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.

 

 

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.

September 13, 2019- In the Day of My Trouble, Psalm 77:1-14, 2 Corinthians 1:3-6

jesus garden

I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, and he will hear me.
In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted.
When I remember God, I moan; when I meditate, my spirit faints.- Selah
You hold my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
I consider the days of old, the years long ago.
I said, “Let me remember my song in the night; let me meditate in my heart.”
Then my spirit made a diligent search: “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable?
Has his steadfast love forever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he in anger shut up his compassion?”- Selah– Psalm 77:1-10 (ESV)

All human beings at one point or another will experience times in which it seems God has abandoned us. There is spiritual and emotional pain that is so deep that when one is buried in it, it is easy to believe there is no comfort, no help, and no hope.

Jesus prayed in Gethsemane, sweating blood and imploring God to take the cup of crucifixion and death away, yet God’s will was done. Jesus was wrongfully condemned, beaten, scourged, and left to die a death of ignominy and unspeakable pain on a Roman cross.  We may not understand why or fathom the purpose for it, but God does not always stop the suffering.

And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Mark 15:34 (ESV)

Jesus endured being separated from and abandoned by God. Jesus took the punishment we deserve so that we can be forgiven and reconciled to Him.
When we reach out to God in prayer, the Holy Spirit intervenes on our behalf, especially when our grief and pain are so deep we don’t have words.

Jesus is with us in and through our suffering. He comes to us with consolation and solace even when we are so depleted and torn and broken that we can’t acknowledge His presence.

Then I said, “I will appeal to this, to the years of the right hand of the Most High.”
I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds.
Your way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God?
You are the God who works wonders; you have made known your might among the peoples. Psalm 77:11-14 (ESV)

Suffering is a reality in this not-yet world, even suffering so painful it seems beyond our endurance. The apostle Paul reminds us that we who belong to Christ share in His suffering as well as His comfort.

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. 2 Corinthians 1:3-6 (ESV)

Part of the Christian’s vocation is to give encouragement to those who are suffering. Another lesser known and observed part of our vocation is to be willing to seek out other believers in our families and our churches when we are suffering and need help. We also fulfill the law of Christ when we come to others when we are suffering and give them the opportunity to help us.

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.- Galatians 6:2 (ESV)

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10 (ESV)

There is hope in Christ. God created us to love and serve Him. We have Jesus with us even when we feel abandoned. He does not abandon us.

January 9, 2019- Silence, Hope, and the Gospel in a Psalm- Psalm 62

fortress

For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.

He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.

How long will all of you attack a man to batter him, like a leaning wall, a tottering fence?
They only plan to thrust him down from his high position. They take pleasure in falsehood.
They bless with their mouths, but inwardly they curse. *Selah

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.

He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.

On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God.

Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. *Selah

Those of low estate are but a breath; those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath.

Put no trust in extortion; set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, set not your heart on them.

Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God, and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love.
For you will render to a man according to his work. Psalm 62 (ESV)

The holidays are over. School is back in session and people are back into the normal non-holiday routines.  The constant barrage of activity and marketing pitches and hustle has slowed down and life has settled down into an awkward silence for many of us.

Silence can be a comfort, especially for those of us who could use more of it, but it can also carry anxiety with it, a feeling of dread or trepidation over not knowing what’s next.

The psalmist reminds us that silence is a place in which we can take great comfort and rest because we are waiting on God. It’s not the nervous kind of hope we have when we are waiting on a ride or for an important appointment, but a joyful hope because we are assured what we believe is true. God alone, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is our fortress, the One we can rely upon, the One who created us and brings us to eternal life. This is a wonderful message of comfort and joy!

There is prophecy throughout the Psalms. Today’s Psalm that we are studying, Psalm 62, is no exception.  We learn of both the sovereignty and the suffering of Jesus. As we pray this Psalm, it points us directly to place all of our hope in Him.

How long will all of you attack a man to batter him, (Jesus) like a leaning wall, a tottering fence?
They only plan to thrust him
(Jesus) down from his high position. They take pleasure in falsehood.
They bless with their mouths, but inwardly they curse. *Selah

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.

He (Jesus) only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.

These verses speak of Jesus and how He will be attacked and rejected and sacrificed, yet our hope is in Him alone.

We are easily intimidated by the situations and the people in this world. We see people “getting ahead” by trampling on others, ignoring justice and not caring about how God would have us behave.  We are guilty of those things as well and we do not live perfectly either.  The psalmist reminds us we need to keep our eyes on Jesus as our hope, no matter what others do or even when we fail.

Those of low estate are but a breath; those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath.

Put no trust in extortion; set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, set not your heart on them.

Jesus is the One who covers us. We do not earn or deserve anything good from God, but Jesus comes to us with salvation as a free gift.

Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God, and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love.
For you will render to a man according to his
(Jesus’) work.

On the surface these two verses appear to be contradictory, however, in Christ HIS work upon the Cross became our work. The power belongs to God to save, to defeat death and restore.  When God looks at us, His named and claimed baptized children, He sees Jesus’ perfect work on the Cross.

