God our Fortress, The Weeping Prophet, and the Lasting City -Jeremiah 18:5-10, Hebrews 13:14, Psalm 121

triumph-of-christianity-detail-gustave-dore

This is what the Lord says:

“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
who draws strength from mere flesh
and whose heart turns away from the Lord.
That person will be like a bush in the wastelands;
they will not see prosperity when it comes.
They will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
in a salt land where no one lives.

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.”

The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?

“I the Lord search the heart
and examine the mind,
to reward each person according to their conduct,
according to what their deeds deserve.” Jeremiah 18:5-10 (NIV)

 

Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, experienced the shame and heartache of his people being taken into captivity by the Babylonians.  God didn’t have good news for him to share with Israel, either.  God generally sent prophets to warn people of judgment to come, and to remind the people who really is in charge- not their princes or governments, or themselves, but Almighty God alone.

Thankfully God has mercy on us. Every single one of us falls short of the demands of the Law and should God judge any one of us on our own merits we earn the penalty of death.  But in God’s love and mercy, He sent Jesus to wipe out our sins- Jesus took the wrath our horrible conduct and our heinous deeds deserve, so that we may receive the reward of life with Him. The apostle Paul teaches us in Romans 3 that we who believe Jesus and have faith in Him are judged by His righteousness and not our own.  We have been have been baptized into Christ and made children of God to be with Him forever.

In this world we still experience bad news.  The world around us is still subject to the consequences of sin in general. The sin of the Garden has expanded out, and it has contaminated all creation.  We will experience trouble and trials in this life.  But Jesus is with us.  He is trustworthy. He will get us through our trials.

As the day approaches when Jesus comes to restore heaven and earth, as He warned us, the times are going to get more and more scary.  People will fall away from the faith and people will make fun of us and say we believe fairy tales when we profess our faith in Jesus.  Other people will openly fight and persecute the teaching and preservation of the Christian faith as we see evidence of more and more even in the United States.

Our churches and communities are becoming smaller and smaller, and the demands of our time and resources become ever more strained.  It’s easy to give up hope or drop away, or to resort to infighting or dissent.  Yet Jesus told His disciples to tend His lambs and feed His sheep.  For us it may mean we are called to spread out (as in the scattering at the destruction of the tower of Babel) or to join with other believers of like mind.

How can we best serve as the Body of Christ?  Can we join with another congregation(s) to not only pool our resources, but to serve more effectively?  As much as we want to keep our building, might it be worth investigating joining with another congregation in a similar situation to our own?  Might we want to consider a revolving house church set up such as the early Church used in the days of Acts?

Our lives and possessions on this earth are temporary. Only Jesus is a constant for us. No matter where we may find ourselves,

“For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.”- Hebrews 13:14 (ESV)

Seeking the city that is to come does not mean abandoning the “city” here, far from it,  but understanding that the church is not comprised of its building or its resources, but the church is its people, the Body of Christ.  God is our mighty fortress- not ourselves, our governments or even each other.

 

In Psalm 121, the writer lifts his eyes to the hills, on high, knowing that his help is from the Lord.  We may not know what that will look like, but we do know the Lord is our only anchor, our only foundation, the only one we can trust.

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
    From where does my help come?
 My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;
    he who keeps you will not slumber.
 Behold, he who keeps Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;
    the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
 The sun shall not strike you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil;
    he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
    your going out and your coming in
    from this time forth and forevermore. Psalm 121 (ESV)

 

February 16, 2018- The Wait- Psalm 25:15-21

Be-rescued

My eyes are ever on the Lord, for only he will release my feet from the snare. Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. Relieve the troubles of my heart and free me from my anguish. Look on my affliction and my distress and take away all my sins. See how numerous are my enemies, and how fiercely they hate me!

Guard my life and rescue me; do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in you. May integrity and uprightness protect me, because my hope, Lord, is in you. Psalm 25:15-21 (NIV)

There are times in which we seem to be “stuck in the wait”- living in a place of uncertainty and longing for a breakthrough of some sort. Whether it be living with illness, or being in need of a change in life’s circumstances, or in enduring a trial, there are times when the wait seems endless and interminable.

The psalmist keeps on pointing us to the Lord and His sovereignty and strength throughout Psalm 25. God is the only One who can get us out of the predicaments we find ourselves in.

It’s easy to get ourselves into challenging situations. Sometimes we land in challenging situations through our own ignorance or error.  Other times we are put in these situations through no fault or negligence of our own.

Regardless of how we found ourselves “stuck in the wait,” the answer is the same. We are told throughout Scripture to trust God and know that He is our refuge. Time and time again throughout the Psalms we are reminded that God is our refuge.  Sometimes all we can do, when we are at the end of ourselves and we have no other alternative but to wait and to endure, is rest in God our refuge.

Meditation is the spiritual discipline in which we fix our minds on God. When we are lingering and “stuck in the wait” there is no better time to meditate on the truth of God’s love and provision for us.

There should also an element of surrender in our meditation. We know that God is true to His promises and that He has created us for His purpose. We can trust the good news and comfort we find in the Scriptures.

The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him. Nahum 1:1 (NIV)

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

October 26, 2017 – Refuge- Psalm 46

my_refuge_by_fullofeyes-d4yu0a1

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;  though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Selah

 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.  God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns.

The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah

Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.

 “Be still, and know that I am God!  I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.” The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Psalm 46 (NRSV)

Many of us are familiar with verse 10 of Psalm 46- “Be still and know that I am God.” But this verse of comfort only illustrates a small part of the bigger reality of our limitless God.  God Who is beyond our understanding, Who is everywhere in all places and all times- all at the same time- cares enough about His humble creatures to calm our fears, and to offer us protection and shelter.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of worry and to feel that the only way to solve our problems is to run. It’s at those times when God comes to us saying, “Be still.  Settle down.  Trust Me. I will give you what you need to stand.”  God is constant and reliable even when nothing else is.

The phrase “God is our refuge” is used three times in this Psalm. Repetition means the writer wants us to get it. God is our refuge.  Not stuff.  Not running away from problems, or running to compulsive behaviors, or overwork or alcohol or drugs or whatever one’s personal “thing” might be.

Definition of refuge: (from Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online)

1 :shelter or protection from danger or distress

2 :a place that provides shelter or protection

3 :something to which one has recourse in difficulty

God is our refuge. God is our Help in times of trouble.

We are also called, as the Body of Christ, to stand with those among us who are in times of trouble. Even if we have nothing more to offer than prayer, or words of comfort, or a shoulder to cry on, in those small ways we are bringing about God’s Kingdom here on earth.