July 14, 2020- God is Faithful, David’s Son is On the Throne – Jeremiah 33:14-26

Jeremiah weeps

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’

“For thus says the Lord: David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel, and the Levitical priests shall never lack a man in my presence to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings, and to make sacrifices forever.”

The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: “Thus says the Lord: If you can break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night will not come at their appointed time, then also my covenant with David my servant may be broken, so that he shall not have a son to reign on his throne, and my covenant with the Levitical priests my ministers. As the host of heaven cannot be numbered and the sands of the sea cannot be measured, so I will multiply the offspring of David my servant, and the Levitical priests who minister to me.”

The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: “Have you not observed that these people are saying, ‘The Lord has rejected the two clans that he chose’? Thus they have despised my people so that they are no longer a nation in their sight. Thus says the Lord: If I have not established my covenant with day and night and the fixed order of heaven and earth,then I will reject the offspring of Jacob and David my servant and will not choose one of his offspring to rule over the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For I will restore their fortunes and will have mercy on them.” – Jeremiah 33:14-26

Jeremiah, often called the weeping prophet, was sent to Israel at a rather trying time.  As Israel was being taken into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar, God spoke prophecy to Jeremiah that was devastating. The temple would be destroyed, the city of Jerusalem would be laid waste, the people would be carried off to Babylon and made captive.

God also spoke to Jeremiah of hope.  He spoke of the One Who is also our hope- the Son of David, the Son of God.

God made a covenant with His people through Abraham, in which He promises that Abraham’s descendants would be as the stars in the sky or the grains of sand in the oceans.  The covenant He made with Abraham was a covenant of faith- faith that is a gift of God.   We see God’s faithfulness in His provision clearly in Genesis 22.  God provided the lamb for the offering and spared Isaac.  In Christ, God provides Jesus, the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world forever.

And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’

The same Lord Who Jeremiah spoke of is still faithful to us.  After all, God’s promises are not like human promises that can be broken and forgotten.  Jesus warned us that in this world we will have trials.  We will suffer.  We will be betrayed.  We will know loss. Even in the middle of these trials we have confidence not in ourselves but in the One Who has conquered death for us.  We have the assurance directly from the Author of Life Himself, the Provider of the Lamb, that his promise is good.

Lord, help us to rest in the knowledge that our life now and forever, and our redemption is based on Your faithfulness, not in our merit.  We deserve death, destruction and hell, but You have promised to save us from the condemnation we have earned. Forgive us for all the times we break Your laws and fall short of Your will and fail to meet Your expectations for us.  We can only be faithful because You are faithful and You provide us the gift of faith as well as You have provided the Lamb.  Help us to stay faithful and to follow 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 2, 2020 The Lord Restores, The Lord Forgives, In Him is our Hope- Psalm 85, Mark 13:3-8, Psalm 118:8-9, Romans 8:18-30

beautiful flowers under the cloudy sky

Photo by Joran Quinten on Pexels.com

Lord, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob.

You forgave the iniquity of your people; you covered all their sin.- Selah

You withdrew all your wrath; you turned from your hot anger.

Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us!

Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger to all generations?

Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?

Show us your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation.

Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints; but let them not turn back to folly.

Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him, that glory may dwell in our land.

Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other.

Faithfulness springs up from the ground, and righteousness looks down from the sky.

Yes, the Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.

Righteousness will go before him, and make his footsteps a way. Psalm 85 (ESV)

Some of us may be wondering if the current world events are “divine retribution” for all of the evil in the world.  Jesus told us that we will endure trials in this world and not to be alarmed by them:

And as he (Jesus) sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?”  And Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one leads you astray.  Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray.  And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains. Mark 13:3-8 (ESV)

Unfortunately popular culture, and even some churches, buy in to a fallacy that every day gets better and better, that we can all “live our best life now,” “tomorrow will be a better day,” etc.  The reality is that we as well as the creation all around us are decaying and dying- the scientific term is entropy – the trend of orderly things to descend or degrade into disorderly things- or to degrade back to their essential elements.

There are examples of entropy all around us- the aging process is one, where one’s body is not able to repair and regenerate its cells as effectively as it once did, and the body slowly deteriorates.  Erosion is another example, when water slowly wears away the rocks and dissolves the minerals that comprise the rocks.  Even the fact that a house must be maintained and repainted and so forth over time because paint fades and wood rots is another example of entropy.   We all know that automotive maintenance is performed because time, friction and wear degrade essential parts which have to be replaced. Oil is changed because it gets contaminated and doesn’t lubricate as effectively. Brake pads wear because the linings are worn off by the heat of friction necessary to stop the vehicle, and so forth.

