Wrong turn

No one will be declared righteous in [God’s] sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. ~ Romans 3:20

leowThe name of Leopold Loyka is not a household name. Nevertheless, Leopold Loyka is the man who made one of the most consequential wrong turns in human history.

Leopold was a chauffeur, and a prestigious one at that. His job was to serve as the official driver for a high-ranking official from Austria, a man by the name of Franz Ferdinand. In June of 1914, Ferdinand decided to visit Sarajevo, a city that harbored hostility towards Austrian rule. As Leopold drove the car through the city with Ferdinand as his passenger, he made a wrong turn. When he stopped to correct his mistake, it so happened that he passed directly in front of a man who very much wanted to see Franz Ferdinand dead. The man seized his chance and shot Ferdinand to death.

The assassination of Franz Ferdinand of Austria was the spark that started World War I. World War I, in turn, set the stage for World War II. In all, 77 million people perished. And it all began with a wrong turn.

There is another wrong turn in human history that has even greater consequences. It is the false assumption that we can make our own way into God’s favor. It is the false assumption that we can chart our own course into a right relationship with God. Such thinking is not only wrong-headed and self-absorbed; such thinking also has consequences that are fatal, and eternal.

Enter Jesus. Jesus did far more than chart a safe course. He created a path where none had existed. The path was himself. He alone is the way.  As our Substitute he lived and died on our behalf. Through faith in him, God’s favor is ours, forgiveness is ours, peace is ours, life is ours. And not just for a while, but forever.

Through faith in Jesus, we are home.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, forgive all of the wrong turns in my life—all of the times I have turned away from you. Wash me. Embrace me. Bring me home. Amen.


Read about mankind’s first wrong turn here >

What gets you through

They were looking for a better country—a heavenly one. ~ Hebrews 11:16


The World War II film, Saving Private Ryan, is about a small unit of soldiers with a difficult assignment. They had orders to penetrate enemy country, find one, specific soldier, Private James Ryan, bring him out and send him home. The government issued those orders because it had just notified Ryan’s mother that her three other sons died in battle.

The leader of this small unit is Captain John Miller. Captain Miller is tough, fair, respected. He’s also a bit of a mystery to his men. Try as they might, they can never get Captain Miller to tell them what he did before the war. It’s become something of a friendly contest among the men to find out.

Which brings us to one of the most poignant scenes in the movie. In searching for Private Ryan in enemy territory, one of the men gets killed. The men in the unit begin to fall apart. They begin to wonder why they are there, why they are risking their lives to find one man. They are on the edge of mutiny. It’s at that moment that Captain Miller chooses to tell them what he did before the war. “You know what I did for a living?” he gently asks. “I’ll tell you. I was an English teacher at Thomas Alva Edison High School in Addley, PA.” Then he adds this. “My wife is there. I love her very much. And the way I see it, if carrying out this mission gets me closer to seeing her again, well, that’s what I’m going to do.” With that, Captain Miller picks up his gun and moves out. And without saying a word, the rest of his men follow.

By God’s grace, few of us have ever had to face the horror and stress of war. Nevertheless, in our lives there are those moments when all the comforts and joys of life seem to vanish with the arrival of something awful. Perhaps your finances have collapsed. Perhaps you feel trapped in the misery of cancer treatment. Perhaps a member of your family has shattered your heart.

At those moments when it seems as though there are only terrible things for you to endure, what sustains you? What gets you through? What sustained Captain Miller was the possibility of getting home to his wife. What sustains you and me is the reality of going home to heaven.

Even in a broken world there is almost always a wide variety of comforts and joys to sustain us. But at those moments when there isn’t, remember: Jesus died for your sins. He lives. Your home in heaven waits. And between now and then, your Savior will get you through.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, in those moments when all seems dark, carry me. I rest myself in you. Amen


The impossible is possible with Christ

Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” ~ Mark 10:25-27

ploverEvery year the Pacific Golden Plover, a ½ pound bird about the size of a dove, makes an eighty-eight-hour trip over open ocean from Alaska to Hawaii. It loses half its body weight during the non-stop journey! That’s impossible, one might say. Scientists have been awestruck by what this little bird does year after year after year, but that’s the creative work of the almighty God. He makes the impossible possible.

Jesus’ disciples had just watched a very rich man walk away from Jesus with a sad and heavy heart. He was not willing to give up his love for wealth in order to follow Jesus. That’s when Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard that, they were surprised and wondered, “Who then can be saved?” If it’s almost impossible for rich people with all of their money and possessions to be saved, well, then, who can be saved? What about all the lesser privileged people of this world? How will they ever get to heaven?

“With man this is impossible,” Jesus replied. Jesus was reminding his followers that it is simply impossible for people to buy their way into heaven. They can’t purchase a place in heaven with their money or with their good deeds. Heaven’s rest and joy simply can’t be bought or earned by sinful human beings no matter how rich or how good they are.

sun2Why? Because our debt of sin is too great. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The only thing we can earn with our life, no matter how rich or poor in money, no matter how rich or poor in good deeds, is the way to hell. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). When it comes to getting to heaven by what we do or what we have, Jesus says, “With man this is impossible.”

