Trusting the Lord for what has been lost…

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Psalm 137:1 By the rivers of Babylon— there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion. 2 On the willows there we hung up our harps. 3 For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” 4 How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? 

The people of Israel, having strayed from God and no longer enjoying his protection, were conquered by the Babylonians. Many of them were killed and most who survived were taken prisoner and sent live in Babylon. They would remain there for seventy years before God would allow them to return and rebuild all that had been destroyed.

Our passage describes a scene in which the people of Israel were being taunted by their captors, asked to sing “songs of Zion”. In other words, songs that described the beauty and majesty of Jerusalem and especially the temple of the Lord – which had been completely destroyed. It was cruel and, no doubt, heartbreaking. To sing of the glory of Jerusalem, which lay in ruins, would have been painful – particularly for those who were old enough to remember what it was like in its heyday.

The holidays can be like this for many people. We remember what our families and friendships were like in years past compared to present day and are saddened by it. Close relationships are broken. Loved ones are lost. People scattered. But there is hope.

God would eventually see that Jerusalem, including the temple of the Lord, was rebuilt. It wouldn’t be exactly as before, but it would bless the people in many ways. The Lord can rebuild what has been lost in your life. It may not be exactly as before, but it can bless you. This morning I’m reflecting on the things I’ve lost over the years, experiencing the pain of it but trusting the Lord for something good to come. Lord let it be so. Amen.

Come Lord Jesus…come…

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John 18:33 Then Pilate (the Roman governor of Judea) entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus (who had been taken prisoner), and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35 Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”

V.36 declares an important truth about Jesus. He was NOT one to rule in the fashion of an earthly king – though his followers had hoped he would. Shortly after this exchange with Pilate, Jesus was crucified. No doubt his fellow Jews were devastated in their disappointment and heartbreak. Of course, we know what the people in this story did not. Jesus came, not to rule over an earthly kingdom, but to express the love of God the Father via Jesus the Son…and to die and rise again – taking the punishment of our sins on the cross and giving to us his righteousness by faith.

I believe this sort of disconnect between who people WANT Jesus to be and who he actually is continues. We pray in Jesus’ name for the sick to be healed. Sometimes they are healed, which is wonderful. But many times they are not healed and we are disappointed. We pray for Jesus to remedy the wrongs in this world, but too often injustice continues despite our prayers. We pray for peace in Jesus’ name, yet violence continues. We pray for others to know the love and saving power of Jesus, and yet Jesus is ignored.

We want Jesus to execute healing and justice and peace and salvation for all people in this world right now… two thoughts in this regard:

  1. Just because Jesus doesn’t appear to do what we ask, when we ask, doesn’t mean we should give up. The bible is clear we believers must be prepared to ask again and again.
  2. The day is coming when Jesus returns to reign over the whole world, bringing healing, wholeness, peace, justice, plenty to our world for eternity. In that day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord!

Come Lord Jesus. Come. Amen.

Giving thanks…

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Psalm 131: 1 O Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. 2 But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.3 O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time on and forevermore. 

V.2 above gets my attention. I suppose it’s because we are so close to Thanksgiving, a time at which we are expected to gather with loved ones and give thanks for all of the blessings we enjoy – usually over a Thanksgiving meal. You may recognize the picture here from Norman Rockwell called, “Thanksgiving”. If you look closely at the picture you’ll see lots of smiling faces from people of all ages, and an enormous turkey being placed on the table. It’s a picture of peace, of joy, of love, of abundance, capturing the spirit of the holiday. That said, it appears more aspirational to me than real.

The gathering many of us will attend will fall short of this ideal. Not everyone will be smiling. Some of those we love will not be present due to other commitments, or family conflict, or even death. There’s a reason the holiday season is a time of deep despair for many people. I expect the psalmist understood what it means to live in a reality which falls short of the ideal.

