Out of Shape?

This year, there is a great deal of emphasis being placed upon the importance of the Reformation of the Church 500 years ago. Being repeated so many times, I wonder if the word “Reformation” starts to lose some of its meaning for us when we hear it. To “Re-form” something means, of course, “to form again.” Luther set about his work because he saw that the Church had become misshapen, off kilter, or “out of shape” from what it was when formed originally by the apostles’ teaching of the Gospel of Christ crucified. It needed to be formed once again into what Christ through His apostles had built it.

This gradual falling “out of shape” is not “natural” in a perfect world. At the Creation, God gave us a world where there was no decay, nothing misshapen or off kilter, and things held together the way they were intended. However, with the world cursed by sin, such falling out of shape is an inevitable consequence. We see it in many places besides the Church of the 16th century. Our bodies slow down, our senses deteriorate, our parts settle into unusual positions, and the older we get the more we recognize a general sense of being “out of shape.” Our societies forget or ignore the moral law that God has written upon our hearts, they reject the teachings and traditions of history and our forefathers, and there is a general sense that things are falling apart in our world. Even the family unit can become misshapen and distorted as individual families drift apart through conflict or apathy, parents and children forget their fourth commandment duties to one another, and our world even goes so far as to redefine what “family” is. Let’s face it: everything falls apart in this sinful world.

Thankfully, by the power of the Holy Spirit our faith and hope are in the mercy and grace of the Great Reformer; and no, I don’t mean Martin Luther. Jesus Christ came into this misshapen, off kilter, out-of-shape world to mend what had been broken and lost. He took this world in His mighty, gentle hands and molded it back the way it was meant to be. In His life, we see flashes of Creation restored: the hungry are fed, storms are calmed, the sick are healed, the lame walk, the blind see, the deaf hear, and the dead rise again. But even greater that all these, we see Him bringing forth the forgiveness of sins through His death and resurrection. We are made alive again in Him, our relationship with God the Father is restored by Jesus’ mediation, and we will live eternally with our Triune God.

The same Potter Who formed the universe by His Word and formed man out of the dust has reformed, restored, and renewed His living Church. In Christ alone is our hope, only by His grace, only by faith, through the power of His Word. To God be the glory! Amen.

By His grace,

Andrew Boll

Discord – Reaping what you Sow

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:3)

“Men’s hearts ought not to be set against one another, but set with one another, and all against evil only.” (Thomas Carlyle)

What sets one man’s heart against another man?  What causes him to go out of his way to sow discord, anger, and malice between others or incite hatred against another individual?  James pretty much nails it when he says to the Christians of his day, “What causes fights and quarrels among you?  Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?” (James 4:1).

Once again, we find that old culprit “Self” at blame for the discord and strife in our world.  One man turns against another or sows discord, spreading lies and stirring up evil against his brother, because his self comes first in his heart.  Perhaps it is an issue of wounded pride.  Maybe he simply wants something a certain way and won’t let anyone get in the way of his own comfort or ideal.  And quite often, we feel perfectly justified in our malice and discord directed at one another because we honestly believe that what we are doing is “for the best.”  If someone is liable to get hurt in the process, well, they probably brought it upon themselves by opposing us in our “rightness.”  Besides, doesn’t the end justify the means?

Sowing and practicing discord is a form of idolatry – a blatant raising of the Self above God and His clear commands for us.  My pride, my desire, my way of doing things comes first.  God’s command to love one another gets shoved aside to make way for our selfish motives and hurtful means.  Rather than serving our neighbor in love, we do a great disservice to everyone involved by convincing ourselves that what he really needs right now is to be “put in his place.”  The animosity between us grows, the unity is shattered, and our witness to the world is greatly diminished as others look on in horror at the way these “Christians” treat each other.

So what weapons does God give us to combat this great evil in our midst – indeed, even within our own hearts?  One weapon is singled out as particularly effective against discord, and the Savior Himself hands it to us today; “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you” (John 14:27).  Paul encourages us to fight with all our strength against discord and to “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).  And James reminds us that the sowing of discord must be countered by God’s warriors with the sowing of peace; “Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness” (James 4:18).

As God grants us peace with Him through His Word by the knowledge of our Savior Jesus Christ, He can also calm the raging tempest of wicked desires that battle within our hearts.  He shows us the way and gives us the means to have peace with our neighbors; by using the weapons of love, joy, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control.  Finally, we can also have peace within ourselves as we find true meaning in living a life as a redeemed child of God and serving Him by loving our neighbor.

