Psalm 119:89-96 – Relying on the Eternal

Your word, O Lord, will last forever;
    it is eternal in heaven.
Your faithfulness endures through all the ages;
    you have set the earth in place, and it remains.
All things remain to this day because of your command,
    because they are all your servants.
If your law had not been the source of my joy,
    I would have died from my sufferings.
I will never neglect your instructions,
    because by them you have kept me alive.
I am yours—save me!
    I have tried to obey your commands.
The wicked are waiting to kill me,
    but I will meditate on your laws.
I have learned that everything has limits;
    but your commandment is perfect. (Good News Translation)

Our present life, currently in the here and now, is characterized by limitations and continual change. Whatever is up today can be down tomorrow, and vice versa. The people around us, as well as our own emotions, can be often frustratingly fickle. And our circumstances are constantly changing, not to mention our bodies and minds. For some, even their very life hangs in the balance due to either a personal enemy or the enemy of disease, disaster, or death.

In this orbit of revolving change, we are limited in our choices. We can make changes to our lifestyle that will hopefully extend the quality and quantity of life, yet every one of us will eventually die. There is decision-making we can make with our resources and finances, yet if a company closes and jobs are lost, or the market plunges and our investments tank, there is no nice seamless transition to getting back on our feet.

It might be easy to slide into discouragement, if we all we know is a domino effect of change, revolving circumstances, and an inability to influence very little of it all. Yet, there is hope because there is another side to the coin.

Although life situations change, and we experience limitations in both our choices and our abilities, there are some bedrock realities which will never change that we can bank and build our lives upon. God’s Word and God’s faithfulness are eternal; they will last forever.

Whenever it feels as if nothing is on solid ground, it is necessary to come back to the things we know which are permanent and reliable. Notice some of the unchangeable elements of God’s Word….

Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.

When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good.

We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears, and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love. (1 Corinthians 13:8-13, MSG)

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever! (Hebrews 13:8, CEB)

Notice the unchangeable nature of God’s faithfulness….

Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens,
    your faithfulness to the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
    your judgments are like the great deep;
    you save humans and animals alike, O Lord. (Psalm 35:5-6, NRSV)

This saying is reliable:

“If we have died together, we will also live together.
        If we endure, we will also rule together.
        If we deny him, he will also deny us.
If we are disloyal, he stays faithful”
    because he can’t be anything else than what he is. (2 Timothy 2:11-13, CEB)

It is possible to have peace smack in the middle of hardship and adversity. Racing thoughts do not need to be a given experience whenever there are those who oppose us or give us grief. Relying upon God’s Holy Word is the very ballast and rock we need. It will never fail nor pass away….

Just thinking of my troubles
and my lonely wandering
    makes me miserable.
That’s all I ever think about,
    and I am depressed.
Then I remember something
    that fills me with hope.
The Lord’s kindness never fails!
If he had not been merciful,
    we would have been destroyed.
The Lord can always be trusted
    to show mercy each morning.
Deep in my heart I say,
“The Lord is all I need;
    I can depend on him!”

The Lord is kind to everyone
    who trusts and obeys him.
It is good to wait patiently
    for the Lord to save us. (Lamentations 3:19-26, CEV)

This present life with all its change, limitations, and transience can and will give way to that which is permanent, unending, timeless, immortal, imperishable, and indestructible.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. (1 Peter 1:3-4, NIV)

May you know the joy and peace of relying upon the eternal and changeless reality of God.

Our God and Father, thank you that in a world of despair that you are our hope. In a world of darkness, you are our light. In a world of sorrow, you are our joy. Help us to strengthen and encourage one another with your eternal faithfulness and steadfast love, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Psalm 145 – Some Solid Robust Theology

Psalm 145:14 by Jen Norton

I will praise you,
my God and King,
    and always honor your name.
I will praise you each day
    and always honor your name.
You are wonderful, Lord,
    and you deserve all praise,
because you are much greater
    than anyone can understand.

Each generation will announce
to the next
    your wonderful
    and powerful deeds.
I will keep thinking about
your marvelous glory
    and your mighty miracles.
Everyone will talk about
    your fearsome deeds,
    and I will tell all nations
    how great you are.
They will celebrate and sing
    about your matchless mercy
    and your power to save.

You are merciful, Lord!
    You are kind and patient
    and always loving.
You are good to everyone,
    and you take care
    of all your creation.

