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MonDec28

WORD FROM THE CENTER: MONDAY, DECEMBER 28, 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 Scripture verses are these portions of Luke 1:26-38, where the Bible says,   

26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”…30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and give birth to a son, and you shall name Him Jesus….38 And Mary said, “Behold, the Lord’s bond-servant; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.


WHEN SURPRISED BY GOD’S GRACE, TRUST LIKE MARY

 

In 2009, when Gabriel Hurles turned six, he received a surprise that he would never forget. At first he didn’t notice it. He was so focused on eating his birthday cake that he hardly noticed the giant package in the corner of the room. When another child pointed out the large gift, Gabriel ran over and began to tear off the wrapping. What could it be? It wasn’t a bicycle or any of the other items a six-year-old might want. Surprise! It was his dad, Army Specialist Casey Hurles, home on leave from the war in Iraq. Gabriel and his father had been apart for seven months, so when Casey learned his leave would coincide with his son’s birthday, he hatched a plan to offer one whale of a surprise.[1]

In a world of presents that glimmer for mere moments, Casey Hurles’ present of presence impacted his son forever. Surprises like that have a long lasting effect. Presents like that do that too. In our lesson for today, Mary was surprised at the angel Gabriel’s greeting and message. You might say that she was surprised by grace. But her surprise, even confusion, didn’t get in the way of her trust in the God who is always full of the loving surprise of grace, mercy, and peace.  In fact, the whole Christmas message is one big glorious, gracious, God-given surprise of His coming in the flesh to save the world.

Other religions talk about surprises. But the message of Christmas—Good Friday—Easter is different. The Bible isn't about Karma or we would all be “Karmalized.” The Bible isn't about religion or we would all be religiously inadequate. The Bible isn't about surprises that come from humanity’s best efforts, because even those last merely for a time.  No, the Bible's message is one, big, grace-filled surprise that God Himself promised and then delivered on in the person and work of Jesus for each one of us.

The angel says it loudly and clearly to Mary: "You will…give birth to a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great. He will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end" (Luke 1:31-33, ESV).

That first Christmas began with a huge surprise. The God who created the very heavens and the earth was concerned not just for the powerful people of the world, but for all people. Mary may have been most surprised of all that God would concern Himself with someone like her. She was surprised, but she believed. Today, don't just be surprised by that grace this Christmas; believe it for yourself and put your trust in the one born in the manger for you.

PRAYER: Dear Lord Jesus, in these weeks of preparation for Christmas, You call us to repentance, to see our need for You. May that repentance burst forth into praises that only faith in You can bring. With that, please bless us all. AMEN.

 

[1] “Boys wrapped birthday gift is dad back from Iraq,” Associated Press and YahooNews.com, 1-30-09

MonDec21

WORD FROM THE CENTER: MONDAY, DECEMBER 21, 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 Scripture verses are these portions of Luke 1:26-38, where the Bible says,   

26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”…30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and give birth to a son, and you shall name Him Jesus….38 And Mary said, “Behold, the Lord’s bond-servant; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.


WHEN SURPRISED BY GOD’S GRACE, TRUST LIKE MARY

 

In 2009, when Gabriel Hurles turned six, he received a surprise that he would never forget. At first he didn’t notice it. He was so focused on eating his birthday cake that he hardly noticed the giant package in the corner of the room. When another child pointed out the large gift, Gabriel ran over and began to tear off the wrapping. What could it be? It wasn’t a bicycle or any of the other items a six-year-old might want. Surprise! It was his dad, Army Specialist Casey Hurles, home on leave from the war in Iraq. Gabriel and his father had been apart for seven months, so when Casey learned his leave would coincide with his son’s birthday, he hatched a plan to offer one whale of a surprise.[1]

In a world of presents that glimmer for mere moments, Casey Hurles’ present of presence impacted his son forever. Surprises like that have a long lasting effect. Presents like that do that too. In our lesson for today, Mary was surprised at the angel Gabriel’s greeting and message. You might say that she was surprised by grace. But her surprise, even confusion, didn’t get in the way of her trust in the God who is always full of the loving surprise of grace, mercy, and peace.  In fact, the whole Christmas message is one big glorious, gracious, God-given surprise of His coming in the flesh to save the world.

