March 23, 2020 Healing the Land? Trust Jesus- 2 Chronicles 7:11-22, Luke 7:1-10, 2 Timothy 2:11-13

Solomon

Thus Solomon finished the house of the Lord and the king’s house. All that Solomon had planned to do in the house of the Lord and in his own house he successfully accomplished. Then the Lord appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him: “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice. When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place. For now I have chosen and consecrated this house that my name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time. And as for you, if you will walk before me as David your father walked, doing according to all that I have commanded you and keeping my statutes and my rules, then I will establish your royal throne, as I covenanted with David your father, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man to rule Israel.’
“But if you turn aside and forsake my statutes and my commandments that I have set before you, and go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will pluck you up from my land that I have given you, and this house that I have consecrated for my name, I will cast out of my sight, and I will make it a proverb and a byword among all peoples. And at this house, which was exalted, everyone passing by will be astonished and say, ‘Why has the Lord done thus to this land and to this house?’Then they will say, ‘Because they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers who brought them out of the land of Egypt, and laid hold on other gods and worshiped them and served them. Therefore he has brought all this disaster on them.’” 2 Chronicles 7:11-22 (ESV)

 

After he (Jesus) had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”  And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well. Luke 7:1-10 (ESV)

2 Chronicles 7:14 is a verse we often see taken out of its context. The first rule of studying the Bible and learning from God’s Word is that it’s all about context. The second is that Scripture is informed by Scripture. What is the context that surrounds this verse?

On first glance, God’s pronouncement in 2 Chronicles 7:11-22 when Solomon had completed building the temple that God had commanded him to build, appears to be a sort of cosmic quid pro quo. It almost appears that God is telling the people, If you are good little children and do what I say, then I will reward you. 

On closer reading one sees that it is God who does the choosing- God chooses the site of the Temple.  God chooses the way in which people return to Him- not through their own efforts, but by realizing that God is the one in control and that God is the one doing the healing, restoring and returning people and nations to Him.

Human beings are born dead in trespasses and sins (we learn that in Ephesians 2:1-10) and we can’t be good little children and do what God says apart from His grace, and by the power of the Holy Spirit. Even then we fail miserably, pointing out our desperate need for God’s grace in Christ. The history of the nation of Israel bears that out, documented in Scripture for all of us to learn. The history of humanity as a whole bears that out.

God doesn’t work on the quid pro quo system, thankfully for us, so what does this mean for us, and why is it errant theology to simply proclaim, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” without telling the rest of the story?

Yes, God hears our prayers, as imperfect and selfish as they can be at times. He answers our prayers, but not just with our short-term interests in mind. Sometimes the answer is no because He has a better plan for us, or because there are lessons He needs for us to learn.

The First Commandment teaches us that we should have no other gods beside God. Because we are by nature sinful and weak, we can’t will ourselves to follow God’s Law. We can’t even be aware of what God’s Law is -or the fact that we break it- apart from His grace.

We can’t humble ourselves and repent of our sinfulness without God in His grace and mercy, making us aware of our need to repent (to turn back to Him.) Anything that we do that could be considered a “good work” is only made good because of Jesus- because faith and trust in Him is the only good thing about any of us.

God doesn’t owe us anything. He is the Creator and Master of everything.

The saying is trustworthy, for:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself. 2 Timothy 2:11-13 (ESV)

Because creation is fallen, until Jesus returns, we will have famines, wars, pandemics, and natural disasters. If anything, in this world, crisis is the status quo. It’s only in the end that by the grace of God in Christ that His people who have been baptized and crucified with Him (who trust in Him by the gift of faith) will come in to the fullness of His resurrection, to a world that will be completely healed and remade. God does this for us, not because we are good, but because God is good and keeps His word even when we don’t and can’t.

The centurion from Luke 7:1-10 understood that there was nothing good about him that would heal his servant. He did (by the grace of God) believe that Jesus could heal his servant. The servant wasn’t healed because the centurion built the synagogue and had a love for the Jewish people. The centurion’s good works were the result of his faith in the God of Israel. He was no more or no less deserving of God’s favor and healing than anyone else.

There will be a day when God does heal and remake every land and nation, but that day has not arrived yet. On this side of eternity, until Jesus returns we can count on what He warns us of in Matthew 24. Human governments cannot and will not ever create a utopia on earth.  We do, however, realize that God made good on His promise of keeping a man on David’s throne.  Jesus came to earth to break the curse of the Garden by dying our death in our place, to be our King forever.