Yet even so, he has “calmed and quieted my soul”. And how does he do this? He finds “hope in the Lord” (v.3). This is speaking to me this morning. This week I’ll gather with loved ones as will many of you. We will enjoy a meal, watch some football, and catch up with one another. And, yes, there will be some who are not in attendance due to other commitments or because they’ve gone home to be with the Lord. They will be deeply missed. Yet, despite this, my loved ones and I have much to be thankful for.

Heavenly Father it’s true that our lives are far from perfect, but we still enjoy so much blessing. Give us hearts that focus on what’s right rather than what’s wrong. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.


What to keep, what not to keep…

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John 15:1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.”

This is a verse describing a time of reflection/evaluation using the metaphor of a grapevine. God the Father is the grower of the vine, Jesus is the vine itself. If you read the rest of the chapter it suggests that Jesus’ followers are the branches on the vine, some of which are fruitful and some of which are not.

We’re coming to the end of the year. Yes I know it’s just mid November, we all know the remaining weeks of 2022 will fly by. So it’s at this time of year I begin to reflect on the various things to which I’ve been committing my time and energy this year. As is probably true of you, some of the things/people/projects/initiatives I’ve been investing in have been fruitful, some not. So these verses challenge me to remove things from my life that aren’t fruitful. Why? Because when we invest in things that don’t bear fruit it reduces the investment we can make in the things that do.

Logically this makes all the sense in the world, but sometimes my problem isn’t logic, but emotional process. It can be hard to admit that something didn’t work out or that some relationships are no longer life-giving. So today I’m asking the Holy Spirit to guide my discernment that I might choose wisely. Lord, let it be so. Amen.

A house of worship…

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1 Kings 8:27 “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built! 28 Regard your servant’s prayer and his plea, O Lord my God, heeding the cry and the prayer that your servant prays to you today; 29 that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that you may heed the prayer that your servant prays toward this place. 30 Hear the plea of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place; O hear in heaven your dwelling place; heed and forgive. 

Before the temple was built in Jerusalem, the Lord dwelled in a tent – which was called a “tabernacle”. It was the place where God met with the people while they were wandering in the wilderness between Egypt and the Promised Land. Some generations after the people settled in the Promised Land, and Jerusalem was established as the holy city, King Solomon built a more permanent dwelling place for God which would be known as the temple.

God didn’t need a temple, but the people wanted one, which I understand. As Christians we understand that a church building is not “the church” because the church is the people. Wherever we go, so goes the church. But buildings can be useful for many reasons. As was the case in ancient Israel, modern houses of worship are useful as places of focus for our prayers, for our worship, for gathering together as God’s people.

The church I serve as pastor has a beautiful sanctuary, which I appreciate very much. Is it required for worship? No. But I’m glad we have it nonetheless. Lord thank you for the beautiful houses of worship around the world. And thank you Lord Jesus for meeting us there whenever two or more are gathered in your name. Amen.

What are you waiting for?

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Psalm 123: 1 To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens! 2 As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, until he has mercy upon us. 3 Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt. 4 Our soul has had more than its fill of the scorn of those who are at ease, of the contempt of the proud. 

The verses above represent the entire psalm. Not much to it, right? But the message is familiar. The psalmist feels like the world is beating up on him and his community. They who follow God struggle while the unbelievers prosper. That’s not how things are supposed to work. What has my attention this morning is the end of v.2 “our eyes look to the Lord our God, until he has mercy upon us”. They are waiting on the Lord to bring relief, to set things right.

There is someone dear to me who has gotten caught up in an internet scam with someone posing as a paramour and asking for money. My dear one is not stupid by any means. To the contrary, this person is very intelligent – but also lonely and somewhat isolated. Over the course of a year the fraudster has managed to secure hundreds of thousands of dollars from this person who, at an advanced age, cannot afford to part with. But it’s obvious the fraudster is providing something my dear one needs. Companionship – even if it’s only via text or email. When confronted with evidence of the scam (even by law enforcement people), my dear one simply refuses to believe it. And while there may not be any more financial exchanges, the fraudster continues to have an emotional hold.

When will it end? What will it take?