Other religions talk about surprises. But the message of Christmas—Good Friday—Easter is different. The Bible isn't about Karma or we would all be “Karmalized.” The Bible isn't about religion or we would all be religiously inadequate. The Bible isn't about surprises that come from humanity’s best efforts, because even those last merely for a time.  No, the Bible's message is one, big, grace-filled surprise that God Himself promised and then delivered on in the person and work of Jesus for each one of us.

The angel says it loudly and clearly to Mary: "You will…give birth to a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great. He will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end" (Luke 1:31-33, ESV).

That first Christmas began with a huge surprise. The God who created the very heavens and the earth was concerned not just for the powerful people of the world, but for all people. Mary may have been most surprised of all that God would concern Himself with someone like her. She was surprised, but she believed. Today, don't just be surprised by that grace this Christmas; believe it for yourself and put your trust in the one born in the manger for you.

PRAYER: Dear Lord Jesus, in these weeks of preparation for Christmas, You call us to repentance, to see our need for You. May that repentance burst forth into praises that only faith in You can bring. With that, please bless us all. AMEN.

 

[1] “Boys wrapped birthday gift is dad back from Iraq,” Associated Press and YahooNews.com, 1-30-09

MonDec14

WORD FROM THE CENTER: MONDAY, DECEMBER 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 passage is from 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, where the Bible says,   

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.


A BATTLE OF WILLS!

The amazing proclamation of the Bible is that the person and work of Jesus in history stand as the concrete expression of the will of God the Father. Out of His love for us, He sent His Son into this sinful world to save it. Amazingly too, Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, submitted His will to that of the Father so that the world might be saved, even though his life would be sacrificed on a cross in our place. These amazing facts are proclaimed each year beginning in the seasons of Advent and Christmas where we hear of that one night long ago in a small nowhere town called Bethlehem where Christ is born of Mary who “gave birth to her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger” (Luke 2:7).

So, what is the enduring message of this Christmas event? Is it merely some gentle notion of a mythological, fictitious, or idealistic goodwill toward men? Or, is it rather the Good News of God enacting His will on the world, albeit a will of service, sacrifice, unconditional love and salvation? For we who believe, it is the latter. We believe that it is God’s enacted and embodied will in Jesus Christ which calls our will to unconditional repentance before Him; it is a message which claims that eternal life can be found only in our relationship with God in and through Jesus. This message, which often seems like folly to our will, is the POWER OF GOD UNTO SALVATION FOR ALL WHO BELIEVE (Romans 1:16).

“Yet not what I will, but what You will” (Mark 14:36). Those words of Jesus just before His arrest really convey the message of Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter. His mindset of service led to the message of salvation, born in the flesh in the person of Jesus, later coming to fruition in the events of His life, death and resurrection. Because of that will revealed in history once and for all, true, lasting, and eternal life became possible for a world mired in sin and death.

In fact, the message of Christmas is even more amazing if you understand the conflict that humanity has with its Creator, a real conflict of wills. The joy of Christmas gives way to the anguish of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane as Christ’s “not what I will, but what You will” life is offered to God for the forgiveness of rebellious people. It alone brings pardon to the guilty and life to those who are dead in the arrogance of their prideful, sinful will.

Today, with all the chaos of the sinful “my will” world in plain sight all around us, let the Advent season of 2020 draw you to the God who willfully sent His Son into this world for people like you and me. Let that message take root in your heart through the very Word and Sacraments of the Savior who comes into the midst of our struggles so that we might be saved

“Yet not what I will, but what You will” is a call to repentance for us, but, more so, it is a call to joy, thankfulness, and a peace that passes all understanding because, as our lesson says, “this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” When you look into the manger this Christmas, don’t see some syrupy message of the brotherhood of man or the happiness of wishful thinking. See it, instead, for what it is, God demonstrating His will for the world, for you, calling you to repentance and life in Him!

PRAYER: Dear Lord Jesus, it always seems that I’m wrestling with Your “will” for my life. Let me see clearly that Your will came to fruition in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus for me. Let that be my focus in prayer, my source of joy, and my confidence in life each day. AMEN.

MonDec07

WORD FROM THE CENTER: MONDAY, DECEMBER 07, 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 Mark 1:4, where the Bible says,   

John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.


DOES ANYONE REPENT ANYMORE?


