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Saturday, December 27, 2014

Wash All of Me Jesus




 

Wash All of Me Jesus

 (Luke 13:1-9)

 

 

Time was running out.  Jesus knew that in a few days he would be sent to the cross by the Pharisees and priests.  Jesus had done many things to anger them, but often during His ministry, Jesus had forgiven people of their sins.  That had especially made these religious leaders furious.  (Luke 7:44-47, Mark 2:9, etc.)  “Only God can forgive sins” they had fussed, not realizing that Jesus is the Son of God.

 

Jesus knew his time was running out and He was concerned about his disciple and how they would get through the difficult days ahead.  Persecution and hate would soon cause Jesus to go to his death.   And Jesus knew that in the future persecution and hate would cause most of his disciples to follow him to the death also.     

 

This would be one of the last times Jesus would be with his beloved disciples before his death and He still had so much to tell them.  As Jesus and his disciples were eating dinner together Jesus rose early from the table and wrapped a towel around his waste and filled a basin with water.  Then Jesus started around the room kneeling down in front of the nearest disciple and lovingly washing and drying his feet and then moving on to the next one and gently washing and drying his feet.

 

 Two of the disciples had been arguing about which one would be greatest in the kingdom.  And perhaps Jesus, our Servant King, was trying to show these men how they could humbly serve one another and perform the most menial tasks with Christian love.  To be a leader, Jesus told his followers, one should take the role of a servant. 

 

After Jesus had been moving around the table washing four and then five of his disciples’ feet, He finally came to Peter.  But when He started to wash Peter’s feet, Peter jumped up and stopped Him protesting loudly:  “Lord, you are not going to wash my feet!”

 

  Jesus answered: “Peter, you do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”  (John 13:7)  Jesus perhaps was trying to tell Peter to just trust Him even if he didn’t completely understand.

 

  But Peter wouldn’t listen!  He stamped his feet!  “No, you shall never wash my feet!” he insisted. (John 13:8a)  Peter probably didn’t think it was proper for Jesus to be his servant. (In those days the job of washing a guest’s feet fell to the servants or the slaves) 

 

But then Jesus answered Peter: “Unless I wash you, you will have no part with Me!”  (John 13:8b)  There was a long pause!  Uh oh!  Peter hadn’t realized how important it was for Jesus to wash him. – to wash him spiritually, that is.  “Then, Lord, don’t just wash my feet, but wash my hands and my head also,” Peter quickly replied, bowing his head.  (John 13:9) 

 

Peter was learning that Jesus is the One who would wash away his sins.  And Jesus is the One who will wash away our sins too.  There is no other.  Scripture says that we are all sinners.  (Romans 3:23)  And we are all in need of spiritual cleansing in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. There are no sins in heaven and we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven in our sinful condition.  We cannot come before a holy God in our sins.  We must be covered with Christ’s righteousness to enter in.  (Matthew 22:11)

 

Peter gave in and asked Jesus to wash him.  He didn’t want to miss out on his part with the Savior.  And we must allow Jesus to wash us too.  We can do that by repenting of our sins and asking Him to be our Savior.  Repentance is the doorway to grace. (1 John 1:9)   

 

The Psalmist proclaimed:” Wash me and I will be whiter than snow…”  (Psalm 51:7)  and Isaiah writes: “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord, Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.  Though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”  (Isaiah 1:18)  We celebrate Communion or Mass to remember that Jesus shed his blood and gave up his body to be put to death in order to take away our sins. 

 

Scripture records that once when Jesus was celebrating the Passover meal with his disciples, He taught them that when they partook of the bread and the wine they would be proclaiming His death and the washing away of their sins. (Matthew 26:26)

 

 As Jesus was eating with the disciples, He took the bread and gave thanks and broke it up in pieces and gave it to them saying: “Take, and eat, this is my body, broken for you.”  (Matthew 16:16b)  And then Jesus took the cup and gave thanks and offered it to them saying, “Drink from it all of you.  This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.  I tell you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.”  (Matthew 26:27) 

 

Jesus told his disciples and all of his followers (that’s us) to eat this meal together in remembrance of Him.  “Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes again.”  (1 Corinthians 11 26)  Christians around the world have been celebrating the Lord’s Supper or the Mass together down through the last two thousand years to remember that Jesus’ body was broken and that His blood was shed for us to wash away our sins. 

 

Scripture says that we should examine ourselves before we take communion or Mass.  “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.  … For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord, eats and drinks judgment on himself.  That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have died.”  (1 Corinthians 11:27-32)  We celebrate the Lord’s Supper or Mass to remember that Jesus died for our sins.  It is a holy sacrament and we should not take part in it if we are not believers in Jesus and repentant of our sins. 

 

There was a woman we knew years ago who was a member of our church.  This woman did not believe that Jesus was the Savior or that He took away sins.  She tried to teach the rest of us the error of our belief – our faith.  In fact this woman did not even believe in sin.  She thought that there was no such thing as sin and she joined our church to enlighten all of us! And worse yet, she took the Lord’s Supper with us even though she didn’t believe.   

 

This poor woman was painfully thin and continuously ill and looked twenty years older than her actual age.  She was allergic to almost all food and could only eat eggs and apples.  Her doctors could never find what was causing her illnesses.  She also had to continuously wear a mask to cover her mouth and nose as she was allergic to something in the air all year round.  And she carried a pillow around with her as she hurt too much when she sat on a chair without the pillow.

