February 7, 2020- Wisdom, Love and Reflecting Light- Psalm 36

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Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes.

For he flatters himself in his own eyes that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated.

The words of his mouth are trouble and deceit; he has ceased to act wisely and do good.

He plots trouble while on his bed; he sets himself in a way that is not good; he does not reject evil.

Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.

Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; your judgments are like the great deep; man and beast you save, O Lord.

How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.

For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.

Oh, continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your righteousness to the upright of heart!

Let not the foot of arrogance come upon me, nor the hand of the wicked drive me away.

There the evildoers lie fallen; they are thrust down, unable to rise. Psalm 36 (ESV)

For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.

The moon can only reflect the light of the sun.  It is muted, a satellite, a mirror, rather than the source. All that as we as creatures can do is act as satellites or mirrors to God, our Source of light.

The summary of the Law- the Shema- taught in Deuteronomy 6:4-5, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might,” is the primary wisdom lesson taught in Scripture.  The next most important wisdom lesson of Scripture is taught in multiple places- the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom– (Proverbs 9:10) and is one that points us back again to the foundational truth of the Shema. 

We learn the converse of this corollary in Psalm 14:1, “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good.”

Contrary to popular knowledge, human beings apart from God have nothing but darkness to offer.  Just as the moon cannot reflect light unless the sun shines on it, we cannot reflect light apart from having the light of God shine on us.

Jesus Himself taught that: No one is good but God alone. (Luke 18:19)

We know that the Law is good, but we are powerless in our own strength to obey it.

The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

It seems a little odd that this Psalm both affirms the reality that all we can do is to reflect God’s light, and seemingly opposite reality that we take refuge in the shadow of His wings.

Even as God was speaking to Moses, we learn God did not reveal Himself to Moses entirely, but shielded him from the fullness of His glory.  The purity and the intensity of the full on light and power of God would destroy Moses and any other sinful, mortal human.  We cannot stand alone in the presence of God and live.

And the Lord said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.”  Moses said, “Please show me your glory.”  And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.  But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.”  And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock,  and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by.  Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.” Exodus 33:17-23 (ESV)

Jesus is our Light and Life, but also our Refuge.  In Jesus, we are shielded from God’s wrath- as our sins have been paid for by Him- even as we reflect His light in the world.

Lord, we thank You both for the light You reflect off of us, and for the safety of Your refuge in Jesus.  Give us the wisdom to “put on our baptism as daily wear” and to trust in you that we are forgiven and that You will give us what we need to stay faithful to you and to serve our neighbors in all we do.

 

December 11, 2019- Advent 11, Luke 11- Lord, Teach Us to Pray, The Sign of Jonah, and Woe to the Pharisees

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Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name.Your kingdom come.Give us each day our daily bread,and forgive us our sins,for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.” Luke 11:1-4 (ESV)

We pray the Lord’s Prayer hopefully by memory, but not so much on auto pilot that we pray without thinking about what the petitions mean.  God is holy.  We long for His kingdom to come in its fullness, when there will be no more death or pain or crying or sadness or war. We trust that God provides all that we need on a daily basis, and we thank Him for that.  We ask God to forgive our sins and to give us the grace to forgive others when they sin against us.  We also pray that we would not fall prey to all the temptations around us, but hold fast to God and His Word instead.

Jesus tells the story of a man who pesters his friend for bread in the middle of the night.  The friend opens the door not so much because the man is a friend but because of the man’s persistence.  God hears our prayers not so much because of our persistence- because God knows our prayers before we pray them.  God answers our prayers (though not always the way we think He should) because He loves us and always has the best in mind for us.

And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.  What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent;  or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?  If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Luke 11:9-13 (ESV)

Jesus had many critics, especially when He healed people and set them free of diseases or demons.  Some critics said Jesus cast out demons by the power of Beelzebul, the chief of demons, also known as the “lord of the flies.”

Jesus reminds them that a house divided cannot stand, and that, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” Luke 11:23

When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.  For as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. Luke 11:29-30 (ESV)

Jesus is referring to Jonah 1:17 . Jonah spent three days in the belly of the fish, so will Jesus spend three days in the grave before He will rise from the dead.  This is the only sign God will give for the people of Israel.

“No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness. Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light.” Luke 11:33-36 (ESV)

Jesus is the Light of the world.  In this Advent season we look so forward to the coming of the light in the darkness.  The more that Jesus is reflected in us the more that we spread the light.

