May 20, 2020 God Has Done It, Boasting Is Excluded, Isaiah 48:1-11, Romans 3:21-28

 

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Hear this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel,and who came from the waters of Judah, who swear by the name of the Lord and confess the God of Israel, but not in truth or right.

For they call themselves after the holy city, and stay themselves on the God of Israel; the Lord of hosts is his name.

“The former things I declared of old; they went out from my mouth, and I announced them;then suddenly I did them, and they came to pass.
Because I know that you are obstinate, and your neck is an iron sinew and your forehead brass,I declared them to you from of old, before they came to pass I announced them to you, lest you should say, ‘My idol did them, my carved image and my metal image commanded them.’

“You have heard; now see all this; and will you not declare it? From this time forth I announce to you new things, hidden things that you have not known.
They are created now, not long ago; before today you have never heard of them, lest you should say, ‘Behold, I knew them.’
You have never heard, you have never known, from of old your ear has not been opened.
For I knew that you would surely deal treacherously, and that from before birth you were called a rebel.

“For my name’s sake I defer my anger; for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off.
Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned?
My glory I will not give to another. Isaiah 48:1-11 (ESV)

When God sent the Old Testament prophets, He did so because His people were getting off track.  God never sent prophets to tell people how fantastic they were, or to have a nice day. God sent prophets to warn people of the consequences of continuing to break His Law.

It’s human nature for us to take credit for things that aren’t necessarily due to our own merit or effort.  A beautiful child is a gift from God rather than an achievement of her parents. Even our efforts to pass a class or earn a living are gifts from God.  It is only in and through Him that we can accomplish anything at all. (Acts 17:28)

Isaiah tells the people of Israel that their redeemer was coming- God Himself was coming to redeem them, so they couldn’t take credit for it or attribute salvation to themselves or to their idols.

We break God’s Law just as the people of Israel did.  We may call ourselves Christian, but how often do we call ourselves God’s people without acting like God’s people?

The truth is that behavior modification is not sanctification.  To a degree we can control what we say or do, but we cannot control the condition of our own minds and hearts.  The Holy Spirit must transform our hearts and minds to conform to God’s will, even as we are continually subject to the temptation of Satan, the world, and our own sinful natures.

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.

For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.

It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Romans 3:21-28 (ESV)

The apostle Paul expands upon the teaching of Isaiah.  Paul is talking to the greater Kingdom of God – Jews and Gentiles- and he reminds us that regardless of our heritage we are justified by faith in Jesus alone.

We are continually faced with trials and suffering and the process of being refined.  Some may say that the reason we suffer is so we learn to trust God more fully.  Perhaps it is only God’s prerogative to decide what sort of training and refining we need to prepare us for our roles in His kingdom.

Paul reminds us boasting is excluded- that we cannot take credit for the gifts of God.  Rather we thank Him for His grace, His mercy, His kindness toward us, that He would grant us the gift of faith and that by His wounds, we are healed.

Lord, help us to trust You, to thank You, and to love You.

May 12, 2020 – The One Who Serves- Luke 22:24-30, Deuteronomy 21:22-23, Isaiah 53:4-6

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A dispute also arose among them, (Jesus’ disciples) as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he (Jesus) said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.  For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.

 “You are those who have stayed with me in my trials,  and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom,  that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Luke 22:24-30 (ESV)

Even today we are conditioned to see those in authority- the ones who make decisions and rule from the safe distance of their ivory towers as being “greater” than the people who do the physical work that makes the world function.  Jesus turns that idea on its head.

The leader is one who serves.  Sometimes a leader serves in a very public capacity, but often a leader serves in ways that aren’t glamorous or even readily visible.

“And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God. You shall not defile your land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance. Deuteronomy 21:22-23 (ESV)

Jesus became what we once were- condemned to death. He took our punishment. He came down to earth to live among us, to be one of us, and ultimately to be cursed by God and hung on a tree.

Jesus, in whom all things were made, became the Suffering Servant, and lifted the curse of death for us, because we are not able to redeem ourselves.

Surely he has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:4-6 (ESV)

The idea of comparing ourselves to other people to determine who is “the greatest” is rather silly.  While competition is human nature, Jesus has done it all for us.  We are free to serve our neighbors through our vocations- the good work that God created for us to do.

