In Washington DC, in one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in all of America, there is a small park near Connecticut Avenue in the northwest part of the city. Tall trees provide a kind of natural canopy above, and in the near-center of that vest-pocket park is a bust of one of America’s most illustrious Lutherans who is now largely forgotten.
A few years ago there was a PEW research study that reported sobering results concerning the sources of peoples’ happiness. It seems that more and more Americans are listing things other than religion and/or faith as keys to happiness and fulfillment in life. (See http://www.pewforum.org/2018/11/20/where-americans-find-meaning-in-life/ for the study). That’s not unusual in this highly secularizing time in our history. Authentic expressions of faith are virtually absent in our culture whether in the news, in media, or in entertainment. We live in a culture that rarely references the unique significance or distinctiveness of the Bible’s message or the Judeo/Christian worldview, even during the Christmas or Easter holidays. Today, it is rarely noted that people actually, yes actually, go to a Christian church on these days. If you were to watch our movies, read our newspapers, or attend our plays and concerts during these times, you are likely to leave such activities without knowing anything about the real message of these “holy” days (holidays) and why they have been so impactful in this culture down through the years. Though many still profess faith in God, our culture has decided that such things are publicly meaningless or even publicly detrimental, reserved for private opinion if at all.
In the LSB, the minister prays, "You have had mercy on those whom you created." In the Lutheran Worship, we hear the pastor intone "for you have had mercy on us children of men." In this instance, LW seems to get it right, not only in terms of poetry, but in tone and depth of meaning. Our Lord created all things, angels and animals included, but in the feast we thank God for the mercy he has shown to us, children of men. It is much more human.
Mary Eberstadt, senior research fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. wrote several years ago, “The new wealth in America is familial wealth, and the new poverty, familial poverty.” I was reminded of those words as I studied a new report by W. Bradford Wilcox and the Institute for Family Studies looking at the state of marriage and family in America as we reach (hopefully) the last stages of the COVID pandemic.
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 Luke 2:25-26, where the Bible says,
Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ.
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 portions of Matthew 1:21-23, where an angel of the Lord tells Joseph this about Mary,
She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins….they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us)
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 Luke 7:31-35, where Jesus says,
“To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’33 For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ 34 The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ 35 Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.”
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 Luke 3:1-3, where the Bible says,
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
True conservativism depends on an appreciation of natural law. That is, no law can be deemed legitimate if it runs contrary to the deeper and natural law. So, a society may come up with different punishments for murder, theft, battery, and the like, but every society must recognize that these behaviors run contrary to the natural law and must be dealt with. So, we may take this idea to think about children and how they fit into society. Children are not the property of the parents, as if land or animals, but they do belong to their mom and dad. Any kind of trading of children, selling of children, and this includes sperm and egg donation, is contrary to natural law and inherently exploitative.
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 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, where the Bible says,
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
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 Mark 13:1-8, where the Bible tells us what happened in Jerusalem during Holy Week.
And as [Jesus] came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” 2 And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
3 And as He sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately,4 “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” 5 And Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. 7 And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. 8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.
Welcome to “Word from The Center” MONDAY, a devotional word from the Center of our faith, Jesus Christ, with reflections from His Word. I’m Gregory Seltz, Today’s verse is from Revelation 7:9-10, where the Bible says,
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!"
On November 11, 1620, the Pilgrims, along with others who came along for the journey, arrived on the Massachusetts shore after sailing across the Atlantic Ocean in a leaky and overcrowded ship rife with disease, with the hope of coming to a new world where they could freely practice their faith and exercise their rights of conscience.
We talk about racial justice, social justice, gender justice, ethnic justice, economic justice, and don't forget climate justice. And it all sounds good until you think about what's going on. For it ends up in equity rather than equality, and to accomplish that true justice must be trampled underfoot, for equity can only be accomplished by force.
In Washington DC, in one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in all of America, there is a small park near Connecticut Avenue in the northwest part of the city. Tall trees provide a kind of natural canopy above, and in the near-center of that vest-pocket park is a bust of one of America’s most illustrious Lutherans who is now largely forgotten.
