Ultimate Hope

2020 has been one heckuva year, has it not? I often see posts and memes on social media lamenting the awfulness of this year and looking ahead, longing for something better. As a believer in Christ, I know that the “something better” for which we all long has already been accomplished.

Amidst all the noise that is 2020, this assurance rings true:

God’s goodness and love have not left the building. God is just as present in 2020 as He has ever been. He speaks to us through His Word just as He always has. And, fellow believers, we have so much to look forward to, including the incredible promise that we will dwell with Him forever.

God has much good to say to us, but we must dial in. Be in the Word. Be in prayer. Be in worship, whether online or in person. God is our ultimate hope for our life’s future and for our eternal destiny. Indeed, we can take comfort in these words from one of the most quoted chapters in Scripture, remembering that even in the darkest of days and the toughest of times, God is in control. He’s got this. And He’s got you and me cradled in His loving arms – today and for all eternity.

With that reality in mind, let’s take on this day!

Soli DEO Gloria!

Solid Foundation

When our home was flooded after Hurricane Harvey and we had cleared out all of the ruined furniture and damaged drywall, we had a structural engineer check the integrity of our foundation. We were concerned that our house had marinaded in flood waters for almost two weeks. Was our foundation still solid? Could we safely rebuild?

“I have hidden Your word in my heart that I might not sin against You.”

Psalms 119:11

Early morning is easily my favorite time of the day. I enjoy getting up while everyone else sleeps, brewing that first cup of coffee, and heading upstairs to read. That first cup is the “wake up” cup. As I enjoy it I check Facebook and Instagram for the status of family and friends. Then, when I pour that second cup it is time to go into God’s Word.

I have maintained a morning Bible reading discipline for a few years now. Mind you, I’m not perfect. I miss some mornings. Especially when traveling, it is easy to miss a few days in a row. When I miss a day or several days, life feels different. There is a void; a tangible, real void. I have grown to love God’s Word, and when I miss my morning time, I really miss it.

This year, 2020, has been a strange year, hasn’t it? In mid-March, like many Americans, my employer directed us to work from home to “flatten the curve” of COVID-19. Until that time, I maintained the position that working remotely simply would not suit me. All of a sudden, I had no choice. Now, nearly five months later, I am grateful and in no hurry to return to the office.

For me, what was initially a disruptive notion has become a blessing. According to my YouVersion Bible app, today marks 139 days in a row in God’s Word – my longest streak since first launching the application some three years ago. I don’t reveal that as a brag, but to emphasize a point: My day is not the same when I neglect my time with God in His Word. God’s Word is edifying, strengthening, reassuring and grounding. It is a gift to be treasured.

Spending time each day with my Bible solidifies my life’s foundation. This morning time with God has been especially important in the midst of the craziness that is 2020. In the midst of a national dialogue fraught with fear, anger and disunity, I find myself at peace. I know that all of this will pass; that God is on His throne – always has been and always will be. Indeed, as I read His Word and learn more about His character and His nature I am, at the same time, comforted. I am at peace. I am not worried, nor am I afraid. Each morning in God’s Word strengthens the foundation on which I build my life, and for that I am truly thankful.

I have in my home office a document from a structural engineer that certifies the structural integrity of our home is intact and its foundation is solid. And I have in my heart the hope of eternity with God and the strength to take on yet another day.

Do you have a daily time with God?

Soli DEO Gloria!

Image Credit: YouVersion

(c) workisministry 2020

Blessing Aug 2, 2020

Sunday morning. I haven’t been to church in months, thanks to COVID-19. It is easy to feel a bit disconnected from my church family. Of course, my church offers worship online and our production team does a stellar job of offering a quality and meaningful worship experience. But it is still not the same. And, sometimes, I let that get me down.

“May the God of hope fill you with all JOY and PEACE as you trust in Him so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Romans 15:13 NASB

I needed this passage this morning. To be sure, I cannot wait to go back to church. But, for now, I am thankful for the technology that exists and the talent God gave many for using the technology that allows us to worship, although remotely, together.

Christian friends, it is important that we keep our habits of worship, study and sacrament – in person or online. The JOY and PEACE we know through the Lord is not diminished just because we cannot gather together for a time. My prayer for you this morning is just that. Reread it. And read it again. And let the Holy Spirit work His power in your life.

God bless you all and may each of you have a blessed Lord’s Day.

Soli DEO Gloria!

