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.

June 24, 2019- Jesus Loves You, MYOB (sometimes), Follow Me (always)… John 21:20-25, 1 Corinthians 10:31-33

 

business

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?”  When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?”  Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”  So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.
Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. John 21:20-25 (ESV)

The disciples, like us, were human beings subject to sin (also like us.)  There had to be a moderate degree of tension between Peter and John upon Jesus’ return, especially because John had to know not just that Judas betrayed Jesus unto death, but also Peter denied Jesus three times.

Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.” Luke 22:34 (ESV)

And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” Luke 22:61 (ESV)

Peter was wondering about John’s position with Jesus.  Rumor had had it that John was going to be around until the Second Coming.  There had to be a small bit of jealousy going on there, otherwise Jesus probably wouldn’t have been as quick to tell Peter to mind his own business, at least as far as what happens to John.

John did outlive the other disciples, and was the only one of the Twelve to die of natural causes, at the age of 90+, but John did, in fact die.

It’s easy to look around and wonder about “What is going to happen to so-and-so?,” or “Why doesn’t God use me for _____?” or even to speculate on the worthiness or unworthiness of another person.

Jesus told Peter to MYOB when it comes to John and what John will do and where John will go.

It can be hard to mind our own business when we should be minding our own business. As the apostle Paul taught regarding the body of Christ- if everyone were an eye, where would the hearing be? God puts each of us in the places we are with different vocations.  Paul talks about the diversity of the body of Christ at length in 1 Corinthians 12.

It truly isn’t our business to wonder why this person ended up in a place that seems “cushy” or “privileged” to us.  We don’t know the back story.  We don’t know why God chooses one person to live 100 years and another to live two.  We don’t know why we fit in the tapestry of God’s kingdom in the place we are assigned.

Minding our own business is not about ignoring the needs of others, but about not being jealous of others, about not coveting others’ positions and stations in life.  It is about being content with our vocation and concentrating on the mission we have right in front of us.

Most of us are not called to be missionaries or millionaires, but all of us are called to live out our daily vocations with the knowledge that serving our neighbors is really serving God.

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.  Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.  1 Corinthians 10:31-33 (ESV)

God Came Down… Luke 2: 2:1-7, Isaiah 53:1-5, Romans 5:15-18

Avengers-Endgame-5

Kids and teens love action movies. This being said, one of the catechism students at church had just seen “Avengers-Endgame,“ and was fascinated with the details of the movie.  During the lesson, which was on what the Small Catechism has to say about salvation, he kept on saying, “But, yeah, God came down, POW, and that was it!”

The way that God came down was much different that the superhero movie plot in which the * insert good guy (s) here* come(s) down in a blaze of glory to rescue the world from the big baddies who are trying to annihilate it.

God came down, alright, but not in a blaze of glory. There was no POW heard ‘round the world as it would be in the movies of the Marvel universe. God came down to this earth in such a way that it is impossible to believe without having faith. He was born- a helpless baby- to a poor virgin girl in an obscure part of the world, with only shepherds and farm animals to greet Him.

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.  And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. Luke 2:1-7 (ESV)

As far as the superheroes in the movies with their superpowers and super weapons and space craft, Jesus had none of those things. In fact, the only way that people in Jesus’ day knew Jesus was God in human flesh when He walked on earth was that God the Holy Spirit revealed that knowledge to them.

Who has believed what he has heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

 For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief:
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted. Isaiah 53:1-5 (ESV)

 

 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:1-5 (ESV)

God came down, but not to blast away intergalactic baddies with a laser gun. God came down to earth in human flesh to be Emmanuel, God with us. God came down to earth to take the punishment that humanity, buried in our endless sea of trespasses and sins, earned and deserved.  God came down to earth to die on the cross, so that we may live with Him forever.

(The apostle Paul teaches: ) But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. Romans 5:15-18 (ESV)

Yes, God came down. He came down to be one of us, to die for us, and to raise us all to eternal life.

 

May 13, 2019- Seeking Signs, The Work of Christians, and the Eternal Bread of Life- John 6:25-51

bread of life

When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?”  Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.  Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.”   Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”  So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”  Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.  For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.  And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”  Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.  It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.  I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” John 6:25-51 (ESV)

Every now and then fast food restaurants have giveaways- we have all seen the promotions where one can get a free cone at the DQ, or a free taco at Taco Bell on a certain day or with a specific coupon.  Lots of people line up for the free food- and often buy more food to go with their freebie.  Whenever people have the perception that they’re getting something for free, rest assured, such promotions draw crowds.  Giving away free stuff gets a business noticed.

Jesus drew crowds also when He fed the multitudes.  Everyone wanted to follow Jesus when free food was involved. Yet it was Jesus’ aim to provide something far better than tangible, physical, edible bread.  Jesus had come as the Bread of Life, not as a gimmick to sell stuff or to hawk His wares, but to give Himself away for the salvation of the world.

We have a tendency to look for signs- the gimmick so to speak- but Jesus teaches us that faith is a gift of God, and that the Father draws us to Him. The work of Christians, regardless of our specific vocations, is to believe God and trust in Jesus- God Who took on human flesh and lives among us.  There are no points to earn, no ladder to climb, though there will be crosses to bear.  We are called to walk by faith and not by sight.  We may not see signs.  We may only have the sign of Jonah, that Jesus was swallowed up by Death, and released from Death on the third day.  (Jonah 1:17)

He fed the multitudes with physical bread, but that sign was to point us to the reality that HE is the eternal Bread of Life, that HE is the Life.

We are given an even greater gift, a greater provision than the Israelites had as they ate manna in the desert as they wandered for forty years.  We receive both our daily bread- our physical provision along the way- and our eternal provision, Jesus, the Bread of Life from the hand of God.