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 Bible passage is John 8:31-36 which tells us of this remarkable conversation:
31 So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 33 They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, ‘You will become free’?”
34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. 36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.
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 Mark 10:46-47 and 51-52, where the Bible tells us,
46 Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”…51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.
IN CHRIST, THE BLIND REALLY DO “SEE”
I’m always amazed at the healings that Jesus performed in His ministry. There were times when He confronted and cured people’s debilitations, and then instantly made them go away. The deaf would suddenly hear, the blind would see, and the lame would walk. There were even a couple times when dead men were raised again to life! Many of these healings were amazing, seemingly beyond belief. One, of course, was the ultimate healing. That’s the time when Jesus took upon himself our sinful life and suffered our eternal death on the cross, and then rose so that we might have the promise of eternal life with Him as a gift of grace. In today’s reading, it’s a temporal, but devastating, issue. Bartimaeus is blind as a bat. Jesus matter-of-factly asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man answered with the obvious, “Rabbi, I want to see.” Then Jesus reminds him, “Your faith has healed you.”
Elsewhere, Jesus reminds us of a greater blindness and a more empowering sight (see John 9:39-41). He reminds us that the blindness of unbelief is far worse than mere loss of sight. But the sight that comes from seeing Jesus as our Savior is more precious than all the beautiful visions in this world. You see, we, don’t just suffer from poor physical eyesight like Bartimaeus. No, we all suffer from something much worse, poor “I”-SIGHT. Max Lucado defines this not as a mere blurring of what you see physically, but a sight that distorts your view of yourself. He writes,
Some see self too highly…Brazenly self-assured and utterly self-sufficient, the I-focused have long strutted beyond the city limits of self-confidence and entered the state of cockiness. You wonder who puts the “air” in arrogance and the “vain” in vainglory? Those who say, “I can do anything.” And don't we also know the other extreme: “I can't do anything”? Forget the thin air of pomposity; these folks breathe the thick, swampy air of self-defeat. Roaches have higher self-esteem. Earthworms stand taller. “I'm a bum. I am scum. The world would be better off without me.”
Two extremes of poor I-sight. Self-loving and self-loathing. We swing from one side to
the other. Promotions and demotions bump us back and forth. One day too high on self, the next too hard on self. Neither is correct. Self-elevation and self-deprecation are equally inaccurate. Where is the truth?
The truth is not to be found by looking at our skills and successes. It’s also not to be found in our weaknesses and failures. The truth, the ultimate healing, is to be found when we look away from ourselves and look to our “healing” Savior who is “The Way, The Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6). You might say that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the sight for life too. Bartimaeus was healed not only of his bad eyesight. He was also healed of his “I”-sight when looked to Jesus in faith. His healing reminds us that by faith in Christ, we who were spiritually blind, who suffered from eternally poor “I”-sight, can indeed be healed to see our Savior clearly.
PRAYER: Dear Lord Jesus, the gift of physical sight is truly a wonder. When the blind suddenly see, it’s as if a whole new world opens up for them. Let us be convicted of our spiritual blindness so that we can receive from You the incredible wonder of viewing all things through You with the opened eyes of faith. AMEN.
 Max Lucado, Life to the Full: 3-in-1 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2012), 72.
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 this portion of Mark chapter 10, where the Bible tells us of a day when
23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “It is hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!... 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”
27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; with GOD ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE!” (emphasis added).
WITH GOD, THINGS ARE ALWAYS “IMPOSSIBLY POSSIBLE.”
Have you ever been so overwhelmed by something that you finally gave in? In a moment of exasperation, you concluded, “There’s nothing else that I can do; I can’t handle this.” I think we’ve all faced that to some degree. There are issues in life that so overwhelm us, it’s as though life itself become impossible to face. Jesus often shakes us up by pointing out “the impossible” in our lives, while at the same time offering God’s possibilities even then. Amazing. Unclean lepers suddenly healed. People blind from birth suddenly seeing clearly, both physically and spiritually. Who is this Savior who shows us the depth of our depravity just so that He can demonstrate even more clearly God’s gracious salvation even there? He’s the Savior who, when it comes to eternal life and salvation, reminds that “with man this is impossible, but not with God; with God all things are possible.”
