January 15, 2020 – The Desert Blooms, the Fearful Are Comforted, and the Way of Holiness- Isaiah 35:1-10

desert bloom

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus; it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.

Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not!
Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God.
He will come and save you.”

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water;
in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness;
the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way;
even if they are fools, they shall not go astray.

No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there.

And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. Isaiah 35:1-10 (ESV)

The Gospel is found all through out Scripture. Both Old and New Testaments direct us to Jesus and His love for us and His redemptive work for us.

Isaiah brings us beautiful news. Jesus succeeds in turning everything upside down for the people of Israel after many years of occupation, defeat and suffering.  The barren desert comes to life with color and flowers.

Those of us who belong to Christ who are living in fear and darkness can rest. We can put aside our fear.  Jesus is with us.  Jesus champions our cause and protects us- not because we are “good” or “deserve it,” but because we belong to Him.  He has made us His own.

We learn in the Gospels that Jesus did fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy of opening the eyes of the blind, restoring hearing to the deaf, healing the lame, and giving the mute a voice again.

The most important emphasis of this chapter is that God acts upon His people. We cannot choose God. God chooses for us and draws us to Him:

And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness;
the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way;
even if they are fools, they shall not go astray.

How many times do we do foolish things? In spite of ourselves we are simul Justus et peccator. (saints and sinners at the same time.) We try to do the right things but fail.  We give in to temptation.  We make poor choices. We do things that hurt ourselves and others.  Even so, Jesus walks with us and gives us what we need to keep walking with Him.

Isaiah foresees the same vision for us as the apostle John did- “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 21:4 (ESV)

Faith is a gift of God.  We have every confidence that in all things Jesus is with us and He will not abandon us.

Thank you, Lord for Your gift of faith.  Draw us closer to You.  Comfort us, restore us, equip us to serve you as you keep our way straight on Your highway.  In the holy Name of Jesus we pray.

 

 

January 7, 2020 Comfort and Joy- 2 Corinthians 1:3-7

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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 16, 2019 – Peace and Joy in Christ- Philippians 4:4-8, Galatians 2:20

joy of the Lord

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;  do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:4-8 (ESV)

The apostle Paul didn’t have a lot of worldly stability in his life, to put it mildly.  On the surface he didn’t have a whole lot to rejoice about. Being stoned (with rocks,) beaten, flogged, starved, shipwrecked and put in prison isn’t exactly what most people would call a good time.

Most of the time, Paul had nothing as far as material wealth.  He had little if any assurance of physical safety, but in Christ, Paul had everything.

The human condition is such that there is no permanent home in these imperfect bodies and in this flawed and broken world.  If we put our trust in our health, or our family and friends, or in our abilities, or in our wealth, we are trusting in things that cannot last and are temporary at best.  Only Jesus offers us the peace of knowing that in Him we have life forever, life without end.

No matter what this life throws at us, this life is not all there is.

As the apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians:

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20 (ESV)

We have peace because we know to whom we belong.

April 30, 2019- Make a Joyful Noise! Psalm 98, Matthew 18:2-4

suffer-the-children

Oh sing to the Lord a new song,
for he has done marvelous things!
His right hand and his holy arm
have worked salvation for him.

 The Lord has made known his salvation;
he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations.

 He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness
to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation of our God.

 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises!
 Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
with the lyre and the sound of melody!
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord!

 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
the world and those who dwell in it!
Let the rivers clap their hands;
let the hills sing for joy together
before the Lord, for he comes
to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with equity. Psalm 98 (ESV)

It’s interesting to watch children get excited over the most trivial and silly things. Looking forward to pizza night, or getting a new toy or game can cause some children to lose themselves in a joyful outburst. As adults we tend to mute our emotions to the point that our days meld into a grey blob.  Nothing much gets us excited, and life is more about avoiding pain and treading water than experiencing joy.  While we do share in the suffering of Christ, He also calls us to share in His joy, even here in the world of now, but not yet.

And calling to him (Jesus) a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:2-4 (ESV)

Part of the beauty of praying the Psalms is that when we proclaim the majesty and greatness of God, we are humbled by the inspired words of God. We are drawn to look up to Him as children look up to their earthly fathers.  We retrieve our sense of awe and delight in the imagery of roaring seas and rivers clapping their hands and the hills singing for joy.

In this season of Easter we see the signs of the world coming back to life after a long winter. We can hear the birds and feel the sunlight again.  We can be reassured in the Resurrection of Jesus that death doesn’t have the final say. We aren’t doomed to the curse of the Garden.  Joy is our birthright as children of God.

It isn’t easy to stay innocent and trusting God in this world. Faith itself is a gift of God, as is the ability to come to our Heavenly Father like a child.  Thankfully, in Christ we have that capacity for joy, and the ability to lift our eyes to heaven to sing and praise Him.

