February 19, 2019- How Majestic is God’s Name! – Psalm 8, John 1:1-5

Creation

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.   Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,  the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

 O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!    Psalm 8 (ESV)

It is comforting to know that God is omnipotent. Someone beyond us has created the universe and all that is in nature, yet He cared for fragile humanity so much that Jesus became one of us.  Jesus lived on the earth. He entered into the wonder of human life as well as all its pain and brokenness. He laughed, He wept, He comforted, He taught. He rebuked.  He got angry. He shared joy. Jesus was fully God, and also fully human.

As we confess in the Apostle’s Creed, Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate. He suffered. He died and was buried, and descended into the place of the dead. He rose on the third day. As the prophet Isaiah teaches us, He was pierced for our transgressions, and by His wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:1-5 (ESV)

God Himself- Jesus- who has always been, beyond the constraints of time, has given us stewardship of the world. Out of His great love for us, He provides for us. The sun, the moon, the stars, the oceans, the fields and mountains, and all the animals that live in them are all His handiwork.

Thank God that we are always on His mind and that He always cares for us even though we are little more than dust.

The Psalms remind us to pray, to praise, and to bring everything to the omnipotent and endless God who created us and sustains us. It’s always a good time to look up and remember that God provides everything we need, including life with Him forever!

January 28, 2019 The Words of the Prophets, Life in Christ Alone- Zechariah 7:8-14, Romans 3:21-25

 

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And the word of the Lord came to Zechariah, saying, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another,  do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.”  But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears that they might not hear. They made their hearts diamond-hard lest they should hear the law and the words that the Lord of hosts had sent by his Spirit through the former prophets. Therefore great anger came from the Lord of hosts. “As I called, and they would not hear, so they called, and I would not hear,” says the Lord of hosts, “and I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations that they had not known. Thus the land they left was desolate, so that no one went to and fro, and the pleasant land was made desolate.” Zechariah 7:8-14 (ESV)

When God sent prophets to His people it was generally not to tell them what a great job they were doing. Prophets usually appeared with bad news and warnings of impending judgment and wrath.

Zechariah was no exception to the “harbinger of bad news” rule. The hope is always that by hearing the Word of God that people will do a 180 (i.e. repent, which means to turn from) and turn toward God and His way. Unfortunately, people didn’t always listen to the prophets or follow their instructions.

In and of ourselves we are not able to follow the Law. Our hearts are made of stone. We don’t naturally care for our neighbor.  Any psychologist will attest that human beings naturally have a self serving motive behind everything we do.  Left to our own devices we naturally make ourselves our own gods. Whether we refer to the doctrine of original sin or the total depravity of man, our fallen nature is proven true as Paul teaches in Romans 3:23 that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  As Martin Luther taught:

“I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.” – From Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, on Sanctification, the Third Article of the Creed

Our prayer is that God would give us open hearts that hear His Word when it is preached, and that He would give us the gift of repentance, that we would not end up hard-hearted and unforgiving.

Thankfully, in Christ we have been given forgiveness and goodness that we have neither earned nor deserve. When God looks at us- by virtue of the faith we have been given, by His means of grace, He sees Jesus.

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. Romans 3:21-25 (ESV)

January 23, 2019- Sacrifice, Vocation, All Parts of One Body- Romans 12:1-8

body of christ

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.  For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.  Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. Romans 12:1-8 (ESV)

It has been said that the problem with living sacrifices is that they are always wriggling themselves off of the altar. We do not live the Christian life perfectly. Thankfully in Christ, because we are baptized, and made children of God by faith, we can start each day knowing that He is renewing our minds and giving us hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26) in exchange for our hearts of stone.  We can trust that he forgives our sins and He gives us the strength to face a new day every day.  God works this transformation in us through the Holy Spirit.

We walk a balancing act between being sinner and saint. As Paul said in Romans 8, we do the things we know we shouldn’t do, and we don’t do the things we should do.  Even so, God has created each of us as an individual with a set of strengths and a set of weaknesses.  Everyone has been given a vocation- a reason for being and a reason for doing- which should complement the vocations of others. A farmer grows grain for the baker to bake bread.  Drivers transport raw materials so that factory workers can fabricate and assemble machines and cars and other things.  Police and firefighters keep order and respond to emergencies.  We have vocations in both the earthly kingdom and God’s kingdom.  Sometimes they intersect, but we are made to embrace and pursue our vocations to the glory of God.

Paul has a complementary view of how we are to work together at being the Body of Christ. Some of us are positively not suited for doing certain things.   Not everyone is in the position to volunteer to go do missions in Africa for a year, or to do plumbing and carpentry work, or to bake cookies.  Some people have the gift of hospitality, or the ability to go abroad do missions work, but others may be more able to give financially, or teach, or encourage.  Everyone has equally valid – though necessarily different and varied- vocations that we have been gifted with to serve God.

We have every reason as God’s people to appreciate and thank God for the gifts we have been given. We are also called to appreciate and thank God for the gifts God has given others, especially the gifts they share that with us we do not possess.  We serve others out of a joyful response to God’s goodness, no matter what our gifts may be.