Our hope is in Christ alone. As we pray the Psalms, we see Jesus and we put ourselves in agreement with Him. In the silence we can take comfort that God is very much with us and that our hope is in the Way, the Truth and the Light.

December 15, 2017- Sow in Tears, Reap in Joy – Psalm 126

joy reaping

 

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations,  “The Lord has done great things for them.”

 The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.

Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses in the Negeb. May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.  Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves. – Psalm 126 (NRSV)

Not long after my maternal grandfather died, my mother and I went through the necessary task of going through his possessions. Mom donated most of his clothing and household items to St. Vincent DePaul and other charities, but she kept some things. It was especially difficult looking through all the things my grandmother had sewn and embroidered for him.

I had the privilege in all these things of finding my grandmother’s Bible. She had died suddenly fifteen years before my grandfather, and her death was a great sorrow for him. It seemed as if he was a broken man after my grandmother passed. They were a very close and loving couple and her absence was a sore grief to him.

In the front of her Bible I found a letter she had written to my grandfather. At the beginning of the letter she had written out Psalm 126, as this particular Psalm was an encouragement to them.  Knowing that she had such a powerful faith in God and His provision has been a deep encouragement for me as well.

There were so many circumstances in both of their lives in which I am sure they had to sow in tears. I know that my grandfather lived in sorrow for the fifteen years after my grandmother’s death. It’s part of the human condition.  Yet my grandparents still joined in that hope that God will take our sowing in tears and turn it in to reaping in joy.

Our world is definitely a place in which there is a great deal of sowing in tears. Every day we see sorrowful things on the news, all over the Internet, and all around us- poverty of material things, poverty of spirit, violence, natural disasters, drug addiction, political strife, and the list goes on.

The Psalmist speaks of the joy to come, the joy that we can anticipate, but don’t experience fully here in the world of not-yet.

As we anticipate celebrating the birth of Jesus, we are painfully aware of the tearful sowing and toil that we endure in this world. But we are encouraged by knowing that sowing in tears will be followed by reaping in joy.

August 4, 2017 The Shema, Go Load Up on the Good News- Deuteronomy 6:4-9, Psalm 145:14-21

shema

Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.  Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (NRSV)

The Lord upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing. The Lord is just in all his ways, and kind in all his doings. The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desire of all who fear him; he also hears their cry, and saves them. The Lord watches over all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy.

 My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord, and all flesh will bless his holy name forever and ever. Psalm 145:14-21 (NRSV)

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 is known to Jewish scholars as the Shema Yisrael (meaning- Hear, O, Israel) which is the primary foundational teaching on our relationship with God.

God is God. Love God with all you have.  Learn about Him and write that knowledge on your mind and your heart.  Share that knowledge with everyone around you.  Sounds like the best advice ever. The question is, are we following that directive?

Part of the purpose of daily (or even more often) prayer and Bible study is for us to write the knowledge of God into our heads and hearts, to save it back for those times when we are really going to need it. When we are in crisis and can’t find the words to pray, the Holy Spirit does intervene for us, but those words of truth and comfort from Scripture that we have committed to memory provide us a foundation on which we can stand when the world throws its worst at us.  We pre-wire ourselves to respond to the Holy Spirit when we load up on the knowledge of Scripture.  We can remember God’s truth- and His promises to us- when the world comes crashing down.

We can see why the Shema is so important to Jews and to Christians as well. How can we trust in God’s provision if we don’t soak it up, and pass it around?

The good news is not only to be found in the Gospels. The Bible is saturated with good news of God’s love for us from the beginning and all the way throughout. The Psalms are an especially rich source of comfort and peace and a place to go when we can’t find the words to pray.  There is hope when we are at the end of our strength.  God gives us provision when our lives are empty.  God is as near as our prayers.

July 21- The End of Entropy, Romans 8:18-21, Revelation 21:4-6

restorationI consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.  For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. Romans 8:18-21 (NRSV)

Entropy is a term most commonly used in physics to describe the process of energy draining out of a system. It can also be defined as: a :  the degradation of the matter and energy in the universe to an ultimate state of inert uniformity or, b :  a process of degradation or running down or a trend to disorder (from Merriam-Webster Dictionary online.) Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  Nothing in the physical world is permanent.

Entropy is what the apostle Paul is talking about here. No matter how we build up things in the world, they eventually decay and go back to the dust they came from. We need only look in the mirror for awhile to realize that youth is fleeting and that nothing of this earth lasts forever. We need only look around this world to see how all creation cries out for renewal, for restoration, and for peace.

Jesus breaks that chain of decay.

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. – Revelation 21:4-6 (NRSV)

Jesus is making all things new, starting with our hearts and minds as we follow Him. We are walking in both worlds for a time, the earthly kingdom which is crying out for redemption and restoration, and through Christ, in the heavenly kingdom that is perfect and complete.

Are we living in the hope of restoration and redemption today? Do we believe Jesus when He says, “I make all things new?”