 

I have always worried that perhaps she was ill because she was taking Holy Communion when she did not believe.  No one in our church asked her not to take communion or told her that Scripture warns against this.  None of us cautioned her that there is power in the Lord’s Supper and power in the Mass and power in the blood of Jesus – even though she might not have believed us.  I am sorry that I didn’t speak up!

 

Just as Peter could have no part with Jesus unless He washed him, we also can have no part with Jesus unless He washes us.  So let us join Peter and use his words to ask Jesus: “Lord wash my feet and my hands and my head also.”  Wash all of me, Jesus!

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 

 


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Peace on Earth Good Will To Men



 

Peace on Earth Good will to Men

 

 

Many of us never tire hearing the Christmas story about the night that Jesus Christ was born.  Each Christmastime we love singing carols about that holy night!  The night when Jesus was born in Bethlehem with the shepherds nearby in the fields watching over their sheep.  

 

The Bible tells about that night.  “And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before the shepherds, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  And the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tiding of great joy which will be to all people.  For there is born to you this day in Bethlehem (the city of David) a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’”.  (Luke 2:9-11) 

 

And then a multitude of bright angels joined in filling the skies above the stunned shepherds and flying around the heavens rejoicing and praising God and singing: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (Luke 2:14)  What an amazing sight it must have been for those shepherds to see! 

 

The angels brought good news to the shepherds starting with the first angel announcing God’s gift of a Savior and then following with the multitude of angels appearing and announcing the gift of peace and good will toward people.  It would seem that these two gifts arrived together.  Along with this gift of the Savior comes the added gift of peace and good will.  It is all part of the package.    But if that is true then why is it that when we turn on the world news we usually hear reports of murders and warring nations and terrorist attacks?  Where is this promised peace that people were to receive?

 

We do have peace and good will in our world today and the generous Spirit of Christ can be seen and felt in people everywhere.  But then we also find rifts and arguments and opposing groups warring against one another everywhere we look. The devil would like to destroy love and family and community and everywhere we go we find that he is doing a pretty good job at that.    

 

We find husband against wife and children against parents and liberal against conservative.  One side fighting to overcome the injustice of the other side by striking another blow.  And the other side striking back.  And as long as each side is tangled in blow and counterblow, aggression and defense and name calling and more bad will, each side will be drawn back into fresh wrongs.  God calls us to stop playing this dangerous game and forgive.  He forgives us so He wants us to pass on that forgiveness.  Only forgiveness frees us all from the injustice of others. 

 

We read in the Bible that God is a God of justice and judgment.  Because of that we instinctively feel that we must do something in order for this judging God to accept us.  We have been told that there is no free lunch.  That you get what you pay for.  We think about the God of judgment when we think about the people who have tried to harm us.

 

 But then God is also a God of grace and love and forgiveness.  When God sent us his Son everything was turned upside down!  Now we receive undeserved grace as a God given gift instead of receiving what we earn and what we morally deserve.  Our salvation does not depend on our performance but on His performance.  We don’t need to “do” anything; all we need to do is follow.  

 

By giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins, the heavenly Father offers to forgive our sins and makes peace with us.  And because God through Christ has forgiven and made peace with us, He asks us to forgive and extend that peace to those who have wronged us. Because God has forgiven the inexcusable in us, we are to forgive the inexcusable in others.  We are God’s children and we are to forgive because our heavenly Father forgives and because He commands us to forgive.  (Matthew 6:12) 

 

Forgiveness is not easy so it needs to be taught and constantly practiced.  What a gift we Christians can give to the world when we uphold God’s grace and forgiveness!  Whenever Christians have obeyed God’s command to forgive and have countered hatred with kindness, amazing things have happened.  It would seem that God is able to work miracles behind the scenes when we go about forgiving our enemies.

 

The Christian message of forgiveness played a major role in South Africa’s peaceful revolution!  When Nelson Mandela was freed from a dismal prison after twenty-six years he held no bitterness toward those who had imprisoned him.  Instead he spoke of forgiveness and reconciliation.  And Bishop Desmond Tutu also insisted the process of reconciliation in South Africa begin with forgiveness.  The Civil Rights movement came about in the United States partially because Martin Luther King insisted that his followers come against violence with non-violence and meet hatred with forgiveness. 

 

In some circumstances extending forgiveness can be extremely difficult.  If someone murdered my child I cannot imagine forgiving that person.  But many people have forgiven in those circumstances.  And God never asks us to do anything that is impossible.  He will give us His strength at the time of need to help us do what He asks.

 

Just as God commanded Adam and Eve not to touch or eat the fruit of one of the trees in the garden, God also commands us not to have an unforgiving spirit towards those who would try to harm us.  Eating the forbidden fruit was dangerous (deadly) for Adam and Eve and Scripture says that refusing to forgive another is dangerous and deadly for us. 

 

We are commanded to let go of the ill will we harbor toward our enemy and do what we can to correct the problems and then let God take care of it.  As we walk through life there are dangerous places we will pass by that our heavenly Father forbids us to visit and refusing to forgive another person is one of those places  The strongest argument for forgiveness is the alternative, a permanent state of unforgiveness.   

