November 7, 2018 The Undeserved Faithfulness of God- Psalm 36, Hebrews 11:1-3

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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)

King David wrote many of the Psalms, including Psalm 36. We see the concept of simul Justus et peccator (we are saints and sinners at the same time) lived out in David’s life as well as it is spelled out beautifully in this Psalm.  We are wicked transgressors- blatant sinners- who do not fear God. We flatter ourselves and we make excuses for and cover up our sins.  We like to think we are OK because, “well I didn’t do what THAT guy did,” even though in reality we are just as bad if not worse than those we disdain. We are all prone to gossip and slander. We wish evil on our enemies, and we openly plot revenge on those who do us wrong.  Save by the mercy and love of Jesus we have absolutely nothing good or worthy about us.

God on the other hand, keeps His end of the covenant, His promise to Abraham and his descendents, (and we are descendents of Abraham by faith in Christ) even though we are not capable of believing and trusting God in our own strength. In our baptism, in the preaching of God’s Word, and at the communion table, through these means of grace, God gives us the gift of faith. The completed work of Jesus on the Cross is redemption, deliverance and restoration, not just of His people, but of creation itself. We can’t trust our own fickle and often evil hearts, but we can trust that God is faithful to His promises.

God has made Himself our refuge, our safe place. Apart from God there is no rest, no safety, no provision, no hope and no light.  By faith we trust that God provides for all of our needs.  We trust that He loves us and that He will not forget us- even though we do not and cannot earn or deserve His grace.

We pray that God would transform our hearts. We pray that we would live in humility, knowing that anything good is a gift from God alone.  We pray that God would spread around the good news of Jesus in and through us, even though we wrestle with the saint/sinner paradox (see Romans 7) every day of our lives this side of eternity.

We also pray that God would restrain evil- that we would not be the ones spreading evil around, and that those who are working evil in the world would be stopped in their tracks.

We learn in this Psalm that God is our refuge. Jesus laid down His life for us as a perfect sacrifice (Isaiah 53:1-5) so that our sins are forgiven, and when God looks at us He sees only Jesus.  Even though we are born with evil and death all over us, through the gift of faith in Jesus and His death on the Cross to save us from our sins, we belong to God, made descendents of Abraham and inheritors of the covenant of faith that God made with Abraham.

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. Hebrews 11:1-3 (ESV)

 

August 4, 2017 The Shema, Go Load Up on the Good News- Deuteronomy 6:4-9, Psalm 145:14-21

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Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.  Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (NRSV)

The Lord upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing. The Lord is just in all his ways, and kind in all his doings. The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desire of all who fear him; he also hears their cry, and saves them. The Lord watches over all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy.

 My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord, and all flesh will bless his holy name forever and ever. Psalm 145:14-21 (NRSV)

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 is known to Jewish scholars as the Shema Yisrael (meaning- Hear, O, Israel) which is the primary foundational teaching on our relationship with God.

God is God. Love God with all you have.  Learn about Him and write that knowledge on your mind and your heart.  Share that knowledge with everyone around you.  Sounds like the best advice ever. The question is, are we following that directive?

Part of the purpose of daily (or even more often) prayer and Bible study is for us to write the knowledge of God into our heads and hearts, to save it back for those times when we are really going to need it. When we are in crisis and can’t find the words to pray, the Holy Spirit does intervene for us, but those words of truth and comfort from Scripture that we have committed to memory provide us a foundation on which we can stand when the world throws its worst at us.  We pre-wire ourselves to respond to the Holy Spirit when we load up on the knowledge of Scripture.  We can remember God’s truth- and His promises to us- when the world comes crashing down.

We can see why the Shema is so important to Jews and to Christians as well. How can we trust in God’s provision if we don’t soak it up, and pass it around?

The good news is not only to be found in the Gospels. The Bible is saturated with good news of God’s love for us from the beginning and all the way throughout. The Psalms are an especially rich source of comfort and peace and a place to go when we can’t find the words to pray.  There is hope when we are at the end of our strength.  God gives us provision when our lives are empty.  God is as near as our prayers.

December 21, 2016-Simeon’s Answered Prayer: “My Eyes Have Seen Your Salvation”-Luke 2:25-32, Revelation 21:3-4

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Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law,  Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” – Luke 2:25-32 (NRSV)

The above passage is known as the “nunc dimittis“- meaning,”now You dismiss Your servant,” and it is also known as the Song of Simeon.  In some traditions it is used as a prayer for the ending of the day, or for the ending of a worship service.

There is nothing more joyful than experiencing answered prayer and the fulfillment of much-longed for dreams.  It is hard to imagine Simeon’s delight as he held the infant Jesus and realized: This child is the promised Messiah.

What an incredible blessing God granted Simeon in that moment, that he would come face to face with his Savior, and that he could die in peace.

We are still waiting in our “not yet” world.  Waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promises to us.  Some of us are holding on to a breakthrough in a hard situation. Some of us are walking through the stages of physical, emotional or spiritual healing.  Some of us are weighed down in depression and grief and just can’t see the way out of the dark.

We may not be blessed in the same way Simeon was, that we may see the face of Jesus before we die (although that is not impossible!) but we can trust God that His word is true.

One of the most encouraging words to the weary, to those who most need to experience the presence and healing touch of God is:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.” – Revelation 21:3-4 (NRSV)

God Himself is with us.  And in this “not yet” world, we can know in Christ that death and mourning and crying and pain are not the end.

 

 

 

 

December 19, 2016- Do You Believe What God Said? Luke 1:11-24

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Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.   He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born.  He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.  And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”

Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak. Luke 1:11-22 (NRSV)

Zechariah is one of the more interesting characters in the story of the Nativity.  He was a high priest in the temple, a man well educated in the Torah and in the Jewish faith.  He knew the story of Moses.  He knew the I AM God. He knew that all things are possible with God.

Yet when Gabriel (the same angel who later appeared to Mary to announce the impending birth of Jesus) came to him with the good news that he was to be the father of John the Baptist, Zechariah doubted that what Gabriel had come to say to him would happen.

Sometimes what we know in our heads is true doesn’t quite make it all the way to our hearts.  We all have those moments of, “I believe what God says is true, but…” The reality of the human condition is that doubt is part of faith.  God wants us to question our faith and to bring our questions to Him.  That’s the reason why God gave us intellect- so that we could seek, knock and ask, and grow closer to Him in our searching.

But Zechariah was a guy who because of both his education and his vocation, should have known that when God’s angel makes a special trip to tell you something that God is going to follow through with that announcement. It is interesting that God decided to literally shut Zechariah up until He made good upon granting him that gift of a son.  It was if God was saying in that action, “I have the final word.”

I have a plaque in my dining room that says, “Lord, keep Your arms around my shoulder,  and Your hand over my mouth.”  Part of the reason I like that short little prayer is because I tend to want to cut off the possibilities before I remember that God is the one in control, not me. In a crisis, I can only see what my narrow focus allows me to see, instead of the complete picture that God sees and of which God is the Author. Sometimes I want to say, “But, God…” or, “How can that happen?”  or, “Why,” without considering that it is the I AM God who is deciding things.

There are many promises God gives to His people throughout Scripture.  Some of those promises have been fulfilled, and some of them are not yet.

But God has the final word.  He hears our prayers, He answers them, and when He speaks, it will happen as He says.  No matter what I might have to say in disbelief or protest.