WORD FROM THE CENTER: MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 21, 2020
Welcome to “Word from The Center” MONDAY, a devotional word from the Center of our faith, Jesus Christ, with reflections on His Word. I’m Gregory Seltz. Today’s passage is from the Prophet Isaiah, chapter 55, verses 6-7, where he says,
Seek the LORD while He may be found, call upon him while He is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that He may have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.
THE OFFER OF GOD’S COMPASSION AND PARDON!
People today are running around demanding apologies and retribution. It’s a very difficult time in our country because many don’t truly believe in “right and wrong” anymore, yet they are still certain that their accusations against others are just. Even worse, most really have no idea as to what should be done to change things for the better. Sinful people have a bad habit of pointing fingers at others and demanding that they change, as if those accusations somehow get them “off the hook.” Our text for today doesn’t let anyone get away with such things. The main question is, “What does God think about our lives, according to His standards?” And, when we fail to meet those standards, the next question becomes, “Is there any hope?” Isaiah calls us all to account before the LORD in thought, word, and deed, but also then invites us to return to God in repentance and faith. Real blessings only happen there.
I was reminded about how destructive it can be when those questions are ignored. When I was in Germany several years ago, a young woman (not much more than 21) led us through the Dachau death camp. It was a sobering experience. It’s hard to imagine how human beings could do such things. Many Germans have had to struggle with that fact too. How could such things have happened during World War II in a country that was so “progressive” intellectually and culturally? How indeed! But, sadly, I learned that, instead of individually asking question about why so many Germans had fallen away from God, they preferred to find scapegoats, blaming citizens of places like Dachau by projecting all that “sin” on them. This young woman was one of those scapegoats. She wasn’t even born when the atrocities happened, yet many Germans had “tarred and feathered” her merely because she was born in Dachau. They imagined, “It was those Dachau people, you see, not the rest of us.” As a result, young girls like her were forced to live in shame so that others could feel satisfied to go about their merry way. The problem? The main questions were still unanswered.
We, as Americans, are dealing with many issues today and the real problem is that we don’t see how far we’ve fallen away from the things of God and the moral truths of the Bible. Many think that politics can “save” us. But politics won’t ultimately help a people who feel no need to get right with God on His terms. Like Isaiah, Jesus reminds us of that urgency when He declares that whoever is angry with his brother is subject to judgement as a murderer (Matthew 5:21-22). He also says, “Whoever looks lustfully at a woman has committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Jesus finally concludes that, in order to meet God’s standard, you must “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Then, when you begin to feel the real weight of your own sin before God, Isaiah urges us to “seek the LORD while He may be found.” Don’t give into the temptation to falsely cast your guilt on others. Don’t give in to the temptation to shift blame to your parents, your teachers, or “the system.” Sin, your sin, is so much more serious than all of that.
But when that crushing reality hits, it’s time to realize that God has a message for sinners like you and me. There is one who took away the crushing blow of your sin and mine as only He could. While it’s wrong to try to cast your guilt upon other sinners, Jesus, your Savior, invites you to bring all of your sin to His cross. Isaiah tells us to seek the LORD. Jesus calls us to put our faith in Him (John 14:1).
I don’t know if we’re going to come out of this malaise today because I don’t yet see “a turning to God” movement. Most people aren’t asking, “What does the Bible say about these things?” or, “What does God think about our lives, about my life?” Instead, people feel confident about condemning the sins and faults of others, while remaining oblivious to their own. In the midst of this, take Isaiah’s prophetic advice for today, “Return to the LORD,” and be honest before Him “for He will abundantly pardon.” Then, in response, live lives of grace and truth toward others. That’s not just a start; that’s the only thing that will last.
PRAYER – Dear Lord Jesus, give us confidence to trust in your “exposing” word, as well as your “saving” word. Then give us courage to live lives graciously in Your name for others. AMEN.
WORD FROM THE CENTER: MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 14, 2020
Welcome to “Word from The Center” MONDAY, a devotional word from the Center of our faith, Jesus Christ, with reflections on His Word. I’m Gregory Seltz. Today’s verses are Matthew 18:21-22 which says,
21 Then Peter came up and said to [Jesus], “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.
THE POWER OF GOD’S FORGIVENESS IN ACTION!
C.S. Lewis said, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until there is something (and I would add, someone) to forgive.” Actually, forgiveness doesn’t even seem to be a “lovely idea” anymore. Resentment, revenge, retribution, and “gettin’ mine” seem to be the prevalent ideas of the day. Forgiveness? Who needs it? Maybe that’s the real issue. I really believe that at the root of many of our modern maladies lies the false bravado that 21st century people don’t need forgiveness anymore. And, as a result, they don’t much care to share it either. It may well be out of vogue because nobody seems to believe in sin either. Well, our text for today sets us straight, and makes a bold offer anew.
