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.
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.”
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.
 Craig Brian Larson. ed. Contemporary Illustrations For Preachers, Teachers & Writers. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996 p. 197
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.
WORD FROM THE CENTER: MONDAY, OCTOBER 12, 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 Philippians 4:4-7, where St. Paul writes,
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
THE JOY-FILLED, JOYFUL JOURNEY!
Catherine Marshall, a New York times best-selling author and wife of Dr. Peter Marshall, former Chaplain of the Senate, shared this compelling experience of her friend Marge on a flight to Cleveland:
As [Marge] settled into her seat, she noticed a strange phenomenon. On one side of the airplane a sunset suffused the entire sky with glorious color. But out of the window next to her seat, all Marge could see was a sky dark and threatening, with no sign of the sunset.
As the plane’s engines began to roar, a gentle Voice spoke within her. “You have noticed the windows,” He murmured beneath the roar and thrust of the takeoff. “Your life, too, will contain some happy, beautiful times, but also some dark shadows. Here’s a lesson I want to teach you to save you much heartache and allow you to abide in Me with continual peace and joy.”
“You see, it doesn’t matter which window you look through; this plane is still going to Cleveland. So it is in your life. You have a choice. You can dwell on the gloomy picture. Or you can focus on the bright things and leave the dark, ominous situations to Me. I alone can handle them anyway. And the final destination is not influenced by what you see or feel along the way. Learn this, act on it and you will be released, able to experience the peace that passes understanding."
Now it is hard for me, as a Detroit boy, to use a story that compares a “plane flight to Cleveland” with one’s joy-filled journey to heaven! But the illustration about the “certainty of one’s destination” makes the point clear. In spite of the realities of each window, that plane’s destination was sure. What a great way to illustrate the graced life of a believer in a sinful world, calling us to remember that no matter the challenges in this world (the windows) our eternal destination with Christ is sure. The daily challenge then is how to frame your daily walk until you see Christ face to face. Will you dwell on the sunsets or the storms? Will you trust in the certainty of the destination or will you be overwhelmed by the challenges of each day? I think that’s what Paul is getting at when he says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice.”
Now, we need to differentiate “joy” from “happiness.” Happiness is something dependent on our temporal circumstances, what happens to us day to day. Joy is different. It’s not a by-product of our actions or of our best efforts. The Bible says that joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Joy is a result of God’s action on our behalf, a blessing that comes when we are in a faith relationship with the One who redeemed and reconciled us to Himself again. That’s why Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord.” It is about knowing Him. It’s knowing that He is with us and that His promises are true for us, no matter the circumstance. It’s about knowing and believing that the guilt we struggle with or the fears we possess are issues that He has taken “head on” on the cross. Our troubles are His; His life is ours. That’s JOY!
So today, put His joy to work in your life! Face the challenges of the day knowing the joy of how precious your life is to Christ. Because of the gift of joy in Him, we can face the challenges of the day. Because of joy in Him, we can deal with whatever is outside each window, whether gloomy clouds or sunshine, and not be overwhelmed or seduced by either. In joy, we can be assured that “God works all things together for good to those who love Him” (Romans 8:28). Here’s to the challenges and the opportunities of your life of faith in Christ. Here’s to JOY!
PRAYER – Dear Lord Jesus, give us courage to be an honoring people in a dishonoring world. Also give us humility to be a believing people in an unbelieving world so that others might get to know You as Lord and Savior. AMEN.
WORD FROM THE CENTER: MONDAY, OCTOBER 05, 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 Philippians 3:12-14, where St. Paul writes this about himself:
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
THE POWER OF PERSEVERING FAITH!
Each Monday and Friday, we continue to send you our LCRL’s “Word from the Center.” On Monday, it is a devotional, encouraging word from the Bible. On Friday, it’s more like a “Two-Kingdom” Op-ed piece which comments on an issue of the day; it demonstrates how to apply Jesus’ call to “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” in our own day and culture (Matthew 22:21). In so doing, we put our temporal liberties to work in service to the eternal liberties of Christ. But why should we send you both? Why Monday AND Friday? Why not just the Two-Kingdom opinion page or more news from Washington, D.C.? Why a devotion too? With all that has happened this last year, that might be self-explanatory! But let me share with you “why” nonetheless.