Image Credit: YouVersion

(c) workisministry 2020

God’s Instruction Book

I often call the Bible “The Treasure of God’s Word”. This Treasure is available to each of us, and when we open it, God reveals His nature, His character and His plan for our eternal success.

Study this book of instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do.

Joshua 1:8 NASB

This was one of God’s instructions to Joshua as he prepared to lead Israel into the Promised Land. The “book of instruction” was the Torah – the five books of Moses that comprise the first five books of the Bible. Pastor Allistair Begg of Truth for Life often reminds his listeners that we are to read and understand the Old Testament in the context of the New Testament. Specifically, we are to view the Old Testament writings through the revealing lens of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

I want to call out a few words in this passage:

  • Instruction – The Torah reveals God’s Law under which all will be judged. It also lays out the covenant God made with Israel as He freed them from the bondage in Egypt. Succinctly stated, that covenant said God would free Israel if they would obey His laws. It also provided a system of confession and sacrifice to address violations of the Law (sin). For Joshua and for Israel, this system would preserve them in God’s eyes until the promised Messiah came. For us, the Book of Instruction is the complete Book of Scripture, the Bible. Not only does the Bible help us understand our condemnation under the Law, but it also assures us of redemption and salvation through faith in Jesus. The Bible instructively informs us of God’s eternal plan for our lives, already assured and secured through Jesus.
  • Continually – God did not give us Scripture with the intention that we only consider it when read to us in church on Sunday mornings. He did not intend for our Bibles to sit on a bookshelf gathering dust. No! God wants us to “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” His Word (1662 Book of Common Prayer). I have discovered over the years that my outlook and my life are in a much improved place when I read my Bible daily than when I let the book sit as the dust gathers. God speaks to us through His Word, and we gain the most benefit from His Word when we spend time in it.
  • Meditate – More than just reading the Bible, we are to ponder God’s message to His people. Often, after my morning reading, I use my morning walk as a time of solitude to pray and think about what I just read. Through prayer and meditation, we connect with God and He helps us discern His message. The Bible does not say different things to different people. Its message is singular, it is consistent, and through prayer and meditation God helps us understand what we have just read.
  • Day and night – I love this. The Bible is God’s revelation of Himself to us, and it is also our instruction manual for living our lives. It is the foundation on which the Christian is to build her values, organize his priorities, conduct her daily activities, and approach his sphere of influence. It is the complete package. We are to carry God’s Word into our homes, our workplaces, our schools, and each of our human interactions.
  • Obey – Actually, I should highlight “obey everything”. In Old Testament times, obedience to the Law was the focus of the covenant. In New Testament context, we know that our obedience does not secure our place in Heaven. No, our place in Heaven has been secured through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Our obedience to God is an outflow of the salvation we know. We obey God because we know Him, we love Him, and we want to glorify Him so others see and give Him glory as well. This obedience is not easy. In these modern times, much of what the world esteems as right and good is contrary to the instructions found in the Bible. The easy path is to align with the world’s values. The more difficult path is to remain in alignment with what the Bible teaches us, even when society says otherwise. I pray every day that God would give me the courage to obey Him completely.
  • Prosper and Succeed – This is not “name it and claim it” prosperity. This is not about a growing bank account, a nice home, or a fancy car. This is not about those things at all. Prosperity and success are eternal. That is not to say that God is not interested in our daily lives or that He does not provide for our needs – He is interested and He does provide. But this prosperity and success is most appropriately viewed through an eternal lens, extending far beyond anything we can achieve, accomplish or gain in this temporal life. When we surrender our lives to God, fully trusting in Him, we will prosper and we will succeed. For ever and ever.

See what I mean? This, my friend, is Treasure! There is so much negativity and strife in the world today. Indeed, 2020 is shaping up to be quite the strange year. The world faces a pandemic. We have rioting in our streets as some seek to unravel the threads of American Democracy in exchange for something else. We live in a society that considers the killing of children in the womb to be healthcare and of supreme importance. Law and order seem to be diminishing in importance as many with power and influence support these movements. These are scary times. But, thanks be to God, He reminds us in His Word that He is Almighty. God is sovereign. God has a plan for us that will not be derailed. In fact, that plan is already achieved through the Messiah, Jesus the Christ.

When is the last time you picked up your Bible, found a quiet place, and read God’s Word? If it has been a while, why not dust it off and start anew today? There are a plethora of Bible reading plans on the You Version Bible App. I am in my third “Bible in One Year” reading plan, and I can tell you, the Treasure is real, it is tangible, and it awaits you.

