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Worldly Care (20210802)

person reading book on black and white textile
 
“Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  – Matthew 6:33
 
Every day we think about things that are important to us.  What should I wear today, what meals will I be eating today, what decisions will I make that might change my life or the life of a family member or friend?
 
Worldly care, that is worrying about all of these things and more, brings no profit at all to the life and goals we have as Christians.  The author of Psalm 39 sums this up beautifully when he writes: “Surely everyone goes around like a mere phantom; in vain they rush about, heaping up wealth without knowing whose it will finally be.”
 
In Matthew 16 Jesus tells us: “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?  Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”
 
For one thing, if we become overly concerned with any of these human needs and wants we become anxious and begin to distrust God.  As God reminds us in Matthew 6: “So do not worry, saying, ’What shall we eat?’ or ’What shall we drink?’ or ’What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.”
 
Worldly care and concern also chokes the Word of God from our lives.  In the parable of the man who planted seeds along the path and thorns and rocky ground (cares of the world) the seed (Word of God) was choked out and died.
 
Being overly concerned about things in this world can also mar the peace of the family and of the home.
 
We need to trust in God completely for everything and keep Him first in our lives.  God promises us that if we make it our priority to be concerned with things of our soul and faith He will take care of everything else.
 
Simple trust in God and His Word will make our lives much more enjoyable and happier.  After all, what does worry really accomplish?  If we give God the first of our affections, the first of our energies, first place in our lives every day, He will provide for all of our earthly needs.  Those who make God their one and only need and care will have no other needs or cares.

PRAYER: Dear Lord, help us to put Your will before our own and to rely on You only for everything else. Help us to live each day and moment in Your love and carrying out Your will.  In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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God Asks Tough Questions (20210730)

white book page on black textile
 
The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones that were very dry.  He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!’   Ezekiel 37:1-4

Ezekiel was God’s prophet to the people of Judah forced into captivity in Babylon for their idolatry and indifference.  In a series of visions God revealed to Ezekiel the judgment upon evil that God’s people would have to endure.  There would be no happy ending in Jerusalem, no quick conclusion to their plight as exiles.  Then amid all that gloom and doom came a vision with a question from God: “Can these bones live?”  Is there hope for the people to whom God promised a Savior?  Is there a future for people who sinned their way into God’s judgment?

I think it’s easier to comprehend God’s Law than it is to grasp the Gospel.  I get that my sin has earned God’s wrath.  Given everything that’s wrong with America, I can understand how judgment is deserved.  But how God could love us in spite of all we are and have done, that is difficult to comprehend.  That my sin has been washed away in the blood Jesus shed for me at the cross, that is grace beyond any human understanding.  That God cares about people who have murdered unborn children and rejected his will for the family, that God still seeks out those who deny his truth and ignore his will, that goes beyond our comprehension.  So God asks, “Son of man, can these bones live?”  Can sinners like me have life eternal?  Can a mission field of rejecters and repeat offenders come to know love and forgiveness from God?

“Son of Man” is the title Jesus used most often for himself, a reminder that true God became true man in the virgin birth of Jesus.  Can’t you picture the conversation in heaven before Jesus’ birth: The Father saying to the Son: “Son of Man, can these bones live?”  And Jesus answering with his life, death and resurrection so that you and I – dry bones – can live forever with him.

In the midst of cynicism about our country, in the face of all that is wrong with each of us, God holds out the hope that we can live.  Did the apostle Paul think of God’s question to Ezekiel when he wrote: “Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” (Eph. 2:4-5)  God’s question introduces God’s answer: “Prophesy.  Hear the word of the Lord.”  Our role is not to speculate about how salvageable our culture is, how savable are those who seem so opposed to God’s truth.  Our role is to assure that they hear the word of the Lord.  That word, which calls to repentance and then assures of forgiveness, can make the driest bones live.  My bones, your bones, and even the bones of those who are enemies of God’s people.  Yes, the bones of sinners and unbelievers can live.  That power is the Gospel.  So share it.

PRAYER: When I am brought low by an awareness of all that is wrong with me, Lord, lift me up with your word of forgiveness.  When I despair over all that is wrong with the culture around me, Lord, remind me of your mercy and the power of your Word.  Then make me your prophet, willing to answer the question whether dry bones can live, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.

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God Asks Tough Questions (20210728)

cathedral windows
 
And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”  He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”  The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” 1 Kings 19:9-11

No one had more reason to quit.  Elijah had taken on the Baal prophets of Queen Jezebel and witnessed the overwhelming evidence that the Lord, not Baal, was God.  He’d overseen the just execution of Jezebel’s false prophets amid shouts that “The Lord, he is God.”  End result: Jezebel put a price on Elijah’s head, the people of Israel cowered, and nothing in the promised land seemed to have changed.  Fine prophet he turned out to be.

