April 3, 2020- Trust God’s Steadfast Love- Psalm 86

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Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.

Preserve my life, for I am godly; save your servant, who trusts in you—you are my God.

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for to you do I cry all the day.

Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.

For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.

Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer; listen to my plea for grace.

In the day of my trouble I call upon you, for you answer me.

There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like yours.

All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name.

For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God.

Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.

I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever.

For great is your steadfast love toward me; you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.

O God, insolent men have risen up against me; a band of ruthless men seeks my life,and they do not set you before them.

But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.

Turn to me and be gracious to me; give your strength to your servant, and save the son of your maidservant.

Show me a sign of your favor, that those who hate me may see and be put to shame because you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me. – Psalm 86 (ESV)

In these uncertain times it can be hard to pray.  The Psalms contain prayers for all times, and all situations.  They are one of God’s incredible gifts to us, because when we cannot find the words to pray, we have the Psalms to pray.  We have the Holy Spirit interceding on our behalf when we cannot even find the breath or the mind to pray.

Psalm 86 reminds us that God’s love is constant and unwavering, even though our affections are weak and fickle.

Martin Luther commented that we are beggars before God.  We have nothing to offer Him, and He has everything to offer us.

Even so, many of us are longing for a sign of God’s favor, especially in this ongoing pandemic and the upheaval and uncertainty it brings.  No one is fond of the thought of contracting a deadly disease, or of any of the economic, social and other implications that this disease brings with it.

It is in these situations that God gives us the comfort of His promises in Scripture- that He is merciful, that He is gracious, and that He has already made the provision for our salvation.

Lord, you help us and comfort us.  Lord, we know You hear our prayers and that You answer us.  Lord, we ask that You be our strength, our shelter and our peace.

April 2, 2020 The Lord Restores, The Lord Forgives, In Him is our Hope- Psalm 85, Mark 13:3-8, Psalm 118:8-9, Romans 8:18-30

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Lord, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob.

You forgave the iniquity of your people; you covered all their sin.- Selah

You withdrew all your wrath; you turned from your hot anger.

Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us!

Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger to all generations?

Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?

Show us your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation.

Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints; but let them not turn back to folly.

Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him, that glory may dwell in our land.

Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other.

Faithfulness springs up from the ground, and righteousness looks down from the sky.

Yes, the Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.

Righteousness will go before him, and make his footsteps a way. Psalm 85 (ESV)

Some of us may be wondering if the current world events are “divine retribution” for all of the evil in the world.  Jesus told us that we will endure trials in this world and not to be alarmed by them:

And as he (Jesus) sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?”  And Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one leads you astray.  Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray.  And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains. Mark 13:3-8 (ESV)

Unfortunately popular culture, and even some churches, buy in to a fallacy that every day gets better and better, that we can all “live our best life now,” “tomorrow will be a better day,” etc.  The reality is that we as well as the creation all around us are decaying and dying- the scientific term is entropy – the trend of orderly things to descend or degrade into disorderly things- or to degrade back to their essential elements.

There are examples of entropy all around us- the aging process is one, where one’s body is not able to repair and regenerate its cells as effectively as it once did, and the body slowly deteriorates.  Erosion is another example, when water slowly wears away the rocks and dissolves the minerals that comprise the rocks.  Even the fact that a house must be maintained and repainted and so forth over time because paint fades and wood rots is another example of entropy.   We all know that automotive maintenance is performed because time, friction and wear degrade essential parts which have to be replaced. Oil is changed because it gets contaminated and doesn’t lubricate as effectively. Brake pads wear because the linings are worn off by the heat of friction necessary to stop the vehicle, and so forth.

The fact that societies and governments cannot bring about heaven on earth or avert every calamity is because of that complete corruption of all creation (call it Original Sin, or, even though I’m not a Calvinist, the Total Depravity of Man) that sprung forth from the sin of the Garden.  We cannot put our trust in world leaders.