“But not with God; all things are possible with God.” God sent his Son Jesus into this world to live the sinless life we could not live, and he credits us with Christ’s sinless life. Jesus also took the curse of hell that we deserve for our sins. That means that through Jesus we are freed from eternal death in hell. Heaven that was and is impossible for us to attain by ourselves, was purchased for us by God through the life and death of his Son, Jesus Christ.

The impossible is possible with Christ. Listen to God’s Word of promise: “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). That’s our almighty God at work with his saving love for you and me.

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for making my eternal salvation a reality through Jesus Christ who lived, died and rose again to save me. May I praise you with my words and works of love for making the impossible possible through Jesus. Amen.


The meaning of mercy

When the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. ~ Titus 3:4-5


In the early 1800’s, Napoleon Bonaparte ruled as emperor of France. His word was final. A woman appeared before him one day. She was seeking a pardon for her son.

Napoleon explained to her why this was not possible: Her son was guilty of committing a serious crime not once but twice. Under the law of the land, he had been sentenced to death.

But the mother persevered. “I plead for mercy for my son,” she said.

“But your son does not deserve mercy,” pronounced the emperor. It was then that this mother got to the heart of the matter. “You are correct,” she said. “My son does not deserve mercy. But if he did, it would not be mercy. And mercy is all I ask for.”

“Then I will have mercy,” Napoleon said. He spared her son’s life.

This woman understood the meaning of mercy.  The Apostle Paul did too. Paul said that, with the arrival of Jesus Christ, “God saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.”  The Son of God invaded our time and space to conduct a rescue mission. He rescued us from the curse of our own sin. He did this through the perfect life and innocent death he lived and died on our behalf.

But why?  Here is where Paul gets to the heart of the matter. God did this not because we deserved it; not because he saw us as diamonds in the rough; not because we’ve done something that made us sparkle in his eyes. He did it because of his mercy.

It’s his mercy through Jesus Christ that makes your relationship with God so secure.  It doesn’t depend upon what you have done for God.  It depends on what the Savior, in mercy, has done for you.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, in my moments of anxiety and doubt, fill me with your Holy Spirit. Through your Word, remind me that my relationship with you rests not on what I do for you, but upon your mercy. Amen.


Picnic table

What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” ~ Romans 4:3 (NIV)


In your imagination, take a trip to a place that really exists. The place is a small, modest park covered in green grass. In that park are a few picnic tables. One of the picnic tables is under a shade tree. Have a seat. Take a sip from the coffee you’ve purchased from the nearby market. And as you sit there, in the shade, sipping your coffee, let your eyes rest on the massive, stone structure that looms above you.

You have traveled to present-day Palestine. You are in the ancient city of Hebron. And looming over you is an archaeologist’s dream. It is a fully intact building, constructed over 2,000 years ago by none other than Herod the Great—yes, the same Herod who was in power when Jesus was born.

The significance of what you see does not stop there, however. Below the main level of this old building there is what is called the Cave of Machpelah. And according to the Bible (Genesis 25:7-10), the Cave of Machpelah is the very place where Abraham was buried.

With all that in mind, take a moment to do a little reflection. Do a little reflection as you picture yourself quietly sitting in that small park. As you think about Herod, you might consider the shocking shortness of human authority and power. For although one of his buildings remains, Herod has been gone for a long, long time. Or as you think about the bones of Abraham, you might think about the frailty of human life in our fallen world. For although Abraham lived a good long life, his run of years on this earth still came to an end, just like everyone else.

Or, as you sit there, you could also think about what it was that Abraham believed. You could think about the message of the gospel.

The apostle Paul reminds us that “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” When God gave to Abraham the promise that the Savior of the world would one day come, Abraham believed that promise. And through faith in that coming Savior, God declared Abraham righteous. He declared him forgiven. He declared him washed clean of his every sin—all on the basis of what Jesus Christ would one day do on Abraham’s behalf.

For that reason, Abraham is now in heaven. For that reason, his bones will one day be raised to eternal life. And by God’s grace through faith in Jesus, you possess the exact same promise.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, in my place you lived a perfect life and went to the cross for my every sin. You did it for Abraham. You did it for me. Now we both have life in you. Thank you. Amen.


Big prayer

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. ~ Ephesians 3:20-21 (NIV)


I don’t know you, but it’s safe to say that your prayers are probably too small. Sure, you pray for health, a new job, and even children. And those are good prayers! But God is inviting you to make even bigger requests.

