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We Need DAD: Despair

Now the Philistines were fighting against Israel, and the men of Israel fled before the Philistines and fell slain… The battle pressed hard against Saul, and the archers found him, and he was badly wounded by the archers. Then Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword, and thrust me through with it, lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and mistreat me.” But his armor-bearer would not, for he feared greatly. Therefore Saul took his own sword and fell upon it. [1 Samuel 31:1,3-4]

Just give up… Despair is a crippling, overwhelming sense of hopelessness. Viktor Frankl, a survivor of the Holocaust, came up with a very simple equation: despair = suffering – meaning. We all experience suffering. The real problems come when we cannot see any point behind it. 

With all the negativity and struggles and pain in the world, we humans need to be able to see some meaning in it all. Saul, after years of ignoring God’s Word, finally felt caught, fully alone, and desperate. In a battle that had already claimed the lives of his sons, he felt his suffering at this point was pointless. He chose to take his own life rather than endure any more suffering. 

We can see the appeal to this line of thinking. It gives us an escape from the momentary pain. But as Christians, we know two things. 

First, all suffering has meaning. Jesus said we all must take up our cross, and James reinforced that by saying, “Consider it pure joy when you encounter suffering (James 1). Jesus suffered for us, and in doing so, redeemed all suffering. 

Second, we cannot escape God by escaping the pain of this world. Ironically, Saul fell right into the hands of the One whom he was trying to escape. We want to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” when we come into God’s hands in death. Despair clouds our sight of the eternal reality. The reality that there is life after this life, that there is still a God on the other side, still awareness, and still a time for further judgment.

We trust that Jesus has a purpose to our pain. And we persevere. We need our DAD to see us through DAD- Depression/Anxiety/Despair. No matter what trials and tribulations you are facing today, know beyond a shadow of doubt that your heavenly Father is with you, has saved you and is preparing an eternal place. For you! 

Prayer: Dear Jesus, help us to always see purpose in our pain. We look to Your cross and we are humbled by Your willingness to suffer for us. Lead us in the way everlasting, and enable us to live in the power of Your Spirit. Amen.

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Peace (Part 2)

purple and yellow roses

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”  When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.  John 20:19-20

A study by Duke University identified contributing factors to “peace of mind.”  Here are a few of those factors and the parallels in our Christian faith.  1) The absence of suspicion and resentment (forgiving Christian love); 2) not living in the past, preoccupied with old mistakes and failures (forgiveness for past sins for Jesus’ sake): 3) not wasting energy fighting conditions you can’t change (trust in God’s will and love for you); 4) involvement with other people, not withdrawing (Christian fellowship and service); 5) refusing to indulge in self-pity, having a realistic view of life’s troubles (the Bible’s teaching about the consequences of the fall into sin); 6) cultivating such virtues as love, compassion and loyalty (Read Colossians 3:12-17.); 7) believing in something bigger than yourself (That is our God.).

Jesus’ resurrection is an historical fact AND it is a practical fact.  It changes how we view life and death, how we handle problems and where we place our hopes. We sing “Christ IS risen,” not HAS risen – a present tense that communicates here-and-now reality.  PEACE BE WITH YOU is the first thing Jesus said to his disciples Easter evening.

Peace for those disciples was the answer to conflicting reports circulating through Jerusalem.  It wasn’t grave robbery, a cruel hoax, or an unsolved mystery. Jesus was alive.  Peace meant that death had not merely been cheated temporarily, but overcome with finality.  They hadn’t lost a Messiah; they had a Savior.  Peace means that your nightmares aren’t real, that the fear clutching at your heart is a passing thought, that cemeteries are good places for Christians to rejoice.  Peace is a huge sigh of relief into which you can pour all your anxieties.

St. Paul began his letter to the Romans affirming that Jesus “was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead.”  With POWER.  Which of your worries is beyond Jesus’ power to take care of?  Which of your weaknesses places limits on your Savior?  Our lives can be artificially limited by a variety of lies that begin “I can’t.”  “I can’t take any more bad news from my doctor.”  “I can’t overcome my addictive habits.”  “I can’t be what my kids need from me.”  “I can’t live with the verbal abuse my boss yells at me.”  What’s your “I can’t?”  The resurrection of Jesus says that your God can.  He died in your place to take away your sins, so he’s invested in you and won’t abandon you.  He said he would rise, and he did; you can trust his promises.  His resurrection demonstrates that no law of nature or power of evil can stand up to your Savior.  Peace is yours because what you can’t, he does.