Let’s start with Peter. He was a person much like you and me. He wanted in on the things of Jesus, but he wanted such things on his terms. Now, better than many of us, Peter at least seems to take his sin seriously. When he came to Jesus, he asked, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” From a human point of view, Peter takes sin and forgiveness very seriously, and he is willing to go the extra mile to share it. I mean, who would forgive someone seven times? If they wronged you once, forgiveness almost makes sense; after all, it’s better not to wallow in resentment and pain. If they wrong you two times, forgiveness demonstrates your willingness to go the extra mile. If they wrong you three times and you forgive, you demonstrate that you are a person of virtue, one whose heart is greater than your emotions. Peter was willing to go to the absolute limit of seven times! That’s pretty good stuff compared to most people. But if you forgive again and again and again, isn’t that a sign of weakness?
After his reply to Peter, Jesus tells a story about two men (see Matthew 18:23-35). One owed a tremendous debt to a king. In modern terms, let’s say it was ten million dollars and he had no way to repay it. He begs for mercy from the king and the king FORGAVE his entire debt and set him free. How would you feel if you had a $10,000,000 debt forgiven? Then what would you do with a person who owed you $100? Jesus said that this man left the king and met a person who owed him a much smaller debt; this amount of money could have been paid back or, better, “forgiven” as he had just been forgiven. But in the story the forgiven man had the other man thrown into debtors’ prison until the debt was repaid. That angered the king who harshly judged the unmerciful, thankless person in the end.
What is the point? Your sins and mine are a huge problem in our relationship with God and with each another. Our crushing debt comes from our sins of pride, lust, sloth, vanity, selfishness, anger, and so on. These drive us away from the God who loves us and apart from each other. Through His parable, Jesus tries to set Peter straight about how forgiven he really is. In response, Jesus calls for Peter to put that forgiveness to work in and through His life for others. Forgiveness received as a gift remains alive in us as we share that gift with others in Christ’s name. But forgiveness hoarded or denied to others, contrary to the way in which God makes it available to us, eventually causes it to die in our lives as well (see Matthew 6:14-15). Jesus doesn’t want Peter to miss out on what only He can give, forgiveness for the crushing debt of his sin because of Jesus’ merciful life, death, and resurrection for all.
If Jesus won’t limit His forgiveness toward you to seven times, then don’t let anything get in the way of sharing it with those who ask for it from you. If you are having trouble forgiving someone at the moment, reflect on how completely forgiven you are in Christ. Then try to speak your own forgiving words to them with gentleness and humility. Trust in the power of Jesus’ forgiveness to you to flow through you to others. There’s nothing else like it in this world!
PRAYER – Dear Lord Jesus, please help me to see how You sustain my relationship with You. Let me see the depth of your mercy and grace to me. Let me see the wisdom of your word to me. Then guide me in my relationships with others to be the best friend, spouse, parent or whatever I can be as a reflection of the love and grace I’ve received from You. AMEN.
 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book III, Chapter 7.
WORD FROM THE CENTER: MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 7, 2020
Welcome to “Word from The Center” MONDAY, a devotional word from the Center of our faith, Jesus Christ, with reflections on His Word. I’m Gregory Seltz. Today’s verse is Matthew 18:20, where Jesus says,
20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
THE POWER OF GATHERING!
Who would have ever thought that gathering in the name of Jesus would be such a political statement with cultural and even legal ramifications? Who would have thought that the mayor of Chicago would send police to harass worshippers who were gathering amidst the COVID-19 crisis, while ongoing gang violence permeates their neighborhood? Who would have thought that Lutheran and Roman Catholic leaders would have to write their governor and demand that their congregations be treated as “essential” businesses in the community, you know, just like liquor stores, malls, and casinos? Who would have ever imagined that church leaders in California would be threatened with arrest and jail just for gathering God’s people together in worship? And, remember, in most of these instances religious leaders were faithful to the “scientific” calls for social distancing, proper hygiene, and mask wearing. Why would the church risk enduring the coercive punishment of the state in order to gather for worship? Because there is power in gathering together in the name of Jesus!
Now, I might remind you that there are nefarious reasons for many of the shutdowns around the country. Why would these government leaders target the church so vociferously when protests and even riots are treated with relative indifference? But let’s not go there right now. Instead, I want to point out that gathering together in worship is way bigger than politics. As believers in Jesus, we earnestly desire to meet in person for a much different reason. There is power in gathering together around the Word and Sacraments because they are the very “in-fleshed” gifts of God to create and sustain our faith.
