June 29, 2018 Mourning, Dancing, and the Joy of the Lord- Psalm 30, Philippians 4:11

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I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up and have not let my foes rejoice over me. O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol; you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit.

Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.

As for me, I said in my prosperity, “I shall never be moved.”  By your favor, O Lord, you made my mountain stand strong; you hid your face; I was dismayed.

To you, O Lord, I cry, and to the Lord I plead for mercy. “What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness?  Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me! O Lord, be my helper!”

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever! Psalm 30 (ESV)

Sometimes we fail to understand our thorough dependence on God when things are going well for us. We tend to be a bit too self-reliant when things are going well. The distractions of daily life and our own pursuits can cause us to forget that we were made and named and claimed by God to be Christ-reliant.

The apostle Paul wrote to the believers at Phillipi: “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, hardships, persecutions and calamities. For when I am weak, I am strong.” Philippians 4:11 (ESV)

It can also be true that hardship can cause us to question our faith and cause us to doubt God’s love and care for us. Even so, mourning and trials are times in which God draws close to us, in which we realize how desperate we are and how much we need Him.  When we come to that point of “it’s Christ or nothing,” all we have left is to fall upon the tender mercy of Jesus so He can put us back together again.  Jesus brings us back from the darkness of mourning and the despair of trials and comforts us with His peace and gives us joy that is not dependent upon our circumstances or material standing.

David (the writer of this Psalm) understood that God walks with us through times of mourning. God alone heals and restores us even as we know that we will not have complete or total healing in this lifetime.  For now we have to walk by faith in the promises of God. We will be made new and whole. We can rely on Jesus and know He cares for us until that day when the world is remade.

There is a morning coming soon when mourning will be gone forever.  Until then, even through our tears, we can sing.  We can dance.  We can trust that we have the joy of the Lord.

August 15, 2017 – Mistake or Magnificat? Luke 1:46-55

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And Mary (Jesus’ mother) said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.  He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”               Luke 1:46-55 (NRSV)

Those of us who know the story of Jesus’ conception aren’t terribly surprised by Mary’s song of praise and thanks for the impending birth of Jesus that we know as the Magnificat.  She was blessed like no other woman has been blessed- she was chosen to be the earthly mother of God-in-the-flesh.  None of us can claim that our own children are the very Son of God.  Any of us would be deeply awed and humbled by such an honor- or would we?  In the real world, Mary’s situation was not an easy one.

Mary faced some very real possible consequences connected to her unwed pregnancy. She could very well have been stoned to death had she been accused of adultery. (Leviticus 20:10) Had it not been for an angel of God coming to Joseph to tell him that Mary’s child was of God and not from a forbidden liaison, (Matthew 1:1-18) he would have quietly ended their betrothal.  A woman so shamed did not have good opportunities for marriage, and in that day, a woman’s survival depended on being able to marry well. Yet God made a way, so Mary would not have to go through this experience alone.  Even so, Mary, and especially Joseph, would have to have endured snickers and aspersions among friends and family, and no doubt there were “mathematicians” in the community who would be very aware that the timing of Jesus’ birth wasn’t quite consistent with the timing of his parents’ wedding.

Today unplanned or unwed pregnancy isn’t as culturally unacceptable as it was in Biblical times, but women still face hardship in many instances when pregnancy happens at a difficult time or under difficult circumstances. While there is much to be said for the protective boundaries God gives us for our behavior, we all are prone to venture outside of those boundaries. (It’s called sin, folks… and we all sin in one way or another.)  We all make mistakes, and mistakes in this realm of human behavior are very common.  How we react to the consequences of our actions can decide if an unplanned child is a mistake, or a cause to break into praise like Mary does in the Magnificat. God can take our tragedies and mistakes and turn them into blessings and joy, if we surrender ourselves and our situations to Him.

How are we supposed to know who that child may become, or what gifts he or she has to contribute to the world?

Sometimes in a troubled pregnancy situation, the mother or child has health issues. Sometimes the father of the child wants nothing to do with either the mother or the child.  Other times women who choose life for their unborn children face opposition from the child’s father, or even from their own parents. Unplanned pregnancy almost always brings economic and social burdens, even when mother and child are in good health.  Bringing a child into the world is a major life upheaval under the best of circumstances, let alone with a backdrop of hardship or abandonment.

In difficult situations- whether we contributed to them, or we came into them through no fault or planning of our own- can we still praise and magnify the Lord, and trust that He will make a way?

Sometimes situations that appear to be hardships or burdens- or even tragedies- are blessings in disguise, ways in which God comes to us with healing, divine provision, redemption and new life.

May our souls also magnify the Lord.

March 15, 2017- Foundation on the Rock-Matthew 7:24-27

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(Jesus said): “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” Matthew 7:24-27 (NRSV)

It’s funny the things we put our trust in. Every day we hear of athletes who have earned multi -million dollar contracts to play sports games, only to have an injury or other setback that makes that “guaranteed money” not so guaranteed.  Even celebrities who appear to “have it all” can very well be living in houses built on sand.  TV shows and hit songs don’t go on forever, and the public can be quite fickle.  Today’s hit performer is tomorrow’s has-been.

Even we, “regular people,” tend to put our trust and our sense of security and well being upon how well we are esteemed at our jobs, or in the money we earn- only to set ourselves up for devastation when those situations change.

The apostle Paul was one who learned (the hard way!) that true security, rest and stability are all found in Jesus Christ, our Rock and Savior, alone.

Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:10 (NRSV)

Do we trust in the solid Rock Who is Jesus, or are we putting our trust in sandy, temporary things such as our own resources?

 

January 12, 2017 God By My Side-Psalm 118:5-6, Romans 8:31-39

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Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me in a broad place. With the Lord on my side I do not fear. What can mortals do to me?  Psalm 118:5-6 (NRSV)

Everyone has come to places in life where there are scary situations- health crises, loss, financial setbacks or physical danger.  Those who live with anxiety disorders deal with fear they often cannot name or explain.  Sometimes fear is simply overwhelming because it is in response to a situation we cannot stop or mitigate or control.

God is beyond the things that cause our fear.  He is the One Who is really in control, and even when the storms rage all around us, we truly have nothing to fear.

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?  Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.  Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
    we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:31-39 (NRSV)

The apostle Paul, who wrote the letter to the Romans (and other letters to churches that are now books of the Bible,) knew about hardship and persecution.  He spent time in prison for the sake of the Gospel.  He endured deprivation and physical pain on his journeys to preach the Word. Yet he could attest to the fact that God is in control, and that God is on our side even when it doesn’t look like it or feel like it.

Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ.  God is by our side, so what do we have to fear?