Soli DEO Gloria! To God alone be all honor, glory and praise! Amen!

(c) workisministry 2020

Don’t Give Up

I woke up, wide awake, thinking it had to be close to my 4:45 alarm time. It was 1:40. After drifting in and out of sleep, I decided at 3:15 to make a cup of coffee and head upstairs. I was not in the greatest of moods.

“Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.”

2 Corinthians 4:16 NASB

Coffee in hand, I headed upstairs and opened God’s Word. As I read my daily devotional it crossed my mind that maybe God knew I needed some more time this morning. So, rather than be angry that I couldn’t sleep, I decided to give thanks to the Lord for some extra time with Him in His Word.

The Apostle Paul was a great encourager. Here, he offers reassurance to the Corinthians and to us today that we can face the afflictions the world tosses our way knowing that there is a bigger plan in place. I am tired this morning. But more than fatigue from a short night’s sleep, I am tired of the strife. I am tired of COVID-19 and the restrictions it has placed upon my life. I am tired of the lawlessness playing out in our nation today. I am tired of the divisiveness and disunity. With all that is going on, it is easy to become discouraged, to want to throw in the proverbial towel. After all, I am just one man. What can I do to effect change? What can I do to be a part of the solution? And from where will the strength to do so come?

2 Corinthians 4:16 was the verse of the day on You Version Bible App. Do you see what it says? Here, Paul reminds us that even though we grow older, and although we may feel tired, frustrated or dismayed by the world’s afflictions, our spirits are being renewed each day! Renewed! Indeed, this spiritual food I have enjoyed this morning is rejuvenating. It is essential. And, even as I type this, a smile is on my face.

Paul goes on to say this:

“For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:17-18 NASB

Thanks be to God, I can see past all this. These afflictions will pass. I know they will. Through Jesus, the score is already settled. Through His death and resurrection, all who believe in Him are saved. Those eternal things which are not seen are very, very real. I know they are. And through that knowledge, through that hope, through the nurturing God offers through His Word, through prayer and through sacrament, my inner man is renewed. And I realize that the weight of the world does not rest upon my shoulders. God is in control. He is sovereign. My job is to let my light shine, that others would see my deeds and give glory to my Father in Heaven (Matthew 5:16).

Thank You, Lord, for this time this morning. Thank You for feeding me. Thank You for renewing me. Lord, I am ready to serve.

Soli DEO Gloria!

(c) workisministry 2020

That Strong Tower

I earned my bachelor’s degree at a small liberal arts college in Austin, Texas. Part of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod education network, it was known as Concordia Lutheran College when I was there; today it is Concordia University Texas. One of the aspects of attending Concordia that I appreciated the most was the daily chapel service. Lasting about 20 minutes, it offered a daily grounding in worship and Word as students and faculty gathered together each morning. I miss that.

“The Name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.”

Proverbs 18:10 NASB

Do you sometimes feel stressed or overwhelmed by all that is going on in the world? COVID-19. Civil unrest. Divisiveness. Disunity. Joblessness. Dysfunction. Oh, and on top of all of that, it is an election year. I’m reminded of the old TV commercial, “Calgon, take me away!” Ha! (For you younger readers, the Calgon of years past is the Lush bath bomb of today.)

I have learned over the years that the things on which I focus tend to take center stage in my life. For good or for harm, they have influence. Focus on the turmoil in the world and life feels tumultuous. But, shifting that focus to God’s Word has an amazingly calming effect. Much more so than any bath bomb can offer.

What does this have to do with chapel at Concordia or the proverb quoted above? College life offers its own set of pressures and stress. As I walked into Concordia’s chapel each morning, I was entering that strong tower. That place of peace and calm. The place where we were reminded each morning, through worship and Word, of Who it is that we serve and the fact that He has a grand purpose for our lives. It was in chapel that students and faculty worshipped together, unified by the Word of God and uplifted by the examples of Christian faith all around us. And, as I departed the morning service, everything I faced, no matter what it was, took on a completely different perspective and priority.

I often wish there was a daily chapel service I could attend today. Thankfully, God comes to us through His Word no matter where we might be when we seek Him. God meets us where we are. For me it is in the quiet of the early morning, when I read and consider God’s Word, that I am most at peace. The act of posting here and on Instagram inspires me. Even if nobody ever reads this, I am reassured, regrounded and rejuvenated by having taken the time to write.

