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.

November 14, 2018 – Comfort, Suffering and Christ-Reliance- 2 Corinthians 1:3-11

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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. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.  He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many. 2 Corinthians 1:3-11 (ESV)

There are some troublesome trends in American Christianity that are not healthy for us to follow. The phrase, “God will never give you more than you can handle” is an example of a not-so-biblical teaching that gets spread around on blog posts and such.  We think that it is comforting to others when we repeat such nice-sounding platitudes, but we are simply putting the burden on the other person and the emphasis on “you” rather than sharing the blessed comfort that God has our circumstances in HIS control.  We like to believe that we are the ones who are in control, but we are not. We do encounter more than we can handle.  Apart from the grace and mercy of God we cannot handle anything.

A more accurate and ultimately more comforting phrase would be, “God can handle everything you have been given, because apart from Him you can’t.” We share in the good news and in the real comfort that God offers in and through our suffering, beyond the limits of our strength, and beyond our afflictions. Suffering is not a surprise. It is inevitable. Suffering is part of the human condition we inherited in the Fall. As believers in Jesus we are not going to be spared suffering, but we are given the hope that suffering will eventually end.  Jesus calls us to take up our crosses and follow Him.  We necessarily share in the Cross of Christ, but we who share in the suffering of the Cross also share in the triumph and eternal life of Christ.

The apostle Paul experienced just about every imaginable obstacle and type of persecution on his missionary journeys. Apart from the grace of God, Paul would not have been able to continue to believe or to persevere in his mission.

Our trust is in God who raises the dead, God who delivers the captives from bondage, God the I AM before and outside of time.

It is interesting that Paul asks the church at Corinth for their prayers. We trust God, yet we still pray for each other in thanks for the blessings God gives us.  Prayer is one of the evidences and the results of our faith, that springs from our confidence that God is the one in control not only of us and our circumstances, but of the ultimate redemption and restoration of all things.  Prayer is the way that God invites us to align our wills with His holy and good will, such as He teaches us to pray- “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” in the third petition of the Lord’s Prayer.

Paul is teaching us not to be self-reliant. Paul assures us that God handles those things- pretty much everything- that is beyond our ability to manage. Our culture teaches us to be independent and headstrong, but Jesus is teaching us through the apostle Paul that we need to be Christ-reliant. We need to pray together with other believers, trusting that God’s will is being, and will be done just as Jesus taught us to pray.  God is the master of our circumstances as well as He is the bringer of all comfort and peace.

January 30, 2018 Practicing the Prayers of Comfort- Deuteronomy 11:18-19, 1 Peter 5:7, Psalm 46:10, Romans 8:26

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Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Deuteronomy 11:18-19 (NIV)

Prayer is the most important spiritual discipline we have available to us as Jesus followers. Prayer is something we need to practice just as we practice any other good habit in our lives. Being aware of God and His presence in our lives is the first step to coming to Him in prayer.  We learn Who God is when we read and study the Bible.  We read the Bible and memorize the Scriptures, so that they are written on our minds and hearts, where we need them in times of crisis.

Martin Luther once said that the Bible is like the manger that holds the Christ child. What we learn in the Bible should always bring us closer to Jesus.

Most of us deal with situational anxiety in times of crisis, at one time or another in our lives. Others live with chronic anxiety that can be debilitating and crushing even when there is no immediate crisis taking place.

While God is the Author of healing, there are instances in which chronic anxiety is a mental health issue that should also be discussed with a physician, just as one would seek out professional help with a physical illness or injury. It is good to remember that God works in and through His people and in His world, including through our friends, family and health professionals. Sometimes we need to enlist their help as part of our healing.

Whether our anxiety is situational or chronic, we are invited to surrender our anxiety, our worries, and our seemingly unsolvable problems to the Prince of Peace.

Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken. Psalm 55:22 (NIV)

Cast all your anxiety on him (Jesus) because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7 (NIV)

When we praise God we underscore Who He is and that he is in charge. There is no crisis in our lives that is beyond God’s ability to bring us through. Prayers of praise remind us that God is bigger than our problems. Sometimes prayer can be just remembering God as our Creator, and that our loving Father helps us find His comfort and peace. In Psalm 23 we learn that no matter where we may find ourselves, God is with us, and He will get us beyond the valleys of shadow.

There are many sources of prayers of praise and examples of God’s deliverance and comfort to be found in the Bible. Psalm 139:1-18 reminds us that God created us for a purpose and He knows our every thought, our very fibers inside and out. This beautiful Psalm reminds us to praise God and thank Him for the gift of life and for our physical bodies.

Elijah’s flight from Jezebel (1 Kings 19:1-18) shows us that even the most faithful of God’s people can get to the end of their ropes.  We learn from Elijah’s story that:

God provides for us when we are at the end of ourselves.

God comes to us and speaks to us in the silence, after the storm.

God has solutions we can’t imagine or foresee. He is preparing us not only for life on this earth, but for forever to come.

God has a good plan for His world, including for those who come after us. We are not the whole story, just a part of it.

He (God) says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10 (NIV)

So how do we pray in crisis? We pray in crisis just as we should when the sun is shining and we can readily see God and His handiwork in the world.  Sometimes it helps to simply look around us and praise God for the beauty in creation, to thank Him for all He has done, or to just meditate on Who He is.