Jesus here uses wealth as a teachable moment to show us what is truly valuable. When He talks about how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God, it’s not because wealth is intrinsically bad. It’s because it gives us a false sense of security and power. It also tempts us to think that this sinful world is all that there is, and that with tons of cash we can do anything that we set our minds and hearts too. (That’s a particular weakness here in Washington, D.C.) But the Bible calls that out to us all. It calls it what it is -- false pride. And you know it’s true even if you haven’t read it in the Bible. You know it’s true just by looking at the brokenness and sin all around you, even in your heart and mind as well. I heard it said this way, “Money doesn’t give you life. It just helps you drain whatever life you have faster.” Sobering. The Bible exposes our ineptness in these matters, not to humiliate or to demean, but to get us to refocus our life on the one who is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” Jesus Christ (John 14:6).
Elsewhere Jesus warns us that life does not consist in accumulating an abundance of things (see Luke 12:15). But He says that to remind us that He came so that we “may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Strive for excellence in all that you do. Be passionate. Set goals. But in living your life, remember the essence and fullness of life are God’s gifts, to be received by grace, through faith in Christ, as a gift. When it comes to the biggest things in life, only Jesus can handle those. Indeed, with Him things become “impossibly possible.” Thank God He’s that kind of Savior for you and me.
PRAYER: Dear Lord Jesus, assure me each day that You have handled what is impossible for me by freely giving me eternal life and salvation. Such faith gives me confidence to entrust all things to You in prayer and then to face each day with the confidence, knowing that You are our capable Lord and Savior in all things. AMEN.
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 a portion of Mark chapter 10, where the Bible tells of this encounter:
17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “…. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”
20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
DON’T FORGET YOUR VALUABLE!
I know, I know, you think my title should be “Valuables,” not “Valuable!” Well, no, for this devotion, it’s VALUABLE. I meant to write that singular word because this lesson is talking about the ONE thing in your life that is the key to it all. In our lesson for today, an individual comes up to Jesus and asks the million-dollar question, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” That’s the big question; that’s the one that really matters. You see, the Bible talks about life as precious, purposeful, and eternal. Those three all go together. Jesus wants you to know that your life is eternal, not just here today and gone tomorrow. He wants you to know that you are precious to Him, that your life matters to Him.
That is exactly what Jesus was trying to show the rich young man in our reading. Jesus offers him what He also offers to you and me today --- Love, HIS LOVE, the eternal and lasting love of God in Jesus Christ, and a life that is purposeful and eternal because of what He has done for you on the cross. When Jesus tells the man that he lacks “one thing,” He’s trying to get him to see his life as a gift from God. He’s leading him to see that a relationship with Jesus is the key to it all.
So, today, ask yourself, “Is there anything getting in the way of knowing and receiving the one thing that is truly valuable for your life?” Are the things of this temporary world more precious than knowing the love of God in Christ Jesus forever? Are the trinkets of the moment to be more prized than God’s mercy in Christ? Is there anything more precious than knowing that no matter what you’ve done or where you’ve been, IN HIM, life can be fresh and new today? He offers you eternal life right now. The very same Jesus who urged this man to follow Him urges us too because only Christ Jesus can remove everything that stands in the way of having a life that is good, meaningful, and lasts forever. Trust in what is valuable today, your life in Christ. And hear another promise from Him as you face this week. Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
PRAYER: Dear Lord Jesus, it’s easy to get caught up in the treasures of the here and now. Give us eyes to see that only in and through You does life become precious, purposeful, and eternal. Give me that wisdom to take up the challenges of today. AMEN.