 

Forgiving does not mean that the one who forgives agrees that the offense committed against him/herself is justified.  It made the news when Pope John Paul went to the prison and met with the man being held there who tried to murder him.  The pope forgave this man and prayed for him and blessed him.  But the pope did not ask that this man be released from prison.

 

So then, what is forgiveness?   Forgiveness means that the one forgiving does not wish for revenge, does not hold bad will against the other.  The one forgiving stops seeing the person as the “bad” person the “monster” perhaps and sees him as the person God intended him or her to be – or perhaps a needy hurting person.  The one forgiving tries to see the one he is forgiving through grace filled eyes.  And he prays for this person that God will help and bless this person.  To hate the sin but not the sinner.  Scripture tells us to pray for our enemies. (Luke 6:28) .

 

On that first Christmas night when the angels joyfully sang about the gift being given to humans of God’s peace and good will, they didn’t tell us how this gift would be given out.  But I suspect that we (you and I) have been enlisted to be part of the act.  God always seems to include us in His work, so why would this be any different.  Yes, we are the ones who have been chosen to help deliver God’s peace and be ambassadors of His good will!  We are to forgive and forget.  To love and bless .  And to turn the other cheek.  Let’s get busy doing what we are called to do. 

 

 

Some of the ideas here were taken from Phillip Yancey’s book “What’s So Amazing About Grace?”   

 

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Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Heavenly Father Loves You



 The Heavenly Father Loves You

 

 

 

The belief that God extends grace to each of us personally is a unique belief only of the Christian faith!  The amazing grace Christians sing about and celebrate is not part of any of the other world faith systems.  The jubilee and the rejoicing at Christmastime are missing in other faiths since the free gift of a Son and Savior are missing.  The Christian faith is like no other faith because our salvation does not depend on how good we are but on how good God is! 

 

All of the other religions around the world expect their followers to be good.  Expect them to work towards a goal or to “do” something to gain God’s approval.  The Buddhist religion holds out the eight-fold path and the Hindu religion teaches the doctrine of the karma to their followers.  The Muslims have their code of law and the Jewish have their covenant.  In the end when the books are opened, these followers of non-Christian religions believe that their work or what they “do” during their earthly lifetime will need to measure up.     

 

 Every major religion other than Christianity offers a way for their follower to work their way up and to earn God’s approval.  Only the Christians are commissioned to spread the good news that God’s love is unconditional!  (Matthew 28:16-20)   Only the Christian faith openly broadcasts and generously offers the free gift of salvation in Jesus Christ to anyone and everyone who will take it!  (John 3:16)

 

The Bible says: “For by grace are you saved through faith and not of yourselves it is the gift of God, not of works lest people would boast.”  (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Scripture says that salvation is a gift God gives to us because He loves us so much.  And this gift is given through his Son, Jesus Christ!  We don’t earn this grace or work for this gift.  By faith we just receive it because we are the one He loves.

 

This grace God is offering seems too good to be true.  And we are used to finding a catch in things that seem too good to be true.  Just having faith seems too easy – too simple.  Just believing and receiving!  Jesus paid it all!  At least we want to pay for some of the price.  We want to work for this salvation so we can feel like we are better than the people who don’t work for it and don’t have it.  But no – Christian grace doesn’t work that way! 

 

Jesus tells the story – the parable of the Father who has two sons.  The oldest son loves his Father and his home and spends his years dutifully working on the family plantation.  But the younger son is restless and wants to leave the Father and the family home and strike out on his own.  (Luke 15:11-32)  “Give me my inheritance,” the younger son demands.  So the Father sadly gives his son half of everything he has and the younger son takes the money and runs off to a country far away.

 

In this far away country the son forgets his Father and his upbringing and he goes wild and starts hanging out with thieves and thugs and prostitutes.  The son and his new friends beat up and rob people passing by, and even killed one person who got in their way.  They get drunk every night and pick fights with one another.  And they hang out with prostitutes and have parties and orgies that nice people wouldn’t go to.  And soon the younger son’s inheritance money is all gone and his friends are all gone too! 

 

The younger son finds himself alone in a foreign country, cold and homeless and hungry with winter coming on. He is sick and desperate and looking for a job. Finally, after months of looking, he finds work feeding hogs where he is allowed to sleep in the dirty hog pen and eat the husks that the hogs don’t eat.  His clothes are ragged and he his has lost 40 pounds.  One cold night when he is shivering and laying there in the mud with the hogs he thinks about his Father and he starts crying.  Why did he ever leave home?  Why did he run away?  More than anything he wants to see his Father again.  And more than anything he wants to go back home.

 

But how can he go back home?  He has blown half of his Father’s money!  And he has done really bad things.  He doesn’t deserve to be his Father’s son any longer after all he has done.  And he doesn’t expect his Father to take him back as a son.  He will apologize and ask his Father to let him be one of the workers.  Yes, that is what he will do. 

 

The younger son has been gone twenty long years and the lovesick Father has spent twenty long years anxiously pacing back and forth on the porch and gazing down the road.  He is straining his eyes hoping to someday see his lost boy coming back home again.  His boy is part of who he is so how can he give up on him.  The Father misses his boy so much and loves him so deeply.  Worries about him and desperately wants him to be a good person and have a good life.  The Father can never give up hope that his boy will come back home.