In many Lutheran services, the congregation confesses words like these together on Sundays:

O almighty God, merciful Father, I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto Thee all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended Thee, and justly deserved Thy temporal and eternal punishment. But I am heartily sorry for them, and sincerely repent of them, and I pray Thee, of Thy boundless mercy and for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Thy beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be gracious and merciful to me, a poor, sinful being.[1]

 

This a prayer of repentance to God for His gracious forgiveness. It sounds like something that John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus, might say. Repentance, the God-induced sorrow for our sins revealed by His Law, also causes us to fall at the feet of Jesus seeking forgiveness for our sins, forgiveness only He can grant. Again, that sounds very much like something John the Baptist would plead for us to experience because he cares.

But there is a problem today with this simple, straightforward, and powerful truth. No one thinks that they sin anymore! One reason that many people don’t take comfort in God’s forgiveness is that they don’t think they actually need it. They take comfort in their sin instead, as if God is unconcerned at worst or tolerant at best with whatever one desires to do. In a Newsweek article way back in 1995, the author noted that “ninety percent of Americans say that they believe in God. Yet the urgent sense of personal sin has all but disappeared in the current upbeat style of American religion.”[2] It’s much worse today. The number of believers is reported to be continually falling, while the disregard for any notion of our actions being sinful is on the rise. Just look at what we consume for entertainment today as proof of our callousness to any notion of sin.

Nevertheless, here’s the point: John the Baptist’s message is just as relevant today as it was then. He was sent into a world that had a sin problem, a brokenness problem that sinful people could never fix on their own. The world was arrogant then just as it is today. It was full of people who believed that they had no need for God, a world full of hedonists, moralists, rationalists, secularists, and pragmatists who believed that life was under their control alone. In the face of all of that, the powerful, heart-transforming message then as today is proclaimed in Jesus’ words just a few verses after our reading, “The Kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).  Why? Because life is all about being reconciled to the God who created and redeemed us. Without such a relationship with God, life ultimately means nothing. Modern people are just as foolish as ancient people, but, thanks be to God, Jesus came for us all!

Whenever I think about John the Baptist, I think about the fact that he was a bit of an oddity to many people back in his day (see Mark 1:6). So, it shouldn’t surprise us that his message seems odd today too. But, if you want to receive Jesus, you must take John’s words seriously. Does anyone repent today? Yes, today, like then, the message is still getting through. Let it start with you and me.

PRAYER: Dear Lord Jesus, John the Baptist prepared the way for Your saving work for all. May his call to repentance be heard in my heart today, for my life and salvation are in You alone. AMEN.

 

[1] The Lutheran Hymnal (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1941), p. 15.

[2] https://www.newsweek.com/what-ever-happened-sin-185180

MonNov30

WORD FROM THE CENTER: MONDAY, NOVEMBER 30, 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 1st Corinthians 1:26-31, where St. Paul writes,  

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”


PREPARED AND READIED FOR A TIME LIKE THIS!

Those who attend churches that follow a commonly used series of Sunday readings probably heard 1st Corinthians 1:3-9 in worship yesterday. Today, I jumped ahead a bit. Why? Because the end of the First Chapter of Paul’s letter to the people living in Corinth long ago also applies specifically to today. Paul reminded those people who they were without God, who they were with God, and then what they were to do in this life until the day they would see their Creator and Redeemer face to face for all eternity. I thought that was worth jumping forward to, especially because of the uncertain times in which we live. What’s my point? When life reduces you to virtually nothing, whether physically, emotionally, and/or spiritually, and yet you have Jesus as your Lord and Savior by faith, then He is all you need for an abundant, useful, and eternal life, both now and forever. He gives you power to face whatever comes your way each and every day.

Today’s passage from 1st Corinthians also reminded me of the story of a Vietnamese man named Hien Pham. Christian evangelist Ravi Zacharias got to know him while working in Vietnam in 1971. Of Hien, Zacharias said,

One of my interpreters was Hien Pham, an energetic young Christian. He had worked as a translator with the American forces, and was of immense help both to them and to missionaries such as myself…..We did not know if our paths would ever cross again. Seventeen years later, I received a telephone call. ‘Brother Ravi?’ the man asked. Immediately I recognized Hien’s voice, and he soon told me his story.

Shortly after Vietnam fell, Hien was imprisoned on accusations of helping the Americans. His jailers tried to indoctrinate him against democratic ideals and the Christian faith. He was restricted to communist propaganda in French or Vietnamese, and the daily deluge of Marx and Engels began to take its toll. ‘Maybe,’ he thought, ‘I have been lied to. Maybe God does not exist. Maybe the West has deceived me.’ So Hien determined that when he awakened the next day, he would not pray anymore or think of his faith.