October 31 is the celebration of the Reformation in Christian Churches around the world. The Reformation rediscovered the Gospel of Jesus Christ as a unique proclamation of freedom, life, and salvation offered to sinners by grace alone, through faith alone, in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone. Temporal freedoms are rooted in the reality of God’s gift of eternal freedom. The Reformation taught us anew the proper ordering of such things in our lives.
One of the main efforts of our Lutheran Center For Religious Liberty’s work in Washington D.C. is to partner with various, like-minded organizations to roll back the weaponization of politics today, especially as it concerns valid differences of opinion as to how we are to live our lives faithfully and morally. There are legitimate differences of opinion in our culture today as to what healthy relationships are, what healthy sexuality entails, and the definition and purpose of marriage as a relationship and as an institution within a healthy society. Sadly, it’s not merely that such disagreements are more prevalent. Today disagreements are increasingly not allowed and the strong-arm of the State is being used to silence those who disagree with the prevailing accepted notions in popular culture. Bakers are losing their businesses, educational institutions are being threatened, and hard-working, honorable people are losing their jobs as well. A case in point is Georgia’s persecution of a faithful Fire Chief named Kelvin Cochran (For a more detailed account, see https://www.theglobaldispatch.com/city-of-atlanta-to-pay-kelvin-cochran-for-unconstitutional-firing-67553/).
In the aftermath of the new Texas “heartbeat law” and the Supreme Court’s refusal to overturn it, President Harrison was pilloried for his approval. He replied on social media: “SIXTY THREE million. I’m just not shuttin up.”
Welcome to “Word from the Center” MONDAY, a devotional word from the Center of our faith, Jesus Christ, with reflections on His Word, by Gregory Seltz. Today’s passage is Hebrews 2:14-15 and 17-18, where the Bible says,
₁₄“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— ₁₅ and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death……. ₁₇ For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. ₁₈ Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”
AN “ALL IN” SAVIOR!
When I first came to Washington, D.C., in 2006 for a class in my PhD program, we were privileged to speak with many congressional leaders personally. Bill Hecht, a pastor-turned influential lobbyist in Washington, lined up various leaders from the House and the Senate to speak with us about the things that mattered to us as Christians in the politics of the day. I remember visiting with the head of the House Ways and Means Committee at the time. He talked about various legislation saying, “We’re trying to make sure that the Congress has to live by the same rules that they hoist on everyone else.” I remember my reaction. I was shocked. I never had thought about the fact that government officials often pass laws that we must follow, while living by another set of rules themselves. Incredible. Health care? While making rules so ridiculous that we citizens were getting less and less choice and worse and worse coverage, they had a separate “cadillac” version for themselves. I couldn’t believe that they didn’t have to live by the very rules they were legislating for everyone else. I learned then that often times our public “servants” aren’t “all in” when it comes to the challenges and solutions that we need in our lives. “All in.” That’s a phrase people utter when they commit their lives and their livelihoods to a cause. When someone tells you that they are “all in” concerning an issue or a challenge that you share together, you can count on them to give everything they have to make sure that whatever you face, you share together in both trial and victory. When someone tells you that they’re “all in” as your friend or confidant, you can rest assured that whatever you face, you don’t face it alone. Those examples are merely a glimpse of the kind of Savior we have in Jesus Christ. When the writer of Hebrews says that Jesus “too shared in their humanity,” he uses a word that describes a real “flesh and blood” partnership. It’s so close and so real; it’s an “all in” kind of thing. There is nothing stronger in the world than knowing that God took on your flesh and blood. On the cross He took upon himself your troubles and sins. His “all in” life, death, and resurrection means that you can count on the salvation that He offers you as His gift of grace to be exactly what you need. So, whatever is facing you today, you can face it. Why? Because your Savior has seen it all and experienced it all, and He alone offers you a victory that the world cannot take away. Because He’s “all in” for you, you can be “all in” for the one’s you love too, not as some “works righteous” religious ploy to show how good you are, but as one who’s been blessed by the power of God’s grace in Christ. That’s why you share it with others who need it too. An “all in” Savior with “all in” disciples for others -- that’s a message that can bless no matter what we face at the moment. With His help, we can truly help others as well.
