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Living With the Windows Open (Devotion 2)

brown open windowpane

“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Philippians 2:12-13

Remember when you were so proud to do a job on your own?  You picked out your own clothes and got dressed. You made your own bed. You made pancakes for the family and even tried to pour the batter into shapes that your mother said she could recognize: “Oh, I see, honey, of course, that looks like a star.”

We were excited to do these jobs because doing them said we were growing up. We wanted to be taken seriously, to be more independent. We wanted to help our parents and to show that we weren’t just children.

Our text today takes some of that same excitement as God says, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” If ever there’s a job to be done, it’s the saving of our eternal lives. If ever there’s a job that should get our full interest, that’s it.  But can we do it? Isn’t working out our salvation way beyond our ability, our time, and all that we might have and promise?

It is, of course, And so Paul has this perfect balance. “Work out your salvation for God is at work in you to will and to work for his good pleasure.” You didn’t really make the pancakes on your own. Mom was there to put out the mix, the right measuring cup, and to get the griddle just the right temperature. I bolted together lots of parts on the farm but it was my dad who always found the nut and washer that I dropped and couldn’t see. So, our heavenly father lets us eagerly work on our salvation, but He is the one in the end who guides us and watches over our steps. He gives us his word and that word creates the faith in us that receives his gifts. We may appear to ourselves to be doing this, but in the end, He is the watchful parent whose protecting arm guides us.  He gives us the energy and the joy that sees our salvation has already been worked out by Him.

Our Heavenly Father, thank you that we can be lively and active in living a life of faith. But remind us that we’re the children and you’re the Father who gives us all we need and guides us each day of faith. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.


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When Are We Going to Get There?

concrete road leading to green mountain
 
18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Romans 8:18-25 (ESV)

I was the kid in the backseat who asked, every 20 miles, When are we going to get there?  We drove 1,000 miles to Long Island, NY, to visit my aunt and uncle.  Do the math.  I asked that question over-and-over for two reasons:  one—the drive was long often tedious; and two—I couldn’t wait to see my aunt and uncle.

When it comes to my earthly journey, I haven’t changed much.  I often ask Jesus, When are we going to get there?  You see, there are times this journey is tedious.  Our culture is becoming more unchristian.  I see the painful results of natural disasters.  We seem to always stand on the edge of war.  My own shortcomings and failures impact me in such a negative way.

St. Paul reminds us that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.  Each time I read this passage I find myself longing for the Lord’s return.  But each time I read, But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience, I am reminded that the Lord has more for me to do here.

It’s coming!  The gift of perfect life is coming!  We’re almost there!  But not quite.  While we wait—we work.  We serve the Lord by serving one another…all the while longing to get there.

O Holy Spirit, give me patience that I may stand firm in faith as I await the gift of heaven.  Be with me to give me patience.  Assist me that I may use my God-given gifts as I walk through this life.  Amen.  

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Living With the Windows Open (Devotion 1)

white sash window opened

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or complaining” Philippians 2:12-14a

When did you first leave your children home by themselves? Remember that first evening when you told your oldest to watch her siblings, making sure everyone behaved. Then you went for a walk, just the two of you, around the block. It was summer and the windows were all open. Walking up to the house after being gone ten minutes, what did you hope to hear?

You had left them with the dishes to do, one clearing, one washing, one drying. By now they should be finishing up. What would you like to hear? Happy talking, all three laughing, the sound of kitchen cabinets opening and closing and dishes gently being put inside. Wouldn’t that be great? As a parent, you would just stay there, a little hidden, and listen. They don’t know you’re there, listening to how well they’re doing.

I’m guessing this is every parent’s dream and I hope that it was an every-night event in your house. If you leave the children, they’ll act just like when you’re there. That’s Paul’s hope for the Philippians and for all Christians. He is at a distance from the Philippians and certainly at a distance from us. But wouldn’t this be a great check on our own lives. How would we be if Paul were himself with us? How would we get along with each other? What would we be thankful for? What chores would we volunteer to do? I expect that we would be lively, caring, and thankful people.

So, all the more we can hear these words and remember that Jesus is right here with us. He sees every action, hears every word, and knows every thought. He doesn’t hide in the edge of life but tells us that he will be with us to the end of the ages. What a change this might bring to our life together if we would say to ourselves, “Well, since He’s right here, then I won’t complain. In fact, it doesn’t seem so bad, given that I’m not alone.  After all, He’s right here.” That’s what He wants to hear and those are the children we want to be.

