I believe in Jesus Christ…From there [heaven] he will come to judge the living and the dead.

“[Jesus] commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” – Acts 10:42-43

The End of Guilt

Jesus’ message about Judgment Day was simple: “Watch out that no one deceives you.” … “See to it that you are not alarmed” (Matthew 24:4,6).

The apostle Peter confessed that “Jesus is the Lord of all” (Acts 10:36), and therefore Jesus has the right to judge all.  So we read in the Bible: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left” (Matthew 25:31-33).

Peter witnessed to a man named Cornelius that they both would stand in front of this Jesus on the last day because “Jesus is the Lord of all.” That’s why Jesus commanded Peter “to preach to the people and testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.”

God assured our sin-filled parents, Adam and Eve, that one of the offspring of the woman [Jesus] would crush the devil’s power (Genesis 3:15). Jesus’ death brought to Cornelius, his family and “everyone who believes in him,” the end of guilt through the forgiveness of sins. The dying Lamb of God “takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

That means that we who have put our trust in Jesus do not need to fear Judgment Day because we know the Judge. We know his mercy and his love for the whole world.

We know that we and all who trust the words and promises of the Bible will enter heaven together. We know that in heaven we will see “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9). Then look closely! By God’s grace you will see Cornelius and his family, and they will see you!

I believe in the Holy Spirit

No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit. – 1 Corinthians 12:3

Working Behind the Scenes

Although certain individuals may get more public attention, those who work “behind the scenes” are essential in almost every joint endeavor. It’s true with our God too.

The Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed begins: “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” Christians confess that the Holy Spirit is the eternal, co-equal, third Person of the Triune God. Present at creation, the Holy Spirit worked saving faith in the hearts of Adam and Eve after their fall into sin. The Spirit has created repentance and faith in human hearts ever since. The Holy Spirit inspired the prophets and apostles in every word of the Holy Scriptures. The Holy Spirit’s “behind the scenes” work truly is essential to the saving work of our gracious God.

The Holy Spirit had moments of public display. At Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3), at Pentecost (Acts 2) and in special gifts to the early Christian Church (1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12), his work was clearly recognized. But for 21st century Christians, his work remains essentially “behind the scenes.”

The Holy Spirit is our “faith-starter.” By the gospel in Baptism and the Word, the Holy Spirit sparked the fire of saving faith in our hearts. We could not confess a living faith in Jesus as our Lord were it not for this gift.

The Holy Spirit is our “faith-builder.” By the Holy Scriptures he opens our understanding, increases our knowledge of God’s truth, and strengthens our trust in Jesus, which leads to our daily life of faith.

The Holy Spirit is our “faith-preserver.” Some have feared, “What if I lose my faith?” As we continue in the gospel of Christ, holding to his teachings, the Holy Spirit works “behind the scenes,” keeping us in the faith.

Finally, the Holy Spirit is the “Church-builder,” as you and I and our fellow believers share the gospel of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection worldwide. The Spirit will ignite, strengthen and preserve faith in the hearts of repentant sinners, that they may have eternal life.

I believe in…the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
– Ephesians 5:25-27

The Bride of Christ

Though the first word of the Bible passage above says, “Husbands,” this article is not directed to husbands; it is directed to the bride. But not the bride of an earthly husband. It is directed to the bride of Christ. It is directed to those who believe in the holy Christian church, the communion of saints.

As the apostle Paul talks about the relationship between husbands and wives, he holds up the beautiful relationship between Christ and his bride, the church. In this relationship we see a bride who is beautifully dressed for her husband. In fact, she is holy. She is blameless. She is radiant. Without any stain or wrinkle or blemish. She is the perfect bride!

What is it that makes this bride so beautiful?

Notice, there is no talk of the dreams the bride had from little on. There is no talk of the plans the bride outlined in the years and months leading up to her wedding day. There is no talk of the detailed preparations the bride made as the hour of her wedding drew near. What we do hear, what we do see, what we are blessed with, is the loving work of the bridegroom—the loving work of Christ.