All creation will thank you,
    and your loyal people
    will praise you.
They will tell about
    your marvelous kingdom
    and your power.
Then everyone will know about
    the mighty things you do
    and your glorious kingdom.
Your kingdom will never end,
    and you will rule forever.

Our Lord, you keep your word
    and do everything you say.
When someone stumbles or falls,
    you give a helping hand.
Everyone depends on you,
and when the time is right,
    you provide them with food.
By your own hand
    you satisfy
    the desires of all who live.

Our Lord, everything you do
    is kind and thoughtful,
    and you are near to everyone
    whose prayers are sincere.
You satisfy the desires
    of all your worshipers,
    and you come to save them
    when they ask for help.
You take care of everyone
who loves you,
    but you destroy the wicked.

I will praise you, Lord,
    and everyone will respect
    your holy name forever. (Contemporary English Version)

These days, everywhere I go there is high anxiety, even downright fear. In my city, the highest murder rate in its history marked the past year. In the hospital for which I am the chaplain, the coronavirus with all its deathly strains is bringing grief and bereavement to many families. Within many churches, their future viability is in question, and parishioners wonder about the future.

When there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel, with apprehension and stress as the very air we breathe, there is an angle to the whole situation the psalmist wants us to consider. We are to give weight and consideration to some solid robust theology.

Everyone has a theology. All persons have some sort of understanding of a god, G-d, or no god at all. In the hard circumstances of life, it might seem as if our theology isn’t serving us well. We may feel as if G-d is aloof, distant, or just plain disinterested. So, let’s pay attention to the psalmist. Notice his theology….

The Lord saves… is merciful… powerful… kind… patient… loving… and good. G-d keeps divine promises… helps… gives… provides… protects… and is near to those who humbly seek the divine. In short, the Lord cares for all creation and all creatures, including you and me, and tackles injustice like a hefty linebacker on a string-bean running back.

Yes, G-d deserves all praise, glory, and honor because standing behind all the anxiety of the age is a very large deity who acts with good purpose.

Let this psalm (and the entire psalter) buoy you up with good solid theology because the Lord is righteous in all dealings and is present to all who call for help. G-d hears. G-d responds. Perhaps neither according to our idea of timeliness nor to our expectation. Yet, deliverance is at hand, even if it comes in a form different than we were anticipating.

I am taking time to read today’s psalm several times over, to let it awash my soul with significant doses of truth and mercy. There are simply times when all of us need to remember and be reminded that there is a G-d in heaven who is willing and able, as well as a friend close at hand. 

True human satisfaction does not come through personal ingenuity or accumulation of more knowledge or more stuff.  Rather, our deepest desires and needs are fulfilled in the G-d who cares.

Anxiety, stress, fear, and apprehension don’t simply melt away. We, like the psalmist, need to practice the active verbs within the text: I will praise you… I will always honor your name… I will keep thinking about your marvelous glory and miracles… I will tell all nations how great you are… because the Lord saves and satisfies.

May that be your experience today, and every day.

Mighty G-d, you are both far and near, totally above us, yet close at hand.  Preserve me with your mighty power so that I might not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity. But in all I do direct me to the fulfilling of your purposes through Jesus Christ, my Lord.  Amen.

Matthew 6:25-33 – Do Not Worry

“Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (New International Version)

Jesus cares both about what we do, and why we do it. That’s because he cares about our whole selves – our physical needs and our emotional/spiritual needs. In our anxiety about the future, Jesus guides us toward a non-anxious presence for our daily lives.

We all know what worry is. It’s that unsettling feeling in the pit of your gut about what’s going to happen tomorrow. Whenever we worry, we display an inability to see beyond our own little world. Worry bogs us down and saps our faith. Our worry is significant enough to warrant Jesus repeating the command to not worry six times. And he gives six reasons why:

Life is more than food and clothes.

When we are beset with worry, we need a big picture view of what’s going on. Being overly concerned about how the necessities of life are going to be met, we need a reminder that God cares for life itself, including us. If God cares about life, which is so valuable, he will sustain us with what we need to live that life.

God cares for the birds in creation. 

People are the apex of God’s creation. And, since God cares for every other creature on this earth, and sustains their lives, God will certainly care for us, as well.

Worry begins to melt and be replaced by faith, not when we try and work up feelings of trust, but when we take the time to observe creation – watching the birds and seeing how God takes care of them. Birds don’t worry; they just enjoy God’s providence. Birds work hard, but they aren’t farmers who plant and harvest. Yet, God sustains them. So, if God will provide for small creatures that don’t plan to avoid starvation, how much more will God sustain you!?

