Faith and believing things not seen…

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Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 

Seems to me the entire practice of Christianity hangs on this key idea. I have not seen Jesus in the flesh. I did not witness his life, death, or resurrection. I have not observed the fulfillment of the promise of eternal life. I get that it’s a challenge to have “conviction of things not seen”.

But I have seen the power of the gospel to change people from the inside out, starting with me. The Lord has saved me from the power of sin and death – even though I still sin against God and mortal death will one day visit me. What I mean is that sin and death no longer have the last word. By grace alone, the Lord has given me trust that the promise of eternal life includes me. And you. And all who call on the name of the Lord Jesus. Amen.

God, champion for the marginalized…

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Psalm 113:5 Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high, 6 who looks far down on the heavens and the earth? 7 He raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap, 8 to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people. 9 He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the Lord!

It’s good to read a psalm of praise this morning, as opposed to a psalm of lament which have been common of late as we follow the Moravian Daily Texts reading plan. I’m interested in the ways in which the psalmist describes God’s actions from his seat “on high”. The writer highlights the following:

  • Raises the poor from the dust
  • Lifts the needy from the ash heap
  • Makes (the poor and needy) sit with princes
  • Gives barren women a home by giving her children

As we know, God did many other things which might have made the list. God led the people from slavery in Egypt, gave the formerly nomadic Hebrews a land of their own, gave them victory in battle, brought upon them rich treasures from other nations, and much more.

But in today’s passage the writer highlights another dimension of God’s nature. God takes particular interest in advocacy for the poor, the dispossessed, the marginalized, the alien, the widow, the orphan. It’s a consistent theme in scripture, which has me thinking this morning. How is it that my church and my own life reflect God’s particular interest in people on the margins? I’ll be praying about this today. Lord open my heart and speak your word into me. Amen.

Greatly delight in God’s commandments…

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Psalm 112: 1 Praise the LORD! Happy are those who fear the LORD, who greatly delight in his commandments… 7 They are not afraid of evil tidings; their hearts are firm, secure in the LORD. 

This is a good companion passage to my blog post of yesterday wrestling what it means to “love and fear God”. If you didn’t read it, find it here:

https://pastorernieblog.org/2019/09/27/love-and-fear-god/

To fear the Lord is to “greatly delight in his commandments”. I don’t usually put “fear” and “great delight” in the same sentence, but the fact that the psalmist does so tells us a bit about his understanding of fearing the Lord. Fear of God is not an invitation to terror but to blessing, which is generally a good thing. It’s something to look forward to. I also love the emphatic language used here. One who fears the Lord does not simply delight in the commandments of the Lord, but “greatly” delights in them.

I’m not sure that I greatly delight in the commandments of God. If I’m honest, there are many times when I chafe at God’s commandments, as if following them means missing out on something good. In this way I’m no different from Adam and Eve who, at least in part, ate the forbidden fruit because they wanted to “be like God”. But the news isn’t all bad.

I also have the Holy Spirit of God dwelling within me. It’s the Spirit that God gave to me in my baptism (and to you if you are baptized). In my own strength sin will always get the better of me, but empowered by the Spirit I can be set free from bondage to sin. By pure grace the Lord gives me strength to resist my worst impulses and live more closely into the life God imagines for me every day.

No, our world is not completely rid of sin and death just yet, but soon my dear friends. Because Jesus is coming!

 

Love and fear God…

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Psalm 111:10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever.

Today I’ve been thinking about the “fear of the Lord”, which according to the psalmist is the beginning of wisdom. We read this sort of language in many places in scripture, particularly in the Old Testament. God did mighty works of power in freeing the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt. Other nations heard of what God had done and so feared the Hebrews. God brought fear to the Hebrews themselves at Mt. Sinai as a warning to the people against sin. Even Luther, when explaining the 10 commandments in the small catechism, prefaces each item with “We should love and fear God…”.

