March 5, 2020- Repentance, Judgment, and Thank the Giver- Micah 2:1-5, 1 Corinthians 10:12-14, 1 Timothy 6:10

micah

Woe to those who devise wickedness and work evil on their beds!
When the morning dawns, they perform it, because it is in the power of their hand.

They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them away;
they oppress a man and his house, a man and his inheritance.

Therefore thus says the Lord: behold, against this family I am devising disaster, from which you cannot remove your necks, and you shall not walk haughtily, for it will be a time of disaster.

In that day they shall take up a taunt song against you and moan bitterly, and say, “We are utterly ruined; he changes the portion of my people; how he removes it from me! To an apostate he allots our fields.”

Therefore you will have none to cast the line by lot in the assembly of the Lord.

Micah 2:1-5 (ESV)

Micah was a prophet from Moresheth-a rural town in south eastern Judea- who was active from about 737-696 BC.  He was a contemporary of Isaiah, Amos and Hosea, and he is considered one of the twelve minor prophets.

When God sent Old Testament prophets, they were sent to warn God’s people that judgment was coming to them.  In this season of Lent we are reminded that apart from Jesus we are far removed from God.  We are brought back to God through Jesus. His death on the cross paid the price for our sins.  In Christ we are set free from a life of sin that leads to death, and are given the gift of forgiveness and eternal life with God.

As a part of our life with God we are called to examine our lives against God’s Law (any questions on what constitutes God’s Law, see Exodus 20:1-17) and to confess our sins. When we pray we ask for forgiveness for our sins, we repent of them every day, and we trust that Jesus forgives us and gives us what we need to live according to our calling as His followers.

The apostle Paul teaches us:

Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.  Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 1 Corinthians 10:12-14 (ESV)

Micah in particular addressed the corruption of the government and commerce of Judah in his day.  Even though we may try to separate what we do and how we act in the left hand kingdom (things having to do with government and commerce) from who we are and what we do in the right hand kingdom (having to do with spiritual and religious things,) our integrity must be established and consistent in both areas.  One can’t just be a Christian on Sunday, and then be a scoundrel the rest of the week. Faith and trust in Christ is reflected outward in our actions.

Corrupt business dealings, abuse of governmental power, and squandering public resources are sinful even when those sins take place in the left hand kingdom.  Some may think that what he or she does as an employee, or as a representative of government is somehow beyond one’s own personal responsibility. The reality is that our obligation to follow God’s Law does not end when we punch a time clock, join a nation’s military, or take an oath of office.

Befehl ist Befehl (orders are orders,) or the “Nuremberg Defense” can stand in a court of (human) law, but it does not stand up to God’s Law. Even in the left hand kingdom, if “orders” from human employers or governments violate God’s Law, then God’s Law must prevail.

When government causes harm to its citizens by stealing from them, by building up certain individuals with ill-gotten wealth and engaging in graft, that harm is a sin against God. One of the sins that Micah protested against, and prophesied God’s judgment toward was the exploitation of the poor.

Exploitation of the poor through unethical business practices such as usury (lending with exorbitant interest) or price gouging is an affront to God.  It is also an affront to God to live in the lap of luxury and to set wealth and power up as idols while ignoring the very things that God has put us here for- to love Him and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

When the apostle Paul wrote to his young protégé Timothy, he warned:

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. 1 Timothy 6:10 (ESV)

Resources in and of themselves are good gifts from God, but loving the gift more than the Giver is a pernicious form of idolatry to which we all succumb at times. The reality is that left to our own devices we do not love God with our whole hearts, and we do not love our neighbors as ourselves.

The answer to the forces that wish to destroy us – our own sinful flesh, the world and Satan- is always found in Jesus.  Our salvation and life come from Him – not through power and resources, and certainly not from taking power and resources from others.

The good news of repentance is clear- God is the Giver and Source of all.  There is only death and destruction to be found in trusting in ourselves or scheming dishonest and wicked ways to “get ahead.”

Lord, forgive us when we forget You are the Source and the Giver of all things.  Forgive us when we want what other people have, when we take what is not rightfully ours from others, and we fail to be thankful for Your provision for our daily bread. Help us to be thankful all you provide us, as well as for our salvation and life with You forever.

 

January 20, 2020 – Does God Change His Mind? Hezekiah’s Extra Fifteen Years- Isaiah 38:1-8

MSKG - De kruisiging (links), De voorspelling van Hizkia’s genezing (midden), Abt Jacobus Delrio met beschermheilige (rechts) - Jacob de Backer

In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him, and said to him, “Thus says the Lord: Set your house in order, for you shall die, you shall not recover.”  Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, and said, “Please, O Lord, remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.
Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah: “Go and say to Hezekiah, Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will add fifteen years to your life.  I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and will defend this city.
 “This shall be the sign to you from the Lord, that the Lord will do this thing that he has promised:  Behold, I will make the shadow cast by the declining sun on the dial of Ahaz turn back ten steps.” So the sun turned back on the dial the ten steps by which it had declined.  Isaiah 38:1-8 (ESV)

If God can change His mind, is He really omniscient?

Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them. Psalm 139:16 (ESV)

Was God testing Hezekiah?  Did God know Hezekiah’s prayer before he prayed it?

The threat of imminent death has a profound effect on our perspective.  When all is going well and we are young and in good health it’s easy for us to think that the status quo will always stay the status quo.  We grow complacent in our abilities and in our circumstances…and that may not necessarily be where God wants us to be. When we trust in ourselves instead of having faith in God and trusting Him, we are setting ourselves up as our own gods, which never ends well.

Hezekiah was one of the few “good kings” of Israel.  But even as a “good king,” Hezekiah was not a perfect man.

Perhaps Hezekiah’s “illness unto death” was God’s way of making Hezekiah come to terms with his mortality and to become aware of Who was the source of his power.  None of us gets out of this life alive, but how would our perspectives and action plans change if we knew exactly how much time we had left?  Would we sink into crass hedonism and go for the bucket list with gusto, or would we choose our activities and bequests carefully to leave a legacy for future generations? Maybe it is better not to know the hour of one’s death, and to live as if today is the last day?  Maybe it is better to plan thoroughly and live as if life is going to go on forever?

Many of us have been in a similar place as Hezekiah- pleading and bargaining with God for one’s life, or the life of a loved one, or even for a major life event, only to be answered back with, “No, you are not getting more time,” or, “My plans are not your plans.”

Perhaps the purpose of prayer is not so much for us to get our way as it is to understand why Jesus taught us to pray, “thy will be done.”  God had things planned for Hezekiah to do, and God’s will was done through him.  For Hezekiah, God did see fit to say “yes” to his request, not because Hezekiah was so great, but because the God he trusted is so great.

Often we wonder where God’s will is being done when we look all over this groaning, broken creation. It’s not a satisfying answer to know that we inherited a broken creation, that some things will not be mended this side of eternity, and that God re-creates and redeems and heals in His own time and in His own way.  We question God’s  omnipotence and His control of all things when we think that our problems, our sins, our situations are beyond His power.

“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.” Isaiah 55:6-9 (ESV)

God wants us to pray, whether His answer is, “yes,” “no,” or  “some other way.”

The single most difficult task of fallen humanity is for us to realize we are creatures, not the Creator.

The lesson of Hezekiah’s “extra” fifteen years is that it is God Who numbers our days. God works in and through us according to His will as we live according to the vocations He has given us.

Hezekiah trusted God and made his desires known to God.  Yes, God knows our hearts and minds better than we do, and His will is done regardless of our opinions on it, but He still commands us to pray.

Lord we pray for the faith You gave to Hezekiah, to be fervent and honest in our prayers regardless of what Your answers may be.  We trust that even when we don’t get the answer we want, (and even when we do) that Your will is always best for us in the long run, whether we see it or not.

 

 

 

January 15, 2020 – The Desert Blooms, the Fearful Are Comforted, and the Way of Holiness- Isaiah 35:1-10

desert bloom

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus; it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.

Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not!
Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God.
He will come and save you.”

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water;
in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness;
the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way;
even if they are fools, they shall not go astray.

No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there.

And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. Isaiah 35:1-10 (ESV)

The Gospel is found all through out Scripture. Both Old and New Testaments direct us to Jesus and His love for us and His redemptive work for us.

Isaiah brings us beautiful news. Jesus succeeds in turning everything upside down for the people of Israel after many years of occupation, defeat and suffering.  The barren desert comes to life with color and flowers.

Those of us who belong to Christ who are living in fear and darkness can rest. We can put aside our fear.  Jesus is with us.  Jesus champions our cause and protects us- not because we are “good” or “deserve it,” but because we belong to Him.  He has made us His own.

We learn in the Gospels that Jesus did fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy of opening the eyes of the blind, restoring hearing to the deaf, healing the lame, and giving the mute a voice again.

The most important emphasis of this chapter is that God acts upon His people. We cannot choose God. God chooses for us and draws us to Him:

And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness;
the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way;
even if they are fools, they shall not go astray.

How many times do we do foolish things? In spite of ourselves we are simul Justus et peccator. (saints and sinners at the same time.) We try to do the right things but fail.  We give in to temptation.  We make poor choices. We do things that hurt ourselves and others.  Even so, Jesus walks with us and gives us what we need to keep walking with Him.

Isaiah foresees the same vision for us as the apostle John did- “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” – Revelation 21:4 (ESV)

Faith is a gift of God.  We have every confidence that in all things Jesus is with us and He will not abandon us.