I do miss Concordia’s morning chapel. I miss gathering with other Christians to worship, receive the Sacraments, hear God’s Word proclaimed, and offer mutual encouragement. And I am thankful that He is here, with me now, in the quiet of this early morning. Thank you, Lord Jesus.

Soli DEO Gloria!

Image credit: YouVersion Bible App with (c) Roger Coles

(c) workisministry 2020

Let Your Light Shine…

I have read these words of Jesus many times. I read them again just a few days ago, and they resonated with me in a big and wonderful way.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden, nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 5:14-16

I have written before about what I call my “walking witness”. Everything I say and do points to something or someone. My words and my actions reveal my heart. When people look upon one another and observe the way we conduct ourselves, they draw conclusions about the base motivations that drive the behaviors. What message am I conveying to those around me when I speak or when I act? To whom do my words and actions point? Are my words and actions helpful or are they a hindrance? Most importantly, does my conduct point others to Jesus, or does it point them elsewhere?

2020 has been a very trying year so far. The world has been impacted heavily, in so many ways, by COVID-19. As we began to see improvement in disease spread and reducing death counts, the tragic murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis occurred. Following that, peaceful protests descended into violent riots, with the livelihoods of innocent citizens destroyed as large swaths of many of America’s greatest cities descended into chaos. The lawlessness and disorder continues in several cities today as the level of anger across our nation seems to be increasing exponentially.

If there was ever a time when God’s people need to let our lights shine, that time is now.

As the events of 2020 unfolded, I found myself sucked into the anger and divisiveness in ample display on Facebook and Twitter. News feeds that were once dominated by life events and useful information have become platforms for sowing divisiveness and disunity. Well-intended expressions of position are attacked by those in opposition, sometimes in ugly and threatening ways. I found myself drawn into this. As I review my own posts and comments to posts of others, I am dismayed and even disturbed by several of them. Indeed, these social media platforms I once enjoyed became snares. How does one deal with a snare? Snares and traps are best avoided by staying away or removing them altogether. So I decided to exit. I logged off of both platforms and deleted their applications from my devices. In the 12 days since I began my hiatus from Facebook and Twitter, the anger and frustration I felt have quickly disappeared. I decided I would not return.

Then, just a few days ago, I read these words of Jesus. I quickly realized that I had allowed the world to extinguish my light, at least on these huge platforms that reach millions of people. I realized that the world needs the light of the Gospel to pierce the darkness of sin, despair and chaos. I realized that the easy way out is to stay away and keep quiet. But God doesn’t call us to take the easy way out. He doesn’t call us to stay away and keep quiet. He calls us to be the light of the world, shining brightly from the lampstand of the Gospel so that the world, through me and through you, can see Jesus.

At some point, I will return to Facebook and Twitter. But before I do, I am prayerfully considering how I will reconstruct and recraft my experiences to avoid the snares of anger and divisiveness while being the light my Lord calls me to be. I will let my light shine in such a way that those on Facebook and Twitter see my posts and glorify my Father who is in heaven. In so doing, I hope to be a witness to my Lord while once again enjoying the personal connections of so many friends and loved ones.

If there was ever a time when God’s people need to let our lights shine, that time is now. May God direct my words and actions as I prepare to relight my lamp.

Soli DEO Gloria!

Image credit; YouVersion Bible App

(c) workisministry 2020

Kindness

How are you doing? Are you worried about, or frightened of, COVID-19? Are you frustrated at having been locked down for a long period of time? Are you out of work? Perhaps you’ve lost a loved one? How are you doing?

“Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.”

Proverbs 12:25 NASB

I know people in each of the situations I asked about. Some are more anxious and worried than others. Some are frustrated while others are downright angry. There is much disagreement over how we as individuals and as a society should conduct ourselves in this COVID-19 era. All too often, these differing positions yield resentment and division among smart people; even people with family ties or otherwise strong friendships. And this does none of us any good.

This succinct little proverb reminds us that, when others are experiencing difficulty, kindness is king. Even when we disagree, it is vitally important that we seek to understand and seek to be kind.

Let each of us pledge to take this into our day – today and every day.

Soli DEO Gloria!

Image credit: YouVersion Bible App

(c) workisministry 2020

I Shook His Hand

I shook a neighbor’s hand yesterday. That’s right. In this era of social distancing and sideways glances, my neighbor offered his hand and I shook it. And, after shaking his hand, I threw my hands into the air and shouted, “Thank you, Jesus!” All who were with us laughed. And everybody understood.