And so while my dear one continues to wait for this fraudster to finally appear in-person and prove us all wrong, which has been promised to my dear one many times, but always cancelled, I wait upon the Lord to take the blinders from my dear one and reveal the truth – because at this point it appears logic and reason or personal appeal is not enough to break the spell. This is a mountain the Lord will have to move.

What are you waiting for from the Lord? Father, give us grace to wait, yet to never lose hope. Amen.

A house divided… doesn’t end well…

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1 Kings 1:1 King David was old and advanced in years; and although they covered him with clothes, he could not get warm…Now Adonijah son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, “I will be king”; he prepared for himself chariots and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him. His father had never at any time displeased him by asking, “Why have you done thus and so?” He was also a very handsome man, and he was born next after Absalom. He conferred with Joab son of Zeruiah and with the priest Abiathar, and they supported Adonijah. But the priest Zadok, and Benaiah son of Jehoiada, and the prophet Nathan, and Shimei, and Rei, and David’s own warriors did not side with Adonijah. Adonijah sacrificed sheep, oxen, and fatted cattle by the stone Zoheleth, which is beside En-rogel, and he invited all his brothers, the king’s sons, and all the royal officials of Judah, 10 but he did not invite the prophet Nathan or Benaiah or the warriors or his brother Solomon. 

This is the second son of David who attempted to assume David’s throne while he was still alive. There are some things that get my attention here.V.6 tells us David never “displeased” his son by holding him accountable for his actions. In other words, he refused to discipline his son. Unfortunately this was a pattern with David as he had made the same mistake with his son Amnon who raped one of his half-sisters – and David did nothing about it.

We’re also told David’s people were divided on the matter of his son Adonijah and whether they should support him as king or not. The Lord had told David that his son Solomon, who was younger than Adonijah, would succeed David on the throne – not Adonijah. God’s promise contradicted the precedents of culture which dictated the eldest son should succeed a king. We don’t know if Adonijah knew of this word from the Lord regarding Solomon, but it doesn’t appear he was taking any chances. V.9 tells us of all the animal sacrifices Adonijah made to the Lord. Some particular parts of the animal would have been burned in the fire upon the altar, but most of the animal would have been served up to the people at-large, sort of like a big BBQ. Sounds a lot like a political campaign stop to me. (Are you sick of the political ads yet?)

The overall vibe I get from this passage is one of conflict, of choosing sides, of dividing a people who plot and scheme for their own benefit. We have so much of that going on in our world today, it makes me sad. The conflict here in the book of 1 Kings does not end well. I fear something similar may happen to us in our current political climate, just days away from the mid-term elections. Jesus said, “A house divided cannot stand”. We may be about to find out just how true those words are.

Lord Jesus, we are a people divided. The political class has gone completely off the rails, resorting to misinformation, violence, hatred and vitriol toward the other side. Save us from our worst impulses dear Jesus. Amen.

A new covenant via Jesus’ blood…

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2 Samuel 21:1 Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year; and David inquired of the LORD. The LORD said, “There is bloodguilt on Saul and on his house, because he put the Gibeonites to death.” 2 So the king called the Gibeonites and spoke to them. (Now the Gibeonites were not of the people of Israel, but of the remnant of the Amorites; although the people of Israel had sworn to spare them, Saul had tried to wipe them out in his zeal for the people of Israel and Judah.) 3 David said to the Gibeonites, “What shall I do for you? How shall I make expiation, that you may bless the heritage of the LORD?” 4 The Gibeonites said to him, “It is not a matter of silver or gold between us and Saul or his house; neither is it for us to put anyone to death in Israel.” He said, “What do you say that I should do for you?” 5 They said to the king, “The man who consumed us and planned to destroy us, so that we should have no place in all the territory of Israel— 6 let seven of his sons be handed over to us, and we will impale them before the LORD at Gibeon on the mountain of the LORD.” The king said, “I will hand them over.”