 

 

 

February 7, 2019 – Joy and a Beautiful Inheritance- Psalm 16

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Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge. I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.”

As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight.

The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names on my lips.

 The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.

 I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.  I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure.  For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Psalm 16 (ESV)

Psalm 16 is one of the many Psalms ascribed to David. The man after God’s own heart shared many of his insights on God and prayers to God on every possible subject- praise, anguish, repentance, thankfulness, in the Psalms.   David was a sinner just like the rest of us, but God’s words were recorded in Scripture through David’s mind and pen.

God as our refuge is an ongoing theme of David’s life. God chose David over Saul, the first king of Israel who ended up being a big disappointment.  God chose David over his older, stronger and more attractive brothers.  God spared David’s life when Saul wanted David done away with.

David warns against idolatry- putting other things ahead of God in our lives. Today we don’t go chasing after the Ba’als nor do we melt down and cast our golden earrings into calves, but idolatry is alive and well in American culture and in our own lives. It’s easy for us to forget amidst all the distractions of day to day life that God is our refuge, and that life itself is only found in Christ alone.

I have a beautiful inheritance, David declares. Even though most of us are not particularly materially wealthy, in Christ, the promise of our baptism is eternal life with God.  It starts now, even though we have one foot in this earthly, imperfect world, and one foot in the heavenly kingdom. What an encouragement that because Jesus has rescued us from the consequences of our sins, we can take comfort and delight in knowing that there is life beyond this world.  In Christ we have hope that pain and suffering and loss will end, and that God will wipe away all of our sorrow and dry all our tears.

For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. God does not abandon us when our physical bodies die. Because we are baptized into the Body of Christ, we too will like Jesus, the Holy One, be resurrected into bodies that will not decay or age or die.

In your presence there is fullness of joy.

We are not promised happiness in this life, but happiness is conditional and fleeting. Joy is the deep understanding that no matter what trials we face or pain we suffer that God is there.  In Christ there is life, there is hope, there is joy- forever.

December 28, 2018- The Gift of Joy…or the Pursuit of Stuff? Isaiah 9:6-7, Isaiah 29:19

shepherds

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. Isaiah 9:6-7 (ESV)

Our culture places a great deal of emphasis on our own personal comfort, and therefore on the pursuit of stuff. Who wouldn’t want a lovely adjustable bed or an instant cosmetic fix for facial imperfections? Those who deal with late night insomnia and have a subscription to cable have no doubt been inundated with the endless procession of infomercials that extol the virtues of just about every product under the sun.  The late night infomercial announcers sing the praises of stuff you never knew existed, and stuff you never knew you needed….until now!  For example, why bend over to wash your feet when you can use:easy feet

The problem with the pursuit of stuff is that there is never enough stuff, or the right stuff.  Material things in and of themselves are morally neutral- God made the world and everything in it, and gave humanity stewardship of it. (Genesis 1:26-28) Stuff isn’t good or bad.  Our use of stuff can be considered good or evil, and as we are saints and sinners at the same time, our use of stuff is generally a mixed bag.  Sometimes we are good stewards of God’s gifts, and other times we are not. Our dilemma begins when we esteem the created thing more than the Creator.  We are all guilty of breaking the First Commandment.

The First Commandment:

You shall have no other gods.

What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. – Martin Luther, from the Small Catechism

None of us can claim to perfectly fear, love and trust God above all things. All of us fall short in this regard, whether it is by making idols of our relationships, or our wealth, or our position in the community, or by simply not believing that God is in charge of everything.

Yet Jesus came to set us free from our sins. While we were still sinners and lost, He broke the curse of Eden so we would not have to endure death and hell. Jesus came to this earth as a human, yet as God at the same time, to live the perfect life we cannot live and to be the perfect sacrifice we cannot be. In Him we are given true joy. We who are named, claimed and marked with the Cross of Christ forever, in our baptism, by the faith that He has given us, have been set free to live joyfully.

Joy is not the same thing as happiness. Happiness is generated internally. Happiness is fleeting and is largely dependent on our circumstances and our feelings. Joy is given- it comes from outside of ourselves. Joy is not dependent upon ourselves or our feelings. Joy is a gift of serenity and peace, a fruit of the Holy Spirit. (Galatians 5:19-23)  We are given joy in the Lord regardless of our circumstances, because in faith we trust that He is with us forever, and we share in eternal life with Him.

The Prince of Peace is with us.

As we celebrate the Christmas season, we are reminded that our salvation and our joy come from Christ alone. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this as Isaiah said.  God’s will be done.  His joy is given to us, from outside of us.  It is a gift, unearned, undeserved and freely given.

The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord, and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel. Isaiah 29:19 (ESV)

December 11, 2018- The Majestic Name of the Lord- Psalm 8

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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.