PRAYER: Dear Lord Jesus, it’s a powerful thing to know that You are our “all in” Savior. Give us confidence to look to You in all things as we jump “all in” to bless the lives of those whom you place around us. AMEN
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 Bible verses are Mark 9:49-50, where Jesus says,
For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.
THE CHRISTIAN LIFE - FASHIONED FOR SERVICE!
It’s always a challenge for me to fully understand what Jesus means in Matthew 5:13-14 when He says that believers are “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world.” I don’t think we realize how inept, yet vital, we are to being conduits of God’s preserving and saving activity for the world. In a world of constant refrigeration because of electricity and easy illumination where the lights come on and remain on just by the flip of a switch, being called “salt” and “light” can seem rather mundane. It wasn’t and it isn’t. Just think of the ancients’ view of salt.
Homer called it divine. Plato called it a "substance dear to the gods." Shakespeare mentioned salt 17 times in his plays. Perhaps Leonard da Vinci wanted to send a subtle message about purity lost when he painted "The last Supper." In that painting an overturned salt cellar is conspicuously placed before Judas. In ancient Greece a far-flung trade involving the exchange of salt for slaves gave rise to the expression, "...not worth his salt." Special salt rations were given to Roman soldiers and known as "Solarium Argentums" the forerunner of the English word "salary." Thousands of Napoleon’s troops died during his retreat from Moscow because their wounds would not heal--their bodies lacked salt. The human body contains about 4oz. of salt. Without enough of it, muscles won’t contract, blood won’t circulate, food won’t digest and the heart won’t beat a beat. Without a doubt, salt is the essence of life. And Jesus said, "Ye are the salt of the earth."
So salt is essential! There wouldn’t be life without it. But that’s not what Jesus means when He calls us “the salt of the earth.” We’re not the ones essential for life; He is. But we can be essential bearers of His life in our lives for others. In fact, while our life with God is received by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, the works that extend from such a faith are essential, not for ourselves, but for those whom God brings into our lives. That’s why Jesus here reminds us to “have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
In essence, then, let God fill up your life, your “salt-shaker” existence, so that you can be a “salting” presence in the lives of those whom you love and care for. Salt preserves, purifies, and adds flavor, even as it exposes our thirst. Salt heals, regulates, and promotes good health when properly used. Such is the spiritual condition of those who put their trust in the true “salt” of life, Jesus Christ. Then those who believe in Christ are fashioned for service to others IN HIS NAME. God the Father sent His Son into the world to honor the preserving work of God’s Law. Yet he also fulfilled God’s Law in our place and delivers the promised saving work of God for all through His sacrificial work on the cross. Then we are to be bearers of that salt to all whom God places in our lives. “Have salt in yourselves,” and be salty ones in Him to others. Even our speech and our lifestyles are to be “salty” for others as Paul reminds us in Colossians 4:6, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” Remember that receiving “salt” from Jesus Christ comes first because you can’t serve others in Christ if you haven’t first been served by Christ (note that in Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting of the Last Supper, the salt shaker in front of Judas is empty). But see also the great honor and privilege of being part of God’s powerful work of preserving and saving the world on His Law/Gospel terms alone. The Christian life is a life fashioned in Him for service, like salt on the loose so others can be blessed.
PRAYER: Dear Lord Jesus, salt reminds us that there are created gifts in this world that make physical life possible and enjoyable. In essence, You are like the spice of life that makes spiritual life possible and wonderful even now. Let us be better conduits of such saving grace to others, as we rejoice in the very “salted” life that we have received as Your everlasting gift. AMEN.
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 Mark 9:30-32, where the Bible tells us,
30 From there they went out and began to go through Galilee, and [Jesus] did not want anyone to know about it.31 For He was teaching His disciples and telling them, “The Son of Man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him; and when He has been killed, He will rise three days later.” 32 But they] did not understand this statement, and they were afraid to ask Him.
UNTIL THE JOB IS DONE!