Thank you, Lord for Your gift of faith.  Draw us closer to You.  Comfort us, restore us, equip us to serve you as you keep our way straight on Your highway.  In the holy Name of Jesus we pray.

 

 

August 16, 2018 There is a God- and He Ain’t You….or Me!-Exodus 20:1-6, Ephesians 2:1-3

love commandments

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.  You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” Exodus 20:1-6 (ESV)

The first lesson in the Catechism is on the First Commandment:

Thou shalt have no other gods.

What does this mean?–Answer. We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Martin Luther,  Small Catechism

There is a God- and He ain’t you….or me.

This simple truth seems so painfully obvious, but the First Commandment shows us the sin of the Fall, the root of all sin.

We want to be God.  We want to be the center of our own universe.  We want things to go our way, according to our will.  We don’t want to pray that hardest petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done.”  We don’t trust God. We aren’t able to.

Intellectually we get it- sort of- that God is the Creator, but every one of us has that screaming toddler inside who wants his or her own way.  We want to trust ourselves, but we aren’t fit to be trusted.  Left to our own devices we are still those toddlers who would throw tantrums in the middle of Kroger’s and demand M&Ms and ice cream for every meal.  When we try to live by “my will be done,” it doesn’t end well.

Historically the church has referred to our inability to obey God as “original sin,” which the apostle Paul discusses here:  “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh, and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.” – Ephesians 2:1-3 (NIV)

Paul does not mince words here.  We aren’t “kinda good.”  We are no good through and through.  The theologian John Calvin would describe our state before God (apart from Jesus) as the total depravity of man. 

God demands we put Him first, yet we are constantly distracted and chasing after everything but God.

Apart from Jesus, apart from being covered by Him in baptism, apart from being covered by Him because He died to save us from sin, we are completely incapable of putting God first or obeying any of His laws.  We are not able to be perfectly good like God requires. We aren’t even “sorta good.”

Thank you, Lord for the faith you give us as a free gift, the faith in Jesus that saves, the faith that counts us righteous in your sight for Jesus’ sake.  Forgive us for all the times we fall and forget to trust You alone.

May 1, 2018- Consider the Lilies- Ecclesiastes 2:1-3, Exodus 16:4-5, Luke 12:22-34

lilies-of-the-field4

I (Solomon) said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life. Ecclesiastes 2:1-3 (ESV)

King Solomon, David’s son, the wisest man to have ever lived except for Jesus, had the opportunity to experience everything this world has to offer. Unlike most of us, he had riches, endless opportunities for pleasure, and anything a person’s heart could desire.  Solomon, however, did not find fulfillment in all the things and experiences that he had.

Solomon writes at the end of his life as the Teacher of Ecclesiastes, that pursuit of all of the riches and bounty of this world may seem exciting at first, but it ends up as vanity- a “chasing after wind.” The pursuits of pleasure, drunkenness and indulgence will also fail to fulfill us.  In some ways Solomon is speaking to us as a really good example of “what not to do.”  If anyone would have had the resources to buy his way happy, it would have been Solomon, but Solomon himself warns us that this simply is not possible.

When we derive our security and fulfillment from the possession of material things, more is never enough. We have no security and no fulfillment when we are constantly in fear of depletion or loss. The Ten Commandments warn us against worshiping things that aren’t God (Exodus 20:3-6) and against lusting after what other people have (Exodus 20:17.)  God knows we cannot find our fulfillment in the pursuit of stuff.

This isn’t to discount that we have very real concerns about how the bills are going to get paid and how everything that needs done is going to get done. God created us. God knows every one of our needs better than we do.  This is why Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” so that we would rely upon God day to day for what we need.  We see this example when the Israelites were wandering in the desert and God provided them daily manna:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not.  On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.” Exodus 16:4-5 (ESV)

God who rained bread from heaven for His people will provide for us today, each day. Jesus reassures us of God’s provision:

And he (Jesus) said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on.  For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.  Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!  And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest?  Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried.  For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them.  Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.

 “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Luke 12:22-34 (ESV)

God doesn’t need stuff. He does know what stuff we need every day, and what stuff those around us need as well.  As we pursue God and pray for His kingdom to come, maybe we need to look at stuff and our own livelihoods in a different way.

We trust that God will give us our daily bread. We don’t have to be anxious or afraid of not having enough, because everything we have comes from the hand of God. We pray not only for our daily bread, but also for the ability to share God’s abundance with those who are in need.

April 13, 2018- Pray, Let God- Psalm 4, Luke 12:4-7

prayerAnswer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!  You have given me relief when I was in distress.  Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!

 O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame?  How long will you love vain words and seek after lies?- Selah –

But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him.

 Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. -Selah-

Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord.

 There are many who say, “Who will show us some good?  Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!” You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.