If you’ve ever faced a sleepless night worrying that you’d ruined your life with one stupid, sinful act. . . if you’ve stayed away from church because you felt you had no right to be there, then you can understand what was going on in that locked room before Jesus showed up on Easter evening.  Those disciples had failed Jesus, doubted and denied Jesus.  How would they ever face him?  Would he even want to see them?  Could he forgive them?  Guilt drives people inside themselves, where things get worse.  Guilt rubs our noses in our unworthiness.  But then Jesus was there, showing them his wounds – not to add to their guilt but to show them that he had paid the price of their forgiveness.  John wrote: Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.  He took their attention off themselves and onto him – alive, their salvation accomplished.

It was a familiar Lutheran custom to end the sermon with these words from Philippians 4: “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  That’s not a pious wish; that’s a divine fact.  Peace is yours.

PRAYER: Lord, help me to apply to my heart and my mind the truths you certify with Jesus’ resurrection.  Counter the lies I tell myself with the truth you’ve revealed to me.  Assure me of your forgiveness and give me peace in that assurance, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.


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We Need DAD: Anxiety

The Philistines assembled and came and encamped at Shunem. And Saul gathered all Israel, and they encamped at Gilboa. When Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly. And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him, either by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets. [1 Samuel 28:4-6]

Panic, worry, fear. The unimaginable happens, and you don’t know what to do. Fight, flight, or freeze… Our bodies react to stress and all the unknowns by leading us into an anxious place. Anxiety is the natural human response to facing chaos, scary situations, and all the things we don’t know. 

We all find ourselves there. Modern life has dramatically increased our anxiety, too. The more we come to know, the more we realize we don’t know very much at all! 

Saul found himself in a situation where God was no longer speaking to him. Saul spent years disobeying God and turning away from God’s commandments, and God finally had enough. God stopped talking. As Saul faced imminent war, he needed God’s wisdom, but he got nothing. We can all imagine the dread that washed over him. It led Saul to make a terrible decision- seeking out a medium, who would bring back the spirit of a dead prophet. Instead, Saul should have sought out David, God’s anointed Messiah, but he had spent too many years trying to kill David and leaving David full of anxiety.

When we experience anxiety, there is a better way forward than fighting, fleeing, or freezing. We can fear God. Now, I am not saying just move that fear and worry onto your relationship with God. But put it in heavenly perspective. Jesus said it this way, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Put you fear in the right place. We believe God can do all things, including giving us eternal life and raising us from the dead! That puts everything else we go through into perspective. 

We are certain to experience anxiety for the rest of our lives. It’s one of the ways we know we are human! But don’t let it hold you back or hold you down. Don’t let it keep you from continuing to follow God’s path for your life. When you encounter anxiety, remember: We can take all things to our DAD, our Heavenly Father.  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” and maybe the ending of anxiety. 

Prayer: Dear God, heavenly Father, please help us to see everything through Your love and Your will. Help us to make it through all the situations and relationships that leave us feeling anxious and uncertain. Show us where to move and where to go on the path You have placed before us in Jesus. In His name we pray, Amen.

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Peace (Part 1)

pink tulips on brown wooden surface
 
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples
were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with
you.” John 20:19
 
I had a history professor who loved to draw on the blackboard (Yeah, I’m that old.) the military
maneuvers of famous battles. The problem was that before long there were so many intersecting
lines and arrows that the diagram became a hopeless maze. It would be like that trying to
diagram the events of Easter morning. Some women made their way to the tomb early in the
morning. One of them, Mary Magdalene, sees only the stone removed and runs to find Peter and
John. The other women find the grave empty and two angels announcing Jesus’ resurrection.
They, too, run back to the city to find the disciples and are met on the way by the risen Jesus.
Mary finds Peter and John, and all three run back to the sepulcher. John gets there first, Peter a
bit behind, and seeing the tomb empty they take off back to the city. Sometime thereafter the
risen Jesus appears to Peter. Meanwhile, Mary Magdalene reaches the grave out of breath, and
everyone is gone. To her first, Scripture says, Jesus appeared. During this time a frightened
cohort of soldiers had run back to the city to tell of the earth’s rumble, the flash of light and the
stone flung clear away from the tomb, and no body inside. That set the 71 members of the
Sanhedrin scurrying through Jerusalem to bribe the soldiers to keep their mouths shut. Those
who had seen the empty tomb ran around the city, I’m sure, to find as many of Jesus’ followers
as they could with the news. They had some unusual company in the streets of Jerusalem –
saints that Scripture says only in passing were raised by God from their graves in testimony to
the power and significance of the resurrection.
 
