April 2, 2020 The Lord Restores, The Lord Forgives, In Him is our Hope- Psalm 85, Mark 13:3-8, Psalm 118:8-9, Romans 8:18-30

beautiful flowers under the cloudy sky

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Lord, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob.

You forgave the iniquity of your people; you covered all their sin.- Selah

You withdrew all your wrath; you turned from your hot anger.

Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us!

Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger to all generations?

Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?

Show us your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation.

Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints; but let them not turn back to folly.

Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him, that glory may dwell in our land.

Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other.

Faithfulness springs up from the ground, and righteousness looks down from the sky.

Yes, the Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.

Righteousness will go before him, and make his footsteps a way. Psalm 85 (ESV)

Some of us may be wondering if the current world events are “divine retribution” for all of the evil in the world.  Jesus told us that we will endure trials in this world and not to be alarmed by them:

And as he (Jesus) sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?”  And Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one leads you astray.  Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray.  And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains. Mark 13:3-8 (ESV)

Unfortunately popular culture, and even some churches, buy in to a fallacy that every day gets better and better, that we can all “live our best life now,” “tomorrow will be a better day,” etc.  The reality is that we as well as the creation all around us are decaying and dying- the scientific term is entropy – the trend of orderly things to descend or degrade into disorderly things- or to degrade back to their essential elements.

There are examples of entropy all around us- the aging process is one, where one’s body is not able to repair and regenerate its cells as effectively as it once did, and the body slowly deteriorates.  Erosion is another example, when water slowly wears away the rocks and dissolves the minerals that comprise the rocks.  Even the fact that a house must be maintained and repainted and so forth over time because paint fades and wood rots is another example of entropy.   We all know that automotive maintenance is performed because time, friction and wear degrade essential parts which have to be replaced. Oil is changed because it gets contaminated and doesn’t lubricate as effectively. Brake pads wear because the linings are worn off by the heat of friction necessary to stop the vehicle, and so forth.

The fact that societies and governments cannot bring about heaven on earth or avert every calamity is because of that complete corruption of all creation (call it Original Sin, or, even though I’m not a Calvinist, the Total Depravity of Man) that sprung forth from the sin of the Garden.  We cannot put our trust in world leaders.

It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes. Psalm 118:8-9 (ESV)

The promise that was given by faith to believers through Abraham (and yes, Christian people are the spiritual descendants of Abraham) is that we as well as the creation will be remade. Jesus defeated the penalty of death (and what is entropy, if not a slow and lingering death) for us and took our place. He is returning for us- and we share in His resurrection into a world without entropy- bodies that do not decay and a world that will not rot away. The apostle Paul teaches us this in Romans 8-

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope  that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.  And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,[h] for those who are called according to his purpose.  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. Romans 8:18-30 (ESV)

So what are we supposed to think when we read Scripture and it seems to contradict everything that we are seeing, living or experiencing?

As we pray in Psalm 85- by faith we have hope.

Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other. Faithfulness springs up from the ground, and righteousness looks down from the sky. Yes, the Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.
Righteousness will go before him, and make his footsteps a way.

Thank you, Lord for the gift of faith. Thank you, because in You we have hope. Thank You that you sustain us through even the valley of the shadow of death.  Thank You for Your Holy Spirit, who intercedes for us when we cannot pray.  Thank You that there is never a moment in which You leave us or abandon us.

November 13, 2019- Jesus Christ and Him Crucified- 1 Corinthians 2:1-5

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And I, (the apostle Paul speaking) when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling,  and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,  so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (ESV)

Jesus Christ and Him crucified. The apostle Paul was not after the world’s wisdom, or the vastness of the cosmos or the wealth of human knowledge, but the stark and lonely truth of the God-man, humiliated and bleeding, dying a criminal’s death on a Roman cross.

Paul was a learned man, a Pharisee, who was carefully catechized and taught the Scriptures from his earliest memories.  He knew all the ins and outs of the Mosaic Law, the Torah, the Prophets, the Psalms.  He had the intellectual knowledge of the Scriptures, yet his essential message- also known as the folly of Gentiles, and a stumbling block for Jews-is the crucified Christ.

It’s easy for Christians to get caught up in the sticky points of theology and miss the whole point of it all.  John the Baptist, the last of the Old Testament prophets and the great forerunner of Jesus got it clear as he exclaimed:  “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:28-30)

This is not to say that Christians should neglect the study of the Bible or of the Catechism, because God speaks to us through His Word and faith is imparted to us by hearing (Romans 10:17.)  It is a beautiful pursuit to study and learn God’s Word.  He strengthens our faith and gives us food for the journey as we study and internalize His Word. Yet study should always begin and end at the foot of the cross. Everything that we do, everything that we learn,  everything that we internalize, is a gift from God to us- gifts that we find at the foot of the cross.

We don’t bring people to faith…including ourselves. God gives us faith, and we respond to His gifts. He transforms us.

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

We don’t persuade others to believe in God by putting together clean logical arguments or by citing historical evidence.  While there are valid intellectual arguments for the truth claims and the veracity of Christian teaching and history, the primary focus must always be Christ, and Him crucified, the One Who took the punishment we earn and deserve and Who gives us the gifts of repentance and faith and salvation.

