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The Rock

gray sofa with throw pillows
 
How long will all of you attack a man to batter him, like a leaning wall, a tottering fence? They only plan to thrust him down from his high position. . . For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.  He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. Psalm 62:3-6 (ESV)
 
I’m no military strategist; but when you’re outnumbered, occupying the high ground and firing from behind big rocks seems like the smart battle tactic.  OK, so I got that from old western movies.
 
The psalmist David knew what it was to be hounded by armed forces much larger than his.  King Saul put a price on David’s head and led an army through the badlands of Israel against David’s rag-tag band of volunteers.  More than once David looked down on Saul’s superior army from rocky high ground and felt hopelessness that could only be calmed by the reminder that God had called him to lead Israel.  That experience serves as a backdrop to calling God “my Rock and my salvation, my fortress” in Psalm 62.  David described himself as a leaning wall or a tottering fence, a pushover.

Do you sometimes feel like that, outnumbered by people who’ve scoffed at your ideas or bullied you on social media?  Maybe ill health has left you feeling like a leaning fence, lacking the strength to stand up to the immediate future.  Have you felt that you are woefully inadequate, not smart enough or emotionally strong enough to cope with the responsibilities of parenting or the assignments at work?  Maybe, like David, you feel like you’re under siege, oppressed by financial forces beyond your control. Where do you go when you’re overwhelmed by life?

Like David, take to the high ground of God’s presence.  Get behind the Rock of your salvation and take a quiet breath.  Look past the pressures of the now and put your hope in the promises of your Savior.  Remember how he told you that nothing can separate you from his love, that he is with you always, that he’ll work even the hardest things out to your blessing in the end.  Pour out your fears, your hurts and frustrations to the God who invited you to find rest in him.  The sanctuary at First Immanuel is a place of refuge for your soul, but you can also create such a safe space in your home – a quiet place where you get away from the hectic pace of life and read your Bible, pray out the problems, and sense God’s fatherly arm around your shoulders.  He is the Rock of your salvation – now and forever.
 
PRAYER: Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee.  Be my refuge when I’m at my wit’s end.  Be my strength when I can’t cope.  Lift from me the fears and doubts that seem so debilitating, and go with me into the challenges that lie ahead.  You are the Rock of my salvation.  My hope is in you.  Amen.

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Who is Jesus?

photography of clouds and forest trees
“He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” Matthew 17:5
 
Who is Jesus? If there is a question for the ages, that must be it. Since the apostolic age people have asked who is Jesus. To this very day the question remains. For many in our day they would be quick to acknowledge that Jesus was a wonderful humanitarian and a model of the life we should live. They might even agree that He was a brilliant teacher who still teaches us today. But Savior, not so fast.
 
So how can we know who this Jesus really is? How about the testimony of God the Father? On the Mount of Transfiguration, the Father declared, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” God the Father takes away any doubt about who this Jesus really is.
 
Echoing the words of Jesus, “But who do you say that I am?” How will you answer that question today? Will you fall prey to those of our age who doubt and would make Jesus just another nice guy or will you declare with Peter that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God? By faith given to us by the Holy Spirit may we always confess Jesus as our Lord and Savior.
 
Father in heaven, You spoke clearly of who Jesus is even as You prepared Him to go to the cross for our salvation. Make us bold witnesses of Him until that day when He returns in all His glory. In His name I pray. Amen.

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My Rock and My Salvation

brown wooden cross under cloudy sky during daytime
 
Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him.  Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.  Psalm 62:1-2  (ESV)

Do children still play hide and seek?  Essential to the game is a goal, a place of safety.  When you’re there, no one can tag you.  Places of safety for children are a serious issue in a time when bullying and random violence rob too many kids of any sense of security.  How about grown-ups?  Where do you go for security when you feel threatened by overwhelming anxiety or by the fear of what lies ahead?

In Israel, especially the wilderness areas where David sought refuge from his enemy Saul, security was identified with rocky promontories, caves and clefts in rocky outcroppings. So naturally, David referred to the Lord as THE ROCK.  See, the Lord is where God’s people go to find security, where Christians hide from what threatens them.

Ironically, it is from God’s own holiness that we hide.  In Exodus 33 Moses asked to see God’s glory.  Here is the Lord’s response: “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’. .But you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.  Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by.”

Did you catch the two great truths about God in those verses?  God’s consuming holiness, which cannot tolerate sin, would destroy any unholy human in his presence.  At the same time, God wanted to show Moses his “goodness” and to proclaim the name which means he is faithful to his promise of a Savior – the LORD.  Like the cleft in the rock that hid Moses from God’s holiness, Jesus is the Rock of God’s grace that hides us from God’s holiness.  In 1 Corinthians 10 the apostle Paul takes us back to the time of Moses and Israel in the wilderness and says, “That Rock was Christ.”