 

And then one day it happens!  The lovesick Father is on the porch as always anxious and looking down the road when he thinks he sees someone way off in the distance coming down the road!  Who could it be?  Maybe it is his son!  Maybe!  The Father feels dizzy with fear and hope and runs down the road to get a better look.  Yes, it could be his son!  Excited, he runs further down the road.  By now his hands are shaking and his heart is beating so fast he can hardly breathe. 

 

The old man keeps running, and yes, it does look like his beloved son!  Oh my, this is all too good to be true!  Tears are pouring down the old man’s face as he rushes toward his son.  “My boy was lost, and now he’s found!  Lost and now found,” the Father keeps gasping over and over.  He grabs his son and holds on tight, crying and trembling and laughing all at the same time. 

 

“Father, I have sinned against you and I am no longer worthy to be your son,” the son stutters out.  The Father has his arms around his boy kissing him and won’t let him go! “Hush my boy, I’ve missed you so much, love you so much!”  “Father, just let me be one of your workers,”    

 

“My son, we will celebrate tonight.  Celebrate that you arre home.   Have a big party.  Kill the fatted calf, have a feast and invite everyone.  Make merry with fine wine and fancy cakes and music and dancing.” 

 

 “Father, I have sinned,”   “Hush my Son, You are back!  Here, take off those rags and put on my best robe and my best shoes.  Rings for your fingers, only the best for my son.  My son, my son was lost and is found! ” The Father is jubilant!  His joy knows no bounds!  He is dancing around in circles now laughing and shouting!  All the lovesick Father cares about is that his lost son is found.

 

 Jesus tells us this story to try to tell us how much God, our Father loves us and to show us what our heavenly Father is like.  Jesus describes God as a loving and dedicated Father who rejoices and celebrates when he gets just one of his children back. Jesus says: “I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”  (Luke 15:10)  

 

Other stories in the Bible tell this same truth about God our heavenly Father and his great love for us.  The Shepherd who spends all night searching over hills and valleys looking for his lost sheep while leaving the other ninety nine sheep behind, is beside himself with joy when he finds his lost sheep.  (Luke 15:1-7)  Of course we are the sheep and God is the Shepherd.  And the Shepherd also throws a party to celebrate!   

 

God’s grace and love for us is shockingly personal.  That’s what the Bible says. We are the younger son in Jesus’ story.  Our heavenly Father paces the floor and grieves for us when we reject Him and when we leave Him behind.  And our Father watches and waits for us to come home to Him so He can pour out his love on us.  When we start walking away from our old life and begin heading towards home, our heavenly Father rushes tearfully down the road to greet us.  He throws his arms around us kissing us and exchanging our dirty rags for his royal robes.  He is a merciful, generous and loving Father who is crazy about us and wants us to be with Him more than anything.  It’s hard to believe but this is the kind of heavenly Father we have!  Isn’t that wonderful?!      

 

 Some of these quotes and ideas are taken from Phillip Yancey’s book, “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” 

 

      

 


Monday, December 8, 2014

Joseph becomes Jesus'Adoptive Father



Joseph becomes Jesus’ Adoptive Father

 

 

 

 

“Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, which is translated, “God with us.”  (Matthew 1:23)

 

Joseph always tends to hover in the background when we tell the story of the Virgin Mary and of Christ’s birth.  We often picture him reserved and unobtrusive, dutifully standing there behind Mary and the holy Child.  During Christmastime we love to sing the Christmas carols and send Christmas cards with scenes of Mary and Joseph and the Baby Jesus in the manger along with the shepherds and the angels.  And we picture that first Christmas as holy and peaceful and perfect.  And it was.  But the Holy Family’s beginnings were anything but Christmas-card perfect.

 

The Gospel of Matthew (1:18 – 25) makes it clear that Mary’s pregnancy was a scandal.  Yes she was truly with child by the Holy Spirit, but who was going to believe such a story!  Pregnant and still a virgin!  Come on now!  Her pregnancy had brought shame on her parent’s house and most likely her whole village was whispering about this new gossip and laughing at Joseph for being engaged to a woman who is pregnant with a child that isn’t his.  No one believed Mary’s story and her pregnancy had put her into an awkward situation.

 

 And Scripture says that Joseph did not believe Mary’s story either.  We don’t know what words were exchanged between Mary and Joseph, or just how she broke the news to him but we do know that things did not go well between them.  She must have told Joseph about how the angel appeared and visited her and of how he told her that her son would be the Son of God. Mary was joyful about this and wanted to share it with the man she loved. 

 

  She must have assured Joseph that she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit, and that she had never been unfaithful to him.  That she loved him and she was a virgin.  That he could share in this with her – this joy of the coming of the Christ Child!  And she must have begged him to believe her.  But Joseph wasn’t believing any of this.  He tells Mary he doesn’t want to be engaged to her any longer and that he will divorce her!  We wonder if they argued and if Mary cried.  .

 

If Joseph left Mary, she would become an unwed mother.  In first-century Galilee, such a broken home could have dire – even deadly consequences for Mary since women in that culture had no power.  Matthew says that Joseph was a “righteous man” – he was obedient to the Law of Moses and wanted to do God’s will.  Betrothal or engagement in Joseph’s culture was the first act of marriage and could only be broken by divorce..  Joseph was going to have to divorce Mary since he didn’t believe her and he assumed that she had had sex with another man in order to become pregnant.