In Christ we all have value, because He redeemed us.  The stone that the builders rejected became the cornerstone (Psalm 118:22.)

So what does this say for the humility of humanity? It is a beautiful thing and pleasing to God when we do our daily work, when we regard others as better than ourselves, and when we aren’t afraid to come down from our ivory towers and get dirty.  We don’t earn brownie points or anything like that, it’s just that we are doing what God created us to do.

Jesus is the ultimate Servant. He is our King and our Redeemer.  We do fall into the temptation of categorizing ourselves and others based upon what we do (or what “they don’t do”) and we forget that Jesus has done it all for us.  There is nothing to earn and nothing to deserve.  There is no reason to compare and compete.

Lord, help us to follow you by serving others, and not concerning ourselves with “who is the greatest,” because we know You are.  Help us to live life in a way that brings glory to You as we live out our vocations and serve with joy.

May 7, 2020- The Resurrection of the Body- 1 Corinthians 15:35-49

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But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.

So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven.Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. 1 Corinthians 15:35-49 (ESV)

As we profess in the last two “I believe” statements of the Apostle’s Creed: I believe in…the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

The images we see in popular culture, such as in cartoons, when a character dies and its ethereal spirit rises to heaven, are not quite accurate.   We are both body and spirit, not just one or the other. When Jesus returns for His people we will be changed from an earthly, mortal creature with a disease and decay prone body,  to a heavenly, eternal creature with an eternal incorruptible body.  The old Adam, who was born of the dust, will die and be buried, but the new Adam will bear the image of the second Man- Jesus.

The apostle Paul uses the analogy of planting.  We plant a kernel of corn knowing that individual kernel will die, but that’s not the end of it.  It will be transformed and will become a corn plant that will have many ears full of kernels of corn.  Just one kernel of corn won’t feed a family or even one person, but many corn plants can feed many people.

When we look at the death of Jesus we understand that in His death, He sacrificed His body so that many would be freed from their sins.  Without His death our deaths are simply our physical bodies returning to the $8 and some change worth of essential elements they were comprised of.  But we who are baptized into Christ, and buried with Him will rise and be transformed.

There has to be death before life.  It seems sad that it must be that way.  But when we look at it from the standpoint that Jesus has conquered death for us, and that we share in resurrection life with Him, then it is no longer something to be afraid of.

Lord, help us to rely upon you alone, and keep us from being captive to fear.  Forgive us when we doubt You or we trust in mortal men or other things that cannot give life or save us.  You have defeated death and the grave for us.  You are here with us now, through the valleys of shadow, and You are returning for all of Your people soon.  Help us to live with the confidence that we belong to You.

 

 

May 1, 2020- The Splendor and Majesty of the Lord- Psalm 111

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them.Full of splendor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever.             

He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and merciful.
He provides food for those who fear him; he remembers his covenant forever.
He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the inheritance of the nations.

The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy; they are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.
He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever.
Holy and awesome is his name!
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding.
His praise endures forever!  Psalm 111 (ESV)

It’s always a good time to remember the majesty and goodness of God. There is a comfort in knowing that He is beyond our circumstances, that He is in control of what happens, and that He so loved the world that He came down to the world in human flesh.

It’s easy to get caught in the moment and to forget that it’s just a moment.

He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and merciful.
He provides food for those who fear him; he remembers his covenant forever.
He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the inheritance of the nations.

We might wonder if God is really there or really listening to us. He is there. He is listening.

The Gospel is preached so many times in the prayers of the Psalms.

He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever.
Holy and awesome is his name!
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding.
His praise endures forever! 

Lord, may we seek our comfort and rest in You, knowing that You have sent us redemption, and that You hear our prayers.

April 19, 2020- Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning- Luke 12:35-48

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“Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning,  and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks.  Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them.  If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants!  But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into.  You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?” And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time?  Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes.  Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.  But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk,  the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful.  And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating.  But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more. Luke 12:35-48 (ESV)

One of the most beautiful Spiritual songs ever written is the traditional, “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning.”