The next morning, he was assigned the dreaded chore of cleaning the prison latrines. As he cleaned out a tin can overflowing with toilet paper, his eye caught what seemed to be English printed on one piece of paper. He hurriedly grabbed it, washed it, and after his roommates had retired that night, he retrieved the paper and read the words, ‘Romans, Chapter 8.’ Trembling, he began to read, ‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him. . . for I am convinced that NOTHING shall be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ Hien wept. He knew His Bible, and knew that there was not a more relevant passage for one on the verge of surrender. He cried out to God, asking forgiveness, for this was to have been the first day that he would not pray. . . . After finding the Scripture, Hien asked the commander if he could clean the latrines regularly, because he discovered that some official was using a Bible as toilet paper. Each day Hien picked up a portion of Scripture, cleaned it off, and added it to his collection of nightly reading. . . . What his tormentors were using for refuse — the Scriptures — could not be more treasured to Hien.[1]

Lutherans are constantly stressing Paul’s words from Romans 1:16 which declare that the Gospel “is the power of God for salvation.” So we are bold about speaking God’s Law and God’s Gospel. When you are reduced to having only that Gospel message in your life, you more fully understand what a precious jewel it really is. Hien Pham was finally released from prison and fled to Thailand. Today he is a businessperson in the USA, but, more importantly, a Christian whose only boast in life is Christ. God prepared him to be a living testimony to the transforming power of God’s Word. That’s what He does for you too as you put your faith in Christ alone so that you can then love others as God in Christ loves you.

PRAYER – Dear Lord Jesus, let our bold boasting in You alone prepare us to be useful in Your hands, especially for times such as these. AMEN.

 

[1] https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermon-illustrations/11926/ravi-zacharias-tells-the-amazing-story-of-a-by-rodney-buchanan

MonNov16

WORD FROM THE CENTER: MONDAY, NOVEMBER 16, 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 1st Thessalonians 5:2-11 where St. Paul writes,

For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.


PREPARATION FOR THE FINAL ELECTION

Morale soared that day. It was a day of failure, but it was a day when those who were rotting in one of the worst prisons in Vietnam suddenly realized that they had not been forgotten. They were indeed on the hearts and minds of those in power and their “band of brothers” in arms were dedicated to come and get them. The mission was called “Operation Ivory Coast,” and it was launched on November 21, 1970.

It was one of the most dangerous—and revered—missions of the Vietnam War, attempting to rescue 65 American POWs held at North Vietnam’s notorious SonTay prison. A 116 plane air unit, composed of fighters, gunships and helicopters, flew hundreds of miles over mountainous territory at treetop level to the prison camp—just 23 miles from Hanoi, then one of the most heavily defended areas in North Vietnam. As the assault force attacked the camp during a hard fought battle—killing more than 100 North Vietnamese guards in the process—the raiders discovered that the prisoners had been moved, and they were forced to return empty-handed. Yet when the POWS learned of the attempt, morale soared. According to one report, the POWs no longer felt abandoned or forgotten.[1]

It must have been virtually impossible to maintain hope in places like Son Tay or the “Hanoi Hilton” prison camp. The prisoners were underfed, they were brutalized, and the propaganda told them they had been abandoned. It’s amazing the kind of hope that was instilled on the day of the raid, and for days thereafter, just because people had tried to rescue them. The Apostle Paul reminds us today, especially if we are struggling with what’s happening in our lives or what’s going on here in this world, to take a lesson from the engendered hopefulness of those prisoners from Son Tay. While they were not rescued (they had been moved two miles away because of Son Tay’s flooding due to torrential rain earlier that week), they knew that their “brothers in arms” would come again.  Later, they named the camp to which they were moved “Camp Faith” because they knew those Green Berets would not leave them behind.

If we are tempted to believe that God has somehow abandoned us, we need to remember that our hopefulness is built on something much more solid than the bravest efforts of even our best “special forces.” As the hymn writer Edward Mote put it, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” Our hope is built on the efforts of a Savior who journeyed into the abyss of hell itself so that we might be rescued from eternal death and granted eternal life.