Christ made his bride holy and blameless. Christ cleansed her and made her radiant. He did that by giving himself up for her. The Son of God offered his holy, blameless life for his beloved. The Lamb of God, without stain or wrinkle or blemish, sacrificed himself—the perfect payment for sin making the sinner perfect.

This is not a dream or a fairy tale. This is the story of God’s love for you.

Dear friend in Christ, walk as a beautiful bride today. Walk up and down the aisle, out the door, across the street, around the corner, along the path in front of you, with complete confidence in your bridegroom and with eager anticipation of what lies ahead. Walk as a bride who knows that her bridegroom is beaming at her with love.

I believe in…the forgiveness of sins

God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. – 2 Corinthians 5:19

Reconciled

Do you ever feel like the whole world is against you? No matter where you turn, you find opposition, and where there is no active opposition, often there is apathy and ignorance. You think you know people, and then they turn against you. Nothing goes right for very long. On most days, many things go wrong.

What is your reaction when that happens? Frustration? Anger?

You may feel like the whole world is against you some days, but God has the right to feel like that every day. No matter where he turns, he finds opposition, and where there is no active opposition, there is apathy and ignorance. Even when people claim to know him, they end up with mixed motives and deeds that fall short of what God expects. Nothing goes right for very long. On most days, many things go wrong.

What is God’s reaction when that happens? It’s not frustration and anger.

Instead, God’s reaction was to send his Son, Jesus, into the world to be the Savior. Jesus is not the Savior of only a few people. He is the Savior of the world. God does not count the sins of all people against them because of the perfect life and innocent suffering and death of Jesus. He does not count your sins against you.

That is the message of reconciliation. God is not your enemy, even though he could easily be disappointed by your life. He is your Savior, and he is there for you even when the whole world seems to be against you. Trust in his word that declares your full and free forgiveness.

I believe in…the life everlasting. Amen.

You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. – Psalm 16:11

The Path of Life

The late Yogi Berra, a famous baseball player, once said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” He made that saying the title of a book of his many well-known “Yogi-isms.” It’s a silly saying, because everyone knows that when you come to a fork in the road, you have to walk down one path or the other. The point of a fork in the road is that you can’t walk both directions.

The Bible says that life has two paths. The one is the path to eternal life. The other is the path to eternal death. You can’t walk both directions.

We give thanks to God that he has made known to us the path of life. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved,” he says. “Whoever believes in him will not perish, but will have eternal life.” The path to life is the path of faith in Jesus as Savior.

The path to eternal life has some sacrifices along the way, because faith in Jesus as Savior means that we do not believe in ourselves as saviors, or in other people who want to entice us to follow them rather than Jesus.

But the path to eternal life ends with joy in the presence of the Lord. All of the joys of heaven, all of the eternal pleasures, involve being in the presence of God forever.

The other path, the one leading to eternal death, may look good, but at its end there is only destruction. Many are on that path. Through Jesus, the Lord leads you on the path to heaven, the one less traveled, and that will make all the difference.

Amen

What does this mean? “Amen”

A Hebrew word which means firm, established, reliable; as an adverb it means surely, certainly, assuredly, or truly; at the end of a prayer it is a statement of faith and confidence — yes, it shall be so.

Gospel

What does this mean? “Gospel”

The Gospel is the good news that God sent his Son Jesus to take away the sins of the world or one of the first four books of the New Testament which recount the words, life, suffering, death, and resurrection of our Savior. The word gospel is sometimes used in a broad sense to include all the teachings of the Bible.

Means of grace

What does this mean? “Means of Grace”

When people love you, it’s good when they can find ways to express that love. It’s one thing to say “I love you,” and another thing to live it.