Thank God that Jesus has come to put death to death.  He has risen, and He gives us His very Body and His very Blood so we who the Father draws to Him in faith may share eternal life with Him.

 

 

 

April 25, 2019 – By Faith in Jesus, We Will Live In the Heavenly City- Hebrews 11:1-16

heavenly-golden-city

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.  By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.  By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.  Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.  For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return.  But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. Hebrews 11:1-16 (ESV)

It is telling that the author of Hebrews brings the definition of faith back to creation. At the very beginning of Scripture we are taught, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”- Genesis 1:1

God created the universe ex nihilo- from nothing- and this is the God in whom we believe.  If creation is of God, then we are inextricably connected to Him whether we acknowledge it or not.  While God is separate from His creation, creation cannot exist apart from Him.

Our mighty creator God gives us the gift of faith- faith so that we would trust in His provision and promise. The stories of the patriarchs are given to us not to show us how great Abel or Noah were, or what fantastic people Abraham and Sarah were, but to show us how great God is. Their faith is what commended them to God rather than their own merit or good deeds.  Our merits and good deeds are nothing more than dirty rags (Isaiah 64:6) in the sight of God. By faith, we trust that we are covered by the blood of Jesus, and when God looks at us all he sees is Jesus.  Jesus has justified us, because we believe He is who He says He is, and that what He said: “It is finished,“ as He died on the Cross in our place is enough.

We are strangers and sojourners in this world, but as people baptized into Christ we are made to be the children of God’s covenant with Abraham- born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.

By faith we know that Jesus has made for us a lasting city. By faith we trust that the kingdom of “now but not yet” will end, and we will step into the fullness of God’s promise as citizens of the heavenly city.

 

 

February 18, 2019- Jesus, the Bread of Life – John 6:25-40

fresh bread on the wooden board

When they found him (Jesus) on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”  Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”  They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.  All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” John 6:25-40 (ESV)

This is a story of contrasts. There were people who chased Jesus because they saw Him as a bread king- someone who would see to it that their bellies stayed full. Even today there are those who seek Jesus because they believe He will fulfill their material wants.  There are plenty of charlatans out there to sell the health and wealth prosperity “gospel,” but that is not the real Gospel. The real Gospel is the good news that because Jesus died to save us from sin, death and Satan, we are set free to rise to eternal life with Him.

God does provide for our daily bread, just as He (not Moses) rained down manna for the Israelites in the wilderness. Jesus instructs us to pray for our daily bread in the Lord’s Prayer. God’s provision is supplied for all- those who believe and pray, and for those who do not. The sun rises on the good and the evil alike, and the rain falls on the good and the evil alike. (Matthew 5:44-45)The instruction for us to pray is for our own benefit, so that we would direct our attention away from the gift and place it back on the Giver.

Jesus did not want to be seen as a bread king- handing out bread that will temporarily fill bellies- but for Who He is- the Giver of Life, the Bread from Heaven, freely given for us.

Jesus reinforces that it is by faith in Him alone that we have life. We can’t do anything or deserve anything from God.

Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

By faith, given to us by the grace of God, in Christ, we are given the gift of life with Jesus forever.

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day

January 24, 2019- God Says, “Vengeance is Mine,” Romans 12:17-21

forgive your enemy

 

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  Romans 12:17-21 (ESV)

Popular wisdom dictates that revenge is a dish best tasted cold. Often when we are still angry or indignant over being wronged, we can only see our need for personal justice rather than the complete picture. Many regrettable actions have been committed in the heat of anger- actions that result from pure rage, or from a lack of information, or both. It does sting when someone else wounds us, regardless of whether or not the damage was intentionally inflicted.  Our instinct is to lash out and strike back, but we are specifically called not to do so.

God takes the dispensing of revenge to a different level. We aren’t called just to wait until the heat of anger cools before we strike back, but we are commanded to refrain from striking back at all. Revenge is a dish we don’t partake of hot or cold, but leave for Him to serve.  It is not our place to mete out our own retribution, but to forgive and love our enemies even as Christ forgives and loves us.  God will see that justice is done, whether by God’s means here on earth (i.e. civil punishment when one commits a crime) or ultimately at the final judgment on the Last Day. Our hope and our prayer for our enemies is not their destruction, but that God would bring them to repentance and faith and salvation in Christ with us.

This teaching does not mean that we are never to stand up for ourselves or for others, (nor does it negate the necessity for civil justice here on earth,) but to trust God in both His judgment and His mercy.

As God’s people we are called to seek out the good of others- to serve others, to be peaceful and productive and to glorify God in our vocations.

The ministry of Christians here on this earth should be one of restoration and reconciliation. Jesus died and shed His blood to wash away and forgive our sins so that we may not be consigned to eternal judgment, but to eternal life.

As we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we ask, “thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” The Third Petition is notoriously difficult to pray and mean it, because in this petition we pray for the ability to set aside our anger and our thirst for retribution and to open our hearts and minds to God’s will. Thy will vs. my will is a constant battle for everyone. We also pray in the Fifth Petition, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Why do we forgive? Because Jesus forgave us. In Him we have been given the grace to forgive others.

forgive

In faith we can set aside our need for revenge and trust in the sovereignty and the goodness of God. If God is truly in control and has our ultimate good in mind, can we trust Him even when others do us harm? Do we trust Him enough to show mercy and grace to others as He has shown to us?

Thankfully in Christ we can go to Him and be forgiven for the times we fail to show mercy or for when we take justice into our own hands. We pray for the grace to forgive others the way Jesus has forgiven us, and to be merciful to others as He has been to us.