A few years ago, I was privileged to study at the Army War College in Carlisle, PA. Thanks again to National Guard Officer Ross Davis, a wonderful member of our Lutheran Church, who invited me to be involved in lectures and discussions about national security with the next generation of leaders of our Armed Forces. It was a humbling learning experience. It was at the end of their formal training, so I also got to celebrate with the whole group before their formal graduation.
There is a tradition in the graduation ceremonies there. It involves the unveiling of a painting commemorating the students time at the college. Each class places a painting in one of the college’s corridors that expresses and defines the character and the commitment of their group in order to encourage future classes to follow their lead. This group’s painting was about the “Lost Battalion” of World War I, who, though surrounded on all sides by German soldiers, persevered through the gravest of conditions. They even helped the Allies break through the German lines in the end. The Lost Battalion was known for perseverance, and that’s what the graduating class of 2018 wanted to be known for as well. In other words, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” The “tough” ones engage fully in the mission until the job is done. I have a copy of that painting hanging in my LCRL offices to this day because it inspires me to keep at my work in D.C., no matter the obstacles, because the mission and ministries of the church are always worth the effort!
In today’s lesson, Jesus talks about some “tough going” that was above and beyond anything we can handle. Every man, woman, and child in this world is on the path that leads to judgment due to our common sin and rebellion against our Creator. It’s a path that even the toughest among us can’t avoid, period. But then here comes Jesus the Christ. Though He was without sin, He chooses to take up our path. And, when the going gets eternally tough, the Savior of the world gets going! When Jesus tells the disciples that this path of suffering must be the way, they can’t believe it; they don’t realize how terrible a predicament all of us are in. But Jesus does. He tells them about the necessity of His path to the cross so that when it happens, they won’t be overcome with grief and despair. Even when all looks lost, they need to know that a persevering Savior is on the job, and He, like only He can, will get the job done.
Whatever you and I are facing today, and there’s plenty that’s overwhelming, faith in Jesus is something that gives us confidence and peace even then. As with the soldiers of the Lost Battalion of World War I, there are times that seem completely overwhelming, with no way out. Can you imagine what it was like to be surrounded by enemies on every side? The title of the painting described above gives us a glimpse of just such a struggle. Its caption states: “We weren’t lost, the Germans knew where we were all the time.” They must have hoped against hope that the Allies would soon find them.
But let me say this: While I treasure the painting from the War College hanging in my office, I believe an even more amazing picture should hang in every Christian home today. That painting should reflect the greater battle that Jesus engages in for us. It isn’t one where are enemies are close and our Savior far off. No, it paints a different picture. It’s one where Jesus surrounds us and is closer to us than whatever is against us. It’s a picture where He is on the case all the time. As the enemy struggles to break through His line of protection, we are protected on every side by His Word, His Spirit, His gifts of Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and even His body, the church. If you are saying in your daily battles today, “We weren’t lost,” I pray that the rest of the title is, “because Jesus, my Savior, knew where I was the whole time.” With that in mind, keep fighting, keep serving, keep forgiving, and keep loving one another in His Name until He calls you to Himself. Then you and I can also reflect a spirit which knows that when the going gets really tough, IN HIM, we can get going and keep going until the job is done!
PRAYER: Dear Lord Jesus, now is a time for courageous and committed faith. May we see the commitment that You displayed so that we might be saved by grace through faith. May it then encourage and empower our lives right now as we seek to follow You wherever You lead. AMEN.
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 Mark 9:20-24, where the Bible recounts this encounter:
20 They brought the boy to Jesus. When he saw Him, immediately the spirit threw him into a convulsion, and falling to the ground, he began rolling around and foaming at the mouth.21 And He asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 It has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” 23 And Jesus said to him, “‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.” 24 Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, “I do believe; help my unbelief.”
WHEN THINGS ARE IMPOSSIBLY POSSIBLE!
