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“Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; though the labor of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food; though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls — Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, and He will make me walk on my high hills.” Habakkuk 3:17-19

Sometimes it’s difficult to give thanks. And, it may not always be because of a lack of knowledge of God. In fact, sometimes it can be, precisely, because one knows God and His Word and sees the wickedness and rebelliousness of our nation and world. Wickedness reigns and people – even family members and friends – go on in their sinful ways, paying no heed to the warnings of God’s Word calling upon them to repent and look to God for mercy and His help and strength to amend their ways.

And, knowing God’s Word, we know judgment is coming. We may not know the when or the how, but we know it is coming. We think of the terrible wars and the death and suffering which in times past have come upon our nation and people. We think of the earthquakes, the fires, the hurricanes and the tornadoes. We think of the diseases and plagues. We remember the depressions and recessions. We know that all these God sends with a purpose in mind – to wake us up and get us to listen to his calling. And these bring times of hardship and suffering for the believer as well as for the unbeliever.

Habakkuk the prophet lived at such a time in the last days of Judah and Jerusalem before the Babylonian captivity. Habakkuk saw the wickedness which prevailed among God’s people and questioned why God allowed it to go on so long. And, when God revealed His plans to judge His people through the Babylonians, Habakkuk questioned God as to how He could use a nation more evil than Judah to carry out His judgments. God’s answer was that judgment would come upon Babylon too.

As God’s judgments began and His blessings were withdrawn, it was hard to trust and still give thanks and praise to God; but giving thanks is an act of faith. “The just shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4). In spite of the shortages, in spite of the suffering, in spite of the death, the just lived and offered up thanks and praise by faith, trusting that God indeed was working all things for good to those who loved Him and were called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

“Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; though the labor of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food; though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls — Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, and He will make me walk on my high hills.” Habakkuk 3:17-19

Sometimes, learning of other Christians whose life circumstances are much worse than our own can help us in our giving thanks and praise by faith in our God and Savior. Martin Rinckart, a Lutheran pastor in Eilenburg, Saxony (Germany) in the early 1600s, authored the much-loved, familiar hymn, “Now Thank We All Our God,” and it has given fellow Christians strength in their trials for almost 400 years.

The following summary was provided by Harold Pease, a professor at Taft College and a columnist:

“In 1637, the Swedes and Germans were in the midst of The Thirty-Years War (Catholics v. Protestants in the years 1618 through 1648) and refugees from that encounter were flooding into Eilenburg, a walled city in Saxony where Martin Rinckart was serving as archdeacon of his native German town. A horrible plague gripped the area, leaving some 8,000 people dead in a single year.

“Rinckart had to assist ‘at the beds of the sick and dying.’ Although he maintained his own health during this time of death, he ‘had to read 40 or 50 funeral services a day’ including the services of two of his fellow clergymen. A fourth ran away, out of fear of getting sick, leaving him the lone church authority in this major crisis. He assisted in burying some 4,480 in all. In May of that year, his wife died. ‘By the end of the year, the refugees had to be buried in trenches without services.’

“This horror was followed by a famine ‘so extreme that 30 or 40 persons might be seen fighting in the streets for a dead cat or crow.’ As the head of the church in his area, ‘his door was surrounded by a crowd of poor starving wretches who found it their only refuge.’ He shared everything he had, reserving ‘the barest rations for his own family.’

“Next, the Swedes returned, demanding a tribute of $30,000 from the town. Such money was not available. After failing to entreat the invading general for mercy, Rinckart turned to those following him and, in the general’s presence, said, ‘Come, my children, we can find no hearing, no mercy with men, let us take refuge with God.’ He then ‘fell on his knees and prayed with such touching earnestness that the Swedish general relented and lowered his demand at last to 2,000 florins.’

“Apparently, the words of his hymn were originally written as a grace to be said before meals but, given his circumstances, it became a song of strength in adversity.

“The first verse of this Lutheran hymn is certainly a message of thanksgiving; the second, one of protection and guidance: ‘Oh, may our bounteous God through all our life be near us, with ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us, and keep us in his love, and guide us day and night, and free us from all ills, protect us by his might.’

“Perhaps his life and song can make us stronger as well. At the very least, it should give us a few extra things for which to be thankful this Thanksgiving Day. None of us are fighting over a dead cat or crow to eat. Despite our obstacles, deep inside we know that God still has our best interests in mind. When we next sing this song, let us do it with more gratitude reflecting, at least for a moment, on our great blessings, as he did, rather than our trials. The trials will always be there, but so will also the blessings.”

Below is a 19th-century translation by Catherine Winkworth:

Now thank we all our God,
with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done,
in Whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms
has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love,
and still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God
through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts
and blessed peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace,
and guide us when perplexed;
And free us from all ills,
in this world and the next!

All praise and thanks to God
the Father now be given;
The Son and Him Who reigns
with Them in highest Heaven;
The one eternal God,
whom earth and Heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now,
and shall be evermore.