Each week, the LCRL engages the fundamental cultural/political issues in our country as an advocate of our church. We need to be well versed in knowing God’s preserving work in our communities, our country, and even the world. But that work is ultimately for the sake of the clear, continued, public teaching of the Good News of Jesus for all. In other words, it is in service to His saving work. Above all the noise, we share with you the ministry of being Christ’s encouraging presence amidst a world full of sin, destruction, and death. You see, the ultimate encouragement, “the peace of God that passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7), doesn’t come from our efforts, our works, or our policies. Instead it comes through the person and work of Jesus Christ alone, delivered through His means of grace which come to us in His Word, the Bible. That’s why we at the LCRL start each week with a Monday Devotional, a saving and encouraging Word. Then we share wisdom based upon God’s preserving Word on Friday. It’s a both/and thing!
St. Paul reminds us today that the ultimate goal of life remains the heavenward prize of eternal life that comes by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. This side of heaven, that goal is often challenged, undermined, silenced, and even persecuted. In the midst of all that, Paul makes sure that we know the life-persevering gifts of our Savior and the persevering nature of faith in Him. Faith in Jesus means that we can trust that the struggles of the moment are nothing compared to blessings that are yet to come. So, today, be encouraged by the fact that the power of that faith does not reside in how much or how strong we believe. No, the power of faith is its object! And when the object of faith is the crucified and resurrected Lord Jesus, the One who has prepared a place for everyone who puts their faith IN HIM (see John 14:2), we can face whatever comes our way with the persevering strength and wisdom that faith in Jesus provides.
So, BE ENCOURAGED today with faith in the One who created and redeemed the universe, who sacrificed all so that you and I could live forever with Him. BE ENCOURAGED today because even though things may not look like “all is well,” God himself is at work in the world in two distinct ways to preserve and ultimately to save. And, finally, BE FURTHER ENCOURAGED by the very Words of the One who lived, died, and rose again for you. Often in places like Washington, D.C., one realizes pretty quickly how few people keep their word or offer an encouraging message that endures. That’s why we start you off every Monday with an encouraging word from the Bible that empowers each of us to persevere through the week, even as it instills hope that lasts. Bank on it and look for it every Monday, right here!
PRAYER – Dear Lord Jesus, give us courage to be a faithful people in a faithless world. Let us be an honoring people in a world that very seldom honors anyone but self. Give us humility to be a believing people in an unbelieving world so that others might get to know You as Lord and Savior. 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 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.
WORD FROM THE CENTER: MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 21, 2020
Welcome to “Word from The Center” MONDAY, a devotional word from the Center of our faith, Jesus Christ, with reflections on His Word. I’m Gregory Seltz. Today’s passage is from the Prophet Isaiah, chapter 55, verses 6-7, where he says,
Seek the LORD while He may be found, call upon him while He is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that He may have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.
THE OFFER OF GOD’S COMPASSION AND PARDON!
People today are running around demanding apologies and retribution. It’s a very difficult time in our country because many don’t truly believe in “right and wrong” anymore, yet they are still certain that their accusations against others are just. Even worse, most really have no idea as to what should be done to change things for the better. Sinful people have a bad habit of pointing fingers at others and demanding that they change, as if those accusations somehow get them “off the hook.” Our text for today doesn’t let anyone get away with such things. The main question is, “What does God think about our lives, according to His standards?” And, when we fail to meet those standards, the next question becomes, “Is there any hope?” Isaiah calls us all to account before the LORD in thought, word, and deed, but also then invites us to return to God in repentance and faith. Real blessings only happen there.
I was reminded about how destructive it can be when those questions are ignored. When I was in Germany several years ago, a young woman (not much more than 21) led us through the Dachau death camp. It was a sobering experience. It’s hard to imagine how human beings could do such things. Many Germans have had to struggle with that fact too. How could such things have happened during World War II in a country that was so “progressive” intellectually and culturally? How indeed! But, sadly, I learned that, instead of individually asking question about why so many Germans had fallen away from God, they preferred to find scapegoats, blaming citizens of places like Dachau by projecting all that “sin” on them. This young woman was one of those scapegoats. She wasn’t even born when the atrocities happened, yet many Germans had “tarred and feathered” her merely because she was born in Dachau. They imagined, “It was those Dachau people, you see, not the rest of us.” As a result, young girls like her were forced to live in shame so that others could feel satisfied to go about their merry way. The problem? The main questions were still unanswered.
We, as Americans, are dealing with many issues today and the real problem is that we don’t see how far we’ve fallen away from the things of God and the moral truths of the Bible. Many think that politics can “save” us. But politics won’t ultimately help a people who feel no need to get right with God on His terms. Like Isaiah, Jesus reminds us of that urgency when He declares that whoever is angry with his brother is subject to judgement as a murderer (Matthew 5:21-22). He also says, “Whoever looks lustfully at a woman has committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Jesus finally concludes that, in order to meet God’s standard, you must “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Then, when you begin to feel the real weight of your own sin before God, Isaiah urges us to “seek the LORD while He may be found.” Don’t give into the temptation to falsely cast your guilt on others. Don’t give in to the temptation to shift blame to your parents, your teachers, or “the system.” Sin, your sin, is so much more serious than all of that.
