September 10, 2018 – The Author and Perfecter of our Faith- Hebrews 11:29-12:2, Psalm 23

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By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

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 11:29-12:2 (ESV)

“By faith,” the writer of Hebrews repeats several times in this passage. Faith by its very nature must have an object.  Faith in faith makes no sense.  Faith in fallible people will always disappoint. Even though the writer mentions some of the heroic tales such as the crossing of the Red Sea, and notable characters of the Bible, such as Joshua, Rahab, Gideon, Samson, David and Samuel, these stars of these epic stories were imperfect sinners just like the rest of us. Faith in Jesus- the founder and perfecter of our faith- is the only faith with a valid object, the only faith that will not disappoint.

It is amazing to contemplate what God has done, is doing, and will do in and through His people.

One must marvel at the faith of the people of God over the millennia, but we also must realize that faith is a gift of God. The witnesses before us were only able to accomplish the “races set before them” because the ability to do so was given to them by God.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23 (ESV)

We learn in the 23rd Psalm that Jesus is God with us- Emmanuel.  As much as we wish He would at times, He does not give us a pass from all the suffering of this world.  We carry our cross just as He had to. He does not carry us over the valley of the shadow of death.  We still have to walk through it, but we walk through it with Jesus beside us.

What comfort and what power there is in Jesus. We are powerless and helpless in and of ourselves no matter what we might want to think.

No matter what this world might throw at us, we have faith in Jesus- the real deal, the One True God, and we know we can endure anything because He lives in and through us, and in Him we have all we need.

August 21, 2008- Shadow, Refuge, Light and Jesus, Lord of All -Psalm 36:7-9, Acts 7:9-16

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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. Psalm 36:7-9 (ESV)

And the patriarchs, (i.e. Joseph’s brothers) jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him and rescued him out of all his afflictions and gave him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who made him ruler over Egypt and over all his household. Now there came a famine throughout all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction, and our fathers could find no food.  But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent out our fathers on their first visit.  And on the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family became known to Pharaoh. And Joseph sent and summoned Jacob his father and all his kindred, seventy-five persons in all.  And Jacob went down into Egypt, and he died, he and our fathers, and they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem. Acts 7:9-16 (ESV)  (See also Genesis 37 and Genesis 45:1-15.)

God, the fountain of life, the light of the world, God our refuge, is for us. Even though situations can appear hopeless, God makes a way for His people.

Joseph seemed to have been born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He was his father’s favorite child, much to the disdain of his older brothers.  His brothers became so angry with and jealous of Joseph and his favored position that they decided to take his clothes and sell him into slavery.

One might think that it would be difficult to see the hand of God in being sold into slavery and to being made to suffer humiliation and even time in prison (Genesis 39) during that enslavement.  Yet God preserved Joseph so that he would be able to provide a way for his family to survive a terrible famine.

Sometimes we might wonder what God is doing with us in our particular time and place.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. – Proverbs 9:10 (ESV)

Walking by faith- trusting God- doesn’t always make sense. We have no idea most of the time what God has in mind when we find ourselves in situations we would never want to be in.

It’s hard to say, “Trust God,” when someone is in the middle of suffering. It’s hardest of all when we have to look up and trust God through impossibilities, through adversities, and through our tears. Sometimes we wonder what use we can be to ourselves or others when we are disabled, or broke, or too scattered and busy. Other times we wonder if God really cares about us or our lives.  As we study the Bible, time after time we see all the ways that God makes a way for His people.  We can trust He will make a way for us as well, even when we can’t see it or we don’t understand.

We look to Jesus, whose thoughts were of us as His earthly life bled away on the Cross. What did God do with such a seemingly senseless sacrifice? Jesus told us that we must take up our crosses too – Luke 9:23– as we follow Him.  Because He died and rose from the dead, we share both in His death as well as His resurrection life.  He walks with us through it all- even as He walked with His forefather Joseph through the impossible and the unfair and the seemingly hopeless.

Walking by faith, trusting God, seems like a very silly thing to do if we subscribe to the wisdom of this world. Confessing our sins to God daily, putting on our baptism and accepting His free grace and forgiveness, bringing our prayers to God, forgiving others, serving others, these are gifts of the Holy Spirit to us.  Jesus is the only Way, Truth and Life.  He works in and through – and sometimes in spite of- the crosses we are called to bear even though we don’t see how most of the time.  We may never see the good that God works in and through us in our lifetimes.  Even so, because of God’s good gift of faith, we can hope beyond our temporary circumstances. We look up, we trust God, and we know that we are covered under His wings.

