September 14, 2018- Just Say the Word-Isaiah 55:6-11, Ephesians 2:10, Job 38

Job Whirlwind 77

“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near;  let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. Isaiah 55:6-11 (ESV)

What beautiful comfort the prophet Isaiah brings us in these words.

God is in control.

We aren’t the ones who orchestrate the seasons. We aren’t the ones who set the universe in motion. God brought about all things ex nihilo (from nothing) simply by speaking the words. God is, was and will be in all places and times- and beyond space and time, forever.  We can’t fully comprehend Him because He is so far beyond us.

God reveals to Isaiah, and through his inspired writing reveals to us as well, that God’s word always accomplishes that which He speaks. We don’t understand the mechanisms.  We might not agree with the timing or in the results, but God has set plans, and His will is going to be accomplished.  Our opinions and inputs are not required. God does work His will through us, as the apostle Paul teaches in Ephesians 2:10 – For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (ESV)

Redemption and salvation have been accomplished by Jesus for us. We do nothing as we are brought to the font in baptism.  We add nothing to the gift.  We can do nothing but receive and respond.  We can marvel in God’s response in Job 38 when Job asked God why he had to suffer.  Where were we when God created the world and set its systems in motion?  What gives us the right to question God- even though we do?  How can we do anything but trust the Designer that He has goodness and redemption planned for the creation of His design?

Faith is the gift of having confidence that we are forgiven, set free, and made God’s own forever in Christ. Faith prays the prayer of the father of the demon possessed child in Mark 9:14-29“I believe. Help my unbelief.”

Jesus taught us that the name of God is holy. In His name, Jesus taught us to pray for our daily bread, to look to God for our provision day by day.  Jesus taught us to pray that God’s will be done.  Jesus taught us to pray for God’s kingdom to come to earth as it is in heaven.  Jesus taught us to pray to be forgiven of our sins and to forgive those who have sinned against us. As we pray the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer we are directed to depend upon our sovereign God, God whose very word made all things come to be- for all things.

We can trust that God will meet our needs. He speaks and creation happens, the seasons, the growth, and the harvest are all under God’s control. We have become his redeemed and beloved children in Christ, and in Christ we will be safe in His care forever.

 

July 3, 2018 Neither Poverty Nor Riches, but Somewhere in the Middle- Proverbs 30:7-9, 2 Corinthians 8:9

man walking on train rail

Photo by Chinmay Singh on Pexels.com

Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?”or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God. Proverbs 30:7-9 (ESV)

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. 2 Corinthians 8:9 (ESV)

When we pray the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer we agree with and trust God for “daily bread-“ not because we doubt whether or not God provides for us, but so that we stand in agreement with God and that we know the One from whom our sustenance and life come.

Behold, thus God wishes to indicate to us how He cares for us in all our need, and faithfully provides also for our temporal support. And although He abundantly grants and preserves these things even to the wicked and knaves, yet He wishes that we pray for them, in order that we may recognize that we receive them from His hand, and may feel His paternal goodness toward us therein. – Martin Luther, on the Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer

The world surrounds us with messages that implore us to buy more, to upgrade our technology, to be thinner, to be more beautiful, ad nauseam. Advertising teaches us dissatisfaction with what we have so that we will strive for more, bigger and better.  The urge to keep up with the Joneses is written deeply in American culture, as if somehow our value as people is validated by wearing the latest fashion or having the newest smartphone.

Contrast the wisdom of Agur (the writer of the above verses from Proverbs) as it was recorded in God’s word for our benefit. His prayer is more like: Keep us honest. Maintain us materially somewhere in the middle, neither rich nor poor, but having enough for our daily needs. Keep us from either trusting in our own abilities to the point where we fail to see our need for God and thank Him for everything; or from being so impoverished and desperate that we starve and must scrape or even steal to survive.

We are so conditioned to believe in our own ambition- or blame our failures on “bad luck” or our circumstances, but that’s not how God wants us to go about things. He calls us to rely on Him and know that our needs– though not necessarily our wants– will be met.