I’m a father of three children myself, though they are young adults now. But when they were little I suppose I wanted them to love and fear me as well. I don’t mean fear as in they were scared of me. I don’t believe they ever were. But fear as in a healthy respect.  And of course I trusted their respect for me would rest on a foundation of the deep love I had for them. They knew I would do anything for them.

And while in their youth they often chafed at the boundaries their mother and I placed upon them, they later realized there was purpose behind the boundaries – which were in place so life would go well for them. It’s been especially gratifying to see them maintain those boundaries even when they could choose to reject them. Mom and dad know a thing or two after all!

So when I think about my own fear of the Lord it’s through that kind of lens that I think of it. If I fear the Lord and honor the boundaries the Lord has placed on me, things will tend to go well with me. And with you if you will do the same. Lord, let it be so. Amen.

Discipline and grace…

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Lamentations 3:22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; 23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”

The writer was among the remnant of Israel living in the city of Jerusalem, which was in ruins after invasion from the Babylonians. Most of the rest of the Israelites were either dead or living as slaves in Babylon. Hence the book of Lamentations is filled with sorrow, grief, and loss. Yet, despite the brutal reality the writer had experienced, he wrote of God’s “steadfast love”, “mercies”, and “faithfulness”.

“The Lord is my portion… therefore I will hope in him.”

I’m blown away by the author’s optimism and hope. Yes God had punished his people, but had not forsaken them. He brought death and destruction, but it did not last forever. The deep connection between God and Israel had not been severed, only tested. The writer had hope.

I can recall receiving corporal punishment as a child, which was a common thing decades ago. I remember dreading a spanking when I had done wrong and feeling the sting on my backside. But I was more worried that my parents would somehow reject me or stop loving me. I expect this was evident on my face because very often, immediately following a spanking, I would be embraced and told I was loved. In that moment of vulnerability I needed that.

I see a similar thing in the book of Lamentations. God had brought harsh discipline on the people, but had not forsaken them altogether. They were still God’s people and he was still their God. Lord give us grace to accept your discipline as well as your mercies, which are new every morning. Amen.

The need for a second covenant…

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Hebrews 8:6 But Jesus has now obtained a more excellent ministry, and to that degree he is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted through better promises. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need to look for a second one. 

The writer is comparing the first covenant of the law (given through Moses) and the new covenant of grace (given through Jesus). Here’s a note I wrote in my bible two years ago that still reflects my thinking today:

“It would certainly seem from scripture that the first covenant of the law, via Moses, was intended to lead the people to perfection and union with God. It didn’t. There is now a second covenant that includes the first, but is covered by the grace of God. A question that I have relates to why God would make a covenant that did not ultimately work out. Why the need for a second? I understand there is human sin, fallen world, and all that. But an omniscient God would have known a covenant of law was insufficient given our frailty.”

Lord, whatever your reasons for two covenants, I thank you that we now have access to you by grace through Jesus Christ. Make me into the man you imagined I could be when you conceived me in my mother’s womb. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Confession and forgiveness…

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Lamentations 1:14 My transgressions were bound into a yoke; by his hand they were fastened together; they weigh on my neck, sapping my strength; the Lord handed me over to those whom I cannot withstand.

If you’re reading along with the Moravian Daily Texts you know we just finished the book of Jeremiah and are now entering Lamentations. Lamentations is a book written by someone living in Jerusalem after the city was destroyed and its people taken into servitude in Babylon. All the bad things Jeremiah warned against have taken place and people are trying to pick up the pieces. I’m struck by the contrast between this verse and Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28-29

28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

I don’t know if Jesus was thinking of Lamentations when he said what he did, but it wouldn’t surprise me. The burdens of sin – guilt, shame, hardness of heart – are heavy. Mostly heavy on the inside.

To take on Jesus’ yoke, at least in part, is to confess our sins to him and accept the forgiveness of sins offered by grace through him. When we are relieved of our sins our burden is light and we can find rest for our souls.

Lord examine my heart and call me to confession and forgiveness. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.