Our faith rests in the power of God rather than in our own wisdom or designs.

 

 

 

May 22, 2018 Synergy in the Body of Christ- 1 Corinthians 12:12-27

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For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?  But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.  If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”  On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty,  which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 (ESV)

When the members of a body function as they are intended they work in synergy:

synergy: a mutually advantageous conjunction or compatibility of distinct business participants or elements such as resources or efforts – (as defined by the Merriam-Webster online dictionary)

It’s very clear even on casual observation that God has created us all with different gifts and placed us in different roles. Not everyone is an eloquent speaker or a talented dancer.  Some of us are gifted with the ability to encourage others and to anticipate others’ needs.  Others of us can sing or write or have a love for mentoring children.  Still others are gifted in carpentry or plumbing or in repairing mechanical things.

There is a reason why the Body of Christ has so much diversity in its members- because no one person can do everything, or wants to do everything! Some are physically stronger than others, while others have different gifts to bring to the table. The idea is that we work together as one to serve God and each other.  It is easier said than done.

Vocation is more than simply what one does for a living. It is operating as part of the greater body of Christ for everyone’s good, while still retaining the unique separate humanity that God created us with.

It’s been said that marriage relationships should be “fifty-fifty,” but that’s almost never how relationships work. There are times when it’s more like twenty-eighty or sixty-forty- or even ninety-ten.  Sometimes one must have compassion and completely carry the other in his or her weakness.  It is also true in any community or relationship that sometimes the stronger members need to carry the weaker- and over time the roles change.  The helpless infant  who is carried to the baptismal font- where he or she is named and claimed by God and welcomed into the faith- becomes the toddler in the nursery. Soon enough that toddler is the teen who helps watch the toddlers.  The teen then becomes a young adult, and then he or she becomes a parent. Then parents become grandparents, and grandparents, become the elderly who are again in need of special care.  Yet we are all brought into one body, named, claimed and loved by God, through our baptism.

Sometimes we find it difficult to accept the role that we are currently occupy- sometimes we hold the role of being the one being able to offer help, and other times we are the one in need. Yet the apostle Paul reminds us that each of us are essential to the greater Body, that the eye is as honored as the hand or the ear or the mouth.  The greater Body needs each specific and individual part.  The weaker among us are to be held especially carefully and honorably as- “the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.”

Our society isn’t very good at valuing the weak or the seemingly insignificant, such as the very young, the physically or mentally ill, the disabled and the elderly. Yet even in their weakness, or precisely because of it, they are precious members of the Body of Christ and need to be treated with special care.

We look to Jesus to help us live and work and love in synergy and right relationship within our families, communities and in the greater Body of Christ. We ask Jesus to forgive us when we don’t love our neighbor as ourselves and when we want to be something that we are not. We pray for Jesus to give us the courage and strength to live out our various vocations together with others, in our family, workplaces and church to the glory of God.

September 26, 2017 Hallowed be Thy Name, Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will be Done- Matthew 6:9-10, Romans 8:26, Romans 12:2

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(Jesus said); “Pray then in this way:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:9-10 (NRSV)

The first petition of the Lord’s Prayer (see Martin Luther’s teaching on the Lord’s Prayer in the Large Catechism here) is about who God is, and the second and third are about what God is doing.

God, of course, is holy. Our opinion doesn’t change that reality one bit, but the first part of prayer is acknowledging that we are addressing God.  We come to Him knowing that we don’t have faith in our ability to say the right thing or in the strength of our prayers. Our faith is in the One to Whom we are praying.  It doesn’t matter if we feel inferior or not worthy of approaching God.  He extends the invitation and command to us to come to Him in prayer.  He even sends the Holy Spirit to intervene on our behalf, so that we can pray effectively in spite of our perceived unworthiness or weakness.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. Romans 8:26 (NRSV)

When we pray we need to know that we are coming to God because we want Him to make us holy, that we want to live in a way that is worthy of His naming and claiming us as His own. We want to live in a way that honors His name.  We can’t live in a way that honors God without asking Him for the strength and the abilities we need to be honorable.

God’s kingdom is a reality, and it will continue to be made more of a reality and it will come to fullness according to His plan. For us the kingdom of God is right now, but also not yet.  God’s plan is that His kingdom will be made a reality here on earth as well as in heaven.  Our desire and our purpose as Jesus followers are not just to be fully a part of the kingdom of God when we pass on to heaven, but to bring about God’s kingdom here on earth.

Do we really want what God wants? This is why we pray for God’s kingdom to come here on earth.  We can’t truly desire what God wants without His help.  Prayer is the way that God comes to us. It is a two way conversation.  Prayer is a means for us to invite God to transform our minds and align them with His will.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2 (NRSV)

 “Thy will be done” is at times one of the most difficult prayers we pray, especially when we want to say and believe “my will be done.” There are times when we don’t understand, when God says no to prayer, or His answer is, “wait, I have something better for you.”  Yet God still wants us to communicate with Him- when it’s good, when it’s bad, and even when it’s ugly.  He will align our hearts and minds to His purpose, and He will give us healing and strength when we need it.

God invites us to come to him anytime, in any way we know how, in prayer.

Have we come to God in prayer today?