm.

This is not meant to take anything away from the miracle itself.  Jesus calming the storm was an amazing act; something only God could pull off.  And so certainly, part of the point of Jesus doing that was so that the disciples would have yet another glimpse into who they were dealing with.  More and more they were beginning to understand that this Jesus wasn’t just an average carpenter or preacher.  The storm wasn’t the only thing that Jesus calmed that day.  And perhaps as great a miracle is what went on inside of the disciples.  Jesus calmed them. 

The wind and the waves were not the only unrest happening out on the lake.  Inside the boat, there was a lot of anxiety, panic, uncertainty, anger, helplessness.  This, while Jesus was sleeping.  With a word, Jesus took care of the external elements.  The waves died down, the wind stilled.  As for the disciples, they were amazed.  “Who is this?  Even the winds and the waves obey Him.”  In an instant, the disciples’ state was transformed from panic to peace, from anxiety to amazement, from helplessness to hope.  That’s what Jesus does…whether the storms go away immediately or not.

To be sure, the physical calming of the storm was key to the transformation of the disciples, but it was accomplished by Jesus with a word.  That Word of Jesus is available to us all the time.  Sometimes the storms don’t dissipate immediately.  But the Word is still present.  “Yeah though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no ill, for thou art with me.”  “I will be with you always until the end of the age.”  Those are Words that calm storms today; the storms inside of us.  As the world continues in its chaos, the Words of our Lord don’t necessarily cause all the external wind and waves to dissipate immediately, but inside of us, the Word has exactly that effect.

Lord Jesus, may we be attentive to your Word, especially in the midst of all the storms.  Amen.


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