August 10, 2018- Something, Nothing, the Law of Love, and the Cross- Galatians 6:1-10, 1 John 4:19

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Brothers (and sisters,) if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.  But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor.  For each will have to bear his own load.

Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.  For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.  And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. Galatians 6:1-10 (ESV)

It’s easy to look around and point fingers and see others’ flaws. It’s easy to catch other people doing the wrong things, but it’s not so easy to examine our own behaviors and motivations before confronting someone else for his or her faults.  We ourselves fall into temptation and error without much provocation or assistance. All too often we can get self-righteous and instead of gently restoring a fellow believer in love, we become the pots who call the kettles black.  Correction is best given out carefully and gently, with humility, and with the aim of lifting the other person up.

In some ways it almost seems as if Paul is contradicting himself here. In most of Paul’s letters he continually underscores our utter dependence on Jesus and (Paul, the former legalistic Pharisee,) downplays the importance of our works. We know that there is nothing we can do to score brownie points with God.  Our good works come as a result of what Jesus has already done for us.  Our obedience to the law of love (and yes, the command to love others is not the Gospel but is actually part of the Law) flows from Jesus loving us first.

We were created by God to do good works as we learn in Ephesians 2:10.  Those good works are for the benefit of our neighbors here and now, not so much for God, as God does not need anything from us.  The people around us, the world around us, however, could really use our good works.

Our lives will be more in step with the will of God both individually and collectively here and now as we do good works and help each other instead of being surly and arbitrary and fighting good order. When we pray the way Jesus taught us, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” we trust that the Holy Spirit will work in and through us to bring about God’s will, even here and now.

We know that as we live with fellow believers that we are both saints and sinners. We live a paradox in that even though Jesus is the sole source of our being, our sustenance and every provision, our life still requires suffering and hard work and cooperation with other people. In this world we still are under the curse of the Fall and its slavery to sin and toil.  Life takes the grace to forgive- and to give sacrificially- that can only come from Jesus.

If we are going to live our lives the way that God would have us live (and none of us even comes close to doing a good job of this) we can only rely on Jesus. We can only love others because He loved us first (1 John 4:19.)  We can only gently correct and forgive others because we are dependent upon the grace of God ourselves.

When we think we’re something and we are convinced that we’re all that, it’s time to turn away from ourselves, look to Jesus, and turn to the Cross. Jesus is the one who gives us what we need to bring about His will. He gives us the endurance and the strength to do the good works He planned for us in advance.

June 27, 2018 -God’s Mercies are New Every Morning- Lamentations 3:22-33

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The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”

The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.  It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.

Let him sit alone in silence when it is laid on him; let him put his mouth in the dust—there may yet be hope; let him give his cheek to the one who strikes, and let him be filled with insults.

 For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men. Lamentations 3:22-33

Suffering is a common denominator across humanity. Whether a person is born privileged or in poverty, all of us are touched by the fallout of the Fall.  Sometimes we would like to think that material wealth is the answer to all earthly problems, but to see the broken relationships, chemical dependence and suicide rates among the “beautiful people,” it’s clear that money alone can only buy the misery one likes the best.  There is no escaping suffering, loss and despair by attempting to do so in burying oneself in the comforts of this material world.

It’s easy to get into a place where we blame God for suffering, but it is a non-negotiable condition of living in a fallen world. Sometimes suffering is the result of our own poor choices, and can be used by God to bring us to repentance, but more often than not, suffering is brought about by something outside of our control or ability to prevent.

The reality of suffering is that we are not the ones in control. If it were up to us we would take it all away. If it were up to us we would try to figure out some higher meaning or noble purpose for suffering.  Sometimes we can see a purpose for it, but most of the time we are simply left to endure it and keep on wondering why. We are challenged by suffering to simply trust God when we do not understand.

It is encouraging to know that no matter what suffering we must endure as a condition of being a fallen creature that Jesus walks with us in our suffering. We are being tried and prepared for life with God forever.  Our bodies will age and decay and wither. We will all know grief and loss. Even so, there will come a day when suffering will end. There is life beyond the limitations of this world.