 

Joseph probably felt hurt and betrayed by his fiancĂ©e becoming pregnant.  Scripture says that he wanted to break up with Mary “quietly.”  We should note that Joseph could have brought charges against her with the religious leaders.  This would have led – at best – to her public humiliation and at worst she could face death by stoning.  Whatever happened, she would be permanently shamed and stigmatized by her adultery and divorce, and would find it almost impossible to marry anyone else in that area. 

 

God did not allow Mary to be misunderstood by Joseph for long.  God sent Joseph a dream .and in the dream an angel tells Joseph that the child Mary is carrying is indeed conceived by the Holy Spirit and will be the Immanuel promised in the Book of Isaiah.  Now Joseph knows that Mary is telling the truth and that his dream was from God.  Joseph wants to obey God and be part of His plan.  He obeys God and becomes a husband to Mary and father to this promised Child. 

 

 God continued to protect the baby Jesus and his family by leading Joseph through dreams.  In Matthew 2:13, Joseph follows another dream several years later warning him to run away with Mary and Jesus, now a young child, to Egypt and to escape the murderous Herod. And then later when Herod dies and is no longer a threat, Joseph receives still another dream to return to his homeland, Israel.

 

 Finally Joseph obeys yet another dream from God to settle in Nazareth since another ruler might try to kill Jesus if they should return to Bethlehem.  Joseph was quick to obey when God gave him directions through these dreams.

 

When we open the Bible to the New Testament the first thing we read there is the Genealogy of Jesus Christ.  (Matthew 1:1-16)  Matthew follows the legal Jewish system in giving the genealogy of the father, even though Joseph was the father of Jesus by adoption.

 

  This genealogy of Jesus demonstrates the continuity between the Israel of the Old Testament and Jesus.  Even though Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus, it would seem that because he obeyed God and adopted Jesus that Scripture considers him as the earthly father.  Perhaps our actions and our decisions are more real than biology. 

 

 Joseph dutifully obeyed God and acted as a loving father to Jesus, his young and vulnerable son.  By taking Mary as his wife and naming the child Jesus (the name given him in a dream), Joseph was claiming the divinely born child as his own: in other words, Joseph adopted Jesus.

 


Saturday, November 29, 2014

David Offers Thanks to God




 

David Offers Thanks to God

Psalm 7

 

 

David spent many miserable years running and hiding from King Saul and his soldiers.  Every soldier in Israel had been ordered to search for David and kill him when they caught him.  For years poor David had to constantly be on guard since at any minute he could be found by one of the king’s men and murdered!  He had to hide outside of town like an outlaw while the king searched the countryside for him. 

 

 King Saul was jealous of David because in battle he was a much better fighter than King Saul was. David was good looking and well liked and King Saul worried that his countrymen might want to get rid of him as their king and crown David as their new king.

 

 One time when the ladies in Jerusalem seemed to like David even better than they liked their king, King Saul flew into a furious rage!  That was the time when King Saul ordered his men to kill David and get him out of the way.  What more could he do?  (1 Samuel 19-31)    

 

Psalm 7 is one of several Psalms or laments that David writes during those miserable years when he is running and hiding from King Saul and his men.  David sings this Psalm to God thanking Him for being a God of justice and asking for His protection from King Saul and his soldiers.  This Psalm along with the others made up the Old Testament hymnal, a collection of songs.  The Psalms were poems intended to be sung in praise to God.. 

 

 David doesn’t wait to praise God until he is out of danger and King Saul is no longer threatening his life.  David chooses to praise and thank God while he is frightened and on the run.  He offers praise during the times when he is lonely and hungry because God is a God of justice and mercy.  And he gives thanks when he is frightened and doesn’t know if he will live or die because he knows that eventually God will work everything out for good even if he doesn’t understand how.

 

Years pass and David still can’t sneak into town to take care of his family because the king’s soldiers will kill him if they find him.  Instead of feeling sorry for himself and angry about the unfairness of his situation, David focuses on God and the fact that God’s righteousness and holiness will eventually triumph over all evil and all evil doers.  And this includes his own problems.

 

 He writes: “My defense is in God who saves the upright in heart.” (Psalm 7:10)  God is a just judge.  David is focusing on God as a God of justice and judgment, perhaps because David is innocent of wrong doing and has been denied a human court in which to plead his case.  He is considered guilty and hunted down like a common criminal even though he has always been loyal to King Saul. David is never allowed to prove his innocence. 

 

Others down through the ages have also found themselves in similar situations and have cried out to God for justice when there has been no human justice.  Today many of the blacks in our country (U.S.A.) feel they have been denied their rights as human beings since their un-armed children are being presumed guilty and are being shot down in our streets without consequences.

 

 David knows that his God will be the final judge and justice will someday be served!  And others in this same situation will remember this truth also when they read this Psalm. 