The fact that societies and governments cannot bring about heaven on earth or avert every calamity is because of that complete corruption of all creation (call it Original Sin, or, even though I’m not a Calvinist, the Total Depravity of Man) that sprung forth from the sin of the Garden.  We cannot put our trust in world leaders.

It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes. Psalm 118:8-9 (ESV)

The promise that was given by faith to believers through Abraham (and yes, Christian people are the spiritual descendants of Abraham) is that we as well as the creation will be remade. Jesus defeated the penalty of death (and what is entropy, if not a slow and lingering death) for us and took our place. He is returning for us- and we share in His resurrection into a world without entropy- bodies that do not decay and a world that will not rot away. The apostle Paul teaches us this in Romans 8-

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope  that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.  And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,[h] for those who are called according to his purpose.  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. Romans 8:18-30 (ESV)

So what are we supposed to think when we read Scripture and it seems to contradict everything that we are seeing, living or experiencing?

As we pray in Psalm 85- by faith we have hope.

Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other. Faithfulness springs up from the ground, and righteousness looks down from the sky. Yes, the Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.
Righteousness will go before him, and make his footsteps a way.

Thank you, Lord for the gift of faith. Thank you, because in You we have hope. Thank You that you sustain us through even the valley of the shadow of death.  Thank You for Your Holy Spirit, who intercedes for us when we cannot pray.  Thank You that there is never a moment in which You leave us or abandon us.

December 14, 2019- Advent 14, Luke 14- Jesus is Still Lord of the Sabbath, Come to the Banquet, The Way of the Cross Has a Cost

the-last-supper-master-of-portillo

Read Luke 14.

Jesus asks yet again, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?,” after He healed the man with dropsy.  Jesus heals people many times on the Sabbath, whether the Pharisees liked it or not.  He extends His gifts of wholeness and healing in ways that the religious legalists found challenging to accept and difficult to understand.

When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 14:8-11 (ESV)

Jesus teaches that we should not seek our own honor, but to let others elevate us.  We should not overestimate our own importance.  We appreciate the humility of others.  Jesus was the ultimate example of humility as He put on human flesh and subjected Himself to death on a cross.  In His act of humility and shame, He was lifted up above all others, the King of Kings. We should not hesitate to take the places of “lesser honor.”

Jesus also encourages us to be generous with others, especially those who will never be able to repay us for our kindness.  He also explains to the Pharisees and other people born into the Jewish tradition that the kingdom and inheritance that was prepared for the Jewish people will largely end up being inhabited by those who were once outside of Israel.

“A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’” Luke 14:16-24 (ESV)

The Jewish people largely rejected Jesus’ message- finding excuses not to attend the wedding banquet that He prepared for Him.  So He extended His invitation to all.  His invitation is still open, to all of humanity, for anyone who would hear the Good News and be brought to faith. We never know who will join us at Jesus’ table, so we are called to welcome all who will come.

Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him,saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Luke 14:25-30 (ESV)

Many people followed Jesus around because of the miracles he performed, especially the miracles of feeding multitudes.  The idea that Jesus would be some sort of magical bread king did much to heighten His popularity.  But learning the real cost of discipleship thinned down the numbers.  Jesus wasn’t about just filling bellies temporarily.  The life of following Jesus is not always easy.  However, those He calls He also equips.

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. John 6:44 (ESV)

God calls us through His means of grace- through hearing the Gospel, through our baptism, and through the prayers of the saints.  By faith, which itself is a gift of God, God gives us what we need to follow Jesus and assures us that we will be raised up with him on the Last Day.

“Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Luke 14:34-35 (ESV)

In our culture, referring to someone as “salty”  usually means that a person has had many hard years of experience and their language is a little rough around the edges- like a long time sailor that has spent years at sea.

Jesus was referring to a form of salt used in the Middle East that was not 100% salt, and that over time the sodium chloride would leach out of it, leaving it tasteless.

Like that Middle Eastern salt we can have the saltiness leached out of us= the world wears on us.  Our own desires and selfishness can keep us from the study of God’s Word, and from worship and prayer. We can very easily become cynical, tired and colorless.

In these times we see our need for Jesus, our need for the nourishment only He can give to keep us “salty,” to keep us firmly in Him.

Lord, we pray that we would humbly accept the invitation to Your feast.  We pray that you would give us the grace to invite others and extend Your hospitality to even the most unlikely.  We trust in Your promises and we look forward to You coming back to remake and restore this world and establish Your kingdom forever.

