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

god's courts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 26, 2017 Hallowed be Thy Name, Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will be Done- Matthew 6:9-10, Romans 8:26, Romans 12:2

christians-prayers

(Jesus said); “Pray then in this way:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:9-10 (NRSV)

The first petition of the Lord’s Prayer (see Martin Luther’s teaching on the Lord’s Prayer in the Large Catechism here) is about who God is, and the second and third are about what God is doing.

God, of course, is holy. Our opinion doesn’t change that reality one bit, but the first part of prayer is acknowledging that we are addressing God.  We come to Him knowing that we don’t have faith in our ability to say the right thing or in the strength of our prayers. Our faith is in the One to Whom we are praying.  It doesn’t matter if we feel inferior or not worthy of approaching God.  He extends the invitation and command to us to come to Him in prayer.  He even sends the Holy Spirit to intervene on our behalf, so that we can pray effectively in spite of our perceived unworthiness or weakness.

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

When we pray we need to know that we are coming to God because we want Him to make us holy, that we want to live in a way that is worthy of His naming and claiming us as His own. We want to live in a way that honors His name.  We can’t live in a way that honors God without asking Him for the strength and the abilities we need to be honorable.

God’s kingdom is a reality, and it will continue to be made more of a reality and it will come to fullness according to His plan. For us the kingdom of God is right now, but also not yet.  God’s plan is that His kingdom will be made a reality here on earth as well as in heaven.  Our desire and our purpose as Jesus followers are not just to be fully a part of the kingdom of God when we pass on to heaven, but to bring about God’s kingdom here on earth.

Do we really want what God wants? This is why we pray for God’s kingdom to come here on earth.  We can’t truly desire what God wants without His help.  Prayer is the way that God comes to us. It is a two way conversation.  Prayer is a means for us to invite God to transform our minds and align them with His will.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2 (NRSV)

 “Thy will be done” is at times one of the most difficult prayers we pray, especially when we want to say and believe “my will be done.” There are times when we don’t understand, when God says no to prayer, or His answer is, “wait, I have something better for you.”  Yet God still wants us to communicate with Him- when it’s good, when it’s bad, and even when it’s ugly.  He will align our hearts and minds to His purpose, and He will give us healing and strength when we need it.

God invites us to come to him anytime, in any way we know how, in prayer.

Have we come to God in prayer today?

August 23, 2017 – God is Forever- Isaiah 55:4-6, Mark 13

Far Side God _1

Listen to me, my people, and give heed to me, my nation; for a teaching will go out from me, and my justice for a light to the peoples.

 I will bring near my deliverance swiftly, my salvation has gone out and my arms will rule the peoples; the coastlands wait for me, and for my arm they hope.

Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath, for the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and those who live on it will die like gnats; but my salvation will be forever, and my deliverance will never be ended. Isaiah 51:4-6 (NRSV)

The science of astronomy has shown that the universe is constantly expanding and changing. Nothing that we can see or experience within creation is permanent. Everything begins and ends, except God and His promises, and we have a really difficult time wrapping our minds around that one.

Human understanding is necessarily limited to things that we can perceive with our senses, so it can be hard to trust in the permanence and constancy of God when everything we encounter eventually decays, dies or changes in some way. Entropy is inevitable.

Jesus warned us that there will always be wars and rumors of wars, as well as earthquakes, famines and various other types of civil unrest, (see Mark 13) but that He is with us no matter what happens in this world.

It is easy to be cynical about the state of the world especially should we ponder over the news for too long. However, when we watch the news, we must remember that reporting tragedy, drama, gossip and pathos is what keeps people watching the news and keeps the media in business. Sponsors pay for advertising, so the media needs to put on a good show. Otherwise people won’t bother watching, and then how would we ever know what widget we can’t possibly live without?

Good news is never reported as much as bad news is. No reporter would bother to focus on the 499,999 people in the city who didn’t get fatally shot last night.  The one person who did is the one we want to know about.

It can be tempting to go to one of two extremes in our conduct and stewardship of this earth. We can live in a way that only has regard for today because we know today is temporary.  Unfortunately this approach is not God-honoring as it does nothing to bring about or preserve God’s kingdom here on earth.  We should conserve resources and use them wisely.  We should strive to leave the earth a good place for our children and grandchildren.  The earth- whether it is going to last millions of years longer, or for only one more day- is God’s good gift to us and should be treated as such.