When someone in authority favors you, it’s good when they can find ways to express that favor. It’s good to be favored, but it’s even better to gain something because of that favor. When God loves and favors you, it’s not because you have met the standards he has set. The only standard that makes sense to God is perfection, and we don’t meet it. So when he loves us and favors us, despite our being unworthy, we have a special term for that love and favor. We call it “grace.”

How does God show us his grace? He does it by promising things to us and then delivering on the promises. The promises of God are the “means,” the way he shows us his grace, definitely and personally. It’s strange, but when we hear that “God loves the world” (John 3:16), we aren’t always sure that we are included. Did God send his Son for us, personally? We should be sure, but just to help us along, God applies the promises of his love personally to us in the sacrament of baptism (Galatians 3:27).

When we hear, “God reconciled the whole world to himself, not counting anyone’s sin against them,” (2 Corinthians 5:19), how can we be sure that our own sins are personally forgiven through faith in Jesus? We should be sure, but just to help us along, God applies the promises of his grace personally to us in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:28). The means of grace are God’s promises in Word and sacrament.

With Whom Should I Pray?

Prayer is one side of a conversation. God gets his chance to speak to us when we listen to his word, the Bible. We get our chance to speak to God in prayer.

Conversations can be more than two-sided. At a party, a group of three, four or more people may talk with one another in the same conversation. So it is with prayer. Though prayer is often a personal heart to heart talk with God, at times a group of people may offer its collected thoughts to God. Such a situation begs the question, “With whom should I pray?”

Keep thinking about the picture of a conversation. At the party, those with similar interests engage in a group discussion. The same holds true in prayer spoken by more than one person. Since prayer is an outward expression of faith in the heart, praying with someone else assumes a foundation of agreement in faith, a common interest. For example, two or more people would hardly feel comfortable praying together if they did NOT agree on who God is, that being to whom they would be addressing their prayer.

God wants people to agree with one another about what they believe. God’s spokesman, the apostle Paul, said, “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” (1 Corinthians 1:10) With the Bible as the standard, God wants people to truly “agree to agree” instead of “agreeing to disagree”!

People who agree with one another have similar interests. They want to converse with one another. They can reveal their spiritual unity to others by praying together. Since God’s people don’t want to give God (or others) mixed messages, they seek to pray with those who stand for the same things that they do.

Certainly God wants us to pray FOR everyone, even our enemies. However, when we want to pray WITH someone, God urges us to join in prayer with those who believe and say the same things about God and his Word as we do.

Why isn’t God listening to me?

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. (Luke 11:9-10)

Why does Jesus say that when we all know it doesn’t work that way? We don’t have perfect jobs. Our loved ones don’t always regain their health. I doubt that any of us will ever win the Power Ball jackpot.

Sometimes it’s our fault. We pray for a better marriage but think all the changing needs to take place in THEM. We close our ears to the answer God has for that prayer, “Wake up. Love your spouse as much as I love you. Guess what? You’re not doing that.”

Often the answer to our prayer just costs too much. God answers, “Money and power will make you so falsely secure in yourself and in this world that your spiritual life and your attentiveness to me and my Word will wither and die, and so will your soul. I can’t have that. I need you with me now, so I can have you with me then.”

God’s answer to our prayers gets to the heart of all of our troubles in life. Jesus took the problem of sin head on when He sacrificed his life on a cross to destroy the effects of sin. The flawless life he lived on earth replaced the flawless life that God demands of us. We are free from guilt. We are free from God’s punishment. Now that’s an answer to our prayers!

We are confused about God’s answers to our prayers because he is concerned about what’s best for us…spiritually. We like to think we know what’s best for us. God can see miles ahead. He credits his perfection to us. We can only see a day at a time. The more we look into God’s Word and see what life is really about, the more clearly we will understand God’s answers to our prayers.

Dear Jesus, I am tired of all of the difficulties that life hands to me. I am sorry for my tendency to blame you for my problems. Open my eyes to see the most important blessings that you give me daily: forgiveness, peace, and unconditional love. Give me the faith to know that you really do what is best for me and help me to be content with the answers you give. Amen.