It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes. Psalm 118:8-9 (ESV)

The promise that was given by faith to believers through Abraham (and yes, Christian people are the spiritual descendants of Abraham) is that we as well as the creation will be remade. Jesus defeated the penalty of death (and what is entropy, if not a slow and lingering death) for us and took our place. He is returning for us- and we share in His resurrection into a world without entropy- bodies that do not decay and a world that will not rot away. The apostle Paul teaches us this in Romans 8-

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope  that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.  And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,[h] for those who are called according to his purpose.  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. Romans 8:18-30 (ESV)

So what are we supposed to think when we read Scripture and it seems to contradict everything that we are seeing, living or experiencing?

As we pray in Psalm 85- by faith we have hope.

Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other. Faithfulness springs up from the ground, and righteousness looks down from the sky. Yes, the Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.
Righteousness will go before him, and make his footsteps a way.

Thank you, Lord for the gift of faith. Thank you, because in You we have hope. Thank You that you sustain us through even the valley of the shadow of death.  Thank You for Your Holy Spirit, who intercedes for us when we cannot pray.  Thank You that there is never a moment in which You leave us or abandon us.

March 30, 2020 -How Lovely is Your Dwelling Place, God’s Place for Us- Psalm 84, Revelation 21:1-4, Matthew 6:25-33

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How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!

My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.

Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.

Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise! – Selah

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.

As they go through the Valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools.

They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion.

O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer; give ear, O God of Jacob! – Selah

Behold our shield, O God; look on the face of your anointed!

For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.

For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.

O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you! – Psalm 84 (ESV)

As we know, the Psalms are prayers.  Psalm 84 is particularly lovely set to music (the version by Lily Fields, above is quite beautiful) as it reminds us that we are travelers in this world.  We shouldn’t be seeking out a permanent residence here on earth- because none of us are going to live forever in these corrupted bodies, in this corrupted world. We long for and await the day when Jesus will return and remake both our corrupted bodies and the fallen creation.  As the apostle John wrote to us under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit from his exile in Patmos:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 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 21:1-4 (ESV)

This doesn’t mean that we should not aim to have a suitable place to live or that we should ignore our bodily needs, just that Jesus told us what our priorities are:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  Matthew 6:25-33 (ESV)

This world is full of uncertainty, despair, illness, violence and hate.  Watching the news and reading the headlines as well as all the doom and gloom on social media is depressing.  Yet we have good news! We are baptized, we are set apart. By faith we trust Jesus.  He provides for us.  He equips us for the good works that He created us to do.  He is the King.  He holds us in His hand.  Today is not all there is.  We can trust God.  He will get us through any storm. He has a permanent, incorruptible home waiting for us.

 

March 19, 2020 The Omnipotent God of the Universe Cares for Us- Psalm 74:12-19

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Yet God my King is from of old,
working salvation in the midst of the earth.

You divided the sea by your might;
you broke the heads of the sea monsters on the waters.

You crushed the heads of Leviathan;
you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.

You split open springs and brooks;
you dried up ever-flowing streams.

Yours is the day, yours also the night;
you have established the heavenly lights and the sun.

You have fixed all the boundaries of the earth;
you have made summer and winter.

Remember this, O Lord, how the enemy scoffs,
and a foolish people reviles your name.

Do not deliver the soul of your dove to the wild beasts;
do not forget the life of your poor forever.

Psalm 74:12-19 (ESV)

We must remember the God Who spoke the universe into being actually cares about us.  It’s easy to forget that in times of crisis, but God is truly in control of all things.

Jesus reassures us in Luke 12:6-7,

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!

I can recommend for those of us with time on our hands to take a few moments to read Martin Luther’s letter, Whether One May Flee From a Deadly Plague,  in its entirety.  It was written in response to the return of the Black Plague (a disease with a far higher mortality rate than the current coronavirus) to Wittenberg in 1527.

The advice that Luther gives here in his letter is particularly timely and accurate:

Use medicine; take potions which can help you; fumigate house, yard, and street; shun persons and places wherever your neighbor does not need your presence or has recovered, and act like a man who wants to help put out the burning city. What else is the epidemic but a fire which instead of consuming wood and straw devours life and body? You ought to think this way: “Very well, by God’s decree the enemy has sent us poison and deadly offal. Therefore I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely, as stated above. – Martin Luther, 1527

Ultimately we are reminded that our times are in God’s hands.  Even so, we should be washing our hands.  We should follow good precautions and do what we can to protect ourselves and our neighbors, even as we remember, and we trust that God hears our prayers.