We can and should pray for the healing of our nation and for relief for those who are hurting. We should work toward healing, and do what we are able to help those in need. Even as we do what we can by the grace of God, we remember that God is the One in control even when everything is out of control. He gives us the gift of faith so that we will take comfort in Him and trust Him.

We can trust that God does hear our prayers and that in His way and time, He will heal our land. It’s not our prayers that effect these changes, (though we are told and taught to pray) but the faithfulness of God. God is the “motive engine,” not us. Solomon understood that human beings are going to screw up and that we need to repent of our sins. Only God gives us the grace to realize our need for Him. The centurion had faith that was firmly placed on Jesus, yet it was Jesus who gave him the gift of that faith.
Lord, in these uncertain times, turn our hearts toward You. Give us saving faith and grant us Your peace. Teach us to love as You first loved us.

December 29, 2017- Nunc Dimittus: Renovation and Restoration In Process -Luke 2:25-35, Luke 12:2-4, Revelation 21:1-7, Romans 8:19-23

simeon and jesus

 

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.”

 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed  so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Luke 2:25-35 (NRSV)

Simeon’s prayer of praise to God over having the privilege of seeing Jesus – God incarnate- with his own eyes, is known as the Nunc Dimittus, which is Latin for, “now lettest thou depart.” Simeon was indeed blessed to receive the reassurance of his faith before he died.

God also revealed to Simeon the upheaval that would accompany, and follow Jesus’ coming on earth. As we know, the Temple was destroyed in AD 70, not long after Jesus’ death and ascension.  Since that time the Jewish people (as well as many Christians) have been persecuted, exiled and even put to death for their faith.  We long for peace on earth, but it has not been manifested here in the world of not-yet.”  We are like Simeon in that we trust that we too will see Jesus and live in His fulfilled kingdom.

(Jesus said): Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.  Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops. Luke 12:2-4 (NRSV)

When people prepare to move or to renovate their homes, there is a seemingly endless process of upheaval and mess that goes along with moving and/or renovating. The old things need to be torn down and done away with, while the new things must be put in place and made ready.  Transitions are never painless or easy.

renovation

It’s not comfortable to throw out or do away with old structures or furniture or habits, but if we want to move on to an improved living space or a more positive existence, there’s old rubbish that needs to go away to make room for what’s clean and new and better. The pain and mess of renovation isn’t always pleasant, but it is at times necessary.

When we do that housecleaning sometimes we find some old and nasty things, like a half eaten dried up sandwich under the couch. It is said that cockroaches scatter when the lights are shined on them- they scurry back to their dark hideouts to avoid detection. Nasty things love to hide in the dark.

fridgy roach

But when we shine the lights on everything and get out the cleaner, all the hidden nasties are out in the open. Revealing all the nastiness is only the first step in transformation and making things new. We don’t reveal the nasty things so that they can remain there.  We reveal them so that they can be seen, acknowledged, and done away with.  We welcome God-with-us in the world knowing that He will reveal all of the evil, injustice, pain and suffering and He will redeem it. (see Revelation 21:1-7)

Simeon knew that along with the joy and redemption of Jesus’ appearing that there would be sorrow, especially for His mother, who would endure the grief of watching her firstborn son dying an excruciating death on a cross.

In our lives we also experience joy as well as pain as we are being transformed and our world is awaiting the transition from the not-yet to the “it is fulfilled.”

Today we can relate to Simeon. We see that God is with us, and we know Him in the Person of Jesus, but we also know that the transformation and the fulfillment of God’s Kingdom is a work in progress.

For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope  that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. Romans 8:19-23 (NIV)

God is with us. He is here in the not-yet.  He is here in and with and through the process of renovation and redemption.

 

 

November 2, 2017 – White Robes, Apocalypse, and God Wins- Revelation 7:13-17, Mark 13:32-37

white robes

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?”  I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.

They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat;  for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Revelation 7:13-17 (NRSV)

Revelation is one of the books of the Bible that some people find confusing and intimidating. Apocalyptic (meaning “of the end times”) literature uses extreme imagery and symbolism to get the message across. Its purpose as written to its original audience (Romans living in the province of Asia in the late first century), however, is one of encouragement. The people to whom Revelation was addressed were living in a time when believers were routinely persecuted and killed for following Jesus. The perspective of Revelation is one that states that today might be really terrible, and there might be even more really terrible stuff happening in the near future, but the end of the terrible stuff is near, and the end turns out good for those who persevere. The graphic imagery that can be found in Revelation makes for some good pop fiction (remember the Left Behind novels?) and cheesy end of the world movies, but the message of Revelation has a much deeper purpose and meaning for those who follow Jesus.