If you keep reading this chapter you will see David did what was asked – gathered seven sons or grandsons of Saul (the former king of Israel) and handed them over to be put to death. This satisfied Israel’s blood debt to the Gibeonites (incurred when King Saul put many Gibeonites to death) and the famine was lifted by God.

It strikes me that God didn’t just tolerate the sacrifice of the sons of Saul, but required it. It was a blood sacrifice to atone for the sins of Saul and Israel more broadly against Gibeon. This kind of blood sacrifice, usually of animals, was customary as a means to receive forgiveness of sins from God. It’s a very “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” kind of principle.

This story makes me forever grateful that, in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, all blood sacrifices are considered paid. We no longer sacrifice animals and such at the altar of the church, but instead receive bread and wine via the Lord’s Supper. Part of the communion liturgy is when I lift the cup of wine and repeat Jesus’ words to his disciples, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sins.”

Lord Jesus thank you for your blood sacrifice for us. Amen.

Who are the “sheep”?

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Jon 10:22 It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 26 but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 

V.26-27 got my attention this morning. Jesus refers to his disciples as his “sheep” who follow him as if he were a shepherd. It’s clear from reading the gospel narratives in the bible that many people heard Jesus preach and saw him perform great signs and wonders, yet did not choose to follow him or recognize him as Messiah. In fact, MOST people may have found him interesting or even entertaining, like a circus act, but were not willing to leave home to be with him. Yet some were. These were the ones whom God the Father had prepared in advance to receive his message and to “see” him as Messiah while many others, especially pharisees (Jewish religious authorities) did not.

Over my 25 years as a pastor I’ve seen this principle at work over and over again. As we share the story of Jesus with others, as we invite people to be part of our church community, as we offer to pray for people in need, some people receive what we have to offer but many do not. That’s okay. As was the case with Jesus, not everyone we encounter has been prepared by God the Father to be open to us and receive what we have to give. We can’t MAKE someone be receptive, but we can recognize when they are and follow up.

This morning I’m praying for the Lord to reveal to me who my “sheep” might be right now. Yes, I know there are people in some circles who consider it an insult to be called a “sheep”, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Who are the people who are open to us right now? How might we connect those persons more closely to the Lord who is already stirring in them?

Lord open our eyes to see where you are bringing people to us, so that we might connect them to you. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Speaking the hard truth…

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2 Samuel 19:1 It was told Joab, “The king is weeping and mourning for Absalom.” 2 So the victory that day was turned into mourning for all the troops; for the troops heard that day, “The king is grieving for his son.” 3 The troops stole into the city that day as soldiers steal in who are ashamed when they flee in battle. 4 The king covered his face, and the king cried with a loud voice, “O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son!” 5 Then Joab came into the house to the king, and said, “Today you have covered with shame the faces of all your officers who have saved your life today, and the lives of your sons and your daughters, and the lives of your wives and your concubines, 6 for love of those who hate you and for hatred of those who love you. You have made it clear today that commanders and officers are nothing to you; for I perceive that if Absalom were alive and all of us were dead today, then you would be pleased. 7 So go out at once and speak kindly to your servants; for I swear by the Lord, if you do not go, not a man will stay with you this night; and this will be worse for you than any disaster that has come upon you from your youth until now.”

Joab was Kind David’s military commander-in-chief. Joab and his armies put down a rebellion by Absalom, King David’s son. It was a great victory for sure. Many of Joab’s men lost their lives in restoring King David to his rightful place on the throne in Jerusalem – but David was heartbroken because his son was killed in the process. David had specifically asked his military people not to harm Absalom, but Joab disregarded David’s request and killed Absalom. The passage for today describes a conversation between Joab and David after the battle was over.

What I find interesting is Joab’s courage in bluntly telling King David the hard truth. I’m guessing David was not used to being talked to in this manner, but Joab was correct. David risked losing the loyalty of his army if he didn’t stop being the grieving father, at least in public, and instead be a king grateful for the sacrificial service of his soldiers.

This morning I’m wondering who my Joab might be – a person or persons who will tell me hard truths. What about you?