 

David continues with his song: “And God is angry with the wicked every day.  If the evil one does not turn from his evil ways God will sharpen His sword:” (Psalm 7:11) But if the evil one does turn from his sin he will be pardoned.  Even though the threats of God’s punishment are here, they are introduced with a gracious implication of mercy.  God is slow to punish and longsuffering to us, not willing that any should perish. (2 Peter 3:9)  

 

David writes about evil doers: “”He who is pregnant with evil and conceives trouble gives birth to disillusionment.  He who digs a hole and scoops it out falls into the pit he has made.  The trouble he causes recoils onto himself:  his violence comes down on his own head.” (Psalm 7:14-16)  David knows that crime doesn’t pay in God’s world!  And he also knows that what a person sows he/she also reaps. (if they don’t repent) (Galatians 6:7)

 

David continues his song: “I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness and will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High.”  (Psalm 7:17)  David knows that God is righteous and that He will deal with evil.  He has learned to thank and praise God in every situation.  Scripture says: “In everything give thanks for this is the will of God for you.”  (1 Thessalonians 5:18)  David has learned to trust God no matter what and he knows that God can take care of him no matter what happens. 

 

 David writes: “O Lord my God, I take refuge in you: save and deliver me from all who pursue me, or they will tear me like a lion and rip me to pieces with no one to rescue me.”  (Psalm 7:1-2)  David is confused about why King Saul hates him so much or why he is being hunted down for the kill like an animal.  He is exhausted from years of looking over his shoulder to see if the king’s soldiers are coming after him with their swords and spears.  And he is worn out and lonely from years of trying to stay alive in the rugged wilderness  

 

But David continues to give thanks and praise to God through all of these miserable times.  He trusts in God and puts himself in God’s hands.  He knows that even if he dies He will be in heaven and live to finally see evil put down.  He pours out these feelings and his love and trust in his God in his Psalms. 

 

The Psalms are among the best loved, most read parts of the Bible because they express the whole range of human feelings and experiences.  Sometimes these same feelings expressed in the Psalms become timeless when others down through the ages have had similar experiences and feelings.  Other children of God have also wondered why they are hated and why they must run from all those who would persecute them.  They identify with David’s cries and find his sheer dogged faith and depth of love for God an inspiration for them to try to follow.        .   

 

 

 


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Dealing with Depression




 

Dealing with Depression

 

 

Life is full of emotional ups and downs.  But when the “down” times are long lasting and interfere with a person’s ability to function, we call it “depression.”  In the United States approximately 19 million people - or one in ten adults - experience depression each year.   And nearly two thirds of these people do not receive any help.  Statistics show that women experience depression at about twice the rate as men do. 

 

Depression can be caused by many different things.  A person has a slightly greater risk for developing depression when there is a family history of the illness.  Also brain chemistry or biochemical disturbances can be a factor in developing depression.  Physical illness or exhaustion can cause depression as well as the loss of a loved one, low self esteem, lack of trust in our society and feeling cut off or alienated from others. It seems that more people today are alienated than people were in our parents or grandparents’ generation.  King David was depressed because he had unconfessed sin in his life.  (Psalm 51)  One has to discover the cause of the depression and treat that cause. 

 

Some of these low feelings are a part of the human experience. But we call these lows depression when these feelings last and overwhelm the person’s life.  Depression is a very treatable illness.  The most commonly used treatments are antidepressant medications and psychotherapy.  The medications can relieve the physical symptoms quickly and the psychotherapy helps the patient learn more effective ways of handling their problems.  Finding meaning and purpose in life and being surrounded by loved ones can go a long way to restoring a person to emotional health.

 

We have a friend I will call “Sue” who lives with depression.  Every day Sue takes  powerful medications that keep her from trying to commit suicide.  Years ago Sue’s mother and brother committed suicide and over the years when Sue would forget to take her medications, strong feelings of desperation and hopelessness would wash over her and she would try to commit suicide.  Each time this would happen someone would find Sue before it was too late and rush her to the emergency room where she would be saved..

 

 Sue lives in fear of someday actually killing herself.  Sue loves God and she visits the sick at her church and teaches Sunday school but some of her Christian friends tell her that if she had more faith in God she would not have these thoughts of suicide and depression.  Sue wonders if her friends are right – that maybe her on going depression is her own fault. 

 

Another friend I will call “Joe” also struggles with depression.  Sometimes his hands shake and you can see the anguish written all over his face as he tries to cope with life.  Joe’s father was a bishop in the Mormon Church and Joe idolized his father and tried all of his life to follow in his father’s footsteps.

 

Joe worked his way up and became an important leader in the Mormon Church and a successful businessman with an ambitious wife and three lovely children.  He had it all – reputation, power, money, status, the big house, the impressive car.   Everything was going so perfectly in Joe’s life – that is until his father messed up. 

 

Joe’s father became attracted to a younger woman and divorced Joe’s mother.  He then got into a fight with the husband of this new woman in his life and ended up murdering the woman’s husband.  Joe watched in horror as the perfect father he had patterned his life after was convicted of murder and sent away to prison.

 

It was all too much for Joe and he fell apart.  Joe’s beautiful wife was embarrassed with her husband for being upset and with all of the negative publicity and she divorced Joe taking the children and most of his money with her.  Joe stopped eating and lost interest in living.  Since he had been highly ambitions and had expected only success he now felt that his life was a failure and waves of hopelessness washed over him.  He lost fifty pounds and had to be hospitalized for awhile and put on heavy medications. 

