March 7, 2018- The Courts of the Lord and Trusting God- Psalm 84

god's courts

How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord Almighty!  My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young—a place near your altar, Lord Almighty, my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you.

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.

Hear my prayer, Lord God Almighty; listen to me, God of Jacob.  Look on our shield, O God; look with favor on your anointed one.

Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked. For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.

 Lord Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in you. Psalm 84 (NIV)

Trust is central to the human experience. Psychologist Erik Erickson explains this in his theory of child development. In Erikson’s first psychosocial stage, which he names as trust vs. mistrust, and lasts from birth until the age of around eighteen months, children learn to trust (or to mistrust) the world around them.  Children should be able to trust that their parents or caretakers are going to keep them fed, clean and secure.  According to Erikson, children who do not receive appropriate care in that early stage will continually struggle with mistrusting the world around them.  There is research that supports children who do not grow up learning to trust parents and caregivers are prone to trust issues and anxiety for the rest of their lives.

Most people experience varying degrees of mistrust. Sometimes it truly isn’t safe to trust the environment around us, and a healthy sense of trepidation is necessary. Even in a place of relative security, people who live with chronic (and sometimes unwarranted) anxiety for whatever reason, whether it be from traumatic childhoods, from chemical imbalances in their brains, or from experiences later in life, have a very difficult time with trust.  It’s hard to trust God when people have let you down- or when your own brain chemistry plays tricks on you.

Faith in God is a gift to us from the Holy Spirit. We are not able to come to faith save for God’s intervention.  In our Baptism we are named and claimed as God’s own.  He gives us the comfort of knowing that even though we can’t always trust the world around us, or even trust ourselves, God is always faithful and worthy of our trust.

The Kingdom of God is everywhere God is- which is everywhere! In a sense we are already present in God’s courts, when we gather with our family and friends, when we pray, when we experience God’s presence in Holy Communion.  We can take joy in those moments now, as well as we look forward to the day when we will be living completely and fully in God’s Kingdom forever.

February 20, 2018 – Whatever We Fear (Do It Anyway!) 1 Peter 3:13-16, 1 Corinthians 2:13

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Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?  But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 1 Peter 3:13-16 (NIV)

Whatever I fear the most is whatever I see before me/ Whenever I let my guard down, whatever I was ignoring /Whatever I fear the most is whatever I see before me /Whatever I have been given, whatever I have been – “Whatever I Fear”- Toad the Wet Sprocket

Fear in and of itself is neither good nor evil, but there are healthy and unhealthy fears. “Fear of the Lord,” as in a reverent respect for God, is a healthy fear. Fear of touching a hot burner is a healthy fear. At times fear can prevent us from diving into an action or a behavior that will cause us harm.

However, it’s easy in this world to get mired down in unhealthy fears that are borne of either bad experiences in the past or irrational anxiety. To “err on the side of caution” is usually considered a prudent and wise course to take, but too much caution can lead us to stagnation and lead us away from the things that God has for us to experience and accomplish.

We should not hesitate to do what we know is good. We should be unafraid to tell others about Jesus and what He has done and is doing in and through us. The apostle Peter tells us to have an answer for those who ask us why we hope in Jesus- a kind and respectful and helpful answer.

Unhealthy or excessive fear can keep us from doing and saying the things we know we should.

Martin Luther is known for saying, “Sin boldly.” This doesn’t mean just randomly sin, but to feel the fear and live and do anyway. Since we are sinners, yes, some of the things we do along the way will be wrong and will fall short of God’s will, but nothing will get accomplished if we are too afraid to try. We are challenged to be bold even when we are shaking in our boots, if we know what we are doing, saying or standing for is necessary and right.

The Holy Spirit has answers when we don’t have them –

This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. 1 Corinthians 2:13 (NIV)

God is the only One we should fear- the same God who tells us to get out there to do good, and to tell others about Him.

How is fear holding us back from the discipline of service today?

Do we fear getting too involved, whether it is emotionally, physically, financially or in committing our time?

Do we hesitate to make a sacrifice for the sake of others?

The spiritual disciplines of sacrifice and service do require intentional effort on our part.  Like the disciplines of sports or music, for example, we get better at it through small steps, and practice.

How can we practice a small step today- an act of service for someone, or a sacrifice of our time and talents to serve God?

January 30, 2018 Practicing the Prayers of Comfort- Deuteronomy 11:18-19, 1 Peter 5:7, Psalm 46:10, Romans 8:26

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Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Deuteronomy 11:18-19 (NIV)

Prayer is the most important spiritual discipline we have available to us as Jesus followers. Prayer is something we need to practice just as we practice any other good habit in our lives. Being aware of God and His presence in our lives is the first step to coming to Him in prayer.  We learn Who God is when we read and study the Bible.  We read the Bible and memorize the Scriptures, so that they are written on our minds and hearts, where we need them in times of crisis.

