Blessings that look like disappointments…

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Zechariah 14:12 This shall be the plague with which the Lord will strike all the peoples that wage war against Jerusalem: their flesh shall rot while they are still on their feet; their eyes shall rot in their sockets, and their tongues shall rot in their mouths. 13 On that day a great panic from the Lord shall fall on them, so that each will seize the hand of a neighbor, and the hand of the one will be raised against the hand of the other; 14 even Judah will fight at Jerusalem. And the wealth of all the surrounding nations shall be collected—gold, silver, and garments in great abundance. 15 And a plague like this plague shall fall on the horses, the mules, the camels, the donkeys, and whatever animals may be in those camps. 16 Then all who survive of the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the festival of booths. 17 If any of the families of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, there will be no rain upon them. 18 And if the family of Egypt do not go up and present themselves, then on them shall come the plague that the Lord inflicts on the nations that do not go up to keep the festival of booths. 19 Such shall be the punishment of Egypt and the punishment of all the nations that do not go up to keep the festival of booths.

Pretty intense huh? As you may already know, there was a time in history when Israel was defeated by surrounding nations because of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God. Many Israelites were killed and much of the rest sent away to slavery or forced to flee to surrounding countries. It was awful. However, this passage also offered a promise from God. Yes, Israel would be defeated and humiliated, but that would not be the final word. Our passage for today describes a complete turnaround for Israel.

Rather than being a defeated nation, Israel would be restored to prominence by God. A great king would sit on the throne of Israel – a Messiah. The people of Israel would plunder surrounding nations, taking back what was stolen from them and much more. V.16-19 describes nations bringing tribute to Israel year after year and the punishment they would suffer if they didn’t. For a people utterly defeated and humiliated, this passage must have sounded like music to their ears. Revenge! Riches! Restoration! Glory! Victory! All of these things would be possible under the leadership of the Messiah, the One whom God would send to bring it all about!

But instead they got Jesus.

Instead of a mighty ruler on a throne, commander of a great army, they got a man hung on a cross in shame. I can only imagine the depth of the disappointment many felt. Jesus was nothing like what they expected or what the prophet Zechariah described. At least not yet. Will there come a time when every nation, every people, everywhere will bow before Jesus, recognizing him as king of kings? Absolutely. But instead of restoring only Israel at the expense of all other nations, Jesus came so that all people everywhere might become children of God by grace through faith.

What God brought about in Jesus far exceeded the outcome described by Zechariah.

In a similar way, I wonder what blessings God sends to us which look to us like disappointment. The bible tells us that God’s ways are not our ways. There are a couple of things that come to my mind this morning, things which are different than what I’ve been expecting but are potential blessings nonetheless. What about you? What blessings/opportunities are you missing because you’re looking in the wrong place or for the wrong thing? Lord open our eyes so we don’t miss the opportunities, the blessings, the grace you send our way. Amen.

God available to everyone…

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Psalm 147: 19 He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and ordinances to Israel. 20 He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know his ordinances. Praise the Lord! 

The psalmist describes a special relationship God has with the people of Israel (Jacob). Reading the Old Testament reveals this tribal God who takes sides with Israel against other nations. This is not a God for everyone. So it’s interesting how this dynamic shifts in a radical way via Jesus. Through Jesus Christ all who people everywhere have the opportunity to be counted among the children of God. Lord open the hearts of people everywhere to receive the grace of forgiveness of sin and eternal life in your holy name. Amen.

It’s Christmas Eve!

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Psalm 147: 1 Praise the Lord! How good it is to sing praises to our God; for he is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting. 

The Moravian Daily Texts is the reading plan I use to read through the bible. As we come to the end of the calendar year we’re reading the last few psalms. Today we begin Psalm 147 out of 150 psalms total. Some of the psalms express lament, pain, grief, loss. But this is a psalm of praise, which is particularly appropriate on Christmas Eve.

