For his steadfast love endures forever…

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Psalm 136:3 O give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his steadfast love endures forever; 4 who alone does great wonders, for his steadfast love endures forever; 5 who by understanding made the heavens, for his steadfast love endures forever; 6 who spread out the earth on the waters, for his steadfast love endures forever; 7 who made the great lights, for his steadfast love endures forever; 8 the sun to rule over the day, for his steadfast love endures forever…

Psalm 136 names marvelous things God has done followed by the refrain, “for his steadfast love endures forever”. It’s a psalm of Thanksgiving which I’m reading on Thanksgiving Day in the US. So I’m wondering how I might write a few verses myself.

O give thanks to the Lord of lord, for his steadfast love endures forever. It is God alone who:

  • Provides for me and my loved ones everything we need
  • Brings healing when we are ill
  • Gives us a purpose and direction for life
  • Forgives our many sins and transgressions 
  • Extends to us eternal life through Jesus Christ
  • Comforts us when those we love pass away
  • So much more…

How would you add to this list if you were writing this psalm? If you’re like most people today brings both joy – and sorrow. Holidays have a way of bringing into focus that which is lacking, persons who are missing, relationships that are broken, and more. We don’t need to deny the hard things of life as people of faith.

Yet despite all that needs fixing in my life and yours, today we are encouraged to give thanks for all that is right, the blessings of God given by grace. Lord let it be so. Amen.

Worshipping dead things…

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Psalm 135:16 They have mouths, but they do not speak; they have eyes, but they do not see; 17 they have ears, but they do not hear, and there is no breath in their mouths. 18 Those who make them and all who trust them shall become like them.

Idols (man-made objects that were worshipped) were everywhere in the ancient world. One of the distinctive traits of Yahweh was a lack of physical representation, a result of the commandment “you shall make no graven images/idols”. Yet worship of idols was never eradicated, even among the Israelites.

The verses above are intended to mock the worship of idols. They are dead things that serve only to spread death to those who make them and worship them, for unlike Yahweh they cannot give or sustain life.

My mind naturally goes to the ways I try to find life from dead things – material objects, recognition from other people, physical pleasures. Idols are very much still with us dear brothers and sisters. And people of faith are still drawn to them. Dearest Lord teach us to seek you with all our hearts, for in you alone is life eternal. Amen.

The conflict continues…

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Psalm 135:8 He it was who struck down the firstborn of Egypt, both human beings and animals; 9 he sent signs and wonders into your midst, O Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants. 10 He struck down many nations and killed mighty kings— 11 Sihon, king of the Amorites, and Og, king of Bashan, and all the kingdoms of Canaan— 12 and gave their land as a heritage, a heritage to his people Israel.

Here the psalmist is reminding the Israelites of God’s goodness over the centuries. Of course the story of the Exodus and the entry of God’s people into the Promised Land is a key identity story for Israel. It’s an uplifting narrative for the psalmist.

But today I’m also noticing how this was not an uplifting story for the people of Canaan who lost their homeland. In some ways the battle for this piece of earth continues today. And I have to admit I’m conflicted. God gave this land to Israel and, as Creator of heaven and earth, it is certainly God’s prerogative to do so. However, I’m not unsympathetic to those who believe the land was taken from them.

Lord bring your peace to the Holy Land.

A church without love is no longer the church…

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Revelation 2:1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands: 2 “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance. I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers; you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be false. 3 I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.”

First thing that jumps out at me is in v.1, “To the angel of the church in Ephesus…”. The letter isn’t addressed to a person but an angel, likely a guardian angel of the church in Ephesus. Other parts of the New Testament have mentioned angels of specific cities which battle the evil powers in the heavenly realms, but this is the first time I can recall mention of an angel for a specific church. Somehow I find this a comforting thought, the idea that Rejoice Lutheran Church which I serve has a guardian angel. What a blessing it would be for the Lord to reveal this angel to me. I’ve only seen angels a few times in my life so it would be a real treat.

The second thing I notice here is in v.4 “…you have abandoned the love you had at first…”. Of what love is the passage referring? I could be wrong here, but seems like the intolerance for “evildoers” (v.2) has gotten out of hand. It’s important for Christians to recognize the difference between a person’s practices and the person him/herself. At our best the church is known for love, especially love for people. Even people who do wrong. None of us is without sin, right? When condemnation of a practice becomes condemnation of the practitioner we have gotten off track. Our main purpose is to share life with Jesus with others. When we lead with a wagging finger calling out other peoples sins we won’t get far. I’m thinking this is what had happened in Ephesus.