Through faith in our God and Savior, who so graciously redeemed us from sin and death and gives to us life in His everlasting kingdom, we say with the prophet Habakkuk:

“Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; though the labor of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food; though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls — Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, and He will make me walk on my high hills.” Habakkuk 3:17-19

Additional notes from Hymnary.org:

Martin Rinkart (1586-1649) was the Bishop of Eilenberg, Germany during the Thirty Years’ War. Since Eilenberg was a walled city, it became a place of refuge for fugitives of the war, and also a place of famine and disease due to overcrowding. In 1637 at the height of their misery, Rinkart was the only clergyman left in the city who could perform the 40 or 50 necessary burial services daily – one of which was for his wife. As if that weren’t enough, the city was sacked three times by invaders, one of which imposed a large tribute payment upon the people. During this time, Rinkart managed to find the time to write 7 dramas and 66 hymns.

The hymn “Nun danket alle Gott” was originally titled “Tisch-Gebetlein,” or a “little prayer before the meal.” This humble prayer of thanksgiving is laid out simply and beautifully in the first verse, but it’s the next two verses that expand the hymn’s focus and have given it its lasting appeal. You can see the Thirty Years’ War pressing on his mind in verse two:

And keep us in His grace,
And guide us when perplexed,
And free us from all ills
In this world and the next.

After a verse of thanks, and a verse that asks for strength during the trials of life, he ends with a paraphrase of the doxology as if to say, “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, may the name of the Lord be praised.” —Greg Scheer, 1995

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“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left …” Matthew 25:31-33 (Read Matthew 25:31-46)

On the Last Day, when Jesus Christ returns with all His holy angels to judge the living and the dead, He shall separate the believers and unbelievers from one another as a shepherd divides the sheep from the goats, putting the sheep on the right hand and the goats on the left.

The unbelievers, those who have not trusted in Jesus Christ and His innocent sufferings and death for the forgiveness of their sins and everlasting life, will “go away into everlasting punishment.” But those who trust in Christ and His cross have forgiveness and eternal life solely for Jesus’ sake — because Christ died for them and rose again — and will go into “eternal life.”

If it is through faith in Christ that one goes to heaven, and if it is through unbelief that one is damned and spends eternity in hell (cf. Mark 16:16), why does Jesus here speak of the works of believers for Him and the lack of works in unbelievers?

Jesus is not saying that those on the right hand go to heaven because of their works; it is only through Christ and His sufferings and death that they are acceptable in God’s sight and are given eternal life (Ephesians 1:6-7). But since they have been brought to faith in Christ and are saved by God’s grace, they now love their Lord and Savior and gladly live for Him and serve their fellowman (cf. Ephesians 2:8-10). They, those on the right hand, are not depending on such works to gain God’s favor; they are not even aware of the many times they have served Christ by serving their brethren. Rather they love and serve their brethren because Christ has first loved and served them by winning for them eternal salvation (cf. 1 John 4:9-11,19).

Those who do not have saving faith in Jesus Christ cannot love and serve Him. Even when they outwardly perform many of the same charitable works as Christians, they are not done for Christ; for “without faith it is impossible to please Him” (Heb. 11:6).

O Jesus, who my debt didst pay and for my sin wast smitten, within the Book of Life, oh, may my name be also written! I will not doubt; I trust in Thee, from Satan Thou hast made me free and from all condemnation. Amen. (The Lutheran Hymnal, Hymn #611, Verse 5)

[Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.]

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“For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey.” Matthew 25:14-15 (Read v. 14-30)

We do not know when our Lord Jesus Christ will return. That day could be very soon, or it may be many years from now. What are we to be doing while we await the return of our Lord and Savior who died upon the cross to redeem us from sin, death and the power of the devil? With the parable of the talents, Jesus teaches us that we are to be faithfully serving Him and carrying on the work of His kingdom until He returns.

All of us, as Christians, have been given talents, abilities and spiritual gifts, as well as resources, to use in carrying on the Lord’s work until He returns on the Last Day (1 Peter 4:10f.; Romans 12:4ff.; 1 Corinthians 12-14). Whatever our gifts, talents and abilities are, we are to faithfully use them for the Lord and for the upbuilding of His kingdom and Church.

We have also been entrusted with the Word of God, which we are to faithfully use and proclaim (Mark 16:15; Hebrews 4:11-13; 2 Timothy 3:14-17; 4:1ff.). Since Christ Jesus suffered and died upon the cross to redeem us and make us children of God, He expects us to respond to His gracious gift of salvation by living our lives for Him. And, as a fruit of our faith, we also desire to do this (2 Corinthians 5:15; 1 John 4:19ff.).

When Jesus returns on the Last Day to take to heaven all who trust in Him for salvation, He will examine our faithfulness. We are His stewards, having been entrusted with His Word and with his gifts, abilities and resources to use for the work of His kingdom. The Bible tells us: “Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful.” (1 Corinthians 4:1-2).

If, as a result of our faith in Christ as Savior, we faithfully serve Him, we will be graciously rewarded with greater opportunity for service when we enter the joy of our Lord in heaven.