 In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety. – Psalm 4 (ESV)

Prayer is conversation with God. The Psalms are timeless prayers given to us in the word of God. They are given to us to memorize and write on our hearts. They are prayers of praise, prayers of thanks, prayers of supplication, and prayers for those times when we are crushed in spirit and can’t find the words.

We learn much about the character of God, and how He reaches out to us when we study and pray the Psalms. God does hear and answer our prayers- though His answers aren’t always what we expect.

We all come into difficult times. Those difficulties are no secret to God.  He knows our every need and He knows every detail about us. He knows our trials, He knows our thoughts, and He calls us to trust Him with everything.

Jesus said: “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do.  But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell.  Yes, I tell you, fear him!  Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Luke 12:4-7 (ESV)

Fear in this context is a reverent respect. Jesus tells us to be aware of who we are made by and to whom we belong, and to whom we pray.

We aren’t telling God anything He doesn’t already know when we pray. He knows when we are distressed. He knows our anxiety, our anger, our need, and our distress already anyway, even if we aren’t comfortable admitting them to ourselves or bringing those not-so-nice things to Him.

Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent (Psalm 4:4)

God does not want us to deny our anger, but He does want us to keep from acting in anger. He wants us to live according to His will.  We can trust Him even when we cannot trust others or ourselves.  We can let Him deal with our anger. Yes we get angry and there is plenty of misery out in the world, and there are plenty of bad circumstances in our lives to be angry about…but…take those concerns and fear and worry and anger to God.  Don’t deny what we feel, but don’t let feelings lead us into sins. Let God deal with that anger and frustration and pain instead. Let Him bring us His peace.

God who spoke the universe into being can deal with our anger- a LOT better than we can.

The Psalmist reminds us that God has brought us through past distress in our lives. We are reminded that God has named and claimed us for His own.  We are reminded that we find our joy and our peace in God.  Our very life is in His hands. We can trust Him with everything when we come to Him in prayer.

God who is the omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient Creator of all, is also God of the sparrows, God who knows the number of hairs on our heads, God who comes to us in, with and through His Sacraments. The almighty God who suffered and died a cruel death on a Cross to save us from our sins, cares about every part of our lives.

April 10, 2018 Daniel, the Lions’ Den, and God Wins- Daniel 6:16-24

daniel lions' den

Then the king commanded, and Daniel was brought and cast into the den of lions. The king declared to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, deliver you!” And a stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet and with the signet of his lords, that nothing might be changed concerning Daniel. Then the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting; no diversions were brought to him, and sleep fled from him.

Then, at break of day, the king arose and went in haste to the den of lions. As he came near to the den where Daniel was, he cried out in a tone of anguish. The king declared to Daniel, “O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?” Then Daniel said to the king, “O king, live forever!  My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths, and they have not harmed me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no harm.” Then the king was exceedingly glad, and commanded that Daniel be taken up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no kind of harm was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.  And the king commanded, and those men who had maliciously accused Daniel were brought and cast into the den of lions—they, their children, and their wives. And before they reached the bottom of the den, the lions overpowered them and broke all their bones in pieces.  Daniel 6:16:24 (ESV) 

Most of us are familiar with the story of Daniel in the lions’ den. On one level it is an encouragement for us to trust God and follow Him even though we may face extreme consequences for doing so. The Book of Daniel is of a genre known as apocalyptic literature, which means it is telling or revealing events that will occur in the future.

Merriam Webster- definition of apocalypse-

1 a : one of the Jewish and Christian writings of 200 b.c. to a.d. 150 marked by pseudonymity, symbolic imagery, and the expectation of an imminent cosmic cataclysm in which God destroys the ruling powers of evil and raises the righteous to life in a messianic kingdom.

The important thing to remember about the apocalyptic Books is that the point is always that no matter what the disaster, no matter what the challenge, no matter what the gory imagery, they point to the victory that Jesus has won over sin, death and evil.

Daniel trusted God instead of simply paying lip service to the king. Trusting God and doing what God wants can get us into plenty of trouble here on earth. It is easy to follow the ways of this world and chase after all the things the world tells us are important. It is not as easy to stand for things that please God when they conflict with the world and its demands. The world makes demands on our time, our resources and our loyalties. As much as we would like to think we put God first in our lives, if we are honest we realize that we are easily distracted and we don’t stay firmly focused on God no matter how hard we try.

We aren’t even able to trust God in any way apart from His grace. The story of Daniel tells us and encourages us that God is faithful and all-powerful. Was the angel who shut the lions’ mouths a foreshadowing of what Jesus would do to save us from certain eternal death? It does point us in that direction! Jesus saves us from sin and death and the penalty we deserve as surely as God closed the mouths of the lions for His servant Daniel.

God is faithful. Even in the face of hungry lions.