Elections do have consequences and we are living amidst those consequences at this moment. But we need to be reminded that whatever we face in this world, the ultimate “election” has already taken place. Those who put their faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ have hope that is rooted not just in the rescue attempts of fellow warriors, but in the assured victory of our eternal rescue by the cross and resurrection of our Savior. In today’s reading, Paul reminds the believers of Thessalonica, as he reminds all those in Christ, that God has destined us “to obtain salvation.” And even though Jesus’ return will come upon us like a “thief in the night,” it will be a day of great joy for those who are energetically waiting for His return. Comfort each other with these words!

PRAYER – Dear Lord Jesus, we sometimes get caught up in the so-called realities of this world and act as if they matter most, as if they will last. Give us, instead, hopeful hearts in Your sure return, as well as active hands for the work to be done in Your name while we wait. AMEN.

 

[1] https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermon-illustrations/100782/nobody-left-behind-by-roy-fowler

MonNov09

WORD FROM THE CENTER: MONDAY, NOVEMBER 09, 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 1st Thessalonians 4:13-18 where St. Paul writes,

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.


THE ONLY VOTE THAT COUNTS FOREVER

It’s finally over. (Actually, nothing ever seems to be over lately, does it?) The votes are in and our new leaders will soon be in place. Many are glad that the constant politicking is behind us, but they now wonder what comes next. There are some people with great hope today and there are others who feel despair. I’ve been through a few presidential cycles in my life. Each one seems to bring hope to some and gloom to others. Our text for today goes further. It deals with a problem that is too big for even our best policies and more hopeless than merely losing an election or two. It deals with the reality and the apparent finality of death. It deals with the truth that no matter what our plans and preparations, we all face that one enemy that we cannot overcome. The Christians in Thessalonica trusted in God for their eternal life, but they were struggling with the seemingly hopeless reality that many people of faith were now dead and in the grave. Does God forget about them like so many duplicitous leaders in our sinful world do? In private moments of struggle, their thoughts (like ours) might have been like those of a father who came to Jesus and confessed, “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). Even though the Thessalonians many not have pinned their hopes on some transient political program or leader, they still struggled with the realities of sin and judgment this side of heaven.

That’s why they and we need to be reminded of the only “vote” that counts forever. When Jesus died and rose again, God the Father stamped His approval on the work of Jesus which grants eternal life to all who believe in His gift of grace. Our sins were punished when Jesus took our place on the cross. His resurrection freely grants God’s gift of new life to all through faith alone. God’s decision to love all those in Christ was the one that counts forever. That “vote” is certain for all who trust in His promise no matter what their circumstances might be this side of heaven. Even those who have fallen asleep in Him will be raised from temporal death to eternal life when Christ comes again to judge the living and the dead. Count on it! That’s a hope that endures because it is based on the person and the work of Jesus Christ in your stead. That is a peace that passes all understanding because it is rooted in God’s power to bring all things to fulfillment for those who put their trust in Him. And, unlike so many politicians and pundits, God always keeps His promises.

Over the years, I’ve struggled to see the good in certain policies of our leaders, especially those that defied the clear moral teachings of the Bible. I’ve also been disappointed when newly elected leaders who had said the right things on the campaign trail then did the opposite when it really mattered. Saint Paul reminded those believers in Thessalonica that God, unlike us, doesn’t waver. He makes His promises; He fulfills His promises. And because He fulfilled His promise to send our Savior Jesus Christ, our future is secure in Him. In the aftermath of the 2020 election, take enduring comfort in the fact that God’s vote of “Yes” for you because of Christ is the only vote that lasts (see 2 Corinthians 1:20). In the end, it’s the only vote that really matters too.

PRAYER – Dear Lord Jesus, teach us to be useful instruments in Your hands so that we might be a blessing to the culture in which we live. But never let us forget the ultimate mission of our time on this earth. It is the work of offering all people the message of eternal life that comes by grace through faith in You alone. May we also comfort each other with those words. To those ends, bless us. AMEN.

MonNov02

WORD FROM THE CENTER: MONDAY, NOVEMBER 02, 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 Revelation 7:9-10 where the Apostle John tells us,

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!”


THE REAL PICTURE…GET THE PICTURE?

Can you picture who is going to win the election this year? There is a lot at stake. We’ve been talking about it for the last three to four months, trying to prepare God’s people for the results no matter who wins. And that’s the devotional point to be made today. Everyone is trying to envision what things will look like on November 4th.  What if “our person” wins? What if he or she loses? I imagine that one will not be rosier than reality, and the other might not be as bleak as projected. On the other hand, maybe things will in fact be greater than one could imagine, or more dire than predicted. We’ll see.