 

By the time we met Joe years had passed since Joe had gone through his major depression.  Today Joe has left the Mormon Church and re-married and is teaching in a university.  A thoughtful intelligent man, trying to follow God and be a Christian in the Methodist Church.  But Joe still suffers from depression and is tortured by fears and worries.  He goes from one medication to the other trying to find one that will take away his pain.  But none of them can take it all away.  

 

Sue and Joe aren’t the only people we know who are dealing with depression.  We know others who are tormented by depression and you know them too.  People who are struggling with depression are all around us.  And we ourselves may be touched by depression sometimes as well.  What can we do about it? 

 

We should put ourselves under our doctor’s care if we find ourselves struggling with depression.  Medications and psychotherapy can help.  And we should reach out to others and find work and purpose in our lives.  Also God has given us His joy to fight depression.  If we are a believer in Christ, the joy of the Lord is inside of us.  Joy is one of the gifts we receive from the Holy Spirit when we believe in Christ . (Galatians 5:22-23) We can learn how to release this joy to help win over depression. 

 

Often depression starts with disappointment.  And disappointments are a part of living in this world so we can count on having them.  The apostle Paul says “But one thing I do, I forget what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead.”  (Philippians 3:13)  Instead of brooding about past disappointments we need to let go and change our focus to a new vision for the future.  Scripture says that God’s mercies are new every day.  (Lamentations 3:22-23) 

 

Disappointment can grow into discouragement if we give it the chance.  We need to fight these bad feelings  The word “discourage’ means lack of courage.  And when things go bad one needs courage to keep moving forward.  God gives everyone who believes in Him courage.  We can ask God to give us courage when we feel discouraged and resist having a pity party.  And we can ask for joy when the disappointments come our way.   

 

Throughout Scripture God tells his children to rejoice and be filled with joy.  And joy is the opposite of depression.  Here in Philippians 4:4 it says: “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, Rejoice!”  And in Nehemiah 8:19 it says: “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” 

 

You may be saying that it is hard for you to be joyful because you have so many troubles.  Instead of concentrating on our troubles we can focus on the promises and blessings that God is giving us.  God instructs us to give our troubles to Him.  We can start learning to rejoice by just letting go of our troubles and letting God take care of them.  This doesn’t mean that we don’t work to alleviate our problems.  But we do our best and trust God with the results.  

 

The Bible tells us that what we think about all the time becomes who we are.  Our negative thoughts as well as the people who are negative influences on us can drag us down.  We need to guard our thoughts and protect our minds so that we won’t become depressed.  Scripture says: “Faith comes by hearing the Word of God” (Romans 10:17)  If we read the Word and fill our minds with God’s promises, our faith will be strengthened, and we will be too.  Depression cannot hang on as tightly when we are focusing on God’s love and goodness.

 

Scripture says: “Why are you cast down, O my inner self?  And why should you moan over me and be disquieted within me?  Hope in God and wait expectantly for Him, for I shall yet praise Him, my Help and my God.”  (Psalm 42:5)  We need to keep our hope and our faith in God alive!  Trusting in God is a strong medicine against depression. 

 

Joy is the opposite of depression!  Maybe that is why God instructs us to rejoice.  Rejoice in Him that is!  Even though we may feel depressed let’s not give in to it and sit around with a long face!  We can start out learning how to rejoice by simply smiling.  Joy is infectious so when we act happy soon we feel happier.  And others around us are strengthened and uplifted by our smile and our warmth.  Then we can try to lighten up more by laughing and enjoying ourselves.  And we might even work up to singing and dancing.  Let’s obey God when He calls us to rejoice.  Depression can not take over when we are rejoicing in the Lord..    

 

Scripture says: “Joy comes in the morning.”  (Psalm 30:5)  Releasing the spirit of joy when we first wake up may set the tone for the whole day.  And expressing joy can change our circumstances and drive away depression.   One of the ways we can express joy is through singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.  (Ephesians 5:19)

 

Sometimes depression is caused because we feel guilty about something we have done.  Scripture says: “If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  (1 John 1:9)   The Lord offers us forgiveness.  He has forgiven our sins but we need to also forgive ourselves!  Romans 8:1 reads: “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,…”  God does not want us to feel frustrated and condemned.  He wants to give us “beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a heavy burdened spirit.”  (Isaiah 6:1-3) 

 

Scripture says: “God will guard and keep us in perfect peace if we will keep our minds stayed on Him.”  (Isaiah 16:3)  I would like that perfect peace in my life wouldn’t you?  Our part of the bargain in this Scripture is to keep God in our minds and hearts and lean  and trust in Him.  I believe we need to keep our minds stayed on God because most of our problem with depression begins in our minds.       

 

  

Some of these Scriptures and ideas were taken from Straight Talk by Joyce Meyer.

  

 

 

 

 

 


Saturday, November 15, 2014

A Rescue Remedy for Stress




A Rescue Remedy for Stress

 

 

 

Many of us are stressed out!  Stressed out because we have too much to do!  And stressed out because we are always hurrying to catch up.  Stressed that we can’t accomplish more.  And because some people don’t like us.  Stressed about our finances and our families and our jobs.  And of course stressed about politics and health.  The list goes on and on!  But it doesn’t have to be this way!