Jesus had an ongoing issue with the Pharisees.  Their emphasis was so strong on obeying the letter of the law that the intention behind it was lost.  Theirs was a culture of works-righteousness and they were all about outward observances and appearances. They were not about reflecting God’s light, but about making themselves look good. Jesus had much criticism for this mindset.

“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces.Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it.” Luke 11:42-44 (ESV)

The opposite of lighting up the world with grace is putting on a self serving display.  If we spend all of our time proving to the world how good we are and seeking recognition for our deeds, what does that say for our motives?

We begin this chapter by praying the way Jesus taught us.  His will is not always easy.  We will always have conflict between wanting my will versus submitting to and praying for thy will.  Yet in Him we are given our daily bread- not just food to eat, but the grace and the means to live according to His will and to forgive others as He forgives us.  Rather than focusing on outside works and appearances, and trying to earn brownie points, we trust that Jesus will transform us from the inside out so that His light will shine through us.

 

 

March 14, 2018 Spreading the Light- Mercy vs. Judgment John 8:12-20, James 2:12-14

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When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

 The Pharisees challenged him, “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.”

Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going. You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one.  But if I do judge, my decisions are true, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me. In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is true. I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.”

Then they asked him, “Where is your father?”

“You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” He spoke these words while teaching in the temple courts near the place where the offerings were put. Yet no one seized him, because his hour had not yet come. John 8:12-20 (NIV)

The writer of the Gospel of John speaks of Jesus being the light (light of the world, light of life, etc.) in thirteen specific references. The concept of Jesus being the light obviously was a point the Holy Spirit wanted the writer of John to get across.

The Pharisees did not want to acknowledge who Jesus was because they were not able to see Him as He is. They were looking for a mighty warrior who would restore the physical kingdom of Israel. They were thinking in terms of an earthly king.  Their vision was limited.

Sometimes we get caught up in what we think we want to see in Jesus that we lose sight of the real Jesus.  Sometimes we get so preoccupied with our own fears and our own darkness that we don’t- or can’t- look up and see the real light.  We all experience those dark nights of the soul where God seems far away.

Even though we struggle and often we have a hard time with the challenge between doubt and faith, at our Baptism we are marked with the Cross of Christ forever. We belong to God even when our feelings or our behavior might indicate otherwise. We are called and made able- not by our own will, but by God’s will- to not only see the light of Christ but to reflect and radiate that light.

Do our lives testify to the light and to the reality of Jesus? Do others see His light shining in and through us?

We can get so mired down in the laws God gives us for our own good that we see them as chains that bind us, or as hammers to hit others over the head with, instead of boundaries given out of love and designed to protect us.

Jesus challenged the Pharisees at numerous points where they used the Law as a hammer, to bring down judgment on others rather than to use the Law to bring people to repentance and to show us our constant need for Jesus.

Do we look at other people and say, “At least I don’t do that sin!” It’s tempting to do when we see what we perceive to be truly scandalous behavior, but sins of the heart and sins committed in the dark outside the public eye are still grieving to God.  We are all guilty under the Law.

It is better for us to look at ourselves and say, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner, of whom I am chief?” (to borrow from the apostle Paul-1 Timothy 1:15 .)

The Holy Spirit is always there for us to call upon- in those dark times when we can’t see, in those times that we struggle with doubt, and in those times that we forget that mercy triumphs over judgment.

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:12-14 (NIV)

Lord, may we be vessels of your light and comfort to those around us, and may we remember that it is only by your grace that we are forgiven and made your own.

 

 

February 1, 2018- Light in the Darkness- Hope for Those Touched by Suicide- Isaiah 42:16, John 1:5, Romans 8:37-39

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I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them. Isaiah 42:16 (NIV)

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5 (NIV)

In Tuesday’s study the subjects of chronic anxiety and mental illness were mentioned. There are times in which we need to seek help from those around us, including those professionals in the medical community. As Jesus followers, we are called to interact and respond to a fallen world. God put us here for a purpose, and to make a difference in the world.  Sometimes we may literally be the difference between life and death for someone close to us.

Death is a difficult subject for all of us. No one wants to face his or her own mortality, or the mortality of our loved ones, even though all of us will face the death of our earthly bodies.

American culture is particularly silent on the subject of suicide.   Christian tradition has not always given us a helpful or merciful approach to those who are at risk for suicide or for the loved ones left behind.  For much of the history of the church, suicide was labeled as a “mortal sin” for which there is no forgiveness offered.  However, there is nothing in Scripture that indicates there is an “unforgivable sin” save for blaspheming the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 12:31, Luke 12:10)  Can we place arbitrary limits on the ability of God to redeem and save His people? Is it more congruent with what we know about God to assume that God’s default plan for His creation is redemption?