The problem with our prognostications is that they often forget that God has already painted a picture that envisions a future beyond our expectations and imaginations. It’s greater than the best “e pluribus unum” that any nation could devise. In fact, it unifies people of all nations, ethnicities, and languages in a way no law or policy ever could. You see, what God wants you to envision is your future with Him by faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ on your behalf.

In the Bible there are two major events that depict the unity of humanity. One is the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. The people of that time were unifying around a compelling idea. They were a people of one language with one project and one purpose, ultimately seeking to do something magnificent, but their way with sinful pride. They even dedicated their work to making a name for themselves (Genesis 11:4). They sought to live life on their terms rather than to worship the Lord who gave them life, to live their lives to glorify Him, and to serve others in His Name. Their rebellion was unifying, but it was a toxic togetherness. The text says that God himself smashed their unity for their own good (Genesis 11:7-8). Wow! We need to understand that sinful human beings can unify around the wrong things. And that unity can drive us away from God. Yes, it can drive us to momentary human heights, but they will eventually come crashing down under the weight of our sin and God’s judgment. That is a chaotic and catastrophic picture.

Then there’s another picture painted for us in Acts 2. It’s a unity that holds. It’s a unity enjoyed partially now, but it will come to fruition in the picture of our text from Revelation 7. In Acts 2:5-11, Peter speaks about the “mighty works of God” and people from nations around the world hear these words in their own language. Unlike the Tower of Babel, God creates a unifying message centered in His gracious work for all people in the person of Jesus. Christ’s cross and resurrection are the center of a diversity that holds. God’s work through the Good News of His Gospel received through His gifts of the Word and Sacraments binds us first to Him by grace through faith, and then it also holds us together with the bonds of His love to us and through us to one another. What a wonderful picture!

So, that’s the point today. Even if all the “right” people win tomorrow, there’s no human policy or provision in this world that can ultimately hold us together. Give thanks, then, if this election simply maintains our earthly freedoms and returns our culture to civility. But never think that our earthly elections can do what only the love of God in Jesus Christ can do. When all is said and done, Revelation 7 is the real picture that holds us together. Acts 2 explains the means to that glorious end as it calls us to repent of our sin and put our faith in Jesus alone (see Acts 2:38-39). So even if the whole world were to unite around a common human goal or purpose, it wouldn’t ultimately  matter. And it wouldn’t last if it failed to see Jesus as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).  Whatever happens this election, don’t forget the big picture of Revelation 7 for that’s the real and enduring future for those in Christ. Get the picture?

PRAYER – Dear Lord Jesus, we pray for wisdom this election. We pray that through all of the political blather, we would have the wisdom to protect the free proclamation of the truths of the Bible for life and salvation for all. No matter what happens, may we be faithful to Your calling and eager to be gathered around Your throne when that time comes. AMEN.

MonOct26

WORD FROM THE CENTER: MONDAY, OCTOBER 26, 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 John 8:34-36,

 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.


THE FREEING GIFT OF A LIFETIME!

In 1973 Gary Kildall wrote the first popular operating system for personal computers, named CP/M. According to writer Philip Fiorini, IBM approached Kildall in 1980 and asked him to develop the operating system for IBM PCs. But Kildall snubbed IBM officials at a crucial meeting, according to another author, Paul Carroll. The day IBM came calling, he chose to fly his new airplane instead. The frustrated IBM executives then turned to Bill Gates, the founder of a small company named Microsoft, and his operating system named MS-DOS. Fourteen years later Bill Gates was worth more than eight billion dollars. Of Kildal, Paul Carroll also said, “He was a smart guy who didn’t realize how big the operating system would become.”[1]

It’s hard to imagine bypassing such a great opportunity. Kildall missed out on the chance of a lifetime, didn’t he? In our text for today, Jesus is offering something much more valuable than an operating system. He’s offering you a purposeful, eternal life that’s more precious than all the gold in the world. No one could have imagined how big and all-encompassing Microsoft would become. Even now, for those who believe in Jesus and His offer of freedom, we can’t fully comprehend how incredible and expansive that freedom is as well! We can only try to visualize the fullness of the kingdom of God and what it will be like when Christ returns in His glory. Jesus says of Himself, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Lord, then set me free!