But when that crushing reality hits, it’s time to realize that God has a message for sinners like you and me. There is one who took away the crushing blow of your sin and mine as only He could. While it’s wrong to try to cast your guilt upon other sinners, Jesus, your Savior, invites you to bring all of your sin to His cross. Isaiah tells us to seek the LORD. Jesus calls us to put our faith in Him (John 14:1).
I don’t know if we’re going to come out of this malaise today because I don’t yet see “a turning to God” movement. Most people aren’t asking, “What does the Bible say about these things?” or, “What does God think about our lives, about my life?” Instead, people feel confident about condemning the sins and faults of others, while remaining oblivious to their own. In the midst of this, take Isaiah’s prophetic advice for today, “Return to the LORD,” and be honest before Him “for He will abundantly pardon.” Then, in response, live lives of grace and truth toward others. That’s not just a start; that’s the only thing that will last.
PRAYER – Dear Lord Jesus, give us confidence to trust in your “exposing” word, as well as your “saving” word. Then give us courage to live lives graciously in Your name for others. AMEN.
WORD FROM THE CENTER: MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 14, 2020
Welcome to “Word from The Center” MONDAY, a devotional word from the Center of our faith, Jesus Christ, with reflections on His Word. I’m Gregory Seltz. Today’s verses are Matthew 18:21-22 which says,
21 Then Peter came up and said to [Jesus], “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.
THE POWER OF GOD’S FORGIVENESS IN ACTION!
C.S. Lewis said, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until there is something (and I would add, someone) to forgive.” Actually, forgiveness doesn’t even seem to be a “lovely idea” anymore. Resentment, revenge, retribution, and “gettin’ mine” seem to be the prevalent ideas of the day. Forgiveness? Who needs it? Maybe that’s the real issue. I really believe that at the root of many of our modern maladies lies the false bravado that 21st century people don’t need forgiveness anymore. And, as a result, they don’t much care to share it either. It may well be out of vogue because nobody seems to believe in sin either. Well, our text for today sets us straight, and makes a bold offer anew.
Let’s start with Peter. He was a person much like you and me. He wanted in on the things of Jesus, but he wanted such things on his terms. Now, better than many of us, Peter at least seems to take his sin seriously. When he came to Jesus, he asked, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” From a human point of view, Peter takes sin and forgiveness very seriously, and he is willing to go the extra mile to share it. I mean, who would forgive someone seven times? If they wronged you once, forgiveness almost makes sense; after all, it’s better not to wallow in resentment and pain. If they wrong you two times, forgiveness demonstrates your willingness to go the extra mile. If they wrong you three times and you forgive, you demonstrate that you are a person of virtue, one whose heart is greater than your emotions. Peter was willing to go to the absolute limit of seven times! That’s pretty good stuff compared to most people. But if you forgive again and again and again, isn’t that a sign of weakness?
After his reply to Peter, Jesus tells a story about two men (see Matthew 18:23-35). One owed a tremendous debt to a king. In modern terms, let’s say it was ten million dollars and he had no way to repay it. He begs for mercy from the king and the king FORGAVE his entire debt and set him free. How would you feel if you had a $10,000,000 debt forgiven? Then what would you do with a person who owed you $100? Jesus said that this man left the king and met a person who owed him a much smaller debt; this amount of money could have been paid back or, better, “forgiven” as he had just been forgiven. But in the story the forgiven man had the other man thrown into debtors’ prison until the debt was repaid. That angered the king who harshly judged the unmerciful, thankless person in the end.
What is the point? Your sins and mine are a huge problem in our relationship with God and with each another. Our crushing debt comes from our sins of pride, lust, sloth, vanity, selfishness, anger, and so on. These drive us away from the God who loves us and apart from each other. Through His parable, Jesus tries to set Peter straight about how forgiven he really is. In response, Jesus calls for Peter to put that forgiveness to work in and through His life for others. Forgiveness received as a gift remains alive in us as we share that gift with others in Christ’s name. But forgiveness hoarded or denied to others, contrary to the way in which God makes it available to us, eventually causes it to die in our lives as well (see Matthew 6:14-15). Jesus doesn’t want Peter to miss out on what only He can give, forgiveness for the crushing debt of his sin because of Jesus’ merciful life, death, and resurrection for all.