When all this running around was over on Easter evening, what set in were confusion about what
happened and fear of what might happen next. Then Jesus suddenly appeared to say: “Peace be
with you!” Only Jesus can actually provide peace by speaking the word.
 
Jesus brings peace to resolve confusion. Was he a ghost? No, they could touch him. Was this
an illusion? No, this was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy and his own promises.
What did it mean that he was alive? So many questions, so much uncertainty. But Jesus was
there, and he brings peace. Did they understand it all? No, but Jesus did, so they were at peace.
Maybe you’re a bit uncertain about your future, post-covid. Maybe there are unresolved issues
in the family. Maybe you have some questions and doubts about your faith. Let Easter assure
you that the Savior who put himself between you and God’s just anger at sin is alive and on top
of things. You don’t have to understand what is or what’s coming if you have Jesus’ peace.
 
The disciples had seen the irrational hatred of the Sanhedrin and the mob frenzy that pushed
Pilate to order the execution. It wouldn’t take much detective work to identify Jesus’ co-
conspirators. They must have expected a knock on the door and a squadron of soldiers come to
arrest them. Instead, Jesus appeared with no need for a door. For a brief moment that must have
ramped up their fear; but then fear dissolved in a sigh of peace. Look, if Jesus can beat death,
what is there to be afraid of? I’m sure you can come up with a substantial list of real fears, from
failing health to fragile job, from kids in trouble to the evening news. The reason for fear is that
we are powerless to control much of what happens in life; and we know only too well what kind
of wickedness there is in human hearts. Stop! Jesus didn’t rise from death to leave you fending
for yourself. Go ahead, pray. Your big brother Jesus can come to your rescue as swiftly as he
appeared on Easter evening. Peace be with you! Easter can’t be just a holiday.
 
PRAYER: Help me, Lord, to pause today in spite of all there is to do and all the things that
ramp up my anxiety; and fix my thoughts on how Jesus’ resurrection changes everything
about life. Give me a big sigh of peace and the assurance that I can pick up my life with
certainty about the things that matter. Amen.

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Father Forgive Them

Jesus Christ on cross painting
 
Luke 23:34  “Father, forgive them…”

How ironic that a day of such sadness becomes so well known as “Good Friday.”  But this is very much in keeping with a right understanding of what went on this day, many years ago.  If you attend or view a Good Friday service today, the music will be solemn.  There probably won’t be any laughter.  There may even be the shedding of a tear or two as we consider all that happened to our Savior.  That in itself is “good” for Good Friday.  It means we understand our sin.  The solemn music, lack of joy, and presence of tears aren’t just because we are emotionally attached to Jesus.  It’s not just because we’re hearing a tragic, true story about the death of someone we love.  It’s because we know that we are involved in all of this.  It is our sin which brought this day about, and not just everyone else’s.

We’ve been thinking about this and talking about this for well over a month now.  It began on Ash Wednesday, a day on which the world considers us foolish for wallowing in our guilt, and making ourselves depressed because of all the things we’ve done wrong.  It’s not pleasant to consider such things, but it is extremely beneficial when we arrive at this day.  We get it right when the sorrow of this day centers on our responsibility for it.  And when we get that right, then this day really becomes a “good” Friday.

Look at what Jesus does!  The agony, the suffering, the death is not just a tragic story about a hero who sacrifices Himself.  This day is about the impossible love of God for you and for me.  See Him hanging on a cross!  The brutality and violence of that act pales in comparison to how determined Jesus was to undergo it.  He did this willingly, lovingly for us and for our forgiveness.  Hear His final Words!  They aren’t just poetic last thoughts of a dying man.  They are full of salvation and again, love.

How could that not be good?  How good it was that God would send His Son.  How good it was that Jesus came!  How good it was that He fulfilled His mission!  How good it was that God made Him who had no sin, to be sin for us, that in Him, we might become the righteousness of God.  It is an appropriate label for a sorrowful day.  A blessed GOOD Friday to us all!

Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, nothing about this day seems good.  But we know better.  All that you did on this day is good for us, because now we are saved.  Our highest thanks and praise is to you, on this Good Friday.  Amen.

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