God’s love empowers and compels us to sow the seed of the Gospel in peace, watching joyfully while the Holy Spirit raises up a harvest of true righteousness as those who hear it receive the very righteousness that comes through Christ’s own blood.  The world and our sinful nature call us to the sowing of discord and the worship of selfish desires, but God calls us to glorify Him by sowing His Word, that His peace may be harvested in abundance throughout the world.

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil.  Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:17-18)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I thank and praise You for giving me the peace that comes from knowing You have reconciled me to Yourself through the death and resurrection of Your Son, Jesus Christ.  Help me to share this peace with all those around me by boldly sharing the Gospel and by serving them in love.  Amen.

Kindness – Ready, Aim, Fire!

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)

While Christians can take courage knowing that God has bestowed upon them the most excellent spiritual armor, we also ought to be mindful of the fact that evil often comes thoroughly defended and fortified as well.  So let’s talk for a little bit about an offensive weapon that God has armed us with – one that can pierce the shell of darkness with a concentrated demonstration of pure love, penetrating deep into the hearts of those we seek to serve.

When trying to touch the hearts of unbelievers or fellow Christians with whom we are at odds, we are often met with thick walls and heavy armor.  Envy, rage, malice, suspicion, doubt, fear, hatred, and unbelief – all of them are weapons of darkness that hold protective qualities of their own; measures to “protect” the host against the Gospel message or against spiritual unity and cooperation.  Sometimes, before we can witness to these individuals or render service to them, we must break down the barriers that Satan has erected between us through his clever use of worldly motives or our own sinfulness.

Kindness is the battering ram of love.  It is the armor-piercing arrow that can cleave Satan’s defenses and allow our love, our service, and our witness to enter the heart of the one before us.  Sometimes our kind words and deeds will need to be showered upon a person in a prolonged barrage as we spiritually lay siege to their hearts.  It may be days, months, or even years before we see their defenses fall, allowing us to come into their lives with God’s love (and ours).  Other times, a single act of kindness may be the silver bullet that shatters the barrier erected between us, opening the door to a relationship of service and evangelism.

Thankfully, the power to use this incredible weapon does not come from within our own sinful hearts – it comes from God.  It is the power of God’s love through Christ Jesus that enables us to forgive others in our hearts and pour our love and kindness upon them despite lingering feelings of tension or resentment.  If kindness is a battering ram, it is God’s power that pushes it; if an arrow, He is the bow and the hand that draws the string.  All we have to do is take aim.

We all know people who need to hear the Gospel but resist any attempt at witness.  We all have people in our lives with whom we just don’t seem to get along very well.  Pray to the Father that He would empower you through the love and forgiveness you have in Christ Jesus to show kindness to these people today.  Pray that He would soften their hearts to receive your entreaties.  Then take aim and let the Holy Spirit do His work as the kindness you shower upon them removes Satan’s defenses from between you, opening the door for witness and Christian partnership like never before.

“For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.  But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.  Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.” (James 3:16-18)

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, empower me through Your love to forgive my neighbors.  Provide opportunities for me to show kindness unto them, demonstrating Your love by my words and deeds; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

Peace – The Best Defense Part 2

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)

If our joy in the Lord is the armor of our souls, then the peace of God completes our protection like a helmet, shield, and bracers.  God’s Word imparts a three-fold protection as the Spirit grants us peace with God, peace with the world, and peace within ourselves.

The Devil seeks to strike at our head by attacking our peace with God.  The despair we feel over our own sins and our doubt in the effectiveness of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice would be a sure deathblow, were it not for the protective covering God has given us in the Gospel of peace.  Because of our sinful condition, peace with God was once impossible.  All of our striving and struggling could not remove the taint of sin that bars us from the presence of our Holy God.  But thanks be to God that Jesus Christ has won the victory for us and made peace once and for all between God and man!  This certain knowledge calms our fears and doubts and imparts the peace of God which protects us from the deadly blows of the Devil’s fatal assault.