Jeremiah, the writer of Lamentations, was most familiar with suffering. He was sent to the people of Israel by God as a prophet, set aside to warn the people of God’s impending judgment on them.  The people weren’t terribly thrilled with Jeremiah’s message, even throwing him into a cistern to sink into the mud and die. (Jeremiah 38)  Nobody likes to hear that they are screwing up and that their screw ups are coming back to bite them.

Yet Jeremiah had hope even though his earthly life was rather bleak and he endured a great deal of persecution and suffering precisely because of his assignment from God. Jeremiah points us to the hope he had in God.

Jesus, too was no stranger to suffering.  The prophet Isaiah foresaw His coming as the Suffering Servant. (Isaiah 53:1-5)  Jesus knows the suffering of fallen humanity because He shared in it.

God’s mercy is always fresh and new. God is always listening to our prayers, God the Holy Spirit intervenes on our behalf, and in Jesus we have the assurance that He has died to save us from our sins and that we will be made whole and our tears will be wiped away forever (Revelation 21:4.)

We can trust in the compassion of God and know that in Him is comfort and peace, even when our circumstances would argue otherwise.

 

April 11, 2018 Jesus Brings Real Healing- Acts 3:1-10, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

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Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms.   And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.”  And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them.  But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”  And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.  And all the people saw him walking and praising God, and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. Acts 3:1-10 (ESV)

There have always been false prophets and unethical teachers who prey upon people by promising miraculous physical healings. Because claiming the ability to heal people of incurable illness or lameness is a tragically common scam perpetrated by those who would make money from “faith healing,” we read this passage and it seems a bit surreal.

However, this miracle of physical healing is real. It is an act of Jesus through the apostles Peter and John, recorded for us in Scripture. No money exchanged hands on either end. There were no strings attached. There was no “seed offering” required. The lame man was only anticipating the charity of some pocket change, or a bit to eat.  He was not expecting the greater gift that Jesus had for him.

We come to Jesus in some ways like the lame man- we know we are broken and not able to fix ourselves, but we can’t see beyond our immediate need. We ask for pocket change, or a quick fix for a bad situation, when Jesus comes to us so he may heal our fatal weakness.  We don’t even know what we need to ask for, but God still provides for our needs.

We cry for bread for today, (and we should, as we are told to ask God for our provision) but Jesus has already gone far beyond that. In His suffering and death on the Cross He has covered our essential, fatal weakness- our sin.  He has defeated the death and the grave that we deserve, and won eternal life for us.  He gives us abundant life today as well as life forever. Jesus’ aim for us is to be with Him and to live forever, and that is the approach that He always takes in our forgiveness, healing and formation.

We are baptized into His suffering, and we are marked with His Cross forever, but we are also raised with Him into eternal life. (Romans 6:4)

In this life there are conditions that we must endure, and there are thorns that God will not always choose to remove from our flesh in the short term. Our healing doesn’t always become apparent in the short term, or even in this lifetime. Even so, in Christ we are made whole.

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (ESV)

Jesus our Provision and our Healer isn’t about just tossing us leftovers now and then. He meets our every need. We have our life and salvation and everything in Him.

February 23, 2018 – The Punishment That Gives Us Peace – Psalm 22:14-24, Isaiah 53:5

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I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me.  My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.

Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet. All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.

But you, Lord, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me. Deliver me from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs. Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; save me from the horns of the wild oxen.

I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you. You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!                 

Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help. Psalm 22:14-24 (NIV)

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:5 (NIV)

Psalm 22:14-18 is often referenced on Good Friday, as it is a foreshadowing of the passion and crucifixion of Christ.  The imagery is disturbing.  It tells us of the suffering that Jesus willingly endured for our sake. Jesus was abandoned to the torture of the Romans.  His hands and feet were pierced.  He took the punishment that brought us peace. (Isaiah 53:5)

Psalm 22 is not only about the passion and death of Jesus, but about the faithfulness of God and how Jesus has taken on the punishments that we deserved.

Today is an opportunity for us to meditate on what Jesus’ suffering and sacrifice means for us.

How do we live in response to all He has done for us?

 

December 1, 2017- Faith Fulfilled, John the Baptist and Joy in the Morning- Luke 1:1-25, Psalm 30:5

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In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.  Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.

Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside.  Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him.  But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit.  He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.”  

