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MonFeb15

WORD FROM THE CENTER: MONDAY, FEBRUARY 15, 2021

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 9:2-9, where the Bible says,   

After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.) Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.


A GLIMPSE OF HEAVEN FOR THE DAYS AHEAD!

 

I’m becoming more and more convinced that all of our modern technologies are actually making us more ignorant, rather than more informed; they also make us more prone to be isolated, rather than connected with each other. Because of our sinful rebelliousness against the moral truths of God, human beings also seem to be more clueless than ever about how to live their lives in this world meaningfully and joyfully. That’s true even amidst all the advances of science and technology. As I get older, I see this more clearly than ever. Evil truly does exist in the world and evil exists in every human heart. Unfortunately, there is no easy religious, secular, or scientific fix for this DEADLY virus. The great scientist Albert Einstein said, “It is easier to denature plutonium than to denature the evil spirit of man.”[1]

We need a solution to the problems and evils of this world. We also need a fix for the evil which resides within our own hearts. The payment coming due for all of these things seems beyond comprehension. That’s true. But what happens when the answer, the all-encompassing solution, is so overwhelming that we can’t bear it and so extensive that we can’t fathom it? I think that is how the disciples were feeling on the day Jesus took them up on a mountain to pray. I think that they were becoming overwhelmed by the kind of salvation that they needed. (After all, Peter would have no suffering for his messiah; see Mark 8:32.) And I think they were beginning to be overwhelmed by the salvation that Jesus was going to provide which was part of the reason for their fear and awe.

So a preliminary glimpse of the glorified Jesus is provided for them before the overwhelming days of suffering to come. On a mountain that day, Jesus was transfigured, literally metamorphisized. That means HIS appearance changed drastically as His divinity literally and brilliantly shone through. Why? Well, these disciples, and believers in Jesus SINCE, would need to be reminded again and again of who Jesus is. Who is this one who would suffer and die for them? They would need to know this in order to be strengthened by faith in Him for the events that were soon to follow and for the lives they would live BY FAITH IN HIM FOR OTHERS.

You see, as believers in Christ, we believe and trust in a Savior who is not dead but alive. And, though we face trials, struggles, suffering, and even death this side of heaven, ours is a living faith in a living Savior who will have the victorious, last say over all those things in the end. As the Apostle Paul reminds us in 1st Corinthians 15:17 and 19-20,

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins….If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

Be comforted with these truths when you are afraid. And realize that the fear that overcame the disciples that day would eventually be overcome, not by their efforts, but because of the resurrection reality of Christ’s living presence with them. As Christians, when you read His Word, when you receive His name in Baptism, when you receive His body and His blood in/with/under the bread and wine in His supper, you have that resurrection reality at work in your life too. Thank God we all get a glimpse of heaven from this incredible event which is an ongoing reminder of the fact of Jesus’ resurrection, as well as His resurrection promise for you. That vision will provide strength for the days ahead, whatever they may hold.

PRAYER: Dear Lord Jesus, amidst the teaching of the need for You to suffer and die, thank You for this glimpse of Your glorious appearance as God. Thanks also for letting us see the confusion and fear of the disciples so that we can realize that our struggles and fears can be overcome by Your death and resurrection, as the now risen, radiant, reigning, and returning Son of God. AMEN.

 

[1] Albert Einstein, Clinical Toxicology, 50(7), pp. 537–538.

MonFeb08

WORD FROM THE CENTER: MONDAY, FEBRUARY 08, 2021

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 1st Corinthians 9:22-23, where the Apostle Paul writes,   

I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.


ALL-IN!

 

I’m not much of a poker player. When I was growing up, my family tended not to be card players (though the occasional, raucous game of “May I” could be cited as evidence to the contrary). But I do know the meaning of the phrase, “all-in.” How about you? In cards, and especially in the game Texas Hold-Em, “all-in” is when a player decides to put all of his chips on the table. At that moment, he/she bets all they have to either win or lose everything. Back in the days of the Wild West, they called it ''betting the ranch.'' This was not just putting all that you had that night into the pot, but risking everything you owned. That’s an “all-in” commitment in a game! What about an “all-in” commitment in life?

In this text, Paul demonstrates the “all-in” commitment of the Christian life in service to others. He’s talking about being committed to something more important than cash, property, or even all of one’s accumulated wealth. He’s talking about the things of God, the things of faith, which give meaning to all of life, now and forever. He then applies the “all-in” spirit that comes from faith to serving others for the sake of their eternal lives.