We learn the beauty and the power of prayer the more that we practice it. Prayer does not have to be complicated.  Sometimes all we can muster is something as simple as a song- the Kyrie song, for instance, that is simply, “God have mercy, Christ have mercy, God have mercy on me,” or we pray a word of thanks or praise as we inhale or exhale (breath prayers.)  The Holy Spirit intercedes for us when we aren’t even capable of uttering those simple prayers.  Prayer is about conversation and connection with God.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. Romans 8:26 (NIV)

January 11, 2018 Comfort and God’s Promise- Psalm 119:49-50, Matthew 6:34

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Remember your word to your servant, for you have given me hope. My comfort in my suffering is this:

Your promise preserves my life.  Psalm 119:49-50 (NIV)

Yesterday was one of those anniversaries that bring a great deal of sadness for me and my family. Every family has anniversaries like those. We remember the days when our worlds fell apart in the chaos and pain of tragic and unexpected loss. Everyone has those days that mark the points where life fell apart and from those points forward life is no longer the same.  We are reminded that life on this earth is not permanent and we are not guaranteed anything.

It is a comfort to know that doubt is part of faith. It is a comfort to know that God is big enough to handle our questions, our anger, our fear, and yes, even our doubts.

Those of us who are parents will remember when our children were toddlers, and they would rage against the boundaries- tantrums at bedtime, tantrums at bath time, tantrums when it’s time to get dressed. Toddlers are usually all about maintaining the status quo, with one curious exception- nobody looks forward to change more than a baby with a dirty diaper.

We get too comfortable in this world at times, but we shouldn’t be looking over our shoulder for bad things to happen. Jesus warns us about the worry wart attitude.

(Jesus said) :Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:34 (NIV)

So what do we do when our world crashes down around us? We can become cynical and angry.  We can wallow about in doubt. We can try to run away.  The prophet Elijah feared for his life, freaked out, and ran away when Jezebel threatened to kill him (1 Kings 19:1-18.)

Yet God stayed with Elijah. God sent His angel to give Elijah food, comfort and rest. God spoke to Elijah- when the storm died down.

Our difficult anniversary days can be hard to face, especially when we relive pain or sorrow or loss- or a combination of all three. God is with us when we freak out, when we run, when we scream in anger, and when the storm is raging on, even though we may not feel His presence then.  And when the storm is over He speaks to us with comfort and solace and peace.

God’s promise preserves our lives, no matter what this world may throw at us.

August 10, 2017 – God in the Silence 1 Kings 19:9-18

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At that place he (Elijah) came to a cave, and spent the night there.

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”

 He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.  When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”  Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram.  Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill.  Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” 1 Kings 19:9-18 (NRSV)

The Lord was not in the wind.

The Lord was not in the earthquake.

The Lord was not in the fire.

 

After the fire, a sound of sheer silence- then the Lord spoke.

Elijah was pretty depleted and worn out at this time- having just dealt with Ahab and Jezebel and the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:20-46 and 1 Kings 19:1-8) He was looking for God to come to him in a big and dramatic way, wrapped up in the whirlwind, but God waited to speak to Elijah in the calm after the storm.

Most of us have been in places where the storm around us is so intense that the breath is sucked right out of us, we fall to our knees, and we have no words with which to speak. God does not abandon us in those moments, but often He waits to speak to us until the storm is over- whether the storm is the shock of a physical injury or a sudden tragedy or the blow of a deep disappointment- or, like Elijah, when we are coming to the end of ourselves and what we can handle. He lets us rage and scream and bargain, and once we have completely emptied out our hearts and souls, God steps into that silent, empty space.  He speaks words of comfort and peace and healing, but after the storms, in the silence. He speaks through the silence so we can’t help but hear His words.

There is a strong theme of redemption and restoration and continuity in this passage as well. God reminds Elijah that he is not alone (even though he thinks he is the last man standing, he is not) and that God’s work will go on even after Elijah’s work is done.  In the silence after the storm, after God passes over Elijah’s fatigue and frustration and burnout, God spells out what Elijah has left to do, and who will carry on after he is gone.

Elisha will finish off and continue some of the projects that Elijah started. It’s encouraging to hear that, that the work we do for God’s kingdom is part of an ongoing endeavor.  We build on to the work of those who were before us, and God will ensure that there are people after us to build on the work we have done, even though sometimes when we are tired and burned out and overwhelmed by grief and sorrow , we think, “I am the only person doing anything for God.”

The truth is that God’s work will get done.  We as individuals aren’t called to do it all. The laborers might be few and the work intense, but God finds a way.  That doesn’t mean that we should just bow out and miss out on the joy of serving because “someone else will do it,” but it does mean that we are in this together.  Everyone has his or her purpose in God’s plan along with others.  Bringing about God’s kingdom here on earth is something we do together, not a solo effort.

Do we trust God that He does speak to us in the silence, and that we are not called to be-all and do-all, rather we are called to complete the purpose He created us for, to contribute a piece of an ongoing tapestry, to write a chapter in a never-ending story?

In the end, in the silence, God brings us rest. There will be a day when we will see Jesus and He will say to us:  “Well done, good and trustworthy servant; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”-  Matthew 25:21