It is worth knowing that in spite of (and sometimes because of) our efforts, nothing here on earth is permanent. This doesn’t mean to plunder at will, but neither does it mean to hoard resources to the point of denying people a way to make a livelihood or causing undue hardship.  There are ways to use the earth’s resources wisely and be good stewards without calling for us to bury our cars or forgo personal hygiene.  There is a balance.

We have no way of knowing when our last hour will come, or when the Lord will return and the kingdom of God will arrive in its fullness. We can’t even be sure of the nature of that transformation.  What will the new heaven and new earth look like?

“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I still would plant my apple tree.”- Martin Luther

We have no way of knowing or proving what life beyond our existence is going to look like, or even for sure when that transition will take place. Jesus said we would not know the day or the hour when He returns.

(Jesus said): “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  Beware, keep alert, for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” Mark 13:32-37 (NRSV)

We don’t know when our own personal end will come either. Only a small electrical charge is all that keeps a heart beating. It is the barely tangible difference between life and death.

The best that we can do is to trust God and know that He is beyond it all. We are supposed to do and be who and what He created us to be, and to hold on to His promises even when the world and its circumstances would seem to contradict the sovereignty and permanence of God and His kingdom.

God is in control. Amen.

August 22, 2017 – Boast in the Lord- 2 Corinthians 10:12-18

boast god's love

We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another, and compare themselves with one another, they do not show good sense.  We, however, will not boast beyond limits, but will keep within the field that God has assigned to us, to reach out even as far as you. For we were not overstepping our limits when we reached you; we were the first to come all the way to you with the good news of Christ. We do not boast beyond limits, that is, in the labors of others; but our hope is that, as your faith increases, our sphere of action among you may be greatly enlarged, so that we may proclaim the good news in lands beyond you, without boasting of work already done in someone else’s sphere of action. “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” For it is not those who commend themselves that are approved, but those whom the Lord commends.  2 Corinthians 10:12-18 (NRSV)

It has been said that pride is the mother of all sins- the sin behind the Fall, for instance, was the desire to have the knowledge of good and evil, to be like God.

There is a time and a place to “toot one’s own horn” – it is fine to let others know where one has been and what one has done if that knowledge is helpful or beneficial to others. There is also a place for humility, for understanding that all good gifts come from God.  We dare not place our confidence in the gifts rather than in the Giver.

Then there are the braggarts of the world, constantly reminding the world of who they are, where they’ve been, the illustrious contributions they have made to the world, and of how Important they are. The truth is God has made every person with a purpose. We are all a part of the grand scheme of life whether we choose to be or not, and whether or not we want to turn our participation in this life into a grand drama.

Eventually it comes to a point where people brag about accomplishments that they have not achieved or have not achieved alone. This is also harmful because it creates resentment.  No one wants someone else to take credit for his or her work.

The purpose of the work we do on this earth is to bring glory to God, and to bring about His kingdom on earth. God’s work is going to happen whether we are directly involved in it or not.  God’s role for us in His work will be played out whether the whole world knows it or if it is a quiet secret between us and God.

(Jesus said):“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:1-4 (NRSV)

God is the ultimate hero in the Biblical narrative, and also in the greater narrative of life. If we trust Him, brag about Him, keep on going on about how amazing His grace and His majesty is, we can’t go wrong in our boasting.  As to our good deeds, sometimes it is better to just keep those a secret between us and God.  Our capacity to do those good deeds came from Him, anyway.

June 5, 2017 – Everyday Courage- 1 Samuel 25:14-18

abigail-intervenesBut one of the young men told Abigail, Nabal’s wife, “David sent messengers out of the wilderness to salute our master; and he shouted insults at them. Yet the men were very good to us, and we suffered no harm, and we never missed anything when we were in the fields, as long as we were with them; they were a wall to us both by night and by day, all the while we were with them keeping the sheep. Now therefore know this and consider what you should do; for evil has been decided against our master and against all his house; he is so ill-natured that no one can speak to him.”

