Monday, August 31, 2020

Collect of the Week

Almighty and everlasting God,

You are always more ready to hear than we to pray and to give more than either we desire or deserve:

Pour down upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Friday, August 28, 2020

A Prayer

Father,
 
You have given to us so many gifts. Your kindness has overflowed, and we are blessed.
 
We thank You, Father, for Your gift of joy. There isn't a moment in our lives when we can't rejoice. Oh, there will be plenty of times when we will be sad. Happiness will come and go. But to rejoice, we can always do that. And we can do that because of You.
 
You are the God who is always near. You are never so busy somewhere else that we are left all alone. Impossible! You are Immanuel, God with us, our loving Father. Always. And in that, all by itself, we can rejoice.
 
But there is more. We rejoice because Jesus is Lord. And He is in the process of making that claim good everywhere. He is right now conquering His enemies. And the day will come when every person - from Adam to whoever the last person will be - every person will bow to Him confessing that He is Lord. And we are a part of that. We are His means of conquering. And we will win this war. In that we always can rejoice. The joy in Jesus as conquering Lord is our strength.
 
The day will come when all the battles will be over. Jesus will return. And then we will experience life in a way that is impossible to imagine here. And the heart of that will be that we will be with You, face to face, enjoying the pleasures of Your presence in a new heavens and a new earth. We can't wait!
 
But we're not there yet. There is more fighting to be done. We still have to deal with the world, the flesh and the devil. And Father, there are times when it gets really hard. In those moments, remind us that we can still rejoice. We may have to do that through tears, but we can still rejoice. Jesus is Lord. And He will conquer. And all that we have had to deal with as His Church - all of it will be rewarded. We thank You that our joy leads to hope, the certainty that, at the right time, You will keep Your promises. This war will end. We will win. And that's one thing that keeps us going, as we pray this through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Letters to My Grandchildren: Discontent and Complaining

My Dear Grandchildren,

Well, time for another letter. This time the topic will be two related problems: being discontent and complaining about it. And, of course, we start with some definitions.

Discontent: thinking that something is not okay

Complaining: saying that something is not okay

So, is it okay to be discontent and to complain about it? Well, it’s just a fact that there are more than a few things that really are not okay. After all, it was God who said,
It is not good for the man to be alone… Genesis 2:18
There are times when it is very appropriate to think that something is not okay and even to say so.

But, as you know, there are other times when it isn’t right to think or say such things.
Do all things without grumbling… Philippians 2:14
(While the word ‘complaining’ isn’t in that verse, I think that ‘grumbling’ comes close enough. And that grumbling reflects being discontent with the situation.)

All of this leads to an obvious question. When is it right to be discontent and complain, and when is it wrong? You will be able to know right and wrong here by answering these two questions. What are you complaining about (whether just to yourself or to someone else)? Whom are you complaining to?

So, consider this from the time that Israel was in the desert after the Exodus.
And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” Numbers 11:4–6
Now, what was ‘not okay’? It was the food, the manna that God had provided. Let’s be honest. Was the food they ate in Egypt more enjoyable? Yes, it was. In terms of things like taste and variety, that food had it all over the manna. But what was the manna? It was God’s gift to the people in the desert. Without it they would most certainly have died. He could have provided meat and fish and all the rest. But He didn’t. He sent manna for them to eat every day.

So, are there times when we can say that life could be better than what it is now? Sure. But then, we need to ask why it is the way that it is now. Sometimes we need to accept a situation that is obviously not okay because it is clear that it is God’s will for us.

I’ll give you a personal example. It is not okay that my wife, your grandmother, has died. Remember, it was God who said,
It is not good for the man to be alone...
I can tell you that that is so very true. So, it’s okay for me to think that this aspect of my life is not okay, that life would be so much better if I still had my wife. However, I also need to accept this difficult part of my life as God’s will for me because it obviously is His will for me since He caused her death. And that is what I do.

But what can I say about it? Can I complain about it? Is it ever right to complain about something that isn’t okay, something that is God’s will? Well, actually, yes, it is. But again, it depends on some things. Consider this from the Psalms.
With my voice I cry out to the LORD; with my voice I plead for mercy to the LORD. I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him. Psalm 142:1–2
David is complaining about something isn’t he. Later in the Psalm he explains what it is.
Deliver me from my persecutors, for they are too strong for me! Psalm 142:6
What is not okay? David is being hounded by those who are persecuting him. And David complains about that. But here is the difference between David in his situation and Israel in the desert. Israel complained about God, about His failure to feed them in the way that they demanded. David, on the other hand, complained to God. That is, He appealed to God. He wanted God to act, to deliver him from the evil of his persecutors. He was not annoyed at God and complaining about Him like Israel did but was looking to Him to change the situation. It is this kind of complaining that is good and right, complaining to God.