Agur’s wisdom in the Proverbs, Luther’s teaching on the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, and the apostle Paul’s reminder in 2nd Corinthians that Jesus sacrificed everything specifically to save us from sin and death, are all contrary to the wisdom of the world.  Scripture doesn’t teach us about how to have the greatest life ever right now. God is not a vending machine, nor is He a celestial scorekeeper, looking for our every failure and flaw. In Scripture we learn about Jesus- what He has done to save us from sin and death.  Throughout Scripture we are pointed to Jesus and His love for us. We are reminded that in our baptism we have received the greatest, most lavish, most precious gift of all- the gift of eternal life with God forever.

Trusting in our own ability to achieve, earn and be self-reliant, and thinking we can do it all and don’t need God, and failing to trust God for our daily bread in difficult times are opposite sides of the same error. We need to trust God that He will give us what we need to live and thrive without leaning to one or the other extreme.

Jesus has already provided for us- forever. In our doubt we succumb to worry that our needs will not be met, and we get trapped in the pursuit of our own wants. May we trust Jesus that He will indeed provide our daily bread as we seek Him and His will for us, and trust Him that He cares for us and provides for us.

February 19, 2018- Possessed Pigs, Go Tell About God’s Mercy- Mark 5:1-20, Ephesians 6:11, Isaiah 61:1-3

pigs

They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him.  This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain.  For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him.  Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.

When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!”

Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”

“My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.

A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.”  He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.

Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened.  When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well.  Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.

As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him.  Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”  So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed. Mark 5:1-20 (NIV)

What does this one of Jesus’ works of healing have to do with loving Jesus? Who seriously believes in demon possession today?

We can say that we are more enlightened today. Today we know that mental illness can be caused by chemical malfunctions in the brain.  While in most instances mental illness can explain what used to be referred to as demon possession, the fact remains that there is a spiritual world. There are powers and principalities that we learn about throughout Scripture that are not easily explained by science. We have an Adversary. Not everything that lives in the spiritual world has our best interest at heart.

In the Lutheran tradition we aren’t much to focus upon the dark side, and we don’t talk much about demons or possession or bizarre supernatural happenings, because we know who wins- but it is important to know that we do have an adversary, and that we know Who to run to when the adversary comes knocking. Evil has a lot harder time getting to us if we spend our lives being immersed in what is good.  The apostle Paul told us to put on the full armor of Christ (Ephesians 6:11) for good reason.

It was curious that the demons knew Who Jesus was. The demons knew their enemy and they knew that ultimately they were subject to His power.  Why do we doubt the sovereignty and final authority of Jesus when demons, who are evil, get it?

The demons begged to be released into pigs. To Midwestern Americans the pigs drowning themselves in the sea might come across as a really sad waste of a LOT of bacon.  Yet to Jews in first century Palestine, pigs were the most unclean of unclean animals. It was fitting, at least to first century Jews, that the demons met their demise in the unclean bodies of pigs.

More important than the final disposition of the demons, or even how the demons got in the man to begin with, is the final authority and sovereignty of Jesus.

Jesus had mercy on the man. Everyone else wanted to restrain the man, and when that didn’t work, they simply pushed him out of society.  He was living in the tombs- basically written off as dead.

Jesus got the unclean spirits to move on out of the man and gave him his life back. Sound like a familiar theme?

We all have our stories to tell about what Jesus has done for us, just like the formerly demon possessed man. Jesus has set us free from the powers of sin and death, as well as for many of us, Jesus has set us free of earthly afflictions also. We return love to Jesus when we show it to people around us.  God is real.  He loved us first.  He sent Jesus to show us what love is, to love the unlovable, and to set captives free from the things that bind them (Isaiah 61:1-3.)  Who can we draw to Jesus by sharing our stories? By showing them kindness?

If we claim to love Jesus, we are called to do as He did. Go out. Share the love. To whom can we bring a bit of mercy and care today?

