Praising God

Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvellous things (Psalm 98:1a).

Read Psalm 98

My wife and I spent over two years searching for a retirement village to move into once we admitted that our home of over 30 years was no longer meeting our needs. It feels like a miracle of timing and circumstances that led us to where we now live. The village facilities, the staff, and other residents provide a wonderful environment to live in.

Yet, when a group of us residents get together, it is surprising how quickly we find ourselves complaining about things that are not perfect. Often, one of us has to speak up and remind us how we are all generally very happy with living here and wouldn’t want to live elsewhere.

This is why the message of this psalm is so important. It invites us to look up from preoccupation with the issues facing us and instead see God at work – in our lives and those around us. It might mean stopping talking about what irritates us and instead listening to what others are experiencing. It might mean asking God to help us to see what he is doing more clearly.

Never should we think that God needs our praises; instead, God has given us this gift of praising him to keep us focused and balanced as we face challenges in life. As we see God at work loving, encouraging, and healing people, and we acknowledge that our God’s love is the prime mover behind these activities, our focus changes from ourselves to being part of the family team God is using to love, encourage, and heal others.

One other thing the psalm brings out is how infectious praise is. It affects those around us and even possibly nature itself. As people see the joy permeating our being, they will want to know the source of this joy, too, and this allows us to share the source of it with others – in a very natural way.

Awesome God, we praise you for all the wonderful things you are doing in our lives, in the lives of our family members and friends, and, of course, in the lives of the billions of people we know nothing about. As we become aware of all you are doing, help us too to burst into praise to you. Amen.

Charles is a retired engineer who has worked on communications projects for the Air Force, Army and Navy. He lives in the outer north-western suburbs of Sydney with his wife, Diane. Together they have four children and eight grandchildren with whom they love spending time. He keeps himself busy with pot plants, a community vegetable garden, researching his family history, and volunteering in the community and at LifeWay Lutheran Church.

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What does it take for me to change my mind?

‘No, Father Abraham’, he [the rich man] said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ Abraham said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead’ (Luke 16:30,31).

ReadLuke 16:19–31

The parable Jesus told of the rich man and Lazarus is about a selfish, self-centered rich man who had no compassion for the poor beggar Lazarus, who used to sit outside the rich man’s gate begging for food. After they both die, the tables are turned, Lazarus is carried to ‘Abraham’s side’, and the rich man ends up in Hades (hell). In the parable, the rich man can see Lazarus and Abraham in the distance and pleads for help from Abraham but is advised this is now impossible. In a slight glimmer of compassion for others, the rich man asks if Lazarus can be sent back to the rich man’s brothers to warn them of where they are headed. Abraham advises the rich man that his brothers already have all of the Old Testament (Moses and the Prophets). We then pick up the story with the two verses quoted above.

I’ve often wondered what it takes for someone to dramatically change their position on an issue. When we are children, we tend to parrot back our parent’s views, but as part of our growing up, through the various influences around us, we develop our views, which tend to solidify in early adulthood. Some we take on almost subconsciously, while others we arrive at after much more thought, often involving lots of discussion with others. But we are pretty much set in our ideas by adulthood. We then tend to defend our views on issues and reject alternative views, sometimes very forcefully.

What about my views about God and his purpose for my life? I don’t believe God wants us to have blind faith in him because, if he did, it would be just as valid to have blind faith in any other religion. When Jesus was on Earth, he performed many miracles and other signs to prove he was God. He even returned from death (as suggested by the rich man in the parable). But many people still rejected him as God because they had blind faith in their distorted version of Judaism, and there was no room for Jesus in it.

Looking back on my 70-plus years, I can see God at work changing my views and attitudes, especially about my relationship with him. Often, he had to send challenges into my life to get me to review my attitudes and beliefs and then send people to me with wonderful words of godly wisdom to help me work through the challenges with new perspectives and insights.

I sometimes think how much easier my life would have been if I didn’t have to learn the hard way. And then I remember that if God made us humans, he would have had the best understanding of how to work in our lives to bring about his desired changes.

Heavenly Father, I surrender all my ideas and attitudes to you and ask that you lead me to take positions that honour you and demonstrate your love for all people. Amen.

Charles is a retired engineer who has worked on communications projects for the Air Force, Army and Navy. He lives in the outer north-western suburbs of Sydney with his wife, Diane. Together they have four children and eight grandchildren with whom they love spending time. He keeps himself busy with pot plants, a community vegetable garden, researching his family history and volunteering in the community and at LifeWay Lutheran Church.

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Divorce And Remarriage

Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery (Luke 16:18).

