Advent Preparation

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”  1 Peter 2:9

Nathan Ward candle

Photo by Nathan Ward

Advent.  A time to reflect on our need for a Savior.  Do we need saving?  Indeed!  Johann Gerhard, a Lutheran theologian, wrote a collection of Meditations on Divine Mercy.   His writings are helping me this Advent season to dwell on God’s mercy towards all mankind which culminated in the birth, death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ.

Pray with me Gerhard’s  prayer– “Thanksgiving for Conversion”

“O gracious God, I give thanks to You that You converted my hardened heart, which did not know how to repent, and that You removed my heart of stone and gave me a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26).  I had the power to fall into sin and guilt.  I did not have the power to rise to repentance.  By my own power, I was able to go astray.  I was able to return to the right path ONLY by Your power.  Just as one who is born crippled cannot be restored with natural remedies but only by divine power, so my soul was born spiritually curved toward sin and earthly things.  No human power could correct it.  Only Your grace was able to restore my soul so it loved You and desired Your heavenly blessings.  I had the power to deform myself by various sins.  You alone were able to reform me.  Just as an Ethiopian cannot change his skin or the leopard his spots (Jeremiah 13:23), so I was not able to do good because I was fully devoted to doing evil.

“You, my God, converted me, and I am converted (Jeremiah 31:18)  After I was converted by You, I repented.  After I came to understand, I struck my breast (Jeremiah 31:19).  I was dead in sin, and You made me alive.  I was able to contribute as much to my conversion as a dead person is able to contribute to his resurrection (John 6:44;  John 11:43).  If You had not drawn me, I would never have come to You.  If you had not awakened me, I would never have watched for You.  If you had not enlightened me, I would never have seen You.  Sins were sweeter to me than honey and honeycomb.  That they are now pungent and bitter, I owe to You, the one who gave me my spiritual taste.  Virtuous works were more bitter to me than gall and aloe.  That they are now pleasing and delightful, I owe only to You, the one who changed my corrupt fleshly judgment by the Spirit.  I went astray as a sheep that was lost (Isaiah 53:6);  I turned to the way of iniquity.  But You, Good Shepherd, sought me and led me back to the flock of the saints.

“Only recently have I recognized You, the true light, because there were great, dark clouds before my vain eyes that prevented me from seeing the light of truth.  Recently, I have recognized You, the true light, because I was blind and loved blindness and walked through the darkness of sin toward the darkness of hell.  But You, my illuminator, sought the one who was not seeking You.  You called the one who was not calling to You.  You converted the one who was not converted to You.  With a voice full of power, You said, “Let there be light in the inner parts of this heart,” and there was light.  I saw Your light and recognized my blindness.  For this immeasurable kindness, I will praise Your name forever.   AMEN.

from Meditations on Divine Mercy:  A Classic Treasury of Devotional Prayers by Johann Gerhard.  Translated by Matthew C. Harrison.  CPH  pp. 75-76.

 

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Grace Life

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins,

in which you formerly walked according

to the course of this world,

according to the prince of the power of the air,

of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.

Among them we too all formerly live

in the lusts of our flesh,

indulging the desires of our flesh and of the mind,

and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.

But God, being rich in mercy,

because of His great love with which He loved us,

even when we were dead in our transgressions,

made us alive together with Christ

(by grace you have been saved),

and raised up with Him,

and seated with Him

in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,

so that in the ages to come

He might show the surpassing riches

of His grace in kindness

toward us in Christ Jesus.

For by grace you have been saved through faith;

and that not of yourselves,

it is the gift of God.”

Ephesians 2: 1-8

Lord God, thank you for making us alive through Christ Jesus our Lord!  Amen.

June 27 Saturday Praise

Photos by Laura Jostes

Photos by Laura Jostes

“Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;

his greatness no one can fathom.

The Lord is gracious and compassionate,

slow to anger and rich in love.

The Lord is good to all;

he has compassion on all he has made.

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The Lord is faithful to all his promises

and loving toward all he has made.

The Lord upholds all those fall

and lifts up all who are bowed down.

The Lord is righteous in all his ways

and loving toward all he has made.

The Lord is near to all who call on him,

to all who call on him in truth.

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He fulfills the desires of those who fear him;

he hears their cry and saves them.