If Jesus won’t limit His forgiveness toward you to seven times, then don’t let anything get in the way of sharing it with those who ask for it from you. If you are having trouble forgiving someone at the moment, reflect on how completely forgiven you are in Christ. Then try to speak your own forgiving words to them with gentleness and humility. Trust in the power of Jesus’ forgiveness to you to flow through you to others. There’s nothing else like it in this world!
PRAYER – Dear Lord Jesus, please help me to see how You sustain my relationship with You. Let me see the depth of your mercy and grace to me. Let me see the wisdom of your word to me. Then guide me in my relationships with others to be the best friend, spouse, parent or whatever I can be as a reflection of the love and grace I’ve received from You. AMEN.
 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book III, Chapter 7.
WORD FROM THE CENTER: MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 7, 2020
Welcome to “Word from The Center” MONDAY, a devotional word from the Center of our faith, Jesus Christ, with reflections on His Word. I’m Gregory Seltz. Today’s verse is Matthew 18:20, where Jesus says,
20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
THE POWER OF GATHERING!
Who would have ever thought that gathering in the name of Jesus would be such a political statement with cultural and even legal ramifications? Who would have thought that the mayor of Chicago would send police to harass worshippers who were gathering amidst the COVID-19 crisis, while ongoing gang violence permeates their neighborhood? Who would have thought that Lutheran and Roman Catholic leaders would have to write their governor and demand that their congregations be treated as “essential” businesses in the community, you know, just like liquor stores, malls, and casinos? Who would have ever imagined that church leaders in California would be threatened with arrest and jail just for gathering God’s people together in worship? And, remember, in most of these instances religious leaders were faithful to the “scientific” calls for social distancing, proper hygiene, and mask wearing. Why would the church risk enduring the coercive punishment of the state in order to gather for worship? Because there is power in gathering together in the name of Jesus!
Now, I might remind you that there are nefarious reasons for many of the shutdowns around the country. Why would these government leaders target the church so vociferously when protests and even riots are treated with relative indifference? But let’s not go there right now. Instead, I want to point out that gathering together in worship is way bigger than politics. As believers in Jesus, we earnestly desire to meet in person for a much different reason. There is power in gathering together around the Word and Sacraments because they are the very “in-fleshed” gifts of God to create and sustain our faith.
God created us to be a gathering people. He wants us to gather with family, friends, and others whom we love. He especially wants those relationships to be centered upon and resourced by His love and His Word. Yes, contact matters, hugs matter, handshakes matter, pats on the back matter, and kneeling with each other matters. Even more so, receiving the Word of God in our ears through the reading of Scripture, as well as in our mouths in Holy Communion or splashed over our heads or all over our bodies in Baptism, matters.
If this pandemic has taught me anything, it has taught me that isolation is not healthy for people. We were made to be together, to gather together, and to live life “face to face.” The social scientists and the psychologists agree (and my wife, Dr. Marie Seltz, concurs!). The isolation which we are being compelled to experience at the moment has real downsides. While there are some blessings to social distancing, there are increased risks too. Social isolation is leading to a rise in mental health issues, substance abuse, and even domestic violence. As the Bible says even of Adam in the paradise of Eden, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18).
Furthermore, the power of our gathering is much more than merely being together again (as wonderful as that is/will be). The power of our gathering resides in the fact that the Lord chooses to dwell with us. He chooses to be “really present” in the Law/Gospel words of the Bible, in the waters of Baptism, and in the bread and the wine of our Lord’s Supper so that you can hear, touch, taste and see how good the Lord is for you and me by grace through faith. The Jesus we worship never lets anything get in the way of His coming all the way to where we are to love us. For example, He willingly made His way to lepers, touching them with His love when no one else would even draw near. He made up His mind as to how He would exercise His freedom to love others into His Kingdom.
Listen, I’m not casting a shadow on those who are still struggling with the risks of COVID-19, preferring to continue to “gather” online. My point is to remind us that when we do gather, it is not merely to make a political, medical, or even cultural point. We gather because the Lord gathers us. He is truly present, calling us to Himself in order to bless us with His Word and the love shared by those in the Body of Christ, His church. And there is nothing quite like receiving that “bear hug” of grace from the Lord who lived, died, and rose against so that you might live forever with Him!
PRAYER – Dear Lord Jesus, protect us from the present pandemic, and protect us as we gather again around your Word and Sacraments that we might receive and share the love that only You can give. AMEN.
WORD FROM THE CENTER: MONDAY, AUGUST 31, 2020
Welcome to “Word from The Center” MONDAY, a devotional word from the Center of our faith, Jesus Christ, with reflections on His Word. I’m Gregory Seltz. Today’s verses are Matthew 16:24-27, where Jesus says,
24 “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.”