We understand that our salvation is in Christ alone, through faith alone, by grace alone.  We don’t, and we can’t, earn our salvation in any way.  Jesus is our Suffering Servant, who paid the penalty for all the sins of the world, as John the Baptist understood when Jesus came to him to be baptized. (John 1:29)

We are, however, baptized into Jesus’ suffering and death.  Because He has set us free from the curse of the Garden, we are bound to Him, beggars at the throne of grace. We have all been given much.

Jesus has promised that He is returning to this earth and He is going to remake both heaven and earth (2 Peter 3:8-13) and we will be given incorruptible, physical bodies (1 Corinthians 15:51-53.)  We affirm the restoration of our physical bodies when we say “the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting,” when we recite the Apostle’s Creed as well.

Staying “dressed for action” is not easy.  We are distracted by the world and tempted by our own sinful desires as well as the influence of the Adversary.  Our sinful nature is nothing new.

Jesus is talking about keeping faith in Him, of knowing Who we belong to.  We were purchased with a price, our Savior’s own Body and Blood. Our motivation to serve and follow him is not one of fear of hellfire but one of gratitude and love.

In these times apocalyptic talk is very popular.  There have been multiple books, various so-called prophets and loads of random speculation on the end of the world.  Hal Lindsey once claimed the end of the world would occur in the 1980s, claiming in his book “The 1980s, Countdown to Armageddon,” that “the decade of the 1980s could very well be the last decade of history as we know it.” 

Jesus, however, taught us, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.  For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” Matthew 24:36-37 (ESV)

The time that we might spend speculating on the timing of the end of days would be better spent in trusting Jesus and serving our neighbors.  The end of days may arrive tonight or a thousand years from now, who knows?  But as Jesus teaches earlier in Luke 12, in the parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21) our lives may be required of us tonight, making the timing of the end of days rather irrelevant.  He created us and has already set the number of our days.

Again we come back to faith.  Knowing that we belong to Christ, knowing that when we confess our sins and repent of them, He forgives us, our actions should reflect our confidence of knowing that God cares for us. Because He loved us first, in Him we have the capacity to love others, to be generous, to be good stewards of God’s good gifts and not fall into the panic of hoarding or obsessing over whether or not we will be provided for.

The path of the cross is not an easy one but it is a path that we follow knowing that we do fail and we do fall short.  We sin constantly.  We doubt.  Even though we are poor tools with which to work, Jesus is still on that path with us, lifting us up in our suffering, challenging us to die to our selfishness and insecurity, and to keep on remembering our baptism.  The old Adam needs to be drowned every day, because our sinful nature flares up often.  Yet Jesus keeps forgiving us and lifting us up. He equips us for the good fight of living out the faith.

The good news is that Jesus is stronger than the temptations of the world. He has defeated our sinful nature. He has put death to death for us. We take confidence that He gives us the gift of faith so that we will keep our eyes and hearts focused on Him.

Lord, help us keep our lamps trimmed and burning.  Create clean hearts in us all, clean hearts ready to serve you and to care for those around us.

February 17, 2020- Fasting, Joyful Giving, and Freedom- Isaiah 58:6-14, Matthew 6, Mark 12:41:44

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“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.

Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.

And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.

And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in.

“If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 58:6-14 (ESV)

Spiritual disciplines such as fasting, whether it be from food or from activities or the use of certain things such as TV or technology can be helpful for us to refocus ourselves on Bible study, prayer and service to others. During the season of Lent, which is beginning soon, some people choose to give up a vice such as smoking or alcohol or chocolate or of buying a $5.00 latte every morning. There is nothing wrong with making such sacrifices in the proper context- if one is stopping smoking and donating their smokes money to the food pantry, or taking the time they normally would have used to watch banal reality TV shows to go pay a visit to the shut-ins at the nursing home, those can be fine spiritual disciplines.

However, God knows the real intent behind our actions, and we being sinners who sin, nothing we do is out of a pure motive. Even our most noble actions are tainted with sin- the idolatry of ourselves, and the love of being recognized for what we do.

Jesus had a lot to say about the Pharisees who did their good deeds out in the open for all to see, and gave out of their abundance, again, for all to see. In Matthew 6 Jesus teaches us, But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

The monks in the movie, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” didn’t gain anything by chanting in Latin and banging themselves on the head with boards. Their “holiness” that was supposed to be displayed by self-injury didn’t benefit anyone, and if anything, it only made them look silly.