September 19, 2017- The Holy Name of God- Exodus 3:4-6, Exodus 20:7, Matthew 15:16, Matthew 23:27, Psalm 51:10-12

moses burning bush

When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he (Moses) said, “Here I am.”  Then He said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”  He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. Exodus 3:4-6 (NRSV)

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. Exodus 20:7 (NRSV)

He (Jesus) said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Matthew 15:16 (NRSV)

God is holy. We are given the privilege of calling on His Name for prayer and praise and worship, because His Name is a holy name. Are we rightly offended when we catch others (and even ourselves?) in a fit of anger or frustration using God’s name to swear?

It’s important for us as Jesus followers to understand and submit to the sovereignty of God, even as we know that Jesus was both fully God and fully human. We need to be reminded of the humanity of Jesus and the humanity of the apostles and others in the early church, because we need to know that they were human like we are, with the same frailties.  They had the same temptations that we have.  But even as we realize that Jesus hurt and loved, and cried and laughed just as we do, because He is fully human, unlike Jesus, we are not divine.

Who do we say Jesus is? Not just by our words or our church attendance or our financial giving, but by the thoughts of our hearts and by our actions? The heart of the Second Commandment is, “OK, we know who God is, and we know that He is holy.” Since we claim to follow Him, do our lives reflect His holiness– do we shine the Light of Christ? That doesn’t mean false piety, or prudery, or a perceived moral superiority masquerading as righteousness, but a real and true love and reverence of God.

(Jesus said): “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. Matthew 23:27 (NRSV)

The scribes and Pharisees knew the Jewish Law in and out- the letter of the Law.  But they missed the heart of the Law.  On the outside it looked like they honored the Name of God, but their motives and actions proved differently.  Each of is a hypocrite in his or her own way, because we are sinners, but in Christ we have the opportunity to confess our sins to Him and call upon the Holy Spirit to put a clean heart in us, and to give us the right motives. (Psalm 51:10-12)

How many atrocities and persecutions have people tried to perpetrate while hiding behind the Name of God? How does God feel about that?

What does it mean to honor the Name of God?

September 19, 2017- The I AM God- Exodus 20:1-6, Genesis 1:1, John 1:1-5

in the beginning

I AM, the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before Me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject Me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love Me and keep My commandments. Exodus 20:1-6 (NRSV)

The Ten Commandments are about healthy relationships and safe boundaries. The purpose of the Law is to maintain harmony and order and keep our lives productive and safe.  It is God’s will for us to have a right relationship with Him and with those in the world around us.  The first three Commandments have to do with our relationship and our boundaries with God.  The final seven have to do with our relationships and boundaries with others- rules for harmonious society.

Genesis 1:1 introduces us to not only our journey in Scripture, but to the Source of everything: In the beginning, God. John 1:1-5 expands upon that beginning, letting us know that Jesus is the Eternal Life and Light and Hope.

In the First Commandment as in Genesis 1:1, and in the introduction to the Gospel of John, we are reminded Who God is. This revelation about the being and nature of God is important for us to bear in mind.  He is not a material object.  He is not someone or something we can dismiss or ignore.  We may choose not to believe in God, but God is real and active as He has been and will be throughout all of time. He is the One from Whom all creation springs forth.

Because God is God, He commands certain respect and exclusivities from us.

Idolatry is not confined to golden calves or various venerated man-made icons. We can worship at the altar of money, or status, or attention, or pleasure.  We can set up mortal people as idols, especially ourselves.

There are some that claim that the ultimate idolatry- the sin of the Garden if you will- is the condition of pride. Instead of surrendering the petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “thy will be done,” in our own weakness and arrogance we insist that, “my will be done.”  It’s the rebellion of man that is old as time, and that we struggle with daily as long as we have breath and walk this earth.  Pride is the sin of Eve believing the serpent when he tempts her with, “If you eat of it… you will be like God.” (Genesis 3:4-5)  We all know how that one turned out.

For our own good, God set a boundary around worship. In the First Commandment, He says to us, “Worship Me only, because I made you, I am your Creator, and I have only good for you in My heart.”  When we worship God and put Him first, our lives reflect His sovereignty.  The Law shows us the way to run toward Jesus and the Gospel- so that His light and love in the Holy Spirit are free to flow in and through us.