Then Abigail hurried and took two hundred loaves, two skins of wine, five sheep ready dressed, five measures of parched grain, one hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs. She loaded them on donkeys,  and said to her young men, “Go on ahead of me; I am coming after you.” But she did not tell her husband Nabal. 1 Samuel 25:14-19 (NRSV)

The name “Nabal” means “fool.” As we all know, sometimes foolish people are put in positions of authority.  Sometimes others (and sometimes we do too) make bad decisions that put many people’s livelihood or safety at risk. Then we can be brought to a decision of our own.  Do we just go along with the fool in charge for the sake of our own stability or to preserve our own skin, or do we do the right thing even though it might put our own livelihood or safety at risk?

nabal the fool

Courage has been defined as, “feeling the fear, but doing the right thing anyway.” Being courageous is not the same thing as being fearless.  Knowing the risk and the possible consequences that can result from taking action requires even more courage.  There can be very real dangers involved in “doing the right thing anyway.”  Radical courage can cost us our possessions, our wealth and even our earthly lives.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor in Germany during WWII who opposed Nazi control of the churches, and actively worked to help Jews escape from Germany.  He was imprisoned for his vocal opposition to the Nazi regime, and died in a concentration camp.  Bonhoeffer carried on his message and his work for justice even though his courage in doing so ultimately cost him his life.  God may only call a few of us to the extraordinary courage of a Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but He calls all of us to everyday courage.

dietrich bonhoeffer

We may not be put in a place where we have to stand up to Hitler, but there are everyday places where we have to stand and just do what’s right even when we are afraid. We all have to deal with everyday jerks who treat others unfairly.   Sometimes like Abigail we have to just do the right thing and not worry about the jerk who would whine and cry about it, the jerk who would try to forbid it, or the jerk who could possibly cause us harm in retaliation.

While Abigail was ultimately rewarded for her courage, she took a great risk. In her day, her husband could have had her tortured or killed or sold into slavery, had he been sober enough to realize that she had defied him.

Abigail still made the right decision for her family and her household when her husband would or could not do the right thing. That put her in an awkward position, just as sometimes we get put in awkward positions when we try to do the right thing.  Do we look the other way when we know there is domestic violence or drug abuse going on in a friend or family member’s home?  Do we fail to intervene and perhaps avert a tragedy because we are afraid?  Do we look the other way when we know others are lonely or hungry or in need of a friend?

Everyday courage for us may mean a series of little things that add up to big things. Everyday courage may mean taking a moment to compliment someone, or to help out in a little way- holding a door, carrying a package, or maybe writing a note of encouragement to someone who is struggling.

Abigail could have ignored the needs of David and his men. After all, in her day women were supposed to be subservient to their husbands even when their husbands were fools.  But she took the high road of courage and did the right thing.

God created us to be courageous. Our purpose is to bring about His kingdom here on earth.  Even though many times we are afraid, God equips us for the purpose He created us for.

December 28, 2016- The Holy Innocents, Rachel Crying for Her Children, Because They Are No More- Jeremiah 31:15, Matthew 2:16-18

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When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.  Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

“A voice is heard in Ramah,
    weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
    and refusing to be comforted,
    because they are no more.” – Matthew 2:16-18, (Jeremiah 31:15)

The Sunday after Christmas many Christian churches recognize the Holy Innocents- the children who were killed by Herod’s men two years after the birth of Jesus.

The reference to Rachel is meaning all of the descendants of Jacob- the people of Israel, God’s people.

Ironically Herod never would have to worry about anyone of Jesus’ age  being a challenge to his throne.  He died not much later than the slaughter of the Innocents.

It seems senseless that Herod would have such an issue with someone who would not have been able to assume any kind of power until long after Herod’s death, but his malice and insecurity- or perhaps even denial of his own inevitable mortality- reached that far.

It seems heartless and barbaric to modern society that such a tragedy would have been permitted to happen, and even sanctioned by the authorities, but senseless slaughter of the young persists even today.

Who is weeping for the loss of their children today?  How many young lives in our own community are cut short or badly broken by the evils of chemical dependence, random promiscuity, poverty and violence?

We can look back at the slaughter of the Innocents as a historical event perpetrated by an evil leader, but we can also see how we have our own version of this senseless waste of talent and life going on here and now.

The question in this is, what can we do to protect and empower youth?  Not just parents, but the community in general.  We may not live to see them thrive and bring about God’s Kingdom on earth, but we can do what we can to protect them and build them up.