If you’ve grown up with the Gospel, the holiness of God may not hold the kind of terror that it should for sinners.  We may take for granted our security in Jesus and lose sight of the hopeless despair and everlasting torment that sin deserves.  Then again, if you’ve been fighting a losing battle with an addictive sin. . . if you’ve lost a friend or alienated a loved one with your self-centered decisions or angry words. . . if a series of painful experiences in your life have led you to wonder if God has turned his back on you, then treasure the truth that Jesus is the Rock of your salvation.  In him you are hidden from the consuming judgment that your sin deserves.  Find rest in God, not terror.
 
PRAYER: Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee.  Let the water and the blood from thy riven side which flowed be of sin the double cure.  Cleanse me from its guilt and power.  Amen.

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Listen to Him!

black cross under blue sky
 
“While He was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to Him!” Matthew 17:5

Listen to what?  I mean, sure, everybody ought to listen to Jesus.  But only once did God the Father say so pointedly that Jesus should be listened to, and it was here at the Transfiguration.  What had just happened was amazing to behold.  Jesus took two of His disciples on to a mountain, and there His appearance drastically changed into dazzlingly white.  Moses and Elijah appeared.  And at the apparent culmination of the event, God the Father speaks and tells those hearing to listen to Jesus.  Listen to what?

In fact, Jesus had just started talking about something that He hadn’t been talking about before.  Oh sure, Jesus had been hinting at the reason He came into the world.  In fact, just about everything Jesus was and did pointed to it somehow.  But just before ascending that mountain, Jesus had asked the disciples who they thought He was.  You recall Peter answered brilliantly, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  In Matthew 16:21 we read, “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things…and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”  And now we know what God the Father was talking about when He said of Jesus, “Listen to Him!”  Because now Jesus was beginning to define, in the most explicit of terms, what He was all about and what He had come to do.  He was all about dying on a cross and rising from the dead.  God the Father, for His part, was drawing the attention of those disciples, and all of us disciples who follow, to what is most important about Jesus.

We listen to Jesus.  We listen to Him telling us how much He loves us, how we should live lives that reflect our love for Him.  We listen to Jesus.  We listen to Him offering comfort in our times of need, hope in our times of despair.  We listen to Jesus.  But now as we have just begun this season of Lent, we listen to Him even more closely, because during this season, the focus is His cross. 

Prayer: Lord Jesus, may we always listen to you.  But now especially, as our thoughts are turned to your cross, may we hear your words of forgiveness, and know they are directed to us.  Amen.

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Watch Out for False Teaching

brown leather book on brown wooden table
 
When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” And they began discussing it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.” But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 11 How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
 
So what was so bad about the Pharisees and Sadducees, anyway? 

These two groups are mentioned numerous times in the Gospels.  And though they were both represented in the Sanhedrin, the religious ruling body of the Jews, they had very different beliefs.

And yet they had one thing in common:  a disrespect for God’s Word.

They disrespected the Word in very different ways, though.  The Pharisees were rule-makers.  They considered the Word as just a starting point for living a life of righteousness.  They added their own man-made traditions to God’s commands, and they insisted that these traditions were as valid as Scripture.

Not cool.  And Jesus wasn’t happy with them.

The Sadducees, on the other hand, disrespected God’s Word by simply ignoring it.  They didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead, or angels, or eternal life!  In fact, they didn’t even believe that the Prophets and the Writings of the Old Testament were God’s Word.  They only considered the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) to be truly the Word. 
 
Really not cool.  And Jesus wasn’t happy with them, either.

So what’s the point for us?  Watch out for false teaching.  It comes in various forms.  Under the guise of “traditionalism” or “progressivism,” it places man-made ideas above the true Word of God.  And once this leaven of false teaching invades the church, it spreads like cancer.

So, what can we do?  Trust in Jesus.  Study His Word.  Be vigilant for man-made traditions that add to God’s Word and arrogant ideas that ignore God’s Word.  Don’t fall off to the right or to the left.  And if you do?  Repent, and be grateful to Your Savior who perfectly understood and obeyed the true Word of God on your behalf.  Through faith in Him you have forgiveness, and through faith in Him the leaven is taken away.

Dear Heavenly Father, guard us against false teaching in all its forms.  Keep us from elevating man-made ideas to the level of Your Word, and keep us from ignoring or taking out what You would have us know and believe.  By Your Spirit, keep the sinful leaven out of your church.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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