As for the people robed in white, they are the ones who have gone before us in heaven. They are living in what is for us, the “not yet.”  We can take hope that no matter how bad things get here on earth, that the bad things going on here and now aren’t the final reality for us.  God’s plan for humanity and for the universe He created is one of redemption and restoration.

The caution that should be taken from apocalyptic literature is that the imagery used isn’t always meant to be literal. The imagery is supposed to make sure that the truth of the story sticks in one’s mind. When Jesus is referred to as “the Lamb of God” throughout Scripture, it is not meant that He is a sheep, but that He is the one perfect sacrifice made for all of us for all time.

There is a temptation in having the knowledge that “today is not forever” to give up on making things better where we are. That is not the intent behind the message of Revelation.  We aren’t supposed to give up on the here and now.  While the End of Days (or the end of our own personal days) can occur at any moment, only God knows the hour and the time.

(Jesus said): “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” Mark 13:32-37 (NRSV)

So the take away here is that we should be ready for any contingency, knowing that we know the end of the story: God wins. In this assurance we are free to embrace the ongoing work of bringing about God’s kingdom here on earth. We have the knowledge that the best is still to come.

September 15, 2017- Praise God of All Compassion- Psalm 103:1-13

jesus-mercy-compassion

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits-who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the Pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good as long as you live so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The Lord works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed.  He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel.

The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always accuse, nor will he keep his anger forever.

He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.

For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us.

As a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him. Psalm 103:1-13 (NRSV)

The Psalms (today’s reading from Psalm 103 is one of many Psalms attributed to King David) are a ready source of instruction on the nature of God, which is a great comfort for us at times when we are struggling with faith and with life in general. In those times when we cannot find the words with which to pray, one can turn to the Psalms and we will find that the various Psalmists have written the very words we need to pray and meditate upon. God has given us great gifts of prayers and praise through the pens of the Psalmists!

We learn in the very beginning of Scripture (Genesis 1) that God created the earth and all of creation to be good. God’s will is that creation is good.  In the Lord’s Prayer we pray, “Thy will be done, Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.”  When we thank God for the goodness of creation we create an atmosphere in which we want to work toward the goodness and restoration that He created us for.

In today’s Psalm we have several points of meaningful prayer right in front of us.

First we are reminded to bless the Lord- to remember who we are talking to when we pray.  God is holy. He commands our reverent awe (which is the meaning of “fear of the Lord.”)

Then we are reminded of all the kindness we have received from God, and to thank Him for it.

We are also reminded that God doesn’t give us what we deserve, but He always gives us what we need to make us good and whole. He separates us from our sins as far away as we can possibly be separated from them. He gives us strength and healing.

God has compassion. He has compassion for us when we are distraught, when we are at the end of ourselves, and when we can’t find the words to pray.

God also has given us a purpose and a place in His story. We all have different roles and we have been put in different places to fulfill them, but compassion is a universal expression of love that we can all display.

How can we reflect the compassion of our compassionate and forgiving God today?

July 21- The End of Entropy, Romans 8:18-21, Revelation 21:4-6

restorationI consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.  For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. Romans 8:18-21 (NRSV)

Entropy is a term most commonly used in physics to describe the process of energy draining out of a system. It can also be defined as: a :  the degradation of the matter and energy in the universe to an ultimate state of inert uniformity or, b :  a process of degradation or running down or a trend to disorder (from Merriam-Webster Dictionary online.) Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  Nothing in the physical world is permanent.

Entropy is what the apostle Paul is talking about here. No matter how we build up things in the world, they eventually decay and go back to the dust they came from. We need only look in the mirror for awhile to realize that youth is fleeting and that nothing of this earth lasts forever. We need only look around this world to see how all creation cries out for renewal, for restoration, and for peace.

Jesus breaks that chain of decay.

“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.”

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. – Revelation 21:4-6 (NRSV)

Jesus is making all things new, starting with our hearts and minds as we follow Him. We are walking in both worlds for a time, the earthly kingdom which is crying out for redemption and restoration, and through Christ, in the heavenly kingdom that is perfect and complete.

Are we living in the hope of restoration and redemption today? Do we believe Jesus when He says, “I make all things new?”