There is a taboo and a silence that surrounds the subject of suicide, so that people don’t bring it out in the open. We can be quick to rush to judgment, but only God knows the depth of the pain and anguish that would compel someone to seek his or her own physical death.

One of the hallmarks of Jesus’ ministry was bringing dark things out into the open to face the light. When we recognize something isn’t right it needs to be exposed- not to pass judgment- but to do what we can to make it right. We can help make people aware that there are better options available to work through their situations and their pain including seeking help from health professionals when necessary.  We can stay in touch with our loved ones. We can take time to make sure they know how much we love them, and we can always pray for them. We can have understanding and mercy for this fallen world and for fallible humans like us.  We can do everything within our power to prevent suicide, and to offer help and hope to hurting and desperate people.

The truth is that we are not called to pass judgment on anyone. We are not called to blame the person who succumbed to the desire to end his or her own life, or the people around him or her, or ourselves. Each person is intimately known by God, and only God is qualified to judge. We are called to forgive and to have mercy upon others- as well as upon ourselves.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:37-39 (NIV)

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide there is help. There are life-affirming and life-saving options.

1-800-273-8255 –National Suicide Prevention Lifeline– is available 7 days a week and 24 hours per day.

December 21, 2017 – The Word Was God, The Word Is God, God is With Us…John 1:1-14

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In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe.  He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:1-14 (NIV)

John’s Gospel is the most mystical and cryptic of the four Gospels. The writer of John does not focus on the human genealogy of Jesus, but on His spiritual heritage.

Through Him all things were made.

Think about that one for a second. Ponder on it for awhile.

One of the most difficult concepts for non-Christians (and to a degree, for Jesus followers as well) to grasp is that of God as Three-in-One, or the Trinity. One God- the Father, Son and Holy Spirit- Who is One, but also Three, distinct Persons is not an easy concept to take hold of and run with.

Jesus in the manger as a helpless newborn is at the same time God, Creator of the universe, Who is beyond our concepts of time and space. He was before time and space, and He will be when both time and space have passed away.  Even so, He cared enough for us, His weak and fallible creatures to become one of us.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

 Even better He invites us and takes us in – if only we believe Him- to become children of God.

Children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

 Rejoice, rejoice, oh Israel, to you shall come Emmanuel!

 

November 29, 2017- Rejoice Always- 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24, Psalm 16

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Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  Do not quench the Spirit.  Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil. May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 (NRSV)

Rejoice always. That’s not an easy instruction, even coming from the apostle Paul who had plenty to not rejoice about.

It’s easy to rejoice when things are going our way, but not so much when things turn dark. It’s hard to sing through pain. It’s hard to smile through suffering. It’s hard to reach out for what is good and right when so much is going wrong.  Yet Jesus invites us: rejoice always. What we see isn’t the whole picture. We are called to have faith in the unseen, and to believe even when the evidence we see doesn’t always support our faith.

One of the most depressing aspects of the late fall/early winter is that many of us don’t see daylight much if at all, several days a week. If one works in a place without windows and comes to work in the dark and leaves in the dark, at times it’s almost hard to believe that the sun exists.

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In hard times we don’t always see the evidence that God is with us- like the winter sun that we seldom see from October until March. Yet God is with us, in all things, even in suffering, illness, grief, and adversity.

 

Protect 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 holy ones in the land, they are the noble, in whom is all my delight.

Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names upon my lips.

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.  The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage.

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

Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure. For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit.

You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore. – Psalm 16 (NRSV)

January 6, 2017 -Something New (That’s Been There All Along) Isaiah 40:4-5, Matthew 5:14-16

epiphany

One of the definitions Merriam-Webster gives for the word epiphany (other than the Christian holiday that is celebrated today, January 6) is:

A usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something.

To have an epiphany is to see something that’s been in plain sight clearly and fully for the first time.  We know that God is with us, that in Him all things were and are and will be, but in Jesus we see God in His fullness.

“Every valley shall be lifted up,
    and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
    and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
    and all people shall see it together,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 40:4-5 (NRSV)

The glory and just plain bigness and completeness of God is all around us.  We miss the rapture and awe of God’s creation and God’s world sometimes because we are so mired down in the day to day business (or should I say busyness) that we don’t see it.

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Epiphany reminds us to open our eyes and ears and hearts and take God in and truly live- but also it reminds us to let Him shine in us and through us, so that He may be seen more fully in His world.

(Jesus said:) “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.  No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16 (NRSV)

How can we be the light of the world today?  Even if only in one other person’s world?