A church without love is no longer the church.

Love is what draws people to the Lord. Love is the thing people most need in our world. Out of love can come life-change for the better, for sure, but love has to be the starting point. Lord teach us never to forget our first love. Amen.

 

Battle in the heavenly places…

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Daniel 10:10 But then (as Daniel was about to receive a vision from God and fell to the ground) a hand touched me and roused me to my hands and knees. 11 He said to me, “Daniel, greatly beloved, pay attention to the words that I am going to speak to you. Stand on your feet, for I have now been sent to you.” So while he was speaking this word to me, I stood up trembling. 12 He said to me, “Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. 13 But the prince of the kingdom of Persia opposed me twenty-one days. So Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, and I left him there with the prince of the kingdom of Persia, 14 and have come to help you understand what is to happen to your people at the end of days. For there is a further vision for those days.” 

Every once in a while the bible attempts to help pull back the curtain on the spiritual realities we cannot see. In this case God reveals to Daniel that he has heard Daniel’s request to “gain understanding” but that understanding was delayed. How was it delayed?

“But the prince of the kingdom of Persia opposed me (God) twenty-one days.”

The prince of the kingdom of Persia wasn’t a person but a demonic power seeking to prevent Daniel from receiving the revelation from God. God eventually sent Michael (the archangel) to deal with that situation. Interesting huh? Reminds me of some of the teaching of the apostle Paul in Ephesians chapter 6.

I don’t pretend to have a comprehensive understanding of the heavenly realm and how forces of good and evil do battle, but I know the battle takes place – then and now. I know it’s a continuous battle that will not come to an end until Jesus returns to defeat the power of evil for good. In the meantime, passages like this one remind me of this spiritual reality and how important it is to seek the resources of heaven made available to all believers in Jesus’ name.

Lord, let it be so. Amen.

The inward being, the outward being…

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3 John 1:2 Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, just as it is well with your soul. 

Here the apostle greets the believers who are receiving his letter. I’m particularly drawn to the distinction he is making between the outward being (health) and the inward being (soul).  The older I get the more I realize these two dimensions of being don’t necessarily track together.

This week my shoulder is bothering me a bit. I’m told it’s tendonitis, but that’s just the latest bit of breakdown in my physical being. The issues keep piling up and I know it’s not likely to get better the older I get. That’s just a fact of life. We’re not designed to last forever, at least not on the outside.

But then there’s the inside part of our being, the “soul”. Whereas it’s been a bad week for my shoulder, it’s been a good week for my inner being. I’m at a continuing education retreat with a few pastor colleagues I’ve been meeting with for three years now. We’ve gotten to be really good friends and it blesses me to spend time with these people. They support and encourage me, but also challenge me in my life and work.

In this and other ways my soul is in a good place – well, mostly. I’m human and there are days that feel heavy and difficult. But the Lord has been good in helping my inside grow stronger as my outside grows weaker. Lord thank you for the grace you pour out on your children. Amen.

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Daniel 6:1 It pleased Darius (the new king) to set over the kingdom one hundred twenty satraps, stationed throughout the whole kingdom, 2 and over them three presidents, including Daniel; to these the satraps gave account, so that the king might suffer no loss. 3 Soon Daniel distinguished himself above all the other presidents and satraps because an excellent spirit was in him, and the king planned to appoint him over the whole kingdom. 4 So the presidents and the satraps tried to find grounds for complaint against Daniel in connection with the kingdom. But they could find no grounds for complaint or any corruption, because he was faithful, and no negligence or corruption could be found in him. 5 The men said, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.” 

Daniel clearly has the favor of the Lord, yet he’s repeatedly getting in trouble. Seems like a disconnect for me. But I’ve seen this before, especially in the story of Joseph from the book of Genesis. It was said of Joseph “the Lord was with him”, yet he was sold into slavery and ended up in prison in Egypt. Eventually Joseph was placed second in command of the entire nation of Egypt. Didn’t see that coming. Here is a parallel as Daniel goes from being thrown in fire, and then into a lion’s den, only to be raised up to a place of great authority.

It reminds me that having the favor of the Lord doesn’t mean we will stay out of trouble or that people will respond well to us. In fact, sometimes it’s quite the opposite.