This is Reformation weekend for many in the Christian church. It’s a time when we remember the work of Martin Luther who reformed the church by reminding believers of this great freedom in Christ. The clear teaching of the Gospel is that Jesus Christ came into this world to save us all, to forgive our sins, and to offer us new life in Him by grace and through faith alone. In a country that values temporal freedoms, make sure that you don’t miss the eternal freedom that God wants for you now and forever.

I think about Gary Kildall, how losing focus—flying his new plane rather than making the most of his opportunity— prevented him from receiving the break of a lifetime. Jesus states things even more clearly for us today. He clearly reminds us of our sinful predicament. But more importantly, He then offers us a freedom that only He can provide. Don’t let anything in this world tempt you away from receiving what Jesus wants for you. Take a moment, then, this weekend and thank God for the temporal liberties that you have, especially as an election day draws near. But never forget the ETERNAL FREEDOM that is the foundation of them all, the one that comes from the Son. Don’t miss out on the freeing gift of a lifetime and of all eternity.

PRAYER – Dear Lord Jesus, what freedom You have for us to receive and to share. Continue to give us faith to receive it with joy and then to share it boldly with those whom You bring into our lives. AMEN.

 

[1] Craig Brian Larson. ed. Contemporary Illustrations For Preachers, Teachers & Writers. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996 p. 197

MonOct19

WORD FROM THE CENTER: MONDAY, OCTOBER 19, 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 22:18-21, where the Bible says,

But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”


GOOD NEWS AND GREAT NEWS!

I’ve got good news and I’ve got very good news. Ready? All the struggles of the moment, like COVID 19, civil unrest, and anxiety about the future, cannot ultimately overwhelm believers. Why? It’s not because of who we are, that’s for sure. We’ve got the same fears, anxieties, and challenges as other people. Thankfully, it has to do with who God is. The Bible proclaims that God is at work right now to preserve the world (Romans 13:1-7). And, even better, God is at work saving the world through the proclamation of the Gospel (Matthew 24:14; John 3:16). Jesus said a very interesting thing in today’s reading, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”  A few days later as Jesus heads toward the cross, Pontus Pilate, the governor of Judea, claimed that he had authority over Jesus himself. Jesus responded, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above”(John 19:11). Wow! God is at work. He saves the world through the person and work of Jesus. THAT’S THE MAIN MESSAGE OF THE BIBLE.

Whether it’s amidst Roman rule, Greek city states, Egyptian pharoahs, or our constitutional republic, God is at work both to preserve and to save. Since the main message of the Bible is about saving the world through the unique person and work of Jesus Christ for all, God preserves the world so that all might hear it for themselves. God attempts to keep the world civil, humane, just, and safe (outwardly), even through people like Caesar and Pilate. You see, God is at work in the world in two distinct ways. First, he desires to keep things civil, humane, and just through His created orders of family, work, and government. As I like to put it, God works through fathers, mothers, businesspeople, and leaders, broken and sinful though they are. God still works through them to prevent chaos and all hell from breaking loose. That’s called God’s Left Hand Kingdom rule, His engagement to preserve order. That’s good news. But that’s not the great news of God’s Right Hand Kingdom work which freely grants salvation by grace through faith in the person and work of Jesus. Yet the Left Hand Kingdom work of God, through even relatively moral unbelievers, is also part of His work of blessing.

When Christians engage in the public realm, though it is full of philosophies, ideologies, and appetites emanating from sinful, broken people just like us, we know that there is good work to do to keep things sane, humane, just, and safe. But that work is part of God’s greater work to get the ultimate message of Christ out there for all to hear. Yes, keep it orderly and safe, so the Church can speak. Keep it just, so chaos is kept at bay. Give us rules to live by, so there can be opportunities to share a message of grace over the fences of neighbors living side by side in peace. God’s two distinct ways in His “Two Kingdoms” involve two specific types of engagement, YET HIS ONE MISSION REMAINS TO ULTIMATELY BLESS THE WORLD NOW AND FOREVER IN AND THROUGH JESUS CHRIST.

PRAYER – Dear Lord Jesus, give us the commitment and will to be Your voice of the Law and the Gospel so that we might be a part of the solutions You have for our communities, as well as the voice of grace for hearts aware of their need for Your forgiveness. AMEN.

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