Our lesson for today comes in the context of another healing event in the ministry of Jesus. It not only demonstrates Christ’s power over all things, but also faith’s power IN HIM amidst all the doubts and struggles that we may be facing. There so much to learn from the honest confession of the father in our lesson. The dad knew what his son needed and felt helpless in response. He also knew what he needed, stronger faith. When he meets Jesus, he expresses sentiments like this: “I’d like to have great faith, but I know that I’m inadequate now when I need it most. In fact, I’m overcome by circumstances and doubt. Lord Jesus, while I believe, help my unbelief.”
Today many people don’t seem to struggle with their doubts; they tend to revel in them. Some even claim that there is “faith in honest doubt,” as if our skepticism is the key to an authentic, honest pursuit of truth. In his book, Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton rightly identifies our modern “skeptical” faith this way:
The man of the nineteenth century did not disbelieve in the Resurrection because his liberal Christianity allowed him to doubt it. He disbelieved in it because his very strict materialism did not allow him to believe it. Tennyson, a very typical nineteenth-century man, uttered one of the instinctive truisms of his contemporaries when he said that there was faith in their honest doubt. There was indeed. Those words have a profound and even a horrible truth. In their doubt of miracles there was a faith in a fixed and godless fate; a deep and sincere faith in the incurable routine of the cosmos.
That’s not the struggling faith of the father of our text. True faith is that which trusts God, even while struggling through our doubts, rather than a faith that revels in skepticism. Believers don’t dismiss their struggles or diminish their problems and fears. Instead, believers wrestle with them as they tenaciously trust that God hasn’t and won’t forsake them. The father’s encounter with Jesus occurs amidst skeptical people’s rejection of Jesus and their ridicule of His ineffective followers. The father is tempted in this direction as well, as he prefaces his request to Jesus with the words, “If you can.” But he comes to Jesus with an honest assessment of Jesus’ strength and power, looking to Him for relief that even his faith cannot give. “I do believe; help my unbelief.” I pray that your faith in Jesus is like his.
Amazingly Jesus doesn’t tell the father to come back when he has more faith. In the midst of the father’s struggle, Jesus heals his son (see Mark 9:25-27). As always, our faith is not the key to our power and strength. Even one’s authentic skepticism grants no special power to faith. The key to true and vibrant faith is its object. And when faith rests itself IN JESUS ALONE, that which was impossible becomes possible (Mark 9:23). Sins are forgiven. Death is overcome. Illness and struggle are temporary. Reconciliation with God and with others is possible all because of Jesus’ work on our behalf.
Today, amidst struggles and even successes, revel in the great news that God knows your weaknesses and your faith-failures. Even amidst “weak” faith, God is strong. And know that even with “strong” faith in Him, such faith doesn’t enhance our blessed relationship with Him. But it can give us the strength needed to serve others IN HIS NAME amidst their struggles, their failures, and their flailing faith too. Oh, and if you are like the father today, one who realizes that you need “more faith,” the Bible has an antidote for that as well. In Romans 10:17, St. Paul teaches us that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” When the fires of your faith are reduced to embers because of doubt, suffering, or circumstance, stoke the fire with His promises, His Word, and the record of His actions of grace and mercy for you. Such faith knows that things are impossibly possible with God, and that, no matter the circumstance, we can always put our trust in Him.
PRAYER: Dear Lord Jesus, our doubts often seem to put up limits to what You can do in our lives. May we be bold to trust You amidst our doubts and the difficult circumstances of the moment. We believe; help our unbelief! AMEN.
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 Mark 7:37, where the Bible reports this reaction to Jesus’ ministry:
They were utterly astonished, saying, “He has done all things well; He makes even the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”
DON’T JUST BE AMAZED BY JESUS, BELIEVE IN HIM!
Have you ever had to deal with something that was locked up tight with no possibility of entry or release? I am beginning to travel again and one of my constant concerns is to have the keys to the townhouse in Washington, D.C. with me. There’s no worse feeling than getting off the plane, heading to the D.C. office, and then realizing that I may be “locked out.” Then it’s locksmith time. Being locked out with no possibility of entry when you really need to get in can even be terrifying in some circumstances. In life, being locked out, locked up, or locked in is not the life God intends for you. He wants you be free and open outwardly toward others.
