June 4, 2020- From Where Does Our Help Come? Psalm 121

help from the Lord

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,who made heaven and earth.                                                                                                                                            He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.                                                                             

Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.                                                                                         The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.                                                                                                         

The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore. – Psalm 121 (ESV)

It is a theme in Scripture that our provision comes from God.  It’s human nature that we want to rely upon ourselves, or we expect others or even the government to defend or provide for us.  God is the One Who supplies us.  He gives us our talents and abilities so that we can earn an honest living, and so that we can serve our neighbors with the gifts we have been given.

It is easy to get discouraged and lose hope when we face adversity.  It’s hard to trust God when we can’t see him working for us.  Yet the same God Who created heaven and earth does have our lives in His hand, forever.  Even in the valleys of shadow- in the sickbeds, in the times of scarcity, in the times when others betray us, in the dark nights of our souls, Jesus walks with us.

We are guaranteed to have trials in this life.  Jesus said that we will have to take up our crosses and follow Him, and sometimes following Him is not easy.  Even so, He gives us our daily bread.  He gives us the grace to persevere in times of trouble and to lift our eyes to Him in every circumstance.

Lord, give us the gift of faith to trust You.  Comfort us in times of turmoil with the peace that only You can give.  Help us to rely on You alone for our provision, our help and our salvation.

May 1, 2020- The Splendor and Majesty of the Lord- Psalm 111

art cathedral chapel christ

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them.Full of splendor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever.             

He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and merciful.
He provides food for those who fear him; he remembers his covenant forever.
He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the inheritance of the nations.

The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy; they are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.
He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever.
Holy and awesome is his name!
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding.
His praise endures forever!  Psalm 111 (ESV)

It’s always a good time to remember the majesty and goodness of God. There is a comfort in knowing that He is beyond our circumstances, that He is in control of what happens, and that He so loved the world that He came down to the world in human flesh.

It’s easy to get caught in the moment and to forget that it’s just a moment.

He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and merciful.
He provides food for those who fear him; he remembers his covenant forever.
He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the inheritance of the nations.

We might wonder if God is really there or really listening to us. He is there. He is listening.

The Gospel is preached so many times in the prayers of the Psalms.

He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever.
Holy and awesome is his name!
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding.
His praise endures forever! 

Lord, may we seek our comfort and rest in You, knowing that You have sent us redemption, and that You hear our prayers.

April 13, 2020 He is Risen! So What Does This Mean? Matthew 28:16-20, 1 Corinthians 2:1-5

upper room

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:16-20 (ESV)

And I, (the apostle Paul) when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling,and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (ESV)

Jesus gives His disciples the Great Commission and tells them to go out, to baptize, to teach, and to preach. It sounds so easy, but going out to teach and preach proves to be life changing for the disciples, and not necessarily in a good way. All but one of the original twelve disciples died as martyrs- the exception being the disciple John who lived out his life in exile on the island of Patmos, where he wrote Revelation, the final book of the Bible.

The reality of the risen Jesus was not lost on the disciples. Since Jesus is raised from the dead, since His promise to us is sure, then where is the fear of death?

The apostle Paul realized that teaching about Jesus wasn’t necessarily based on flowery words and deep theology.  Paul aspired to know nothing but Christ crucified, and to let the Holy Spirit speak through his words.  The phrase, “Just give me Jesus,” comes to mind. Apart from Him, nothing else on heaven or earth matters.

In these trying times it can be challenging to know nothing but Christ crucified- when there is so much uncertainty and so many urgent things clamoring for our attention. Yet only in Him do we find comfort and peace, and courage. Since we know that death is not the end, in Christ we have the confidence to be bold.  We have the confidence to speak the truth, to love, to sacrifice, because He is risen.  Death holds no power over Him, and death is not the end for us.

Our faith cannot rest in the wisdom of fallible humans- humans who once believed the world was flat, humans whose best science and technology is flawed and often ill-informed.

Our faith must be in the risen Christ, the first fruits of they who sleep.

He is Risen!  He is Risen, indeed.  Lord Jesus, give us the gift of faith so that we will never wander far from You.

 

 

April 6, 2020- The Lord, Our Dwelling Place, Our Comfort, Our Peace- Psalm 90

psalm 90

Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.

Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You return man to dust, and say, “Return, O children of man!”

For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.

You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning: in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.

For we are brought to an end by your anger; by your wrath we are dismayed.

You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.

For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh.

The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.

Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you?

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.

Return, O Lord! How long? Have pity on your servants!

Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.

Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil.

Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children.

Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands! Psalm 90 (ESV)

If we look at our lives and at who we are in the light of today and of today’s temporary circumstances, we are truly creatures to be pitied.  The apostle Paul said as much when he wrote to the Corinthians, (1 Corinthians 15:12-24) that if Jesus were not raised from the dead then we have absolutely no hope.  Might as well eat, drink, be merry and take advantage of this life as much as we can, because if the life and resurrection of Christ is not true, what’s the point?

It is telling that the Psalmist says, “the years of our life are seventy or perhaps eighty by reason of strength.” Even with modern medicine it is still uncommon for human beings to live more than eighty years, and to live to advanced age without major health issues is even more uncommon. As much as human beings try, we still have not found a way to conquer mortality.