So Elijah fled south.  He was tired and hungry, defeated and deflated.  He wanted to die.  God’s response was not some comforting words of affirmation like: “There, there, Elijah. You did your best.”  Rather God challenged Elijah with a tough question: “What are you doing here?”  Maybe you can relate.  You did the right thing at work, the honest thing; and the result was that you got fired.  You took care of a neighbor who suffered from Alzheimers, but her children accused you of trying to steal their inheritance.  You fought against corruption in your local government, and reaped a tirade of criticism in social media.  You spent your life loving your kids and serving at church, and now you face old age all alone.  Like Elijah, you want to say: “OK, Lord, I’ve had enough. I’m done. Take me if you want me.”

And you thought that God was going to say, “There, there, you have every right to feel frustrated and finished.” Self-pity is understandable, but it is not sustainable.  Do you remember God’s response to Elijah?  While Elijah wanted more fire from heaven, swift judgment on evil government and fickle citizens, God wasn’t in the wind, the earthquake or the fire.  God was in the low whisper of his word. God had a job for Elijah; and he had a reality check for Elijah.  And that is his response to us when we see what’s wrong with our nation, when we feel as though our best efforts have been in vain.  God sends us back into our community, into our family, into our circle of friends with his mission of love and truth.  He isn’t feeling sorry for us.  And God reminds us that we are not alone.  He has millions of Christians who share our truth and our hurt, legions of angels who stand alongside us in the challenges of life.

There was that moment in Gethsemane when Jesus wished he could quit.  The pain that lay ahead was overwhelming.  From any human point of view, his work had gone unappreciated.  But there was a bigger picture, a higher purpose; and Jesus said to his Father: “Your will be done.”  The Savior who didn’t quit on you asks you not to quit on your family and your community, your church and your nation.  He understands frustration and fatigue, but he has further purpose for your life.  Embrace it.

Prayer: When I’m frustrated, Lord, let me know that you reign.  When I want to quit, remind me of your purpose.  When I feel sorry for myself, give me Jesus.  Amen.

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God Asks Tough Questions (20210726)

brown wooden cross under blue sky during daytime
 
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? . . .    I will question you, and you make it known to me. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.   Job 38:1-4

Job wanted an answer for all his troubles, but all he got was a question.  It sounded like, “Who do you think you are to demand an answer from God?”  “Do you even know what you’re talking about?”  Do you have any idea what it means to be God?” The questioning goes on for four chapters before a cringing Job repents of his presumption.

Have you questioned God’s love and justice, wondered if he really knows what he’s doing?  The wrong people die.  Wickedness goes unpunished.  Relationships end ugly.  The best efforts of godly people go unrewarded.  I’d love to get an answer from God, but I get the same questions Job got instead.  Is this God’s way of saying, “I’m God and you’re not”?  Is he telling me that I’m not smart enough to understand what he’s doing?  Maybe he knows that I’d only argue with him if he did tell me the reason for what he does or allows.  God can handle our doubting and our questioning, but we need a reminder of our place in creation.  Going head to head with God only robs us of the wonder, the peace, the joy there is in being God’s dearly loved child. Lamentations 3:22 says: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.”  God answers our impudence with mercy rather than judgment.

There may be another reason for which God challenged Job with questions.  As God listed for Job the wonders of his creation and the majesty of his being, Job must have gotten another view of life.  If God is that wise and that powerful, can’t we rest secure in the confidence that he is in charge and does what’s right? 

But why would we trust him?  Why accept his will?  There is one overwhelming answer: the cross of his Son Jesus.  St. Paul put it this way: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him. . .  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”  (Romans 8:28-32)  The God who is perfectly just does what’s right.  The God who loved us so much that he watched his Son die in our place does what is right for us.  I am content.

PRAYER:  When I doubt, Lord, take me to your Word.  When I question, show me my Savior.  As I weep, comfort me with your presence.  In a world of confusion, Lord, let me rest in the certainty that you are GOD.  Amen.

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Consider Your Ways (20210723)

opened book
Now this is what the LORD of Hosts says: “Consider carefully your ways. You have planted much but harvested little. You eat but never have enough. You drink but never have your fill. You put on clothes but never get warm. You earn wages to put into a bag pierced through.” Haggai 1:5-6

What fruit is your life bearing? What benefit are you reaping from how you are organizing your time and resources? 
 
The people in the time of Haggai were spending what they had to rebuild their lives in Jerusalem. Putting homes back together, relaunching their businesses, buying new clothes. But their lives didn’t feel any more full. It wasn’t working. Success wasn’t coming. 
 
The problem was they had missed the most important thing: church. They didn’t think to invest in their faith, or their relationship with God. 
 
How common it is for us today to do the same thing. We can get so caught up in the pursuits of this world that we neglect the deeper work. We neglect turning first to God, who has provided for us all things now and forever. We neglect Jesus, who has given himself for us freely. And our lives can feel just as empty and void, like we are getting no return on our investment. 
 
Consider your ways. Consider where God might be calling you to invest your time and energy into eternal things- like the body of believers, the faith of a relative, serving a neighbor, or getting involved in a Bible study group. It might not seem like the best investment, at least using worldly standards. But God promises- this is the way to true blessing and real success- to be present with Jesus both now and forever.
 
Prayer: Lord, Help us to live in such a way that we glorify You in all that we do. You have created us, redeemed us, and filled us with life. We give ourselves to You and dedicate ourselves to Your purposes. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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