The worst thing any disease can do to us is to take our life in this world, but even should our life in this body end, Jesus, the Lover of our souls, has bought and purchased us and we share in His resurrection. 

Therefore we have hope no matter what effect this disease may have on us.  We have comfort.  In Christ, we have peace. Keep on caring for our neighbors and for ourselves. Do sensible and beneficial things. Keep praying. Keep studying God’s Word.  Share the comfort, hope and peace that we have in Christ.

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

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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.

June 18, 2019 – Jesus Prays for Us- John 17:6-10, Matthew 10:34-39, Psalm 139:16

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“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.  Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you.  For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.  I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.  All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.” John 17:6-10 (ESV)

It’s kind of a strange – but encouraging- thought that Jesus prays for us and intercedes for us.   After all, Jesus taught us to pray to God the Father for all that we need.  Then He prays for us that we would be one, as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit are one.  Jesus is personal.  He does not just observe us from a distance.  He is with us and near us always no matter what we might think or feel about His presence.

Jesus knows first hand how difficult life in this world is.  He knows that there is much division and infighting between believers and others in the world and that it is not always easy to be one of His own in this world.

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.   Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Matthew 10:34-39 (ESV)

We need Jesus’ prayers and intercession.  Thankfully there is nothing we can do that He doesn’t anticipate.  The hairs on our heads are numbered.

Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. Psalm 139:16 (ESV)

Take comfort in this life that Jesus prays for us.  The Holy Spirit intercedes for us.  God the Father together with the Son and Spirit- God the Three in One- planned our existence and knew everything about us long before we ever drew a breath.

March 11, 2019- The Beatitudes, For Us- Matthew 5:1-12

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Seeing the crowds, he (Jesus) went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons (children) of God.

 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  Matthew 5:1-12 (ESV)

The Beatitudes are difficult in the way that the Ten Commandments are difficult. They are beautiful. They are good. And there is no way that any of us can live by them perfectly.

We teach our children to be independent almost from day one. Independence and autonomy are ingrained into Western culture, but in God’s economy, we are blessed by our trust and dependence upon Him.

We can’t even believe in God and trust Jesus on our own. Faith itself is a gift of the Holy Spirit.

When we come to a place where we have no tangible reason to believe- when we are abandoned, ill or destitute, Jesus sustains us with the reality that He is with us, and that we are already citizens of the kingdom of God.

In Jesus’ resurrection we have hope that death is not the end. We will be reunited with the vast cloud of witnesses who have gone before us, and all tears will be washed away, when Jesus returns to remake heaven and earth.

When we are at the end of our strength and powerless, we are reminded that powers and principalities and governments are temporary, and that corruption in governance will eventually be overturned.

In the new heaven and earth there will be no more evil. We will have incorruptible bodies free from the curse of sin.  We will no longer endure injustice, unfairness, and mistreatment.  There will be no illness, violence, or suffering.

As Jesus has forgiven us, so we are able to be forgiven and to forgive others. We will no longer have to carry the burden of past injuries and grudges- nor will those things be held against us where others have failed to forgive us.

The veil will be removed from our eyes, so that we can love God with a purity that is not marred by our fear or desire for self-preservation.

In Christ we will have peace, not as the world gives but as only He can give. As the apostle Paul encourages us: 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.” Philippians 4:4-7 (ESV)

Even as Christians are persecuted and ridiculed for our faith more and more, we are in good company. No one can take away the promise and the hope that we have in Christ.  It’s not always easy or popular to do the right things (and we are by no means perfect at this) but by the power of the Holy Spirit we are blessed to stand and we are given the courage and the confidence to stand.

As we examine the Beatitudes, it is not a “to do” list for us, but a “God does through” us list. We are not the engine behind our transformation, and we cannot make ourselves holy through our own efforts.  It is only by the grace of God that He gives us the faith to believe and trust Him.  Christ alone redeems and transforms us.

This is good news.