Trust the Mercy of God- Psalm 28, Hebrews 10:30-31

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To you, O Lord, I call; my rock, be not deaf to me, lest, if you be silent to me, I become like those who go down to the pit. Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy, when I cry to you for help, when I lift up my hands toward your most holy sanctuary.

Do not drag me off with the wicked, with the workers of evil, who speak peace with their neighbors while evil is in their hearts. Give to them according to their work and according to the evil of their deeds; give to them according to the work of their hands; render them their due reward. Because they do not regard the works of the Lord or the work of his hands, he will tear them down and build them up no more.

 Blessed be the Lord!  For he has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy. The Lord is my strength and my shield: in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.

The Lord is the strength of his people; he is the saving refuge of his anointed.  Oh, save your people and bless your heritage! Be their shepherd and carry them forever.

Psalm 28 (ESV)

The Psalms are a great gift to us, as is all of Scripture, but in the Psalms we experience the full spectrum of human pathos and experience. As the psalmists pour out their prayers and praise as well as their petitions, pain and laments to God, they underscore that we are not alone.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2 (ESV)

Every one of the great cloud of witnesses before us have also had to experience the same heartaches, disappointments, suffering and pain as we do. As we pray the Psalms we can find comfort and strength, knowing that as so many who have come before us also know, the Psalms keep directing us back to Jesus, our Source of life and hope.

Sometimes when we read passages in the Psalms in which the psalmist petitions God for justice against the wicked, it seems cruel and almost contradictory. After all, if God wants to, He can do a much more thorough job of revenge than we ever could.  Admittedly, the imagery of a vengeful God taking action against obnoxious or evil people can make us feel better for a minute.

For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.”(Deuteronomy 32:35-36) And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Hebrews 10:30-31 (ESV)

God knows the whole story. In Jesus we are vindicated.  We can trust that He will handle our situations, and He will handle those who oppose us or who have done us wrong.  Jesus teaches us to forgive others as He has forgiven us.

All of us are on both sides of the psalmist’s petition. We are both the “wicked” and the “anointed.”  As we read the psalmist’s prayer that God would repay the wicked, we go back to the Lord’s Prayer, knowing that we need to forgive those who do us wrong as Jesus forgives us for all the things we do wrong.

Perhaps Jesus’ mercy toward us may also extend toward those who are doing evil things now? We are not the only ones pleading for forgiveness and mercy.

As we pray the Psalms, we should always follow their direction to point us to Jesus no matter if we are mourning, praising, or lamenting. We are free to let God handle impossible people and impossible situations. He knows our hearts and minds and circumstances better than we do. He created us, He carries us, and He redeems us. God has the universe and all things in His control.

February 8, 2018 -A Mentor, a Protégé and a Double Portion -2 Kings 2:9-12, Hebrews 12:1-3

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When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?”

“Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied.

 “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise, it will not.”

As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.  Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his garment and tore it in two. 2 Kings 2:9-12 (NIV)

Elisha was the prophetic successor to Elijah. Both men were great men of God, chosen to be prophets to the kings of Israel and Judah.  They had a rather unenviable job- to preach the truth to leaders who didn’t obey and didn’t want to listen.  Their job was so stressful and difficult that God used two men.

Elisha asked wisely when Elijah offered to do something for him before he had to go. He asked for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit.  Elisha showed some shameless audacity in his request. Time and time again in Scripture we see that asking big with a right heart has its rewards.  God wants to answer our prayers when they reflect His will.

God puts people in our lives who serve as examples. In some way, everyone is an example of something. Some people are good at showing us examples of what not to do. The ones who show us the good and right way to live are especially precious.  Like Elisha, as good protégés, we should break out our shameless audacity and ask God for an extra whallop of whatever it is that our good examples have going for them.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV)

All of us have that great cloud of witnesses around us, living and those who have passed on. We have been given the gift of everyone who has ever mentored us or shown us a good example of what God-life is all about. We are certainly not alone in the race we are running.  There are also those around us who see us as mentors- as their own “Elijahs.”

It’s easy to get discouraged. It’s also hard to pass the mantle of authority down to those who follow us.  Yet it is God who gives us our purpose and the fortitude to carry out the various roles He gives us- and those who follow us.  May the Holy Spirit give us all a double portion of the spirit and strength of those who have gone before us!

 

 

 

November 1, 2017- For All the Saints, The Great Cloud of Witnesses- Hebrews 12 1:2 and Revelation 21:4

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Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.  Hebrews 12 1:2 (NRSV)

Today we celebrate the great cloud of witnesses- those who have gone before us- those have done so much to form our faith and lead us to life in Christ. The saints who have gone before us are cherished gifts to the saints here on earth who are still running the race and dealing with the trials of life.  Because of them we have learned how to live lives that (however imperfectly) honor and glorify God.

All Saints’ Day is one of the more difficult observances of the church year. We honor and thank God for those who are departed, but we mourn them also. Knowing that the ones we love are no longer bodily present with us makes us even more aware that we live with one foot in the earthly kingdom and one foot in the heavenly kingdom. We long to hear our departed loved ones’ voices and to be gifted with their presence. Remembering them makes us painfully aware of their absence, even if we know in our hearts that their absence is not permanent, but only a temporary sojourn.

Of course our faith is not just in our hope of eternal life with Jesus and with those who we love who have gone before us. Our faith is also for now- for our relationships with others, for our celebrations and trials, for our vocation and purpose while we are here.

Perseverance is the key to holding on to Jesus and not letting go of His promise to us. The Holy Spirit is always available for us, interceding and stepping in the gap for us, because we are weak. We lose heart.  We get depressed, and on days like today, more often than not, we mourn.  We sin and we fail, but we also remember that today is a new day and that all things are possible for he or she who trusts in Christ.

There is nothing wrong with remembering and thanking God for our loved ones who are no longer with us. It is good for us to consider their example as well as to remember that they are living in the fullness of the heavenly kingdom.  The “not yet” waiting is over for them, and Jesus and heaven are their only now. Their joy is complete.  Our joy is divided, at least for now.

We are still running the race they have already finished. There is abundant life for us now, but our life and our joy is made complete beyond the end of the race.

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4 (NRSV)