But what of the world?  Although we will continue to have struggles, conflicts, and frustrations with other people, the cross of Christ also acts as a shield against these adversities.  Through the power of the Gospel, we can love and care for even those with whom we find ourselves in conflict.  Even if those conflicts persist despite our efforts, we can have peace by trusting in God’s Word and living according to His will.  As we walk in His ways, the Spirit will continue to work through whatever situation we are dealing with for the benefit of all.  We can be at peace knowing that God is in control even when we fail to see the silver lining in our present struggles.  And God even works in some offensive measures through the peace of His people, displaying His own love and light in a dark world as others see our peacefulness and are drawn by it to the cross.

As we enjoy the rich blessings of peace with God and with others, we will also find that God stills our own hearts and minds through His power.  The world bombards us with conflicting messages about “personal fulfillment” and “finding ourselves” and entices us with false paths leading to shallow and empty “peacefulness.”  But God’s Word offers an inner peace that lasts, as we find true fulfillment for our lives in the first two types of peace; by serving God joyfully in a close relationship with Him, and by serving our neighbor with gladness and being at peace with the world (even when the world is not at peace with us!).  Like bracers to protect a warrior’s arms and hands, the inner peace that God grants to us protects our ability to fight for the faith and hold fast to the Sword of the Spirit.

God imparts His peace to us many times throughout the Bible.  It is a blessing that serves as a cloak of protection over our souls.  Coupled with the joy of our salvation, God’s peace will enable us to resist the fiercest attacks that Satan’s forces are able to muster.  In His mercy, God has armed us bountifully for our own protection that we might faithfully march forth into battle for the glory of God and the sake of those who remain lost and in darkness.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, 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.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I thank You that through the power of Your Gospel I may be at peace with You, with my neighbors, and with myself.  Grant that this peace may be evident to all, that they would seek Your face and also receive the benefit of Your eternal peace; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

Note: For much more information about the topic of “peace” and “peacemaking,” please visit “Peacemaker Ministries.”  You can find a link to their own blog at the bottom of my website (“Route 5:9″), or click here.

Thomas – No Doubt About It

“[Jesus said] ‘Stop doubting and believe.’  Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’” (John 20:27-28)

I don’t think there’s anyone in the Bible who gets a bum rap quite as unfairly as Thomas does.  He has gone down in history as “doubting Thomas” thanks to his refusal to believe the disciples’ word about Jesus’ resurrection and the Lord’s subsequent seeming rebuke: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

Of course, we tend to ignore the fact that every other disciple had also fallen victim to exactly the same spirit of despair and unbelief: “But [the disciples] did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense” (Luke 24:11).  We also ignore that the world in general feels the same way regarding the message of the resurrection – that it pretty much sounds like nonsense: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

So what does it take for a skeptical, worldly-wise heart to believe in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and all the promises that go with it?  It takes the same thing that prompted one of the greatest confessions recorded in Scripture from the lips of Thomas, “My Lord and my God!”  It takes the same thing that opened the eyes of Cleopas and his companion on the road to Emmaus, causing their hearts to burn within them for Jesus’ sake.  Belief in the Gospel requires the hand of Jesus Christ acting in our lives, opening our hearts through the Holy Spirit and His Word.  Thomas is a hero of the faith who demonstrates the appropriate response to Jesus’ command: “Stop doubting and believe.”

This command and promise is for us as well.  We all – like the disciples – struggle with doubt, despair, and unbelief.  Sometimes we need the example of bold heroes of the faith like Thomas to give us the strength to follow Jesus despite danger and hardship.  Yes, you heard me right: “Doubting Thomas” is the same man who only shortly before Jesus’ death walked willingly with Him into the hands of vengeful enemies, saying to the other disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16).

What a phenomenal testament of courage and faith on Thomas’ part!  And yet even a bold warrior like this could soon after have his belief and devotion overshadowed by fear and doubt.  So how much more do we need the powerful command of Christ Jesus: “Stop doubting and believe”?  We also, like Thomas, need to encounter the risen Lord personally in His Word, seeing Him face to face and being assured that His promise of salvation is fulfilled in the cross and the empty tomb.  We too need to be strengthened in faith through Holy Communion by His body which was broken on the cross and His blood which was poured out from His hands, feet, and side.

By His saving Word, the Lord Jesus comes to us through the locked doors of sin and unbelief.  We seek him there in times of doubt or despair.  We reach out for His precious body and blood.  And strengthened by these gifts, we are able to confess Him as “My Lord and my God!”

“Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.” (1 Peter 1:21)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, dispel my doubts and fears through the power of Your Holy Word and Sacraments.  Give me strength and courage to follow to You, even in the midst of Your enemies, that they too may see the message of the cross and turn to You in faith; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

Shemaiah – Interceding for Peace

“Since they have humbled themselves, I will not destroy them but will soon give them deliverance.” (2 Chronicles 12:7)

It isn’t often that we find anyone in Judah or Israel listening to the Lord during the reign of Rehoboam and Jeroboam.  The kingdom had been torn apart because of the sins of Solomon, his son, and all of Israel.  Because of the rebellion against God by David’s heirs, Rehoboam finds that ten tribes of Israel have rebelled against him.  Worship of false gods becomes rampant as David’s faithful example gives way to idolatrous leadership.

Yet even while both Judah and Israel rebel against the Lord God, He provides an intercessor for peace on their behalf.  He sends his servant Shemaiah to King Rehoboam as he is about to march north with a hundred and eighty thousand men set on wresting the kingdom back from the rebellious tribes: “This is what the Lord says: Do not go up to fight against your brothers, the Israelites.  Go home, every one of you, for this is my doing.’ So they obeyed the word of the Lord and went home again, as the Lord had ordered” (1 Kings 12:24).

Shemaiah’s intercession for peace in the midst of sinful rebellion is reminiscent of the greater Man of God, Jesus Christ.  Even in the midst of our rebellion, God sent His Son to give us peace; peace with Him, peace with our neighbors, and peace in our own hearts through the forgiveness of sins.  “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  God’s love for us didn’t stop on account of our rebellion.  Rather, it was our sinful rejection of Him that led to the ultimate display of love at Calvary.

As Rehoboam establishes his reign, he gradually abandons God and walks into disaster.  But God equips Shemaiah with His Word, and through this Word the man of God is able to soften even these hard hearts and turn them to repentance.  God has mercy on Rehoboam and Judah: “Since they have humbled themselves, I will not destroy them but will soon give them deliverance” (2 Chronicles 12:7).  Because Rehoboam turns back to God, the remainder of his rule is blessed and God gives him faithful children to rule after him for three generations.  But God gives more than earthly deliverance to Rehoboam.  Through the Law, God turns the hearts of Judah to repentance and saves them through the Gospel by faith in Him and in the Messiah that would soon come and give deliverance to the whole world.

Though he is spoken of little in Scripture, Shemaiah is a hero of the faith in every way.  He preaches God’s just and perfect Law along with His righteous judgment to the people, and he also points ahead toward Jesus by proclaiming the Gospel of peace and salvation.  He reveals the same pattern of a loving God that all faith heroes demonstrate; One who gives us peace now and forever through forgiveness by God’s grace.

“The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy.  They are steadfast for ever and ever, done in faithfulness and uprightness.  He provided redemption for his people; he ordained his covenant forever – holy and awesome is his name.” (Psalm 111:7-9)

Prayer: Lord, help me ever to be a man of God, faithfully proclaiming Your Law and assuring repentant sinners of Your Gospel.  Send out Your Word to soften the hard hearts of our world, that all may turn to You in faith; through Jesus Christ, Your Son.  Amen.

Solomon – The Wise Servant

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who with his own hand has fulfilled what he promised” (1 Kings 8:15).

Just imagine that God came to you and offered to give you whatever you asked.  What would it be?  What would God want me to ask Him for?  If only I had the wisdom to know what would please Him!  That’s it – I could ask Him for the wisdom to know what to ask for!  But then it would be too late to use that wisdom to ask for anything else…

Solomon demonstrates considerable wisdom already by asking God for a “discerning heart.”  He wants to do God’s will, so he asks for the ability to know and understand what God’s will is.  He passes up the usual requests of an ancient mid-eastern ruler – great wealth, long life, death to his enemies, and so forth – in order to honor God by being the kind of king that will walk in His precepts.  God is so pleased with Solomon’s request that He also grants Solomon the things he passed up out of his desire to walk with God.

So what do you want out of life?  Do you, like Solomon, want above all else to please and honor God with a heart that can discern His will?  Because if you do, it’s ready and available to you right this moment!  God’s will for your life and your every thought, word, and deed can be found in His Holy Word.  By daily spending time reading Scripture and meditating on what God is telling you, you can attain true Godly wisdom.  And you can also be sure that God will bless you and meet your other needs as well – things that we are tempted to rather spend our time on.  “For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:32-33).