So here is the story. After dinner, my wife and I took a walk in our neighborhood. As with most evenings, there were many neighbors outside enjoying the relative cool of the evening. One street over from us is a house with living space over the garage similar to ours. The homeowners happened to be outside and we asked them about the french doors and balcony on the front of their garage space, as we have been considering doing something similar. A conversation about living upstairs during post-Harvey home repairs ensued. At the end of the conversation, as we prepared to continue our walk, our neighbor extended his hand to me and said, “It is a pleasure to meet you. My name is George.”

George and I stood there a moment and looked at each other. I could tell he had somewhat reflexively offered his hand and wondered if perhaps he did so out of habit, not really intending to shake my hand. After meeting his gaze for just a few seconds I said, “I’ll shake your hand,” and I shook it. We exchanged a good, firm handshake. Just like I do routinely before and after business meetings. Just like I do routinely upon meeting a new acquaintance. And I can tell you that that good, firm handshake was therapeutic.

A business colleague recently posted this on LinkedIn:

“With the “new normal”, handshakes may become a thing of the past. We will each need a new way to greet-elbow bump, foot touch etc.”

Upon reading this post, I had to pause and think about that. Is this what COVID is doing to our society? Are we destined to live lives in which we view others as a cesspool of germs, afraid to interact and afraid to have contact? While I understand and generally support the social distancing measures currently in place, I reject the notion that social distancing must somehow become a permanent fixture of human life. Having said that, my intention here is not to stir up controversy, but simply to offer a more hopeful view of our post-COVID future. All inspired by the handshake I exchanged with my neighbor yesterday evening. That wonderful, therapeutic handshake.

Friends, I believe that God is doing some amazing work amid these strange and crazy times, and that He will reveal it in His good and perfect timing. For me, I have already gained a strengthened appreciation for my friendships and for human interaction in general. And, while I am thankful for the technology that allows us to remain connected remotely, I look forward to someday shaking your hand once again. If you choose not to reciprocate, that’s OK; I will respect your choice and take no offense. If you choose to accept, be ready to accept a good, hearty firm handshake in the spirit of human connection.

Soli DEO Gloria!

(c) workisministry 2020

Unity over Division

A few days ago, our local news channels posted various questions to Twitter asking whether or not people planned to visit Texas businesses that reopened May 1. Many of the comments posted in response to the question were quite disturbing. Rather than simply answering the question, several people spewed vitriol at people whose positions differed from theirs. People who look forward to a safe reopening and who plan to patronize businesses were called greedy, money-hungry, uncaring and worse. People who said they will stay home a while longer to ensure their safety were accused of living in fear and giving in to the virus. Just that morning, these words of Jesus were part of my daily Bible reading:

“If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.”

Mark 3:24 NASB

To be perfectly honest, I am more concerned for the long-term survival of American society than I am about Coronavirus or the ramifications of reopening the economy too quickly. When peoples’ first reaction to a statement with which they disagree is to attack the person making the statement, something is horribly wrong.

I am a frequent visitor to various social media sites. I probably spend more time there than I should. But I enjoy it. Through Facebook, I enjoy keeping up with friends from high school and college. I enjoy seeing what is happening in their lives and wishing them a happy birthday when the app reminds me it is their big day. On Twitter, I follow various pastors, news outlets, and bloggers and this has become one of my primary means of accessing news and information from various sources. I have two Instagram accounts – one @workisministry where I offer content similar to what is available here, and the other @jeffstrege where I share more personal content. Both are publicly viewable. Until recently, I had no idea there are Instagram bloggers and I now follow several while offering content of my own. And, lastly, I recently set up a channel on You Tube called “My Morning Walk”. I’ve been encouraged to explore something called Tik Tok, but I think what I have currently is enough. Let me know if you disagree.

Indeed, social media is a great tool, but it is rife with abuse. From the relative safety of an anonymous presence, some people post harmful, derisive, divisive – crap. And, for many, this appears to be the level of discourse they prefer. Speaking from uninformed, simplistic and naive positions, many of these people gain followers who hang on every word. And, through them, the seeds of divisiveness and anger are sown.

Jesus’ words here are most certainly true. A kingdom, or in our case a nation, divided against itself will not stand. As we deal with the serious issues presented by the Coronavirus, let us do so with empathy, kindness and thoughtfulness. Let us not allow those who seek division over unity to succeed. And, more than anything, let us all strive to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. That is my pledge.

Soli DEO Gloria!

Image Credit: YouVersion Bible App

(c) workisministry 2020