Our Heavenly Father, remind us that we’re not children abandoned to be on our own but we’re the children you also see. Help us to live without grumbling or complaining, but instead to be amazed that you are invisibly always here. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Living in Freedom

Inri crucifix at daytime

Why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience?  If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?  So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”   1 Corinthians 10:29-31

The term “spiritual abuse” has been coined by counselors for what religious legalism does to people.  Spiritual abuse makes people wear their sins like a scarlet letter, as if shame were a deterrent to future sinning and as though the punishment Jesus endured for sinners wasn’t enough.  Spiritual abuse is one guilt trip after another, designed to coerce people to give or volunteer or whatever a dogmatic leader insists on.  Religious cults are almost inevitably characterized by spiritual abuse.  The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel is a series of lectures delivered by C.F.W. Walther from 1884 to 1885, because spiritual abuse has always been a threat to conservative churches.  (The lectures in book form are available from Concordia Publishing House.)

Spiritual abuse isn’t just something that religious leaders impose on others.  Each of us can be a little legalist, demanding of others what we can’t live up to ourselves in an attitude of self-righteous superiority.  Harsh and demanding parents may use God and the church to compel their children’s behavior, not realizing that they are driving a wedge between not only themselves and their kids, but between God and their kids.  Each of us can be a little legalist, drowning in guilt because our repeated sinning has kept us from taking to heart God’s forgiving love, or beating ourselves up with guilt and shame on the assumption that this will keep us from repeating the sin.  People joke about “Lutheran guilt,” what should be an oxymoron in a church that emphasizes the Gospel.  Lutheran guilt is the religious obligation that won’t allow you to say no when someone from the church asks you to volunteer.  It’s the sense that your life is so much better than you deserve that something bad is bound to happen to you.  It’s the somber “church face” returning from the Lord’s Supper that suggests you received Christ’s blood with vinegar rather than wine.  Lutheran guilt is a subtle form of legalism in which people believe the Gospel but live under the law.

Jesus has freed us from the legalism that defines our faith with religious rules and regrets rather than with our Father’s unconditional love and our Savior’s perfect atonement.  No more guilt trips.  No more “I suppose I have to” approach to worship and service.  St. Paul wrote to the Colossians: “God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.”  The Gospel has set us free to follow Jesus because we want to, not because religion told us we have to.  Every facet of our life becomes a way to thank and glorify our gracious God.  Live free.  (That’s an invitation, not a command.)

PRAYER:  I’m tired, Lord, of dragging around my sins and the guilt they impose on me.  Free me for Jesus’ sake and restore the joy of my salvation.  I’m tired, Lord, of trying to live up to the demands of others and my own perfectionist tendencies.  Help me to rejoice in the identity you have given me as your dear child; and let your love for me inspire a corresponding love for others and for life.  I’m tired, Lord, of the anger and hurt that characterize the culture around me.  Let me bring healing love to those I meet, for Jesus’ sake.   Amen.


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Timing is Everything

clear hour glass with brown frame
 
Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! Psalm 27:14 (ESV)

Timing is everything.  As we heard in our last devotion, it was at just the right time that the heavenly Father sent His Son to save us from sin and death.  God’s timing is perfect.  I get that.  But for some reason I don’t always believe that.  At least there are times that I live as if I don’t believe that.

Are you like me?.  When you prayed, were there times that you told God how to answer your prayer?  Have you told Him when to answer your prayer?  If I were honest with myself (and with the Lord) I would probably pray, My will be done…NOW! 

Timing is everything…even with God.  He has perfect timing.  He answers prayer with perfect timing.  There are those times He answers our prayer, saying, Wait. 

People with urgent prayers don’t really want to hear, Wait!  Why does God so often cause us to wait?  Like a loving parent He has His reasons.  When we wait, it causes us to rely more deeply on the Lord.  In waiting, He causes us to see how dependent we are on His love, mercy and wisdom.   When we wait, we are moved to continue our prayer, practicing the persistence of prayer that Jesus encourages.  When we wait, we are more appreciative of God’s grace when He answers prayer.

Waiting is a good thing.  Just wait…you’ll see.

Lord Jesus, thank You for always hearing my prayers.  Thank You for always answering according to Your will, not mine.  Continue to remind me that Your will is for my best interest.  Bless me with joy and patience in my moments of waiting.  I ask this in Your name and to Your glory.  Amen.  

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