The Lord watches over all who love him,

but all the wicked he will destroy.

My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord.

Let every creature praise his holy name

for ever and ever.”

Psalm 145

Lord God,  You really care about Your creation–each and every individual person, animal, bird, flower, tree.  You are far beyond our imaginings and for that I am forever grateful.  For only You could come up with a plan of Salvation that frees us from our sin and gives us hope for life everlasting.  Yes, the created world has many beautiful wonders, but it is marred, flawed, imperfect and it is nothing when compared to the beauty of knowing you as Lord and Savior.  You alone give peace that passes human understanding when we are alone with our griefs, hurts, and disappointments.   Thank you for your heart of compassion, love, and mercy that reaches out to us and gives us strength.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

April 27 OK To Hate?

Photo by Laura Jostes

Photo by Laura Jostes

Judges 7:1-8:17;  Luke 23:13-43;  Psalm 97:1-98:9;  Proverbs 14:7-8

“Let those who love the Lord hate evil,

for he guards the lives of his faithful ones,

and delivers them from the hand of the wicked.

* * * * *

“Light is shed upon the righteous

and joy on the upright of heart.

* * * * *

“Rejoice in the Lord, you who are righteous,

and praise his holy name.”

Psalm 97:10-12

* * * * *

OK to hate?

Take a stand and hate:

Aborting innocent babies,

Taking a life through assisted suicide,

Acquisition of wealth while impoverishing the spiritual, social and emotional lives of one’s family,

Pornography so easily accessed

and seen by so many,

Senseless killing of children by children

by means of guns, drugs, alcohol,

Worship of “tolerance” instead

of the true God whose Word

is sharper than any two edged sword,

Easy come, easy go attitudes

towards sexuality:

cohabiting before marriage,

recreational sex,

adulterous affairs,

threesomes, mixedsomes, samesomes,

anything but one man, one woman

in a lifetime marriage,

Abuse of any kind–physical,

mental, sexual, emotional,

Consumptive greed that feeds the need

for wars and conflicts,

Indifference to the things of God:

holiness, mercy, compassion, salvation

through one means only–faith

in Jesus Christ.

Hate what God hates

and pray,

praise

and give thanks

that He has rescued you

from such evils.

Think upon Him

and His faithfulness to all

generations,

to you.

One day you will be with Him

in Heaven

where His light that shines upon

your heart now

will continue to illuminate

and cause exceedingly great

joy!

* * * * *

Oh give thanks unto the Lord for He

is good

and His mercy endures forever!

O Lord God, merciful Father thank you for saving us from the darkness of sin and for shedding abroad in our hearts the light of your salvation through your Son, Jesus Christ.  We gratefully receive your grace and mercy with joy!  Let us not grow weary or lose hope though the world around us churns with turmoil.  May we keep our eyes on Jesus–our beacon of light.  In His name we pray, Amen.

April 14 Increase Our Faith!

Photo by Sandara Lee

Photo by Sandara Lee

Joshua 9:3-10:43;  Luke 16:19-17:10;  Psalm 83:1-18;  Proverbs 3:4

“And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to  come, but woe to the one through whom they come!  It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.

Pay attention to yourselves!  If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day and turns to you seven times, saying “I repent,” you must forgive him.

* * * * *

“The Apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”  And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”

Luke 17:1-6

Television shows, movies and songs glorify revenge; glorify inflicting harm in return for an injury received (sometimes even one that is just ‘perceived’).  ‘Someone hurt me, I’m going to hurt her in return even if she says that she’s sorry for what she did.’

Revenge makes for juicy, emotionally charged story plots that reinforce human nature’s view of justice, of fairness.

Where does Jesus’ teaching about repentance and forgiveness fit into those kinds of stories?

Where does Jesus’ teaching fit into my life or your life when a great wrong has been done and our human nature cries out for a chance to get even?

The Apostles’ cry in response to the Lord’s teaching about repentance and forgiveness is our cry, “Lord, increase our faith!”

They knew how impossible it was to do what Jesus was asking of them.

We know how hard it is to forgive.

Jesus knows it is impossible on our own strength.

But He gives us what we need to do what He asks of us.

He gives us more faith.  Faith capable of doing the impossible!