August 30, 2018- Pray for Wisdom and Repentance, and Trust God

 

apostle jamesCount it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. James 1:2-8 (ESV)

Sometimes the Book of James gets a bad rap because it challenges us to put the rubber to the road. James is so passionate about the actions that are the result of faith because he’s talking to early Christians who are going through all kinds of trials and persecution.

While at first glance it may seem he is emphasizing the importance of our behavior and our works, James really is telling us that our faith, which is a gift of God, is what gives us the ability to overcome and grow from trials.  We trust that God will get us through, that God will give us the wisdom and the strength to endure.

Godly wisdom that comes from the Holy Spirit is available to us for the asking. There is precedent for believers to ask God for wisdom.  Solomon’s prayer before ascending his father David’s throne was a prayer for wisdom- wisdom rather than wealth or long life or earthly power- and God granted it to him.

In that night God appeared to Solomon, and said to him, “Ask what I shall give you.” And Solomon said to God, “You have shown great and steadfast love to David my father, and have made me king in his place. O Lord God, let your word to David my father be now fulfilled, for you have made me king over a people as numerous as the dust of the earth. Give me now wisdom and knowledge to go out and come in before this people, for who can govern this people of yours, which is so great?” God answered Solomon, “Because this was in your heart, and you have not asked for possessions, wealth, honor, or the life of those who hate you, and have not even asked for long life, but have asked for wisdom and knowledge for yourself that you may govern my people over whom I have made you king, wisdom and knowledge are granted to you. I will also give you riches, possessions, and honor, such as none of the kings had who were before you, and none after you shall have the like.” So Solomon came from the high place at Gibeon, from before the tent of meeting, to Jerusalem. And he reigned over Israel. 2 Chronicles 1:7-13 (ESV)

The challenge of applying the wisdom God grants us is found in the paradox we all live  under. The brokenness and imperfection of this world is due to the effects of the Fall. In this world we still live under the curse of the garden.  Our suffering and our failures are magnified by the result of sin, both the collective sins of humanity and the individual sins we commit often without even realizing it.

Solomon may have been the wisest man who ever lived save for Jesus, but Solomon didn’t always apply the wisdom he was given.  In Solomon’s later years he fell into the worship of his foreign wives’ idols, which led to the division and disruption of the kingdom of Israel after his death.

Jesus has broken the curse of the garden.  Jesus walks with us through the valleys of shadow. He knows the way through them. We share in His death in this world, but we also will share in His resurrection.  We can trust Him for the wisdom and strength we need in this life, just as His earthly brother, the apostle James, teaches us.

 

 

Trust the Mercy of God- Psalm 28, Hebrews 10:30-31

art board carpentry carved

Photo by Mikes Photos on Pexels.com

To you, O Lord, I call; my rock, be not deaf to me, lest, if you be silent to me, I become like those who go down to the pit. Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy, when I cry to you for help, when I lift up my hands toward your most holy sanctuary.

Do not drag me off with the wicked, with the workers of evil, who speak peace with their neighbors while evil is in their hearts. Give to them according to their work and according to the evil of their deeds; give to them according to the work of their hands; render them their due reward. Because they do not regard the works of the Lord or the work of his hands, he will tear them down and build them up no more.

 Blessed be the Lord!  For he has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy. The Lord is my strength and my shield: in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.

The Lord is the strength of his people; he is the saving refuge of his anointed.  Oh, save your people and bless your heritage! Be their shepherd and carry them forever.

Psalm 28 (ESV)

The Psalms are a great gift to us, as is all of Scripture, but in the Psalms we experience the full spectrum of human pathos and experience. As the psalmists pour out their prayers and praise as well as their petitions, pain and laments to God, they underscore that we are not alone.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2 (ESV)

Every one of the great cloud of witnesses before us have also had to experience the same heartaches, disappointments, suffering and pain as we do. As we pray the Psalms we can find comfort and strength, knowing that as so many who have come before us also know, the Psalms keep directing us back to Jesus, our Source of life and hope.

Sometimes when we read passages in the Psalms in which the psalmist petitions God for justice against the wicked, it seems cruel and almost contradictory. After all, if God wants to, He can do a much more thorough job of revenge than we ever could.  Admittedly, the imagery of a vengeful God taking action against obnoxious or evil people can make us feel better for a minute.

For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.”(Deuteronomy 32:35-36) And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Hebrews 10:30-31 (ESV)

God knows the whole story. In Jesus we are vindicated.  We can trust that He will handle our situations, and He will handle those who oppose us or who have done us wrong.  Jesus teaches us to forgive others as He has forgiven us.

All of us are on both sides of the psalmist’s petition. We are both the “wicked” and the “anointed.”  As we read the psalmist’s prayer that God would repay the wicked, we go back to the Lord’s Prayer, knowing that we need to forgive those who do us wrong as Jesus forgives us for all the things we do wrong.

Perhaps Jesus’ mercy toward us may also extend toward those who are doing evil things now? We are not the only ones pleading for forgiveness and mercy.