The good news is that the Gospel is true.  We have the confidence and the assurance that God is in control of the world, of our lives, of the circumstances around us.  We will go through trials.  We will get ill.  We will face persecution for what we believe, even in historically “Christian” countries.  Even though we are guaranteed to suffer in this life, God provides for us.  We live in Him.  Our shelters here on earth are temporary at best, but God is our permanent home.

Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you?  So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.

Wisdom is mentioned many times in Scripture.  In Proverbs 9:10 we learn, The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.

All of us are tempted to buy in to the age old fallacy best illustrated in William Ernst Henley’s poem Invictus– that we are the masters of our fates, the captains of our souls.  Scripture teaches exactly the opposite, that God is the potter and we are the clay.  We are creatures, rather than the Creator.

It is wise to remember that the sin of the Garden began with the tempter asking Eve,
“Did God actually say…” and followed up with the lie that in eating the fruit, “you will be like God.” (Genesis 3) C.S. Lewis claimed that pride (wanting to be in the place of God) is at the root of all sin.  We all struggle with wanting my will instead of thy will, truth be told.

When we make the mistake of putting ourselves in the place of God (and every single human being alive does this…) we forget our place. We forfeit the comfort and peace of knowing that God has our lives in the palm of His hand. We don’t have to have all the answers.  We don’t have to have it all together. God does.

Lord, help us to ask you for Your wisdom as we remember that this world is not our forever home, but that You are.  Give us the faith to cling tightly to You, the strength to serve You, and Your love to share with those around us. Have mercy on this tired world and the scared people who are living in it, until You return again.

April 3, 2020- Trust God’s Steadfast Love- Psalm 86

woman wearing grey long sleeved top photography

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Pexels.com

Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.

Preserve my life, for I am godly; save your servant, who trusts in you—you are my God.

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for to you do I cry all the day.

Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.

For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.

Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer; listen to my plea for grace.

In the day of my trouble I call upon you, for you answer me.

There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like yours.

All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name.

For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God.

Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.

I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever.

For great is your steadfast love toward me; you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.

O God, insolent men have risen up against me; a band of ruthless men seeks my life,and they do not set you before them.

But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.

Turn to me and be gracious to me; give your strength to your servant, and save the son of your maidservant.

Show me a sign of your favor, that those who hate me may see and be put to shame because you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me. – Psalm 86 (ESV)

In these uncertain times it can be hard to pray.  The Psalms contain prayers for all times, and all situations.  They are one of God’s incredible gifts to us, because when we cannot find the words to pray, we have the Psalms to pray.  We have the Holy Spirit interceding on our behalf when we cannot even find the breath or the mind to pray.

Psalm 86 reminds us that God’s love is constant and unwavering, even though our affections are weak and fickle.

Martin Luther commented that we are beggars before God.  We have nothing to offer Him, and He has everything to offer us.

Even so, many of us are longing for a sign of God’s favor, especially in this ongoing pandemic and the upheaval and uncertainty it brings.  No one is fond of the thought of contracting a deadly disease, or of any of the economic, social and other implications that this disease brings with it.

It is in these situations that God gives us the comfort of His promises in Scripture- that He is merciful, that He is gracious, and that He has already made the provision for our salvation.

Lord, you help us and comfort us.  Lord, we know You hear our prayers and that You answer us.  Lord, we ask that You be our strength, our shelter and our peace.

March 30, 2020 -How Lovely is Your Dwelling Place, God’s Place for Us- Psalm 84, Revelation 21:1-4, Matthew 6:25-33

field of trees near body of water

Photo by R. Fera on Pexels.com

 

How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!

My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.

Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.

Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise! – Selah

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.

As they go through the Valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools.

They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion.

O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer; give ear, O God of Jacob! – Selah

Behold our shield, O God; look on the face of your anointed!

For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.

For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.

O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you! – Psalm 84 (ESV)

As we know, the Psalms are prayers.  Psalm 84 is particularly lovely set to music (the version by Lily Fields, above is quite beautiful) as it reminds us that we are travelers in this world.  We shouldn’t be seeking out a permanent residence here on earth- because none of us are going to live forever in these corrupted bodies, in this corrupted world. We long for and await the day when Jesus will return and remake both our corrupted bodies and the fallen creation.  As the apostle John wrote to us under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit from his exile in Patmos:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:1-4 (ESV)

This doesn’t mean that we should not aim to have a suitable place to live or that we should ignore our bodily needs, just that Jesus told us what our priorities are:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  Matthew 6:25-33 (ESV)

This world is full of uncertainty, despair, illness, violence and hate.  Watching the news and reading the headlines as well as all the doom and gloom on social media is depressing.  Yet we have good news! We are baptized, we are set apart. By faith we trust Jesus.  He provides for us.  He equips us for the good works that He created us to do.  He is the King.  He holds us in His hand.  Today is not all there is.  We can trust God.  He will get us through any storm. He has a permanent, incorruptible home waiting for us.

 

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

jesus comfort

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

mary-and-baby-jesus-ray-downing

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

Jesus-prays

“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

flowers2

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.