God our Fortress, The Weeping Prophet, and the Lasting City -Jeremiah 18:5-10, Hebrews 13:14, Psalm 121

triumph-of-christianity-detail-gustave-dore

This is what the Lord says:

“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
who draws strength from mere flesh
and whose heart turns away from the Lord.
That person will be like a bush in the wastelands;
they will not see prosperity when it comes.
They will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
in a salt land where no one lives.

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.”

The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?

“I the Lord search the heart
and examine the mind,
to reward each person according to their conduct,
according to what their deeds deserve.” Jeremiah 18:5-10 (NIV)

 

Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, experienced the shame and heartache of his people being taken into captivity by the Babylonians.  God didn’t have good news for him to share with Israel, either.  God generally sent prophets to warn people of judgment to come, and to remind the people who really is in charge- not their princes or governments, or themselves, but Almighty God alone.

Thankfully God has mercy on us. Every single one of us falls short of the demands of the Law and should God judge any one of us on our own merits we earn the penalty of death.  But in God’s love and mercy, He sent Jesus to wipe out our sins- Jesus took the wrath our horrible conduct and our heinous deeds deserve, so that we may receive the reward of life with Him. The apostle Paul teaches us in Romans 3 that we who believe Jesus and have faith in Him are judged by His righteousness and not our own.  We have been have been baptized into Christ and made children of God to be with Him forever.

In this world we still experience bad news.  The world around us is still subject to the consequences of sin in general. The sin of the Garden has expanded out, and it has contaminated all creation.  We will experience trouble and trials in this life.  But Jesus is with us.  He is trustworthy. He will get us through our trials.

As the day approaches when Jesus comes to restore heaven and earth, as He warned us, the times are going to get more and more scary.  People will fall away from the faith and people will make fun of us and say we believe fairy tales when we profess our faith in Jesus.  Other people will openly fight and persecute the teaching and preservation of the Christian faith as we see evidence of more and more even in the United States.

Our churches and communities are becoming smaller and smaller, and the demands of our time and resources become ever more strained.  It’s easy to give up hope or drop away, or to resort to infighting or dissent.  Yet Jesus told His disciples to tend His lambs and feed His sheep.  For us it may mean we are called to spread out (as in the scattering at the destruction of the tower of Babel) or to join with other believers of like mind.

How can we best serve as the Body of Christ?  Can we join with another congregation(s) to not only pool our resources, but to serve more effectively?  As much as we want to keep our building, might it be worth investigating joining with another congregation in a similar situation to our own?  Might we want to consider a revolving house church set up such as the early Church used in the days of Acts?

Our lives and possessions on this earth are temporary. Only Jesus is a constant for us. No matter where we may find ourselves,

“For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.”- Hebrews 13:14 (ESV)

Seeking the city that is to come does not mean abandoning the “city” here, far from it,  but understanding that the church is not comprised of its building or its resources, but the church is its people, the Body of Christ.  God is our mighty fortress- not ourselves, our governments or even each other.

 

In Psalm 121, the writer lifts his eyes to the hills, on high, knowing that his help is from the Lord.  We may not know what that will look like, but we do know the Lord is our only anchor, our only foundation, the only one we can trust.

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
    From where does my help come?
 My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;
    he who keeps you will not slumber.
 Behold, he who keeps Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;
    the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
 The sun shall not strike you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil;
    he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
    your going out and your coming in
    from this time forth and forevermore. Psalm 121 (ESV)

 

April 27, 2020 Trust God to Forgive, as We Forgive Others- Psalm 107:1-16, Luke 17:1-4

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Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,for his steadfast love endures forever!

Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom he has redeemed from trouble and gathered in from the lands,from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south. Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to a city to dwell in; hungry and thirsty,their soul fainted within them.

Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He led them by a straight way till they reached a city to dwell in. Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man!

For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, prisoners in affliction and in irons, for they had rebelled against the words of God, and spurned the counsel of the Most High.So he bowed their hearts down with hard labor;they fell down, with none to help.Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,and he delivered them from their distress.

He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death,and burst their bonds apart. Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man. For he shatters the doors of bronze and cuts in two the bars of iron. Psalm 107:1-16 (ESV)

And he (Jesus) said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him,and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” Luke 17:1-4 (ESV)

For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.- Hebrews 13:14 (ESV)
The writer of Hebrews reminds us that anything we build in this world is temporary. For some people the temporary nature of this life is a comfort, because they have lived their lives in material poverty or in pain and suffering.  For others it’s a sadness to know that in a hundred years we will long since be dead and forgotten, and we can’t take our stuff with us. We wander and strive and work (and overwork) only to discover, as the Teacher of Ecclesiastes writes, that we are chasing after wind.  (Ecclesiastes 2:18-26)

Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to a city to dwell in; hungry and thirsty,their soul fainted within them.