 The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.  But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”

 Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.” Luke 1:1-25 (NRSV)

Infertility is not just a modern issue. In Biblical times children (specifically sons) were viewed as gifts from God.  If a woman was not blessed with children those around her wondered what was wrong with her.  She was viewed as “defective,” and her husband was considered to be “cursed.” Zechariah and Elizabeth both wondered what they had done that was so wrong that God withheld children from them.  They had come to that place in life where they had probably accepted that they would never be parents.

Yet they still prayed, even when what they were seeing didn’t coincide with what they believed and hoped for.

Faith is not the absence of doubt, nor is it denying reality. Faith is trust in God that He has made a way, even if that way doesn’t fall in line with our expectations. God has the infinite ability to exceed our expectations and to answer our prayers in ways that we can’t envision.

For Zechariah (who had his doubt issues!) and Elizabeth the waiting and disappointment ended when God gave them the joy of a son in their advanced age, a son who God had very special plans for, who He chose to reserve for a couple who would cherish him and raise him in a home that honors God.

It seems a bit confusing that John the Baptist was a very austere man- set aside from the time of his conception to follow the Nazirite vow, (Numbers 6:1-21) a man who lived frugally, by himself, yet Jesus, his cousin who followed, enjoyed eating and drinking and celebrating.

John was a man who paved the way- a man who pled with us to get rid of all the things that aren’t necessary, to open our hearts and minds to receive God With Us. It is said he was the last of the Old Testament prophets and the first of the New Testament disciples.  He walked that long, lonely path of waiting and anticipating the “not yet.”

Many of us who walk similar paths of waiting and praying- those of us who are anticipating a breakthrough in our lives, whether it be an improvement in health, healing of relationships, financial worries, often have a hard time holding on to faith. We endure loss, suffering and pain of myriad kinds in this lifetime.  Whether we are aware of it or not, God does hear our prayers.  He does walk with us.  He does weep and mourn with us.  And He holds the promise of joy in the morning.

Our lives carry stories of tragedy redeemed. We live stories like the story of Ruth, who had lost everything and whose life looked hopeless, until she discovered Boaz, who married her and redeemed her. (Ruth 4)

Zechariah and Elizabeth had their joy in the morning. Infertility wasn’t the end of their story. Many of us are still in our lost and mourning and suffering part of the journey, wandering in the wilderness.  In this world we are waiting, anticipating, and almost consigning ourselves to the fact that the status quo will prevail.  God says differently. In the season of Advent we learn there is a Savior coming to us.  We can endure the waiting, the doubt, the suffering, because God With Us has promised healing, redemption and hope.  There will be joy in the morning.

For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning. Psalm 30:5 (NRSV)

 

 

November 29, 2017- Rejoice Always- 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24, Psalm 16

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Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  Do not quench the Spirit.  Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil. May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 (NRSV)

Rejoice always. That’s not an easy instruction, even coming from the apostle Paul who had plenty to not rejoice about.

It’s easy to rejoice when things are going our way, but not so much when things turn dark. It’s hard to sing through pain. It’s hard to smile through suffering. It’s hard to reach out for what is good and right when so much is going wrong.  Yet Jesus invites us: rejoice always. What we see isn’t the whole picture. We are called to have faith in the unseen, and to believe even when the evidence we see doesn’t always support our faith.

One of the most depressing aspects of the late fall/early winter is that many of us don’t see daylight much if at all, several days a week. If one works in a place without windows and comes to work in the dark and leaves in the dark, at times it’s almost hard to believe that the sun exists.

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In hard times we don’t always see the evidence that God is with us- like the winter sun that we seldom see from October until March. Yet God is with us, in all things, even in suffering, illness, grief, and adversity.

 

Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.  I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble, in whom is all my delight.

Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names upon my lips.

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.  The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage.

I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. I keep the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.

Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure. For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit.

You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore. – Psalm 16 (NRSV)

August 14, 2017- Apocalypse, Eventually- Revelation 15:1-4

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Then I saw another portent in heaven, great and amazing: seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is ended.

And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands.  And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb:

“Great and amazing are your deeds, Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, King of the nations! Lord, who will not fear and glorify your name? For you alone are holy.