As believers in Jesus, before talking about becoming “all things to all people” in order to save some, we first need to understand God’s “all-in” love and forgiveness for us because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. In fact, it’s impossible for us to be “all-in” for others on our own because we are sinful, broken people. God has to be “all-in” for our forgiveness and salvation before we can be of service to others in His name. Elsewhere, Paul speaks about a mindset that understands and trusts in God’s “all-in” love for us in Jesus. He describes the basis for it in Philippians 2:5-8 with these powerful words:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Those who put their faith IN Christ Jesus are free to care about others with an “all-in” commitment, not because of their works of love for others, but because God’s love and forgiveness are certain for them by grace through faith in Jesus. Confident in Christ alone, we can strive to be “all things to all people” so that we might save some. We can even be willing to pay the price that comes with sharing the Gospel of Jesus with others. We can be prepared to be uncomfortable, put out, challenged, or even ridiculed because our strength to share Christ comes from Christ, and our concern for neighbor is about them, not us. 

Luther describes that faith life of freedom in this way: “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none; a Christian is a dutiful servant to all, subject to all.”[1] In other words, Christians can be “all-in” for loving others in Christ’s name because Christ is “all-in” for them as their crucified and risen Savior.

Whenever you’re struggling with loving others, just remember God’s “all-in” love for you. Then get back to being His person by loving them in His name.

PRAYER: Dear Lord Jesus, thank You for the love You demonstrated and the salvation You accomplished not only for me, but for all people. Give me strength and courage to turn my full attention to those in my life, especially those who need to know You. AMEN.

 

[1] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, American Edition, volume 31, page 344.

MonSep28

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 21:23 which says,

23 And when [Jesus] entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”

 


BY WHOSE AUTHORITY?

“Authority” almost seems like a dirty word today, doesn’t it? Many today even feel empowered by disrespecting authority. Children regularly dishonor their parents. Students dishonor their teachers more and more often. While critique and reform of the police are understandable, outright disrespect for them is not. And in America, government officials, who are supposed to be “public servants,” shouldn’t be able to disregard people, especially when it comes to their freedom to believe and to worship God freely without fear. Ever since the Fall, both disrespect for authority and the misuse of it have always been issues because deep in our hearts we all sinfully believe that God doesn’t know what’s best for us. We do.

But the Lord tells us to honor Him, to honor His moral ordering of His world, to honor father and mother (Exodus 20:12), and to honor those in authority over us, even “Caesar” himself (see Matthew 22:21). In so doing, He’s calling us to honor His preserving work, even as we put our faith in His saving work. That’s what is at stake for you and me today. It’s that serious. If we become a people who openly dishonor God’s will, it will become hard for us to remain a believing people, and faith in Him alone is what finally saves us.

In our lesson today, Jesus’ authority is questioned. The chief priest and the elders of Jesus’ day thought that Roman rule was illegitimate, so they felt justified in merging biblical hopes about the coming Messiah with their own political ends. But, even worse, their questioning of Jesus was intended to marginalize His very work as the Messiah for the world. Into this milieu walks Jesus. He differentiates God’s preserving work from His saving work (Matthew 22:21). He eventually asserts that “all authority in heaven and earth” has been given to Him (Matthew 28:18). Throughout His ministry, Jesus is establishing His legitimacy to save and, in the end, to judge the world. Why? Because there is life and salvation in Him alone for He is Christ, the very Son of God, above whom there is no greater authority."

That’s what is at stake for each of us. Today, too many revel in the power to “disrespect,” while not realizing it eventually leads to tyranny and destruction. To be people of faith, we should be those who honor God and His authority over us in all things. Honoring God’s authority directs our eyes to the proclamation of His greatest work, sending His Son as our Savior. When Jesus says, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one whom He has sent” (John 6:29), that’s what matters and endures. With full authority, Jesus tells us, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). With full authority, Jesus sends out His disciples to “make disciples of all nations” and to “forgive others” in His name (Matthew 28:19; John 20:23).

By whose authority? By His. He sets before you life and death, honor and dishonor, salvation and judgment. Most importantly, Jesus’ gracious authority means He Himself is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” for you and for all (John 14:6). So put your faith in Him above all things for life now and life forever.

PRAYER – Dear Lord Jesus, give us courage to be an honoring people in a dishonoring world. Even more importantly, give us humility to be a believing people in an unbelieving world so that others might also get to know you as Lord and Savior. AMEN.

MonSep21

 

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.

MonSep14

 

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.”[1] 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.

 

[1] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book III, Chapter 7.

MonJan27

WORD FROM THE CENTER: MONDAY, JANUARY 27, 2020

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 Matthew 4:17, where the Bible says,   

From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

FriJan24

 

Dr. Gene Edward Veith reminds us that, "Without a religion offering atonement and redemption, people must deal with their guilt in other ways, such as politics."

Guilt is a universal feeling, since none of us fallen creatures can live up to our own principles.  But without a religion offering atonement and redemption, people must deal with their guilt in other ways, such as politics.

MonJan20

WORD FROM THE CENTER: MONDAY, JANUARY 20, 2020

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 John 1:29, where the Bible says,   

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

MonJan13

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 passage is Matthew 3:13-17, where the Bible says,   

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. 16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

 

MonJan06

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 passage is Luke 2:41-50, where the Bible says,  

Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. 43 After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44 Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions…. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” 49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

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