Lord God, your ways are not our ways.  Please help us to follow your ways!  Increase our faith today, so that we can forgive those who have sinned against us.  Help us to remember the great cost that Jesus paid on the Cross–instead of getting revenge on all those who mistreated Him, sinned against Him–He bore our sins and suffered death.  But Praise to you, O God, you raised Jesus from the dead.  His resurrection power bolsters our faith and enables us to do the impossible in Jesus’ name!  Grant, Lord, that we forgive even as you have forgiven us.  For Jesus’ sake, Amen.

April 13 Just A Pair Of Earrings

Image by Doug Shelton

Image by Doug Shelton

Joshua 7:16-9:2;  Luke 16:1-18;  Psalm 82:1-8;  Proverbs 13:2-3

“One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little, is also dishonest in much.  If then, you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust you with riches?  And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your very own?

* * * * *

“No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and money.”

Luke 16:10-13

Many years ago I shoplifted a pair of earrings from the clothing store where I was employed.  No big deal….they were small….they probably cost all of $7.00.  The owner never missed them.  I wanted them.  I got them.  I bowed down to the master “Money”.  I really don’t recall the exact thinking that went through my teenage head at the time, but I felt that I owed it to myself to have something.  The owner was “rich”, I was not.  Screwy thinking I know….

But isn’t that how it is with money?  The perceived lack of it will cause us to do some pretty stupid things.  Jesus knows the power that money and prestige can hold over someone’s heart and mind.  He jars us with His Words to shake us up spiritually–to question our motives and our loyalties.

Jesus wants us to search ourselves, especially if we call ourselves His followers, and to allow the Holy Spirit to sort and sift through our priorities and values to show us where we fall short and need Him to help us be the followers He wants us to be.  Through our repentance and His forgiveness He breaks the bond of slavery to money.  He lifts our sights higher than  the material goods of this world.  He enables us to see by faith the real treasure which is His never-failing love and redemption from sin, death and the devil.

I returned the earrings to the owner of the store some years later and with tears streaming down my face asked for her forgiveness.  She was a bit embarrassed by my show of emotion over some silly earrings, but she forgave me and wouldn’t let me pay for them.  I kept them for a long time to remind myself that God wants me to cherish Him and not things.

Lord God,  the pull of this world with all that glitters is strong.   Please forgive me for seeking fulfillment in “things” rather than being fully satisfied with the glorious riches of grace, mercy and forgiveness that are freely given through your son, Jesus Christ.    Please help me to be a faithful Steward of the material blessings you have given to me for Jesus’ sake, Amen.

January 26 Oh, Love How Deep

Photo by Marian Trinidad

Photo by Marian Trinidad

Exodus 2:11-3:22;  Matthew 17:10-27;  Psalm 22:1-18;  Proverbs 5:7-14

“During those many days, the king of Egypt died and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help.  Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God.  And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  God saw the people of Israel–and God knew.”  Exodus 2:23-25

As ones who believe that Jesus is our Lord and Savior, we still can fall into ‘slavery.’  Our sins, our fears, our guilt, our unwillingness to forgive, our hurts, our grievances can all entangle us and keep us from experiencing the freedom that Christ won for us on the Cross.

But God is faithful!

He knows the condition of our hearts.

And He desires to extend His mercy and compassion.

He wants to rescue us!

Cry out to Him with your needs and He will hear.

He will act.

He will save!

His love for you is very great.

He invites you to “Come to me all you are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.”

Oh, love how deep, how broad, how high,

Beyond all thought and fantasy,

That God, the Son should take

our mortal form for mortal’s sake.

* * * *

For us by wickedness betrayed

For us, in crown of thorns arrayed.

He bore the shameful cross and death;

For us he gave his dying breath.

* * * *

For us he rose from death again;

For us he went on high to reign;

For us he sent his Spirit here

To guide, to strengthen, and to cheer

* * * *

All glory to our Lord and God

For love so deep, so high, so broad.

The Trinity whom we adore

forever and forevermore!

~Thomas a Kempis

Lord God, you know and hear the cries of our hearts this day.  To you we leave our burdens at your feet.  You know what they are.  You know what we need.  Thank you for answering all our prayers through your son, Jesus Christ.  To Him we give our thanks and praise.  In His name we pray, Amen.