Jesus is leading us to the lasting city: Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He led them by a straight way till they reached a city to dwell in. Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man!

We are reminded that Jesus forgives us. Jesus brings us out of darkness and delivers us from the shadow of death (as we also learn in Psalm 23.) He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death,and burst their bonds apart. Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man. For he shatters the doors of bronze and cuts in two the bars of iron.

Now that we see what Jesus has done for us and continues to do for us, we turn to our neighbors for whom Jesus also bled and died to save. Now it gets tricky for us because that old Adam who was buried in the waters of our baptism doesn’t like to stay drowned. When we remember the promises of Jesus are not just for us but also for all those other simul justus et peccators out there, our perspective on our neighbor has to change.

Because we are all saints and sinners at the same time,  as long as we draw breath on this earth, we are going to sin. We are going to do things that bring harm to our neighbors, and that will cause them to sin right along with us. Other people are going to do things that harm us as well.  Jesus gives us His remedy for our constant friction and discord with others: Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him,and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

We love because He first loved us. 1 John 4:19 (ESV)

Dearest Jesus, forgive us for those times when we have failed to love our neighbor as You love us.  You are with us no matter how many times we fail, and no matter how many valleys of shadow we must go through. Don’t let us forget that this world is not the lasting city that You are leading us toward. We are completely reliant upon You for all things, and you provide for us abundantly and graciously. Help us to pass those gifts along in Your Name.   Give us the gift of faith to trust You, and create clean hearts in us that are filled with Your love and joy.

 

May 15, 2019- Life Saver, Lose Your Life, Pick Up Your Cross- Luke 9:23-27, Hebrews 13:14, Galatians 2:20

Jesus carrying the Cross on Good Friday

And he (Jesus) said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.  But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:23-27 (ESV)

The teaching of Jesus is amazingly counterintuitive. “Eat, drink and be merry,” the world tells us.  “If only you buy this product or do this activity or drink this brand of beer, your life will be wonderful!” Jesus says, “Deny yourself. Take up your cross. Lose your life.”  Jesus tells us exactly the opposite of what we want to hear, and instructs us to do exactly what we instinctively don’t want to do.

We want what we want when we want it. We want to pursue pleasure and avoid pain.  Nobody left to his or her own devices is into denying his or her desires and passions.  Life left to strictly human nature is all about self-preservation and self-aggrandizement.

Life as a hedonist (one who pursues pleasure) might be wonderful for a little while, at least until the money runs out, or age and disease and chronic pain take over. All the material things and all the money in the world cannot change the fact that we will age and we will die.  Even the very oldest humans after the Flood have not managed to live beyond 120 years. Modern science has not progressed human health to the point where people are consistently able to live beyond 100 years.  In the timeline of history one person’s lifespan is a rather insignificant period of time.  Nobody gets out of life alive, to quote Axl Rose.  Living for the temporary pleasures of this world is ultimately unsatisfying and unsustainable.

For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Hebrews 13:14 (ESV)

When we try to build a legacy in this world, we have to ask, how long do buildings, and even empires last? What are we working for?

The old Adam really wants to believe the serpent’s lie: “If you eat of the forbidden fruit, you will be as God.”  In reality it was the beginning of separation and of enmity with God.  The Fall sparked a rebellion that save for the grace and mercy of God in Christ, would land Adam and all his progeny in the fires of hell.

Jesus teaches us that our life in this world – life with its trouble and pain and loss- is fleeting and temporary. Our true life is bound up in Him. The way to this true life, eternal life, is in Christ alone, and it is found only in the cross.  He gave His Blood, shed to cover our sins. His Body was broken, given to strengthen us for our earthly sojourn.  He gives us the faith and the strength to follow Him.  We cannot follow Him in the power of our own decisions or in the strength of our own will.  We cannot carry the crosses we are given- save by His grace.

Death came to humanity in the Garden of Eden. Life was promised to humanity in the Garden of Gethsemane.  The curse of death was broken as Jesus declared from the cross, “It is finished!”

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

May we always find our identity in Christ and give away our life in the way of the cross as the apostle Paul did.