Read Luke 16:10–18

Why would I pick this passage for our devotion today when there were much safer subjects in today’s reading? Well, for starters, both my current wife and I were divorcees when we were married some years ago, and this was a passage we had to come to terms with. The passage is seemingly unambiguous and comes from the mouth of Jesus himself. So, there is no wriggle room.

For this devotion, I also bravely searched the internet for inspiration and discovered lots of discussion on who fitted into the categories of those who could never marry again because of divorce. I found discussions on who could find wriggle room to squeeze out of these categories. I felt that much of this was very legalistic and not in the spirit of the God I have come to know. Yes, God has very high standards, and there is no option for divorce (and, therefore, remarriage) in God’s perfect plan.

When my first marriage broke down, and we eventually divorced, I did commit myself to be single for the rest of my life. (Looking back, I think part of the reason was my guilt at failing to make my marriage work). I found a group of loving Christian friends (or they found me), and through these relationships, God matured me in my relationship with him. But all the time, I kept fending off any attempts by women to develop a romantic relationship with me. But God seemed to have a different idea. First, he brought Diane into my life. Then, God organised for a Christian friend to lecture me on the practicalities of God’s forgiveness and grace. He stressed that when God forgives, the past is forgotten; in God’s eyes, it is as if it hasn’t happened. While he was haranguing me, the Holy Spirit was lovingly convicting me that the failure of my marriage was no longer on his mind. Jesus had dealt with it on the cross, and it was buried with Jesus in the grave. Unknown to me at that time, God was also working in Diane’s life to bring us together.

After we got married, we still had to deal with many issues from our previous relationships, but we were also able to provide more stability for our respective children. There were ways God grew us through being in our relationship that may not have happened if we both had stayed single. And we came to understand more personally about God’s grace and mercy.

So, back to Jesus’s words. The context was that he spoke to the religious and legal rulers who loved playing legal games by adding their own interpretations and providing legal loopholes for themselves. Jesus just cut through to God’s clear plan.

Heavenly Father, as hard as we try, we keep failing to live up to your standards. Thank you that Jesus took all these failures on himself to the cross and grave, and they are all still buried in the grave. Amen.

Charles is a retired engineer who has worked on communications projects for the Air Force, Army and Navy. He lives in the outer north-western suburbs of Sydney with his wife, Diane. Together they have four children and eight grandchildren with whom they love spending time. He keeps himself busy with pot plants, a community vegetable garden, researching his family history and volunteering in the community and at LifeWay Lutheran Church.

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Investing For The Future

I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings (Luke 16:9).

Read Luke 16:1–9

This parable is one of the more difficult ones to understand. It is about a dishonest asset manager who gets found out by his boss and is given a short period to finalise the books before getting sacked. The asset manager then acts with further dishonesty by conspiring with his boss’ debtors to reduce their debts and gain their favour, hoping that these favours will extend to him being looked after by the debtors after he is sacked. The surprise of the parable is that the boss then congratulates the dishonest asset manager for his clever response to his impending sacking.

Jesus then makes the statement, ‘Realise that the purpose of money is to strengthen friendships, to provide opportunities for being generous and kind. Eventually, money will be useless to you – but if you use it generously to serve others, you will be welcomed joyfully into your eternal destination’ (from The Voice translation).

In the parable, the asset manager contemplates his future, makes plans, and executes them.

As a retired couple, my wife and I definitely did think while we were still gainfully employed about how we would fund our retirement. We sought financial advice from several sources and then implemented strategies we hoped would accumulate sufficient resources to live on in retirement.

Did we put the same amount of effort into planning for our eternal future? What about the effort to share the good news with others so we could celebrate in heaven together in the future? Am I prepared to review my priorities and goals so that God can use the resources he has given me more effectively in living out his love for others?

Heavenly Father, you have blessed us richly with your gifts to us. Please help us to remember they are a gift from you, and guide us in being clever in using all these gifts in a way that honours you and helps spread the good news to others who will greet and welcome us when we meet in heaven and celebrate together. Amen.

Charles is a retired engineer who has worked on communications projects for the Air Force, army and navy. He lives in the outer north-western suburbs of Sydney with his wife, Diane. Together they have four children and eight grandchildren with whom they love spending time. He keeps himself busy with pot plants, a community vegetable garden, researching his family history and volunteering in the community and at LifeWay Lutheran Church.

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Two lost sons and their father

The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son'. But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate’ (Luke 15:21–23).

Read Luke 15:11–32

Today’s reading is the third of three parables Jesus told about the ‘lost’ being found. Yesterday, we looked at the parables of the lost coin and lost sheep. This parable has traditionally been referred to as the parable of the prodigal son, emphasising the wasteful life the younger son lived after receiving his inheritance from his living father. The emphasis of this parable is really about the love and compassion of the father of the two sons. Like the previous two parables, we have the contrast of the lost son and the ‘good’ son who stays home and faithfully serves his father. In reality, both sons are lost – one in a very obvious way as he rejects his relationship with his father and squanders his inheritance, ending up a pauper; the other in a less obvious way as he slavishly serves his father with little love in the relationship.