God created us to be a gathering people. He wants us to gather with family, friends, and others whom we love. He especially wants those relationships to be centered upon and resourced by His love and His Word. Yes, contact matters, hugs matter, handshakes matter, pats on the back matter, and kneeling with each other matters. Even more so, receiving the Word of God in our ears through the reading of Scripture, as well as in our mouths in Holy Communion or splashed over our heads or all over our bodies in Baptism, matters.
If this pandemic has taught me anything, it has taught me that isolation is not healthy for people. We were made to be together, to gather together, and to live life “face to face.” The social scientists and the psychologists agree (and my wife, Dr. Marie Seltz, concurs!). The isolation which we are being compelled to experience at the moment has real downsides. While there are some blessings to social distancing, there are increased risks too. Social isolation is leading to a rise in mental health issues, substance abuse, and even domestic violence. As the Bible says even of Adam in the paradise of Eden, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18).
Furthermore, the power of our gathering is much more than merely being together again (as wonderful as that is/will be). The power of our gathering resides in the fact that the Lord chooses to dwell with us. He chooses to be “really present” in the Law/Gospel words of the Bible, in the waters of Baptism, and in the bread and the wine of our Lord’s Supper so that you can hear, touch, taste and see how good the Lord is for you and me by grace through faith. The Jesus we worship never lets anything get in the way of His coming all the way to where we are to love us. For example, He willingly made His way to lepers, touching them with His love when no one else would even draw near. He made up His mind as to how He would exercise His freedom to love others into His Kingdom.
Listen, I’m not casting a shadow on those who are still struggling with the risks of COVID-19, preferring to continue to “gather” online. My point is to remind us that when we do gather, it is not merely to make a political, medical, or even cultural point. We gather because the Lord gathers us. He is truly present, calling us to Himself in order to bless us with His Word and the love shared by those in the Body of Christ, His church. And there is nothing quite like receiving that “bear hug” of grace from the Lord who lived, died, and rose against so that you might live forever with Him!
PRAYER – Dear Lord Jesus, protect us from the present pandemic, and protect us as we gather again around your Word and Sacraments that we might receive and share the love that only You can give. AMEN.
WORD FROM THE CENTER: MONDAY, AUGUST 31, 2020
Welcome to “Word from The Center” MONDAY, a devotional word from the Center of our faith, Jesus Christ, with reflections on His Word. I’m Gregory Seltz. Today’s verses are Matthew 16:24-27, where Jesus says,
24 “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.”
WORD FROM THE CENTER: MONDAY, AUGUST 24, 2020
Welcome to “Word from The Center” MONDAY, a devotional word from the Center of our faith, Jesus Christ, with reflections on His Word. I’m Gregory Seltz. Today’s verses are Matthew 16:13-17, where the Bible says,
13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.
WORD FROM THE CENTER: MONDAY, AUGUST 17, 2020
Welcome to “Word from The Center” MONDAY, a devotional word from the Center of our faith, Jesus Christ, with reflections on His Word. I’m Gregory Seltz. Today’s verses are Matthew 15:21-28, where the Bible says,
21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.” 23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.
WORD FROM THE CENTER: MONDAY, AUGUST 10, 2020
Welcome to “Word from The Center” MONDAY, a devotional word from the Center of our faith, Jesus Christ, with reflections on His Word. I’m Gregory Seltz. Today’s verses are Matthew 14:25-29a, where the Bible says,
25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. 27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” 29 “Come,” he said.
Welcome to “Word from The Center” MONDAY, a devotional word from the Center of our faith, Jesus Christ, with reflections on His Word. I’m Gregory Seltz. Today’s verses are Matthew 14:15-21, where the Bible says,
15 As evening approached, the disciples came to Jesus and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”17 “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.18 “Bring them here to me,” he said. 19 And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.
WORD FROM THE CENTER: MONDAY, JULY 27, 2020
Welcome to “Word from The Center” MONDAY, a devotional word from the Center of our faith, Jesus Christ, with reflections on His Word. I’m Gregory Seltz. Today’s verses are Romans 8:37-39, where the Bible says,
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
WORD FROM THE CENTER: MONDAY, JULY 20, 2020
Welcome to “Word from The Center” MONDAY, a devotional word from the Center of our faith, Jesus Christ, with reflections on His Word. I’m Gregory Seltz. Today’s verses are Romans 8:26-27, where the Bible says,
26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.