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.

 

 

April 13, 2018- Pray, Let God- Psalm 4, Luke 12:4-7

prayerAnswer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!  You have given me relief when I was in distress.  Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!

 O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame?  How long will you love vain words and seek after lies?- Selah –

But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him.

 Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. -Selah-

Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord.

 There are many who say, “Who will show us some good?  Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!” You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.

 In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety. – Psalm 4 (ESV)

Prayer is conversation with God. The Psalms are timeless prayers given to us in the word of God. They are given to us to memorize and write on our hearts. They are prayers of praise, prayers of thanks, prayers of supplication, and prayers for those times when we are crushed in spirit and can’t find the words.

We learn much about the character of God, and how He reaches out to us when we study and pray the Psalms. God does hear and answer our prayers- though His answers aren’t always what we expect.

We all come into difficult times. Those difficulties are no secret to God.  He knows our every need and He knows every detail about us. He knows our trials, He knows our thoughts, and He calls us to trust Him with everything.

Jesus said: “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do.  But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell.  Yes, I tell you, fear him!  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.” Luke 12:4-7 (ESV)

Fear in this context is a reverent respect. Jesus tells us to be aware of who we are made by and to whom we belong, and to whom we pray.

We aren’t telling God anything He doesn’t already know when we pray. He knows when we are distressed. He knows our anxiety, our anger, our need, and our distress already anyway, even if we aren’t comfortable admitting them to ourselves or bringing those not-so-nice things to Him.

Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent (Psalm 4:4)

God does not want us to deny our anger, but He does want us to keep from acting in anger. He wants us to live according to His will.  We can trust Him even when we cannot trust others or ourselves.  We can let Him deal with our anger. Yes we get angry and there is plenty of misery out in the world, and there are plenty of bad circumstances in our lives to be angry about…but…take those concerns and fear and worry and anger to God.  Don’t deny what we feel, but don’t let feelings lead us into sins. Let God deal with that anger and frustration and pain instead. Let Him bring us His peace.

God who spoke the universe into being can deal with our anger- a LOT better than we can.

The Psalmist reminds us that God has brought us through past distress in our lives. We are reminded that God has named and claimed us for His own.  We are reminded that we find our joy and our peace in God.  Our very life is in His hands. We can trust Him with everything when we come to Him in prayer.

God who is the omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient Creator of all, is also God of the sparrows, God who knows the number of hairs on our heads, God who comes to us in, with and through His Sacraments. The almighty God who suffered and died a cruel death on a Cross to save us from our sins, cares about every part of our lives.

February 13, 2018 – Mardi Gras- Fat Tuesday- Shrove Tuesday- Eat, Drink and Be Merry? Ecclesiastes 3, 6:2, 8:15, Hebrews 12:1-2

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God gives some people wealth, possessions and honor, so that they lack nothing their hearts desire, but God does not grant them the ability to enjoy them, and strangers enjoy them instead. This is meaningless, a grievous evil. Ecclesiastes 6:2 (NIV)

So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun. Ecclesiastes 8:15 (NIV)

Today is a sort of unusual holiday. Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, which most people are aware of. Most people have also heard of Mardi Gras, which is French for Fat Tuesday.  It sounds a little better in French!  Mardi Gras traditions can include parties, drinking, debauchery, and basically “getting your sin on” before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday.

More conservative Mardi Gras observers use the occasion to get rid of all the rich food and sweet treats that people tend to give up during Lent. There’s a reason for today being referred to as Fat Tuesday. It may be some people’s last day to eat chocolate for awhile.

It’s not that possessions, food or enjoying what life has to offer are bad things. We shouldn’t go through life as drab, dull no-fun Nellies. God’s gifts can be unappreciated or misused, but inherently and of themselves, the “finer things in life” are good gifts. God gives us those things for us to enjoy and to share them.

We should celebrate when it is time to celebrate. We should not be afraid or ashamed of eating, drinking or being glad in the proper time and context.  However, Solomon (the Teacher of Ecclesiastes) warns us against a lack of balance. Over or under doing it just isn’t a good thing. Throughout the book of Ecclesiastes Solomon shares his wisdom that there is a time and a place for “every purpose under heaven.” (See Ecclesiastes 3.)

As we enter the season of Lent it is good to be thankful for God’s good gifts, and to enjoy them. It is also a good time for us to examine how we can better serve God with the gifts we have been given.

For Jesus followers, rather than overindulging in the secular bacchanalias that can accompany Mardi Gras, (and the accompanying hangovers and heartburn!) today it might be better to consider observing Shrove Tuesday.  To be “shriven” is an old way of saying to get rid of those things that fail to glorify God, and to be forgiven and to start fresh.  It’s a good day to confess and forsake our sins and accept God’s forgiveness.

The writer of Hebrews encouraged us to: …throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. Hebrews 12:1-2 (NIV)

This Shrove Tuesday, may the Holy Spirit show us the things that hinder us so that we can throw them off, and may we fix our eyes on Jesus today and every day.