One son hits rock bottom and repents, and there is great rejoicing as he returns home. Remember the rejoicing in heaven we read about yesterday over each person who repents? The other son hasn’t yet seen the need to repent. Hold on, you say, what has he done to repent over? There is jealousy over his brother, who is welcomed back into the family, his sulking and the lack of respect for his father when he is invited to the celebrations – just for starters.

But the hero of the story is the father who responded in very unexpected ways. In western culture, we may find it strange how he welcomed the younger son back. In the Middle Eastern culture where this story was told, the listeners would have never experienced such a father who would run to a disgraced son to welcome him home.

Jesus, again, stresses to his hearers how much his Father is committed to welcoming his repentant children back to him and celebrating exuberantly over their return. There is no hint of punishment for their failures, just forgiveness and a welcome home.

Heavenly Father, we often fail to live as your children, sometimes like the younger son, and sometimes the older son. Thank you for your amazing love and grace to us in the way you openly welcome us back once we acknowledge our failures. Please guide us with your Spirit in sharing the good news of this love and grace with others in the way we live our lives. Amen.

Charles is a retired engineer who has worked on communications projects for the air force, army and navy. He lives in the outer north-western suburbs of Sydney with his wife, Diane. Together they have four children and eight grandchildren with whom they love spending time. He keeps himself busy with pot plants, a community vegetable garden, researching his family history and volunteering in the community and at LifeWay Lutheran Church.

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Lost and found

I tell you that in the same way, there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent (Luke 15:7).

Read Luke 15:1–10

In response to the comments from the Pharisees and morality police about Jesus welcoming sinners and eating with them, Jesus tells two parables, one about a woman searching for a lost coin and the other about a shepherd searching for a sheep that strayed off. (There is a third parable, which we will look at tomorrow). In these parables, there are three characters; the one who gets lost, the good ones who don’t get lost, and the one who goes looking for the lost one. It is interesting to challenge oneself to pick one of these characters to identify with.

I’ve generally thought that Jesus (and the Holy Spirit) would be searching for the lost one, but he invites us to be part of this activity, too. So we can, therefore, easily identify with the one searching for the lost, asking the Holy Spirit to help us recognise who they are and where they are hiding. And, of course, we need wisdom and sensitivity in reaching out to them.

Then there are the ones who haven’t got lost, the righteous ones who don’t need to repent. It would be nice to identify with these wonderful people; unfortunately, they don’t exist in reality (even though the Pharisees and morality police probably identified with them).

So that leaves us with identifying with the lost ones, although it does nothing for our self-esteem. But our verse tells us that there is rejoicing in heaven each time we acknowledge and repent of our failures, of our inability to live up to God’s standards. I find this picture very encouraging to think that the angels of heaven are cheering us on as we face the challenges of daily life. Our Heavenly Father, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and all the angels of heaven guide us in living out God’s love to our fellow lost ones.

Thank you, Jesus, for doing everything needed to rescue me from being lost in my relationship with you. Thank you, Holy Spirit, for continuing to find me from where I have wandered off and lovingly calling me back to the security of my relationship with Jesus. Amen.

Charles is a retired engineer who has worked on communications projects for the Air Force, army, and navy. He lives in the outer north-western suburbs of Sydney with his wife, Diane. Together they have four children and eight grandchildren with whom they love spending time. He keeps himself busy with pot plants, a community vegetable garden, researching his family history, and volunteering in the community and at LifeWay Lutheran Church.

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Source Of Sustenance

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing … This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples (John 15:5,8).

Read John 15:1–8

Jesus used many examples and stories (parables) to help us understand how he wants to live in a relationship with us (shepherd/sheep; farmer/produce; vine/branches). All of these rely on a very close connection between us and him. Any of us who have done some gardening will realise how quickly a branch withers and dies when not connected to a source of sustenance. We can maintain life in the cut branch for some time if we place the cut end in water, such as placing cut flowers in a vase. Or we can put a cutting in a special soil mixture to get it to send out its roots and commence a new plant. And there is the option to graft the cutting into a living plant so that it becomes part of that living plant.

But without that source of sustenance, the cut branch will very quickly die. Jesus uses this example to teach us an important truth about how we remain alive as children of his Father and live out his purpose for us. Since Jesus is the source of all the sustenance we need to stay alive and be productive, we need to maintain that intimate connection with him. We generally know what this means: regular systematic Bible reading, times of intimate prayer, and spending time with other Christians. These all help us focus on God’s will for us, help us find answers to the challenges we face, and encourage us when we lose energy and focus. But we also get to know God personally, feel safe and loved in his presence, and excited enough about our relationship with him that others observe his impact on our lives.