While the Bible teaches us many, many ways to live a happy, healthy, honorable life, the most important part of God’s will for us that is revealed in Scripture is this: “[God] wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).  This salvation is found in Christ alone, the Son of God who came and lived a perfect life on our behalf and died as the perfect sacrifice for our sins.  His triumphant resurrection is the fulfillment of God’s plan for salvation that was worked through Solomon and all his ancestors and descendants; in fact, every hero of the faith found in the Bible.

Despite his great wisdom, Solomon wasn’t perfect.  His own prayer at the dedication of the temple in Jerusalem shows his understanding of mankind’s bondage to sin, death, and the Devil: “When they sin against you – for there is no one who does not sin…” (1 Kings 8:46).  But God also gave him the wisdom to know that the cure for sin rested with forgiveness and redemption by faith: “…then from heaven, your dwelling place, hear their prayer and their plea, and uphold their cause.  And forgive your people, who have sinned against you; forgive all the offenses they have committed against you” (1 Kings 8:49-50).

God made many promises to Solomon, and He kept them all.  But the best promise of all would be fulfilled long after Solomon’s death, though through faith he was already reaping the benefits of that promise – the long awaited Messiah who would reconcile the world to the Father.  This is the greatest promise of the Scriptures, and the pinnacle of wisdom found in God’s Word!

“Praise be to the Lord, who has given rest to his people Israel just as he promised.  Not one word has failed of all the good promises he gave through his servant Moses.  May the Lord God be with us as he was with our fathers; may he never leave us nor forsake us.  May he turn our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways” (1 Kings 8:56-58).

Prayer: God, give me the wisdom to put Your Gospel first in my life at all times.  Increase my faith, and teach me to walk with more closely with You.  Forgive my many sins, according to Your gracious promise, through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

Jonathan – Friend of the Lord’s Anointed

“He loved him as he loved himself.” (1 Samuel 20:17)

Saul’s son Jonathan is one of the most overlooked heroes of the faith in the whole Bible.  If we are to speak of the courage of Gideon and David, Jonathan could also be numbered among them.  After all, he climbed a hill and fought the army of Philistines, trusting in the Lord alone for success.  He single-handedly killed twenty of their warriors, and the Lord used his courageous assault to throw the rest of the army into a panic.  Jonathan understood that God can do great things despite overwhelming odds: “Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving whether by many or by few” (1 Samuel 14:6).

But the thing that rightly sets Jonathan apart from the rest of the faithful men and women in the Bible is his loyalty and friendship toward David, God’s anointed king.  This is no small thing, considering that Jonathan’s father was the current king (with whom he seemed to be on pretty good terms).  He cared enough for David that he was willing to give up his own future rule for the sake of his friend.  His support and friendship of David would eventually lead to his own death at the hands of his enemies, the Philistines (1 Samuel 31:2).

Jonathan’s friendship and love for David is beautifully reflected in our relationship with Jesus.  Like Jonathan, we are friends with God’s Anointed One – Christ, the promised Messiah.  Although we were children of this world, we are called to turn aside from our worldly inheritance and follow Jesus out of love for Him.  For the sake of friendship with us, Jesus, like Jonathan, gave up His throne in heaven and even His very life at the hands of His enemies.  He has redeemed our life from the threat of death by the ruler of this fallen world, just as Jonathan rescued David from the hand of King Saul.  As Jonathan’s truthful words and earnest pleas turned aside the king’s wicked wrath from David, so Jesus’ perfect life and innocent death plead on our behalf and turn aside the righteous judgment of His Father, our Holy God.

Only Jonathan was able to reconcile his father, King Saul, with David.  Through Jesus, we are reconciled eternally with His Father and our gracious King.  His blood has formed a pact of friendship that nothing can ever break.  Jesus loved us enough to give up His life for us, and we in turn are moved by the Spirit to love Him as ourselves: “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).  Even though we fail time and again to honor the pact of friendship that Jesus has purchased for us, He will remain our friend forever, pleading with the Father on our behalf.  Now we can say with Jonathan, “Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving.”

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I thank and praise You for the reconciliation purchased by the blood of Your Son, Jesus Christ, through His friendship.  Amen.