But if, on the other hand, we are found to be unfaithful servants who cared to do nothing for our Lord but were afraid and hid our talents away, we will lose not only what has been entrusted to us, but eternal life as well; for such unfaithfulness is a denial of true faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior (cf. John 15:1-6).

O God of mercy, God of might, in love and pity infinite, teach us, as ever in Thy sight, to live our life to Thee … And may Thy Holy Spirit move all those who live to live in love till Thou shalt greet in heaven above all those who live to Thee. Amen. (The Lutheran Hymnal, Hymn #439, Verses 1,6)

[Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.]

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What does the Bible teach? Sad to say, most people have not read the Bible in its entirety and many have no idea what it really teaches. Though much more detail could be provided, what follows is a brief summary of the Bible’s teaching.

What does the Bible teach?

1) That the Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – created all things good, including man, as described in Genesis 1-2, and that He still preserves all things. It is as the Bible says in Nehemiah 9:6: “You alone are the Lord; You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and everything on it, the seas and all that is in them, and You preserve them all.”

2) Though God created man to honor and respect God as his Maker, to love Him and to trust Him, the first man and woman fell into sin as described in Genesis 3 and, as a result, all of mankind is fallen and no longer loves, trusts and honors God above all things. Instead, people are born into this world turned in upon themselves and seeking their own will and ways which are selfish and sinful. People do not and cannot keep all of God’s commandments as God requires. It is as the Bible says in Genesis 8:21 and Jeremiah 17:9: “The imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth”; and, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” Ecclesiastes 7:20 says: “There is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin.”

3) In order to redeem and save mankind from the just and eternal punishment we all deserve on account of our sinfulness and disobedience to God and to restore us to fellowship with Him, God sent His only-begotten Son into the world, a true man, that He might fulfill all that God’s holy law requires of us and bear our sin and suffer our punishment by dying on the cross to atone for the sins of the world. This God did through the incarnation, birth, life, sufferings, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, true God and true man. The animal sacrifices of the Old Testament pointed ahead to the promised Seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15) who would make atonement for the sins of all and undo the work of the devil when he tempted Adam and Eve and brought sin and God’s curse upon God’s creation.

John 3:16 says: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

1 Corinthians 15:3-4 says: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures … He was buried, and … He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.”

Hebrews 2:14-17 says: “Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham. Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”

4) The forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God which Christ Jesus won for all when he suffered and died upon the cross and then rose again on the third day becomes ours through faith in Jesus Christ and not by our own works or merits. Ephesians 2:8-9 says: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Romans 3:21-26 says: “But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” And, Romans 5:1-2 says: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”

5) God desires all people to repent of their sinful and rebellious ways and trust in Christ Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins and life everlasting. “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). For that reason, He commands that His Word be preached to all people (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-47), and His Holy Spirit works through the Word and Baptism to create saving faith in the hearts of hearers and to regenerate them, giving them new life in fellowship with God through faith in Jesus Christ.

On the day of Pentecost, Peter told the people (Acts 2:38-39): “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”

Titus 3:3-7 says: “For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

6) As Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us, we are saved by God’s grace alone and through faith alone in Jesus Christ, and even that faith is the gracious working of God the Holy Spirit in us, but God also desires that we amend our ways and live for Him: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” 2 Corinthians 5:15 says: “He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.” And, since the fruit of true faith in Christ is the desire to live for God and be pleasing to Him, those who refuse to amend their lives and wilfully continue on in their sinful ways demonstrate their unbelief and lack of saving faith in Christ.

7) Christ Jesus will return to this world on the Last Day and carry out God’s just judgment upon all. Those who believe in Christ and are baptized into His name will be saved and those who do not believe will be damned (Mark 16:16). John 3:36 says: “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

Yes, much more can be said. And, indeed, it is said in the Bible. The Bible reveals the sad results of man’s sinfulness and how God judges sin even now, in this world. It tells how God carried out His plan to send His Son to be our Savior, and it reveals how God continually calls us to repent of our sinful and erring ways and look to Christ Jesus in faith. It points out the terrible judgment of God which will come upon all who remain impenitent, and it offers a glimpse of the glories of heaven which await all who believe. The Bible warns the impenitent and unbelieving and gives comfort to those who acknowledge their sins and look to Christ and His cross.

Some parts are difficult for our sin-darkened minds to understand; but other parts are so simple the smallest child can, by God’s grace, grasp its message. So, don’t be discouraged. Pick it up and read it. The Bible is a book of books (66 books and letters) and doesn’t have to be read in chronological order from Genesis to Revelation. I usually recommend reading the first chapters of Genesis and reading in the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) first, before plowing through the sections on Old Testament worship. It’s a book to study for a lifetime, and there is always more to learn and to understand, so keep reading.

Writing to Timothy, a young minister, the apostle Paul said (2 Timothy 3:14-17): “But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” The Bible was given us to teach us the way of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ and to guide us in living for Him. As such, reading and studying its message is the most important reading a person can ever do – indeed, your eternal destiny depends upon heeding the Bible’s message! I hope and pray you’ll read it.

[Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.]

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