 

Jesus is the “Prince of Peace” and He calls us to stop stressing out about all these things and give them to Him.  And He offers us His peace.  Jesus tells us: “My peace I leave with you.  My peace I give you.  Not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”  (John 14:27)  And Scripture says: “Cast all your troubles on Him (Jesus) because He cares for you.”  (1 Peter 5:7) 

 

If we believe in Jesus we already have His peace, because He promised it.  It’s there!  But if we have been given this wonderful peace, then why is it that sometimes we can’t find it?  Does Scripture tell us what we can do to hold on to this peace that is ours?  Do we have a part to play in keeping this peace?

 

Yes, of course Scripture says that we have a part!  God always gets us involved and lets us be co-creators with Him!  First of all the most important part we have is to believe in Jesus Christ – believe that He is the Son of God and that He died for our sins!

 

  Heresies are all around that are smuggled into our churches as “Christian” and these lies can mess us up and cause us to question our precious faith.  We need to protect our physical bodies from germs and viruses that can sicken or kill us and we also need to protect our spiritual life from the diseases and infections of false doctrine that can sicken or kill our faith in Christ as Son of God and Savior.  

 

The Bible says our job is to believe – believe that Jesus is the Son of God and our Savior and try to follow Him.  Once when Jesus’ followers asked Him what work they needed to do to satisfy God’s requirements, Jesus answered them: “The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent.”  (John 6:29)  Of course the One God sent is Jesus.  And Paul wrote: “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved…”  (Acts 16:31)   “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”  (Hebrews 11:6)   

 

Jesus never said that we wouldn’t have to deal with troubles and disappointments.  “In the world you will have tribulation and trials and distress and frustration.”  (John 16:33)  But Jesus promises to deliver us out of all of our afflictions.  (Psalm 34:19)  He encourages us to be of good cheer because He has “overcome the world” and we will be overcomers with Him.  We need to remember that Jesus is with us everywhere we go.  When we remember these promises from Scripture we are strengthened in our spirits as well as our bodies!

 

Our lives can be transformed with joy and peace when we obey God.  Of course we humans fail but then our sins are forgiven through Jesus.  But we should try to obey even in the little things.  Scripture says: “In all your ways acknowledge Him (God) and He will direct and make straight and plain your paths.”  (Proverbs 3:6)

 

Joyce Meyer, a well known Bible teacher, says that the Lord spoke to her and told her that when she was exhausted if she began exalting Jesus she would not be exhausted anymore.  I think that what she says is true.  The Lord may give extra energy and super strength when needed in times of emergency.  There is power in Jesus’ Name! 

 

Once when I had been driving a long distance in heavy traffic and had become sleepy and exhausted, I worried that I might not have the strength to keep driving another few hours to my destination.  We started playing praise music – music that glorified Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior - and soon I could feel energy and strength coming back into my exhausted body and soul.  Singing praises brought joy and I finished the rest of the long drive with energy to spare!  We can exalt Jesus Christ by singing praise and we can exalt Him in our lives by living in obedience. .And joy always seems to light up the journey! 

 

The Lord does refresh us.  Scripture says:  “God gives power to the faint and weary, and to the person who has no might the Lord increases strength.”  (Isaiah 40:28-29.)  “Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength.  They shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary. They shall walk and not faint.”  Isaiah 40:30-31)  When we are very tired the Lord invites us to come to Him for rest.  “Come to Me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.”  (Matthew 11:28) 

 

Psalm 23 reads: “The Lord is my shepherd: I shall not want.  He makes me to lie down in green pastures: He leads me beside the still waters.  He restores my soul.”  (Psalm 23:1)  And: “…I came that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”  (John 10:10b.  We can enjoy God’s peace by believing and trusting in Him.

 

 God did not create our bodies and minds and spirits to work constantly seven days a week.  We need a break – a rest in the Lord.  One of the Ten Commandments is a commandment for God’s people to set aside one day a week as a Sabbath.  We are to rest and relax on that day and worship God and wait before Him and let Him restore us.

 

 This fourth commandment reads: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work.  But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God.  In it you shall do no work:…”  (Exodus 20:8-10).  We can keep the peace that God wants us to enjoy if we obey God and worship Him and rest and relax one day a week.

 

And we can enjoy the peace God has given us if we try to live in peace with those around us.  We are called to be “peace makers.”  God commands us to be kind and patient with others and courteous and gentle and willing to suffer wrong.  (2 Timothy 2:24-25)  You see we do have a part in keeping this abundant peace that Jesus has given us!

 

Jesus gives each of us an invitation!  He invites us personally to take His yoke upon ourselves – to get to know Him on a deeper level.  I think taking on His yoke means that we share His life, we let the Holy Spirit guide us and listen for His voice as we live our lives.  Here is Jesus’ invitation to us:  “Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  My yoke is wholesome and my burden is light and easy to be borne.”  (Matthew 11:29-30)  Are we going to respond to his invitation?

 

The Lord’s burden is light and easy to carry.  He is gentle and humble in heart, and we will find rest for our souls by letting Him into our lives and obeying His voice.  Instead of stressing out about every little problem we can let Him lead and there will be joy and light heartedness along the way.  How much better can it get?     

 

 

Many of the Scriptures and ideas were taken from the book Straight Talk, pages 9-48 by Joyce Meyer.