But a problem lies behind our text. There are diseases that debilitate eyes so they don’t see, ears so they cannot hear, and tongues so they are unable to speak. The Bible also talks of a greater disease, of hearts that are closed to the righteousness of God, lives that are shut off from the healing love of God, and minds that are closed to the moral wisdom of God. For things that are hopelessly closed, physically or spiritually, there is only one “locksmith,” the one “who has the key of David” (Revelation 3:7), our Savior, Jesus. That’s the message reflected in our verse for today which comes as a response to His healing activity.
Prior to our text, amazing things have been happening in Jesus’ ministry. In Mark 7 he had just healed a deaf person. Other times He heals many others who were sick, gives sight to the blind, and even raises the dead. These are not just anomalies or curiosities. These healings and other miracles by Jesus were signs of the arrival of the Messiah (see Isaiah 35:5-6; also Jesus’ words about Himself in Luke 4:21 where He proclaims that Isaiah’s prophecy about the Messiah is fulfilled IN HIM). The Promised One is here, and He has come to fulfill God’s greatest miracles, the salvation of sinners and the opening of our hearts and minds to God in faith. The one born of a virgin and laid in a manger came to live our life substitutionally, die our death on a cross sacrificially, and rise again proleptically so that we might have life now and forever in Him. That’s the miracle of miracles!
Mere amazement though is a hazard. The crowd says, “He has done all things well.” That’s an understatement if there ever was one! Of course He does all things well. Of course He does the best of the best. When He’s at work, everything becomes as it should be. His words have authority. His teaching is unparalleled. And the work that He is about to embark upon, His work on the cross and in His resurrection, is unmatched. And then there’s the fact that He does such things not as opportunities for personal gain or glory, but in service to others so that they might be saved. Is there anyone else like Jesus? Anyone at all? No.
Today I pray that the Spirit of God stirs you up to be more than amazed. Yes, He did “all things well.” But the Bible is calling you to realize that Jesus did all things well for you! Don’t just be amazed, believe. Put your trust in Jesus and His Word. As you deal with the many issues on your plate this week, as you struggle to make sense of some things in your life, family, or community, remember this: There is one who is Lord and Savior over all of this. There is one who can be trusted in the midst of all things. There is one who has seen the worst of humanity and still redeemed humanity so that we can be who we were created and redeemed to be IN HIM. What He wants for you and me today is not merely to be amazed by Him. He wants you to believe in Him, to walk with Him, and to live forever with Him. He also wants you to put the power of faith in Him to work in your lives, now and forever. Be amazed, yes, but also believe.
PRAYER: Dear Lord Jesus, we often forget that the power of faith does not depend on how much we believe, but, rather, on the one in whom we put our trust. Give us courageous, confident faith to trust You, to believe in You today and always. AMEN.
The doctrine of the two kingdoms is most often applied to the Christian's obligations to the state, but it also illuminates the cultural controversies which are causing so much confusion in today's church.
I was reading a thread on another post having to do with addressing students by their new chosen names or pronouns. I think it's probably true to say that pronouns are much more problematic than names, as names have always been able to cross certain lines. Who can forget the boy named Sue? Pronouns though strike at the heart of reality. Some have laughably hid behind the concept of "pronoun hospitality." Now, I suppose, we might say that if a madman says that he is Abraham Lincoln, we might address him as Mr. President, and advise him not to go to the theater. But with pronouns, it's different, for we are dealing with a different kind of madness that has less to do with the person who claims a different identity than it does with the society that is enforcing it.
The Chamber of Commerce is not our friend. Indiana is such a good example of this. RFRA was responsible legislation that simply protected the liberty of the little guys, the folks who wished to live their lives and run their businesses according to their consciences. I remember being brought into the office of a major Republican leader and being told perhaps they could offer up compromise legislation that would protect very small businesses. The idea was abhorrent, as if liberty were some sort of special exception and not the American rule.