Martin Luther once said that the Bible is like the manger that holds the Christ child. What we learn in the Bible should always bring us closer to Jesus.

Most of us deal with situational anxiety in times of crisis, at one time or another in our lives. Others live with chronic anxiety that can be debilitating and crushing even when there is no immediate crisis taking place.

While God is the Author of healing, there are instances in which chronic anxiety is a mental health issue that should also be discussed with a physician, just as one would seek out professional help with a physical illness or injury. It is good to remember that God works in and through His people and in His world, including through our friends, family and health professionals. Sometimes we need to enlist their help as part of our healing.

Whether our anxiety is situational or chronic, we are invited to surrender our anxiety, our worries, and our seemingly unsolvable problems to the Prince of Peace.

Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken. Psalm 55:22 (NIV)

Cast all your anxiety on him (Jesus) because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7 (NIV)

When we praise God we underscore Who He is and that he is in charge. There is no crisis in our lives that is beyond God’s ability to bring us through. Prayers of praise remind us that God is bigger than our problems. Sometimes prayer can be just remembering God as our Creator, and that our loving Father helps us find His comfort and peace. In Psalm 23 we learn that no matter where we may find ourselves, God is with us, and He will get us beyond the valleys of shadow.

There are many sources of prayers of praise and examples of God’s deliverance and comfort to be found in the Bible. Psalm 139:1-18 reminds us that God created us for a purpose and He knows our every thought, our very fibers inside and out. This beautiful Psalm reminds us to praise God and thank Him for the gift of life and for our physical bodies.

Elijah’s flight from Jezebel (1 Kings 19:1-18) shows us that even the most faithful of God’s people can get to the end of their ropes.  We learn from Elijah’s story that:

God provides for us when we are at the end of ourselves.

God comes to us and speaks to us in the silence, after the storm.

God has solutions we can’t imagine or foresee. He is preparing us not only for life on this earth, but for forever to come.

God has a good plan for His world, including for those who come after us. We are not the whole story, just a part of it.

He (God) says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10 (NIV)

So how do we pray in crisis? We pray in crisis just as we should when the sun is shining and we can readily see God and His handiwork in the world.  Sometimes it helps to simply look around us and praise God for the beauty in creation, to thank Him for all He has done, or to just meditate on Who He is.

We learn the beauty and the power of prayer the more that we practice it. Prayer does not have to be complicated.  Sometimes all we can muster is something as simple as a song- the Kyrie song, for instance, that is simply, “God have mercy, Christ have mercy, God have mercy on me,” or we pray a word of thanks or praise as we inhale or exhale (breath prayers.)  The Holy Spirit intercedes for us when we aren’t even capable of uttering those simple prayers.  Prayer is about conversation and connection with God.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. Romans 8:26 (NIV)

March 21, 2017 – Trust Issues- Jeremiah 17:7-8

 

weak heart strong god

Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.  Jeremiah 17:7-8 NRSV

Anxiety is one of the major scourges of modern life. All of us have been anxious to a degree- some of us only in certain trying times, and others of us have experienced anxiety on a daily basis, to the point of it becoming a debilitating condition.  Everyone has known and will know uncertainty, and everyone will have adversity in life.   God knows this, and as in all things, He has made a provision for us to deal with our anxiety.

Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7 (NRSV)

It sounds easy to just let God have our anxiety, but before we can give away our anxiety and fears, we have to trust God.

Trust is easier for some people than for others. People who have been betrayed by others regularly or who have had a number of catastrophic events in life have a lot harder time trusting anyone, including God.  Yet the answer to suffering from anxiety remains the same: trust God.

Since we are not able to trust God fully and surrender to Him in our own strength, the Holy Spirit is always readily available to us to provide that strength. When we lack the strength and sentience to find the words for prayer, the Holy Spirit provides those as well.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. Romans 8:26 (NRSV)

Trust is not something that is easy to give. The trust in God that is faith is not a blind trust, but a faith that is tested by adversity and struggle and doubt.  Doubt is a part of faith, not the opposite of it.  Doubt triggers us to ask questions and to seek the truth so that our faith and trust are strengthened, grounded and informed. God longs for us to surrender even our doubts to Him- as well as our anger, our fear, our frustration and our despair.  The Creator and the Master of creation can take it, and He invites us to come to Him exactly as we are, with all the baggage that entails.

There are many of us with heavy hearts and serious issues weighing on our hearts and minds today. Yet God is trustworthy. He is our Provision and our Strength, even when it’s hard for us to see it, even when we doubt, and even when we feel as if we are overwhelmed by anxiety.