If we decide to engage in a fast from something for a time, or to engage in something charitable that we normally don’t do, it should be meaningful and helpful for our own spiritual growth and for the benefit of others. And if we toot our own horns for all to see how “good” we are, that ego stroking we get from others is a rather shallow reward. It is better to give in secret and in ways not everyone can see, as Jesus teaches. He sees everything, especially the gifts given to others from our poverty, and the kindnesses shown when no one else is watching.

Jesus is not talking as much about the fruits of our actions (although it is true that where there is faith there will also be works, just as where there is light, there is also heat) as He is the condition of our hearts. Apart from Him there is nothing good in us- the self-serving motive takes over and we are all about ourselves.

And he (Jesus) sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” Mark 12:41:44 (ESV)

In Jesus’ eyes the widow who gave all she had, the two coins, was giving in the way that Jesus wants us to give- sacrificially and without counting the cost ahead of time.

This passage from Mark’s gospel has been misused to guilt people into greater financial contributions to the church. Giving to our church is important, but like giving in any other area, our gifts must come as part of a joyful response to the love and care God has given us first.

Jesus has set us free from the penalty our sin deserves. He did not count the cost of our redemption and salvation. Our response is what flows from a grateful and contrite heart. We love because Jesus loved us first.

Jesus gives us the gift of the Sabbath- the gift of His word and how it brings life as He works in and through us. We get to read the Bible. We get to worship. We get to love others as Jesus loves us.

Lord, help us to be honest with You and confess that we are sinners and that we deserve nothing, even though You offer us everything. You gave Your life on the cross so we can have life forever with You. Create in us clean hearts, free to be loved by You and to share that love and share Your gifts freely and joyfully with others. Help us to be kind. Help us to forgive. Help us to be more like You.

February 7, 2020- Wisdom, Love and Reflecting Light- Psalm 36

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Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes.

For he flatters himself in his own eyes that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated.

The words of his mouth are trouble and deceit; he has ceased to act wisely and do good.

He plots trouble while on his bed; he sets himself in a way that is not good; he does not reject evil.

Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.

Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; your judgments are like the great deep; man and beast you save, O Lord.

How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.

For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.

Oh, continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your righteousness to the upright of heart!

Let not the foot of arrogance come upon me, nor the hand of the wicked drive me away.

There the evildoers lie fallen; they are thrust down, unable to rise. Psalm 36 (ESV)

For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.

The moon can only reflect the light of the sun.  It is muted, a satellite, a mirror, rather than the source. All that as we as creatures can do is act as satellites or mirrors to God, our Source of light.

The summary of the Law- the Shema- taught in Deuteronomy 6:4-5, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might,” is the primary wisdom lesson taught in Scripture.  The next most important wisdom lesson of Scripture is taught in multiple places- the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom– (Proverbs 9:10) and is one that points us back again to the foundational truth of the Shema. 

We learn the converse of this corollary in Psalm 14:1, “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good.”

Contrary to popular knowledge, human beings apart from God have nothing but darkness to offer.  Just as the moon cannot reflect light unless the sun shines on it, we cannot reflect light apart from having the light of God shine on us.

Jesus Himself taught that: No one is good but God alone. (Luke 18:19)

We know that the Law is good, but we are powerless in our own strength to obey it.

The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

It seems a little odd that this Psalm both affirms the reality that all we can do is to reflect God’s light, and seemingly opposite reality that we take refuge in the shadow of His wings.

Even as God was speaking to Moses, we learn God did not reveal Himself to Moses entirely, but shielded him from the fullness of His glory.  The purity and the intensity of the full on light and power of God would destroy Moses and any other sinful, mortal human.  We cannot stand alone in the presence of God and live.

And the Lord said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.”  Moses said, “Please show me your glory.”  And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.  But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.”  And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock,  and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by.  Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.” Exodus 33:17-23 (ESV)

Jesus is our Light and Life, but also our Refuge.  In Jesus, we are shielded from God’s wrath- as our sins have been paid for by Him- even as we reflect His light in the world.

Lord, we thank You both for the light You reflect off of us, and for the safety of Your refuge in Jesus.  Give us the wisdom to “put on our baptism as daily wear” and to trust in you that we are forgiven and that You will give us what we need to stay faithful to you and to serve our neighbors in all we do.