And that is how I also complain as I deal with being alone. I appeal to God to give me the ability to deal with my very ‘not okay’ situation and to wait for the day when He will deliver me from it.

Now, why is all of this important? The answer to that is simple. Life is hard. Oh, to be sure, there are many things to enjoy and to be happy about. And I hope that your lives are full of those things. However, there are also problems, frustrations, disappointments and things to be sad about. It is far too easy to fall into the trap of allowing yourself to feel annoyed at what’s not okay (discontent) and then to grumble about it (complain). That’s just wrong because it’s being annoyed at God and complaining about Him. Now, it’s important to acknowledge what is not okay about life. After all, there is much sin all around you, sin that afflicts you. But then, what you need to do is to appeal to God for the ability to accept His plan and to wait for deliverance. That’s how we, as disciples of Jesus, are to live.

With my love,

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Stray Thought: Condemn Paul?

So, I was reading my Bible the other day. And according to the plan that I am following, the next place in Scripture that I was to read was Philemon. Now, I’m pretty sure that Philemon isn’t anyone’s favorite book of the Bible. And there probably haven’t been a ton of sermons preached from it. So, a little review of the letter is in order.

Paul is writing to his friend and fellow Christian Philemon about someone that they both know, Onesimus. Paul met this fellow and was the means by which he became a Christian. However, there’s this thing about Onesimus that is the point of the letter. He is a runaway slave. And whom did he run away from? You guessed it: Philemon. Paul would prefer to have Onesimus stay with him, but he knows that that wouldn’t be right. He is Philemon’s slave. So, Paul sends Onesimus back to him. And he writes to Philemon (= our New Testament letter) in order to intercede for Onesimus. Paul pledges to cover any debt that Onesimus might owe Philemon.

Now, here’s the thing. Paul returned a slave to a slave owner. What should we think about that? It fits with other things that Paul taught. So, just to give one example, Paul wrote:
Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; Ephesians 6:5
So, are we to condemn Paul for his attitude toward slaves?

We hear much, these days, about the evil of slavery in the history of our country. And it was evil. How should we respond to that part of our past? What should we think when it comes to the people who owned slaves? Should we just condemn them all? What would have been a good response to that evil? Was fighting a war with more than half a million deaths the best option? It will take careful thinking, biblical thinking, if we are going to come to wise and godly answers to these questions. That won’t be easy, but it is necessary.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Comment on a Lectionary Reading: Matthew 16.21–28

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” Matthew 16.21–28


Jesus, here, explains to His friends, the Twelve, what is going to happen, what must happen. And Peter responds. I think that it’s helpful to understand that Peter responds as a friend. He has deep affection for Jesus and, as a result, makes it clear that he doesn’t want anything like what Jesus has described to happen to Him. Now listen to what Jesus says in response.

Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.
Wow! Jesus is pretty blunt here. You might even say that He is being harsh. ‘Get behind me, Satan’?!?

Why would Jesus speak in this way to someone who is trying to be a friend? Here is one reason. Peter is acting as Satan’s mouthpiece here, to tempt Jesus away from the Cross. Jesus doesn’t need that. Being faithful to His calling to die will be hard enough without any friends adding to that difficulty.

To be sure, Peter doesn’t want to serve Satan. But that’s what he is doing. Why? Jesus identifies the problem. Peter’s thinking is off. He’s thinking in the same way that the rest of humanity would think.
For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.
Jesus calls for more than that from him.

Now, let’s go a little further to see why Peter thinks in the way that he does. Listen to something Jesus says after His resurrection.

“O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. Luke 24:25–27

Peter’s thinking about what was to happen to Jesus was off because he did not believe Moses and the prophets. They were quite clear about the necessity of Jesus’ suffering the Cross and the resurrection that followed. And just as Jesus expected those two on the road to Emmaus to know this, He expected Peter to know it, too.

Peter thought like everyone else because he didn’t know (and believe) his Bible. It was out of this failure that Peter spoke to Jesus as a tool of Satan. And Jesus chewed out him for his error.

Here’s one take away for you to consider. How are you doing at getting to know your Bible better? Do you really think that you know it well enough? Are you able to think accurately as a disciple or do you want Jesus to chew you out too because you think about life in the same way that everyone else does? How you think determines how you live. There’s something here to pray about.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Collect for the Week

Almighty God, 

You have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life: 

Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life; 

through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.