When we are feeling ineffectual in our Christian witness or we feel discouraged about the lack of impact our church community is having on the wider community, maybe all we need to do is go back to the source of our sustenance, the Jesus vine, and review how much we are utilising the resources he makes available to us. Are we immersing ourselves in his word? Are we spending intimate time with Jesus and his Father, talking about life and the issues we face? Are we finding encouragement in worshipping God in the company of other Christians? Are we focusing on all that God has done for us and is continuing to do for us?

Being connected to Jesus' vine and receiving all the sustenance it provides, will result in us producing fruit – fruit that others will see as being sourced from God himself, stimulating their curiosity to the source of this fruit.

Heavenly Father, many of us have been trying to produce fruit for you, relying on our efforts and ideas, producing very little. Thank you for reminding us that we can only produce fruit for you if we are connected to the Jesus vine. We surrender our lives to you, for you to achieve your will and purpose in us. Amen.

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He Has Done It

Posterity will serve him, future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it! (Psalm 22:30,31)

Read Psalm 22:25-31

After identifying those of his time, David looks to the future – future generations and those yet unborn. That means us and those who are yet to follow us – our children, grandchildren – and on through the generations. The message of proclaiming God’s righteousness continues, not because of anything we have done. As the text states, ‘He has done it!’ What a relief!

When I lived in the Philippines, I was often faced with typhoons. The advice was to put myself in a place where I am away from the risks of flying objects, breaking glass, or disappearing roofs. Therefore, I would place some cushions in a downstairs bathtub, surround myself with candles – and wait. The wind would howl, and tree branches would bash against the walls. The pressure would build and my ears would pop. I would pray for safety and peace. But, at the same time, all I could think of was that there must be something I could do. Feeling so powerless in such a storm is frightening, and I could easily relate to the disciples in that boat on the Sea of Galilee. Letting go, relinquishing any impulse to control what I can’t, is hard. But it was only when I was able, amid tears of frustration, to declare, ‘I give up – I’m in your hands Lord’, that I found peace and went to sleep.

That is the great gift of trusting God and his promises through faith in Jesus Christ. It enables us to let go, to be relieved of making ourselves right with God, because he has done it for us.

It doesn’t end there, however. In response to this gift, we endeavour to live according to Jesus’ command that we love one another, serve each other, and live our lives praising God and proclaiming this message to future generations and those yet unborn.

We give you thanks, Heavenly Father, for the faith of our forebears, and that through the Holy Spirit, you help us to be your proclaimers to those who follow us, so that they too may know you and abide in your grace. Amen.

Faye Schmidt continues her diaconal calling through governance, having served on the Vic–Tas District Church Board, the General Church Board and currently as chair of the Standing Committee on Constitutions and her congregation, Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Adelaide. Having lived and worked in many locations within Australia and overseas, Faye has a heart for the stranger and the newcomer and for being open to new ideas, learning from others and responding to needs.

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Discipleship Has Consequences

Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? (Luke 14:28)

Read Luke 14:25–35

Are you an impulse buyer? A person who, when shopping for an item will see something they like and buy it and then, on taking it home are faced with some realities – it is too big for the space, the wrong colour, or too expensive to be covered by the money in the bank? Then we are faced with what we can do with the now-unwanted item.

In today’s text, Jesus is making it clear to us that being one of his followers is a serious matter and has consequences far beyond just the decision to make our commitment to him.

It is not a matter of following the crowd and relying on the strength of the crowd to carry us – it is personal, individual, about our commitment to loving and serving Jesus and having a relationship with him. And that has consequences.

Am I prepared to work on this relationship? Am I prepared to listen to God through his word? Am I prepared to serve wherever he sends me and to those he puts in my path? And am I prepared to make him and his will the priority in my life?

This is not easy, but we are not left to flounder our way through this. God has sent his Holy Spirit to guide, strengthen and uphold us on our journey of faith. In Luther’s explanation to the Third Article of the Apostle’s Creed he states, ‘I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith’.

So, what seems impossible to us to achieve is made possible by God himself, who desires all creation to be made whole and one with him.

By your Holy Spirit, Lord, strengthen me in my faith in you and love for my neighbour so that I may be a true disciple accepting all you require of me, trusting in your grace. Amen.

Faye Schmidt continues her diaconal calling through governance, having served on the Vic–Tas District Church Board, the General Church Board and currently as chair of the Standing Committee on Constitutions and her congregation, Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Adelaide. Having lived and worked in many locations within Australia and overseas, Faye has a heart for the stranger and the newcomer and for being open to new ideas, learning from others and responding to needs.

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