All nations will come and worship before you, for your judgments have been revealed.” –Revelation 15:1-4 (NRSV)

Lately the lectionary has been taking us through the parables in the book of Matthew, in which we see the humanity of both the disciples and of Jesus. Now we come to a rather dramatic passage in the apocalyptic book of Revelation. Here we see Jesus revealed as both divine and supernatural, glorified as a king.  Confusing?  It is, but remember that Jesus is both fully human, and fully God.

Apocalyptic literature is somewhat difficult for 21st century Westerners to understand, because it uses bold imagery and metaphor. Here are a few of Merriam Webster’s definitions of the word apocalyptic:

  1. forecasting the ultimate destiny of the world : prophetic apocalyptic warnings
  2. foreboding imminent disaster or final doom : terrible apocalyptic signs of the coming end-times
  3. wildly unrestrained : grandiose
  4. ultimately decisive : climactic an apocalyptic battle

None of these things sound regular or common. Ultimate destiny, imminent disaster, wildly unrestrained, and ultimately decisive all sound like final things- big and scary things.

The apocalypse is not something to be feared, in spite of the dramatic metaphor and sometimes gory imagery used by the writer of Revelation. The apocalypse is a completion.  It is an ending of the paradox we have lived our whole lives in which we have one foot in each kingdom. The heavenly kingdom comes into its completeness and fullness, while the earthly kingdom passes away.

In Christ we are given the privilege of having our sinful nature wiped away, and we become saints to live and reign with Jesus forever. Until that day we are in the process of being transformed- a little bit more saint, a little bit less sinner, by the grace of God.

In the process of becoming fully a part of the heavenly kingdom we may have to figuratively (and possibly literally) go through the fire, not as a punishment, and not because we have anything to earn or deserve. The grace of God in Christ cancels out any old notions that we can earn brownie points with God or that we “deserve” anything from Him because we try to be such “good children.”  Many people question, “How can a good God allow His people to suffer?”  There is no really good answer to that question.  Sin (anything that goes against God’s will) has been a part of the earthly kingdom since the Fall, which was when we humans got the insane idea that we have a better way to do life than God does.

Jesus followers have a different perspective on suffering. We may not understand why we suffer, or how suffering could ever be considered a good thing, but we can only trust that He uses our trials and suffering to mold and shape us, and to get rid of what is not of Him, to prepare us for life in the heavenly kingdom where there is no sin or decay or entropy. Good and bad things happen to “good” and “evil” people alike, just as the rain drenches the fields regardless if the owner is good or evil. (Matthew 5:44-45)   Everyone who lives on earth is equally subject to tragedy, disease, pestilence, decay, etc. because those things are part of the earthly condition (entropy).  Earth and everything in it at this point, is temporary and is waiting to be remade.

Humans allowed sin to enter in to the earthly kingdom, which is also a question for God that we really can’t answer. Why did God allow sin to come into the world to begin with?  We may never know the entire answer to the purpose of sin or suffering other than to know Jesus shares in our every suffering. We have been given the promise that God in Christ takes away our sin, He is beyond our suffering, and there is life in Christ beyond the suffering of this world.

This passage also talks about judgment, which is a squirmy subject for Lutherans, because we tend to (and I believe rightfully so) focus on the grace of God. We aren’t really into scary talk of hellfire and brimstone, and ultimately people are won over by the power of the Holy Spirit and the love of God, not by fear. While grace is not earned or deserved, and God pours His grace out on everyone, for grace to be effective it must be accepted and applied to our lives.  Judgment enters in when people refuse to accept God’s grace, and when we insist on having our own way even when it is damaging ourselves and others.  A wise pastor once said that if you are saved it is all to Jesus’ credit, but if you are damned, you chose that yourself.

Repentance is nothing more or less complicated than “doing a 180-“ seeing that what we are doing is not pleasing to God, and turning away from that thought or behavior. It’s not always easy, and that is why God gives us His grace, so that we can keep on coming back to Him so that He can transform our hearts and minds to conform to His will. (Romans 12:2)

Our salvation is not at all reliant on how well we “do life,” but on how we trust Jesus to refine and transform us.  Salvation is not a one time event, but an ongoing process, a transformation that occurs as we grow in our relationship with Jesus. He walks with us.  He’s been there.  He is Holy God, but also one of us.  The world as we know it is going to end.  This world will pass away.  Things are going to happen that are tragic, painful and destructive along the way.  The good news is that in Christ we are never alone, and the best is yet to come.

 

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?”