March 19, 2020 The Omnipotent God of the Universe Cares for Us- Psalm 74:12-19

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Yet God my King is from of old,
working salvation in the midst of the earth.

You divided the sea by your might;
you broke the heads of the sea monsters on the waters.

You crushed the heads of Leviathan;
you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.

You split open springs and brooks;
you dried up ever-flowing streams.

Yours is the day, yours also the night;
you have established the heavenly lights and the sun.

You have fixed all the boundaries of the earth;
you have made summer and winter.

Remember this, O Lord, how the enemy scoffs,
and a foolish people reviles your name.

Do not deliver the soul of your dove to the wild beasts;
do not forget the life of your poor forever.

Psalm 74:12-19 (ESV)

We must remember the God Who spoke the universe into being actually cares about us.  It’s easy to forget that in times of crisis, but God is truly in control of all things.

Jesus reassures us in Luke 12:6-7,

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows!

I can recommend for those of us with time on our hands to take a few moments to read Martin Luther’s letter, Whether One May Flee From a Deadly Plague,  in its entirety.  It was written in response to the return of the Black Plague (a disease with a far higher mortality rate than the current coronavirus) to Wittenberg in 1527.

The advice that Luther gives here in his letter is particularly timely and accurate:

Use medicine; take potions which can help you; fumigate house, yard, and street; shun persons and places wherever your neighbor does not need your presence or has recovered, and act like a man who wants to help put out the burning city. What else is the epidemic but a fire which instead of consuming wood and straw devours life and body? You ought to think this way: “Very well, by God’s decree the enemy has sent us poison and deadly offal. Therefore I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely, as stated above. – Martin Luther, 1527

Ultimately we are reminded that our times are in God’s hands.  Even so, we should be washing our hands.  We should follow good precautions and do what we can to protect ourselves and our neighbors, even as we remember, and we trust that God hears our prayers.

The worst thing any disease can do to us is to take our life in this world, but even should our life in this body end, Jesus, the Lover of our souls, has bought and purchased us and we share in His resurrection. 

Therefore we have hope no matter what effect this disease may have on us.  We have comfort.  In Christ, we have peace. Keep on caring for our neighbors and for ourselves. Do sensible and beneficial things. Keep praying. Keep studying God’s Word.  Share the comfort, hope and peace that we have in Christ.

January 7, 2020 Comfort and Joy- 2 Corinthians 1:3-7

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Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 (ESV)

Tidings of comfort and joy,” goes the refrain of the old Christmas carol, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” In this Epiphany (an epiphany is an experience of enlightening or expanding one’s understanding) season we go from discovering that Jesus has come in human flesh to live among us, to a deeper understanding of what Jesus stepping into the mess of humanity means for us.

For many of us, especially during this season of the dark winter funk between Christmas and spring, it’s hard to see beyond our day to day struggles. The weight of our health issues, and our financial issues, and the trauma of our conflicts in our dealings with others, simply seems heavier at this time of year. Comfort and joy seem pretty far away, as if they were packed away with the decorations, and we are just left to go back to our every day drudgery.

The apostle Paul was writing to the church in Corinth at a time in which being a believer in Jesus could get you killed. The Corinthian church had good reasons to be apprehensive and afraid, but still Paul writes to them: Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

When Jesus came to this earth He did not just come to experience the pain and struggle of fallen human life. He came to give His life as a ransom for ours, to put death to death. He came bringing many things, including, suffering, distress, a sword- and for some, even temporal death and martyrdom. Yet for those who He chooses to carry His cross in this life, those of us who die with Him in the waters of baptism, He also chooses to join in His resurrection. We will be comforted beyond all comfort. We will be made new and to live with Him forever.

The idea of tidings – news of- suggests anticipation. It underscores that yes, the King is here- but the King is still arriving. We are comforted not in the promise that our suffering will be lifted from us in this life, but that Jesus walks with us in and through that suffering and gives us the strength to endure it.

We have been given tidings of great comfort and joy- tidings that go beyond the wonderful miracle of a little boy born in a tiny town in first century Palestine, that reach beyond the scope of this world and the burdens we carry.

Because Jesus came to earth to suffer and die and take the punishment each of us earn and deserve, we thank Him. We look to Him for our comfort, our joy, and our peace, even with and through our suffering.

June 18, 2019 – Jesus Prays for Us- John 17:6-10, Matthew 10:34-39, Psalm 139:16

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“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.  Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you.  For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.  I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.  All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.” John 17:6-10 (ESV)

It’s kind of a strange – but encouraging- thought that Jesus prays for us and intercedes for us.   After all, Jesus taught us to pray to God the Father for all that we need.  Then He prays for us that we would be one, as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit are one.  Jesus is personal.  He does not just observe us from a distance.  He is with us and near us always no matter what we might think or feel about His presence.

Jesus knows first hand how difficult life in this world is.  He knows that there is much division and infighting between believers and others in the world and that it is not always easy to be one of His own in this world.

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.   Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Matthew 10:34-39 (ESV)

We need Jesus’ prayers and intercession.  Thankfully there is nothing we can do that He doesn’t anticipate.  The hairs on our heads are numbered.

Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. Psalm 139:16 (ESV)

Take comfort in this life that Jesus prays for us.  The Holy Spirit intercedes for us.  God the Father together with the Son and Spirit- God the Three in One- planned our existence and knew everything about us long before we ever drew a breath.

December 11, 2018- The Majestic Name of the Lord- Psalm 8

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Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory
    in the heavens.

Through the praise of children and infants
    you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
    to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,
 what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?

You have made them a little lower than the angels
    and crowned them with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
    you put everything under their feet:
all flocks and herds,
    and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky,
    and the fish in the sea,
    all that swim the paths of the seas.

 Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth! – Psalm 8 (ESV)

Sometimes praising God is the furthest thing from our minds.  When we are in pain or stuck in sadness usually our first response is not to look up to God and know that He is there. Yet even when our lives seem dark, the Light of the world is never far from us.

It is good to praise our majestic God, God Who is above all the sadness and suffering of this world.

It is good to remember in this season that can be dark and depressing for some, that the Light of the world is with us.

The same God whose majesty is reflected in the heavens is the same God who chose to live among us, the same God who came to us as a humble child born to a peasant girl and laid in a manger.

The same God who is beyond time chose to endure a brutal death on a Roman cross to take the punishment for our sins and save us from eternal death.

The majesty of God is both beyond us, and intimately, always with us.

Take comfort this season.  The God of creation is always near.

 

 

November 14, 2018 – Comfort, Suffering and Christ-Reliance- 2 Corinthians 1:3-11

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Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.  He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many. 2 Corinthians 1:3-11 (ESV)

There are some troublesome trends in American Christianity that are not healthy for us to follow. The phrase, “God will never give you more than you can handle” is an example of a not-so-biblical teaching that gets spread around on blog posts and such.  We think that it is comforting to others when we repeat such nice-sounding platitudes, but we are simply putting the burden on the other person and the emphasis on “you” rather than sharing the blessed comfort that God has our circumstances in HIS control.  We like to believe that we are the ones who are in control, but we are not. We do encounter more than we can handle.  Apart from the grace and mercy of God we cannot handle anything.

A more accurate and ultimately more comforting phrase would be, “God can handle everything you have been given, because apart from Him you can’t.” We share in the good news and in the real comfort that God offers in and through our suffering, beyond the limits of our strength, and beyond our afflictions. Suffering is not a surprise. It is inevitable. Suffering is part of the human condition we inherited in the Fall. As believers in Jesus we are not going to be spared suffering, but we are given the hope that suffering will eventually end.  Jesus calls us to take up our crosses and follow Him.  We necessarily share in the Cross of Christ, but we who share in the suffering of the Cross also share in the triumph and eternal life of Christ.

The apostle Paul experienced just about every imaginable obstacle and type of persecution on his missionary journeys. Apart from the grace of God, Paul would not have been able to continue to believe or to persevere in his mission.

Our trust is in God who raises the dead, God who delivers the captives from bondage, God the I AM before and outside of time.

It is interesting that Paul asks the church at Corinth for their prayers. We trust God, yet we still pray for each other in thanks for the blessings God gives us.  Prayer is one of the evidences and the results of our faith, that springs from our confidence that God is the one in control not only of us and our circumstances, but of the ultimate redemption and restoration of all things.  Prayer is the way that God invites us to align our wills with His holy and good will, such as He teaches us to pray- “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” in the third petition of the Lord’s Prayer.

Paul is teaching us not to be self-reliant. Paul assures us that God handles those things- pretty much everything- that is beyond our ability to manage. Our culture teaches us to be independent and headstrong, but Jesus is teaching us through the apostle Paul that we need to be Christ-reliant. We need to pray together with other believers, trusting that God’s will is being, and will be done just as Jesus taught us to pray.  God is the master of our circumstances as well as He is the bringer of all comfort and peace.

October 15, 2018 – Freedom for the Captives, Comfort for the Mourning, and a Crown of Beauty for Ashes- Isaiah 61:1-4, Luke 4:16-21

Jesus reading IsaiahThe Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.

They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations. – Isaiah 61:1-4 (NIV)

 

He (Jesus) went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:16-21 (NIV)

Jesus caused a scandal in the synagogue in Nazareth. Imagine the incredulity we would experience if a sibling, a cousin or a classmate became a celebrity. Out in the world celebrity might be one thing, but being at home with people who knew that celebrity as the kid who always ended up pinned down getting wet willys, or was the nerd who got routinely pounded with a dodge ball, it’s a different perspective.  Are the kids from 4th grade who fried ants with a magnifying glass at recess together going to take a classmate seriously as an adult?

Perhaps Jesus was just “one of the boys” when he was growing up. Maybe the Savior of the world was once the class wisenheimer? We really don’t know much about Jesus as a child, other than the incident when He was twelve and was left behind teaching at the temple.

No matter what the people in Nazareth thought about Jesus’ claim to divinity, or what they remembered about Him, Jesus, as unlikely and humble and human as He was, speaks back the Word of God given to Isaiah about Him 700 years earlier. He speaks not just to his relatives and friends he grew up with in Nazareth, but He still speaks to us today.

Jesus proclaims the good news of freedom from bondage to sin, death and the torments of Satan. Jesus comes to us with good news of healing and restoration. He opens our eyes to see Him and his incredible love and compassion for us.

Jesus came to exchange our ashes (perhaps the condition of being dead in trespasses and sins?) and desolation and sorrow for His crown of beauty and joy. “Unholy” becomes “made holy” when Jesus in His grace and mercy, speaks His forgiveness. He brings us poor beggars salvation, peace and joy that we cannot earn or deserve.

This world of not yet, with its paradoxes and contradictions and disappointments is not the end of the story. In our baptism we are forever marked with the Cross. In Jesus’ blood our sins are covered, gone, removed. We share in Jesus’ death, especially as we suffer and are called to sacrifice on this earth, but we also share in Jesus’ resurrection.

He has come to be the death of death, the bringer of healing and of life forever. Jesus is the comfort for all mourning.  He is the beautiful joy beyond our understanding.  He takes away the curse once and for all.  He exchanges all of our ugliness and baggage for freedom, healing and peace, and this all by the gift of faith for those who will believe.

Good news indeed!

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)