“How good it is to sing praises to our God…”

I’m not gonna lie, 2021 has been a difficult year after an extremely difficult 2020. There have been challenges in every area of life for sure. But there have also been many blessings. As I write this blog post I’m grateful that our son Nick is here from Charlotte, NC. Tonight our girls who live in the DFW area will join us for Christmas Eve worship. We will have dinner together with the families of other staff members who, like me, will be at church all evening long. I am enormously grateful for my co-workers at Rejoice Lutheran in Coppell, TX.

But mostly I am grateful this morning that, on the first Christmas morning over 2,000 years ago, God our Father loved the world enough to send his Son into the world – to reveal God’s love for us, to die on a cross for our sins, and to be raised on the third day. If you have no worship plans for this evening let me invite you to worship at Rejoice at 6pm (family service) or 8pm (candlelight service).

Lord Jesus, you were born in a messy, smelly stable many years ago. We thank you for your life, your death, your resurrection, and your promise of eternal life that is ours by your grace. We pray in your most holy name. Amen.

The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down…

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Psalm 146: 5 Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God, 6 who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever; 7 who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free; 8 the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. 9 The Lord watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin. 

I love the way this passage reflects the concern of God for the oppressed, the hungry, the prisoner, the blind, the bowed down, the stranger, the orphan and widow. At our best, we Christians act in ways that support people on the margins, particularly in this season of Advent and Christmas. It represents an important witness to a world that is increasingly skeptical of organized religion, and Christianity in particular.

Dear Lord, so much of the press connected to church is negative, highlighting the places where the we fail to live up to our values of love, compassion, grace, and mercy. Empower us to bear witness to who you are by loving people on the margins of our world. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

The Lord is near…

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Psalm 145: 18 The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. 

This is an important truth we need to remember, especially when we feel alone in our struggles. It may seem to us that the Lord is far away, that our prayers fall on deaf ears, that we are all alone. This verse is a reminder of the truth. When we call on the Lord, the Lord is near. This is an important word for me this morning. Lord let it be so. Amen.

God is good all the time! Well, most of the time…

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Psalm 145:13 The Lord is faithful in all his words, and gracious in all his deeds.14 The Lord upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down. 15 The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. 16 You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing. 

This may or may not make sense, but stay with me.

These are beautiful words from King David. His love for the Lord is evident. Yet I can’t help but think David has a bit of selective memory here. The bible speaks of many times when the people of God did fall, were not raised up, did not receive what they desired. King David himself had many struggles and heartbreaks despite being favored of God. After David died, things went downhill fast for Israel until ultimately God decided to bring famine, disease, death and destruction on Israel because of their infidelity. I’m not saying God was not justified in doing so, just that it doesn’t square with the words of our passage.

So when I read this passage it sounds to me like a white-washed portrayal of God.

That said, perhaps David is writing of his overall experience of God during the course of a lifetime. If that’s the case, this passage makes more sense. I probably do the same sort of thing when describing my experience of certain things and people. I might say my family is amazing, but that doesn’t mean it’s amazing every single day. My vocation as pastor is a dream come true – most days. Some days… not so much. My experience of God is a great blessing, but there are days when God seems far away indeed.

If I read our passage from this perspective, it makes sense to me. Lord thank you for your incredible faithfulness every single day, whether we recognize it every day or not. Amen.

Reaching young generations…

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Psalm 145: 4 One generation shall laud your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts. 5 On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate. 6 The might of your awesome deeds shall be proclaimed, and I will declare your greatness. 7 They shall celebrate the fame of your abundant goodness, and shall sing aloud of your righteousness. 

They say that Christianity lives one generation at a time. In other words, each generation has a responsibility to share the faith with the next. This morning I’m thinking of the persons who were older than me and who shared their faith with me. Most of them are gone now, but I’m so grateful for them. I’m also thinking of the persons younger than me with whom I am called to share my faith.