As we pray the Psalms, we should always follow their direction to point us to Jesus no matter if we are mourning, praising, or lamenting. We are free to let God handle impossible people and impossible situations. He knows our hearts and minds and circumstances better than we do. He created us, He carries us, and He redeems us. God has the universe and all things in His control.

November 13, 2017 – The Threefold Cord, and Strength in Numbers- Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, Matthew 18:20

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Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.  For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help. Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone?  And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (NRSV)  

 (Jesus said) : “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Matthew 18:20 (NRSV)

Welcoming others carries an element of being willing to help carry another’s load- and to forgive others’ faults. That’s not always easy, and sometimes we resist that call to help because we are already so bogged down by our own baggage and burdens. We also resist forgiveness because we feel as if we are “punishing” someone by holding a grudge.  The mentality is, “So and so did _____, so he or she ‘deserves it’.”  Sadly, the fact is that there is nothing heavier to carry than a grudge, and the reality is forgiving others significantly lightens our own load.

The Teacher of Ecclesiastes has a good point in the value of standing together with others. We are stronger together.  A threefold cord is referring to a braid or braided rope- when multiple strands are woven together their strength is multiplied.  The Ecclesiastes reference can also be taken as a foreshadowing of the revelation of the Trinity- God as Three in One.

There is strength in numbers.

It is easy for us as Americans to get patriotism and theology confused. While there is nothing essentially wrong with being a patriotic American, one’s patriotism should not conflict with or be confused with our primary identity as followers of Jesus.  Being a good American isn’t necessarily the same as being a good Christian and vice versa.

As Americans we prize individualism and independence. To a degree both individualism and independence are positive traits, but when a healthy self-reliance turns into a know-it-all attitude, or independence turns to isolation, we make ourselves vulnerable. When predators hunt, they pick off the ones who are isolated from the herd. Those who have no connection to the rest of the community are more vulnerable to evil, to error, and to despair.  Solitude at times for meditation, study and prayer, can be restorative for many of us, but even the most introverted among us still need to connect with the greater community and have dialogue with others.

In some American churches the idea persists that following Jesus is just a “me-n-Jesus” sort of thing rather than a community endeavor. However, God’s plan that humans were meant to be in relationship with each other and to be active participants in the world begins clear back in the creation accounts in Genesis. (See Genesis 2:18-25 )

Relationships with others are not easy, as we learn in Scripture. The first murder didn’t take long- from the creation account of Genesis 2, to Cain murdering Abel in Genesis 4.  Jesus warned us of wars and rumors of wars in Matthew 24 which we see and hear evidence of every day.

Throughout the history of the church (meaning Christian churches in general) there has been much infighting, prejudice, injustices, hypocrisy and other un-Christlike behavior. No one tradition has been immune to the fact that Jesus followers are both saints and sinners at the same time.  Forgiveness is one of the major precepts that Jesus taught, and forgiveness is necessary first and foremost in the church.  We are forgiven, so it follows that we are called to forgive, and to see others through Jesus’ eyes.

The church is not a genealogical society, (because there is only one race: human,) and it is not a museum. The church is a living body, prone to mistakes and prone to weakness, but it is strengthened when its members stand together- keeping Christ at the center of all- even through disagreements and mistakes. God looks at the motive of our hearts more intently than He checks to see if our theology and doctrine is 100% correct.  Blindly following a tradition without questioning its purpose or validity, or going off to follow One Guy In Charge, even if it is one’s self (or any person who isn’t Jesus) was never God’s plan.

How can we truly welcome others to our own church as well as to the greater community of Jesus followers? God calls us to relationship, but as we learn from Scripture and from life, relationships are hard work. In relationships we will feel pain. Relationships can get messy and complicated. We will be offended. We will offend. Yet by the grace of God, we are forgiven, and likewise called to forgive as Jesus forgives us.

November 6, 2017- Simple Faith in a Greater God- 1 John 4:4-5 (NRSV) Joshua 1:9 (NRSV)

god wins

Little children, you are from God, and have conquered them; for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.  They are from the world; therefore what they say is from the world, and the world listens to them. 1 John 4:4-5 (NRSV)

 Thankfully, God is so often the champion of the underdog. We see evil in so many places and in so many experiences in this world that it’s easy to get discouraged.  Terrorism, random violence, not so random violence, drug addiction, poverty, natural disaster and disease are regular features in the news.

We wonder why. We ask God why these things go on in the world and why they don’t stop.  We wonder if evil really will win out.

So how can we believe in a greater God when we are so powerless in a world filled with heartbreak and evil and sin?

If this life in this temporary world was the only and final reality, then perhaps there would be cause for despair.

But we have a greater hope, not just for the end of days (or the end of our own personal days) but for now and always.

I hereby command you: “Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 (NRSV)

 How can we keep on going on when we are afraid, depleted, discouraged, in pain, or just plain overwhelmed? How do we keep our faith and sanity when we see and experience the insanity that is so pervasive in our world?

God is with us. Have courage.