July 26, 2017 – The Legacies We Leave – 1 Kings 2:1-4

legacyWhen David’s time to die drew near, he charged his son Solomon, saying:  “I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, be courageous, and keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his ordinances, and his testimonies, as it is written in the law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn.  Then the Lord will establish his word that he spoke concerning me: ‘If your heirs take heed to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul, there shall not fail you a successor on the throne of Israel.’ 1 Kings 2:1-4 (NRSV)

In many ways, King David is one of the best Scriptural examples of what not to do, especially in regard to family life. Solomon was the second son of David and Bathsheba- the son born after their first son, who had been conceived in adultery, had died. (2 Samuel 11-12)

David’s family life could have been featured on the Jerry Springer show. His domestic drama is a rather sordid tale of polygamy (which unfortunately was culturally acceptable in his time) as well as of adultery, murder, incest, betrayal and tragic death. (2 Samuel 13-14)  There hasn’t been a soap opera written with more tragedy and pathos than can be found in the life of King David.

Nathan the prophet had even warned David that the sword would never depart from his house, and that he would face public shame for the murder of Uriah and his adultery with Bathsheba. (2 Samuel 12:10-12)

Still, David held on. All through his trials and triumphs and disappointments, his heart stayed open to God in spite of his failings. As it came close to David’s time to die, he couldn’t tell Solomon that he had followed God perfectly all his life, but David could tell him (because he had to learn the hard way) that following God’s way is the best way.

Some of us as parents and grandparents, like David, have a bit of the Springer style drama in our families that we have brought on ourselves through our own mistakes or poor judgment. We might feel hypocritical teaching our children healthy, Scripturally based habits such as regular prayer, worship and Bible study if we didn’t culture those disciplines in our youth.  We might feel hypocritical teaching and helping to enforce healthy Scriptural boundaries, such as saving sex for marriage, or staying married to one spouse for life, if we didn’t honor those boundaries ourselves.

At times all of us are examples of what NOT to do, especially if we have learned the hard way. Others might learn from those examples of what NOT to do much more quickly and thoroughly – and comparatively drama-free – if they have a candid witness to the potential fallout.  Candor and honesty (especially with children or grandchildren) can be difficult for those of us with checkered pasts, but authenticity goes a long way in reinforcing the message.

The good news is that God’s grace is stronger than our failings and shortcomings. Because of grace, every day is a new opportunity to embrace God’s forgiveness and try again. David understood this concept.  Even though we still have to live with some of the consequences of our actions, there is healing, redemption and forgiveness in Christ.  That is a message we should be happy to pass on.

 

July 13, 2017 Our Work for God’s Kingdom is Not in Vain- Isaiah 55:10-12, Luke 6:32-36

Jesus compassion 2For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

 For you shall go out in joy,and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. – Isaiah 55:10-12 (NRSV)

The journey of life is often tiring. Sometimes we look around and wonder if living as a Jesus follower really makes a difference.  Sometimes we pray and we don’t get answers.  Sometimes we reach out to others only to receive a cold shoulder or overt hostility.  Sometimes it seems as if life is just a series of setbacks, challenges and sucker punches.  We are instructed to wait on the Lord, but often we wonder, when is He going to show up?

Does the little bit of good we can do really matter?

Should we plant the seeds even if we never get to see the full grown tree?

It is rewarding when we can see the fruit of our labor. We all need encouragement and positive reinforcement, but there are times when we don’t always get those.  We get discouraged.

Along with the theme of God’s rest is trust – trusting that He is faithful, trusting that He does hear our prayers, and that living faithfully to Him does make a difference, even when we don’t see results.

God’s word will not return empty. That is a powerful affirmation that we see throughout Scripture.  When God says something He means it, and He will make it happen. We might not understand His timing or His mechanics, or what our role in His plans may be, but God is always faithful.

Elijah promised the widow that she would not run out of flour or oil (1 Kings 17:8-16) as long as the drought lasted, and she was rewarded for her faithfulness.  Jesus promised us as well that our faithfulness to Him will be rewarded, even if it’s not in a way we might expect:

(Jesus said): If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.  If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.  If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.  But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”- Luke 6:32-36 (NRSV)

Love isn’t an easy proposition. Many times love is a choice- to choose the path of love versus vengeance, and to seek involvement in the messy things of this world versus detachment from the needs of others.  It can be frustrating, tiring and overwhelming to be as Christ to others, especially when we don’t see results.  But Jesus tells us to be like Him, and to let Him handle both the results and the rewards.