This past week I had a conversation with two young men in their 30s, both husbands and fathers. Both of whom were active members of churches some years ago, but who now struggle to connect with churches for Sunday worship and such. In the church I lead I have also noticed many of our young families becoming less visibly present since Covid time began. I wonder how churches might get creative in making Christian community more accessible to the rhythms and realities of younger people today. Lord give us grace to reach out to younger generations more effectively, just as older generations reached out to us. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

David’s prayer for abundance…

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Psalm 144: 12 May our sons in their youth be like plants full grown, our daughters like corner pillars, cut for the building of a palace. 13 May our barns be filled, with produce of every kind; may our sheep increase by thousands, by tens of thousands in our fields, 14 and may our cattle be heavy with young. 

This is a request from King David for God to bless the people with material abundance. Nothing wrong with that. Just like many of us human parents like to spoil our children once in a while, so does our heavenly Father. We can trust the Lord to make sure we have what we need. Jesus said it this way, “Do not worry about what you will eat or what you will drink or what you will wear… First seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you as well”. (Matthew 6:25-34)

What I find interesting is that Jesus and his followers did not enjoy vast material wealth as is described in our passage for today. Nor do I get the impression Jesus desired it. It just wasn’t that important to Jesus, unless it was needed to provide for others – as in feeding 5,000 people with a few fish and loaves of bread. Jesus trusted God to provide for his needs and that of his followers and God never let him down.

That said, do not be fooled brothers and sisters should you hear a Christian preacher make blanket promises of material wealth for Christians. Does God give wealth to Christians in some cases? Of course. And hopefully those wealthy believers give a good portion of it away for the sake of the gospel. But other believers are called to a life with few material resources. I can think of no better example than Jesus himself.

Heavenly Father, thank you for giving to your children all that we need, whether a lot or a little. Teach us to be grateful for all we have, receiving all things as a gift from you. And give us grace to be generous to others as the opportunity arises. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

If (the vision) seems to tarry, wait for it…

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Habakkuk 2: 2 Then the Lord answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. 3 For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay. 

The prophet Habakkuk is sharing an important word from the Lord to Israel. Like many other prophets, Habakkuk has been warning Israel of the consequences for their unfaithfulness to God, the injustice in the land of Judah, the worship of idols, and so on. Israel would pay a terrible price, but that would not be the last word. God would bring restoration to Israel after a time of suffering.

Habakkuk 2: 3 “For there is still a vision for the appointed time…”

Like Israel we are waiting for a vision of our future, but things are still very fuzzy in Covid time. Every time we think we have a handle on things, the situation changes (Omicron variant for example) and our assumptions have to be recalibrated. The tension of the unknown takes a toll over time…

If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come…”

The promise of scripture is that the Lord will give us a vision for our future. Eventually. And so we wait. Lord give us grace to trust you in this season of uncertainty. Amen.

For your name’s sake, O Lord…

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Psalm 143: 9 Save me, O Lord, from my enemies; I have fled to you for refuge. 10 Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. Let your good spirit lead me on a level path. 11 For your name’s sake, O Lord, preserve my life. In your righteousness bring me out of trouble. 12 In your steadfast love cut off my enemies, and destroy all my adversaries, for I am your servant. 

King David was the writer of this psalm. He’s obviously felt threatened and called on the God the Father to rescue him. I particularly noticed v.11 “For your name’s sake, O Lord, preserve my life.” It’s a reflection of a covenant relationship David and the people of Israel had with God. As such they shared an identity, not unlike a family of blood might have today. God and Israel were linked. If Israel were humiliated, God would be humiliated. If Israel prevailed, God would prevail. David often leaned on this dynamic of covenant relationship when his back was against the wall.

Today we Christians enjoy a covenant relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Like David, when our backs are against the wall, we can call on the name of the Lord. Where do you need the Lord to intervene on your behalf? Where are you struggling? Where are you losing hope? Pray with me. Lord, hear our prayers when we are in need, for we are your children through Jesus. Thank you for your faithfulness in all things. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.