Martin Luther said: Imagine that the richest ruler in the world invited a poor beggar to ask for whatever he wanted. Suppose that beggar only asked for a ladle of soup. Wouldn’t the ruler be insulted by such a request? We also insult God when he promises us inexpressible riches and all we do is ask for a lousy piece of bread. (Paraphrase from the Large Catechism)

Luther is saying that most of our prayers are just “bread prayers”. It’s time we ask the King of the Universe for more. So, what is the big prayer that God is inviting us to ask? Paul gives us an example: “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all of God’s people to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (Ephesians 3:17-18).

Can you think of a bigger prayer than that? What could be better than completely grasping the love of God in Jesus? Imagine how you would speak to your spouse, if you could grasp the fullness of God’s love. Imagine how you would face debt or addiction, if you could grasp the fullness of God’s love. Imagine how you would face death if you could grasp the fullness of God’s love. This kind of prayer would radically change your life.

But how is this possible? How can we grasp the extensiveness of God’s love in Christ? Do we wonder how God could even answer such a big prayer? Read again Paul’s answer to those questions: “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21).

God is able to do more than you ask or imagine, and he is at work within you! He is even able to give you the power to begin to grasp the greatness of his love for you in Christ. So, giving glory to God, pray that big prayer.

Lord God, more than anything else we pray that you would give us the ability to grasp how wide, long, high and deep is your love for us in Jesus Christ. Dwell in us with that love, so that it may motivate everything we do. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


A father’s compassion

As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him. ~ Psalm 103:13

beachThe dictionary defines compassion as “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.”

Compassion. That’s exactly what moved Lee Chester to action. Chester, age 37, didn’t think twice when it came to making sure his daughter, Esme, just 3 years old, could have a healthy childhood. After suffering kidney failure, the toddler was forced to spend 14 months on dialysis—12 hours a day, seven days a week. So when tests showed Lee could help his caring, funny and strong-willed daughter live a normal life, he jumped at the chance.

Lee gave an amazing gift to his daughter, and not just the kidney he donated. He gave his little girl wonderful proof of his love by going to such extremes to help.

Esme’s father made a sacrifice so she might live. How much more our Heavenly Father did to give us life eternal! John 3:16 tells us “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” God gave his Son. Not a kidney, but his one and only Son.

Have you ever considered the sacrifice of Jesus from God the Father’s perspective? God the Father heard Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me” (Matthew 26:39). He saw the anguish and the suffering; the flogging, the crucifixion of his one and only Son, and he did not intervene. Why not? Did he suddenly stop loving his Son? Of course not! The suffering and death of his Son was the only way to rescue you from sin and death. The Father willingly sacrificed Jesus in your place to forgive your sins so you could have peace with him and a home in heaven. He gave his Son that you would not perish, but would have eternal life.

This is what God did for you. This is how much he loves you. “As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him.” Let that glorious truth fill your heart…and rejoice.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, help me to look on Jesus’ cross with eyes of faith that I might see your salvation and your love each and every day. Amen.



…you were redeemed from the empty way of life… ~ 1 Peter 1:18 (NIV)


To live in certain parts of Siberia means to live in some extreme conditions. Over the years, observers of people who live in those extreme conditions of Siberia have described an unsettling phenomenon. The phenomenon has come to be known as “Siberian Hysteria.”

A Japanese author has described Siberian Hysteria in this way. He says, “Try to imagine this: You’re a farmer, living all alone on the Siberian tundra. Day after day you plow your fields. As far as the eye can see, nothing. To the north, the horizon, to the east, the horizon, to the south, to the west, more of the same. Every morning, when the sun rises in the east, you go out to work in your fields. When it’s directly overhead, you take a break for lunch. When it sinks in the west, you go home to sleep. And then one day, something inside you dies. Day after day you watch the sun rise in the east, pass across the sky, then sink in the west, and something breaks inside you and dies. You toss your plow aside and, your head completely empty of thought, begin walking toward the west. Heading toward a land that lies west of the sun. Like someone, possessed, you walk on, day after day, not eating or drinking, until you collapse on the ground and die.” This is a description of Siberian Hysteria.

It is also a description of your life and mine without Jesus.

Think about that for a moment. Isn’t it true that the worst part of living as a lost soul in a broken world is just the sheer emptiness of it all? I can do things to occupy my time. I can find enough to eat. I can find a place to sleep. But if I am doing all this in a vacuum, if I am doing all this surrounded by emptiness–emptiness of meaning, emptiness of hope, emptiness of anything that matters–isn’t it true that I am just a case of Siberian Hysteria waiting to happen?

That’s why God chose to invade my emptiness. He invaded my emptiness in the Person of Jesus. Where once was the awful nothingness created by my own sin, there now is my Savior!  His perfect life and death on my behalf destroyed the chasm that had surrounded me, isolated me, made me so alone.

field sunset

Then he rose from death to assure me that my days of emptiness were over; to assure me that I would never be alone again. Ever.

And he has done the same for you.

Lord Jesus, apart from you, my life is empty. But now you are here. My sins are forgiven. Heaven is mine. The emptiness is gone!  Thank you.   Amen.