Worry accomplishes nothing. 

Worry is like a rocking chair; it gives you something to do but doesn’t get you anywhere. Worry is simply unhelpful.

Don’t worry about the world coming to an end today. It is already tomorrow in Australia.

Charles M. Schulz

God cares for the flowers and grass in creation. 

God clothes the flowers better than we ever could dress ourselves (which is what my daughters have told me for years). Jesus specifically identifies flowers and grass because they illustrate a short and precarious lifespan. Christ’s logic is from the lesser to the greater: If God cares for something as fragile and temporary as flowers and grass, how much more will God care for you?

Jesus links worry with a small faith. We have expectations in life about how things ought to go. If those expectations are grounded in God’s promises, then whenever adverse circumstances come, we will likely respond with peace and trust. However, if we are anticipating the future to turn out a particular way, then the worry sets in. 

While we worry, we begin taking matters into our own hands. If the situation goes against our expectations, then we start to question if God is good or not, or if the Lord really has our best interests at mind. We must not tether ourselves to a specific outcome, rather, we need to rely on God’s care for us, no matter what the outcome will be.

Your heavenly Father knows your needs. 

Unlike the ancient pagan deities who were aloof, fickle, and did not pay much attention to people, God is always watching us, always attentive, always knowing our every need. Pagan worshipers keep worrying about whether the gods will really care, or not.

However, with God there is no need for worry because we know the Lord has our backs and is trustworthy. Just as my girls used to jump from the stairway in a leap of faith because they knew for sure Dad was going to catch them, so also your heavenly Father is a reliable God.

The necessities of life will be given to you. 

God’s business is to provide for our necessities; our business is to seek first God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness. 

The verb form of “seek” is a continuous action of seeking. We are to daily seek God’s kingdom and submit to Christ’s lordship. We are to continually pray for God’s kingdom to come and bring all the world under the gracious authority of Christ.

We need to keep seeking social, political, cultural, institutional, and ecclesiastical reform because God cares about it all coming under Christ’s lordship. Continually seeking God’s kingdom means we dethrone wealth and possessions as our first pursuits, and instead seek heavenly treasure as defined by Jesus.

We are to continually seek God’s righteousness by seeking peace where there is discord; forgiveness when others sin against us; mercy instead of judgment; right relations with people in our family, at work, in the neighborhood, and in the church. 

The will of God is clearly stated: Seek first the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness.

Conclusion

If we are busy with kingdom business, there is then no room for worry. Anxious fretting sets in whenever we are diverted from seeking the kingdom. There’s no need for worry about tomorrow because I am busy today doing God’s will.

So, how then do we overcome worry?

  1. Confess and renounce worry. Call worry for what it is: a lack of faith.
  2. Observe creation. Take regular walks in nature. See all the flora and fauna around you. Perceive how God cares for all of it – and you.
  3. Get to know the God of the Bible. Spending time with God increases our faith and reliance upon the Lord. Knowing that he is trustworthy, increases our faith. Engaging in the spiritual practices of prayer, giving, and fasting build our trust in God.
  4. Seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness. Busy yourself with kingdom pursuits, instead of worry.

May God’s blessing rest on you, as you value what Jesus values, and as you seek the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35b – God Is Bigger Than Our Fears

Psalm 104:3 by J. Michael Orr

I praise you, Lord God,
    with all my heart.
You are glorious and majestic,
dressed in royal robes
    and surrounded by light.
You spread out the sky
    like a tent,
    and you built your home
    over the mighty ocean.
The clouds are your chariot
    with the wind as its wings.
The winds are your messengers,
    and flames of fire
    are your servants.

You built foundations
for the earth,
    and it
    will never be shaken.
You covered the earth
with the ocean
    that rose
    above the mountains.
Then your voice thundered!
And the water flowed
    down the mountains
    and through the valleys
    to the place you prepared.
Now you have set boundaries,
    so that the water will never
    flood the earth again….

Our Lord, by your wisdom
    you made so many things;
    the whole earth is covered
    with your living creatures….
With all my heart
I praise you, Lord!
    I praise you! (Contemporary English Version)

The world is a gift from God.

When God created the heavens and the earth, Adam and Eve, the first humans, were the apex of God’s creative activity. Their charge, as people created in the image of God, was to steward the earth. And that mandate is still in effect. We are to take good care of this creation we inhabit.

However, due to the fall of humanity, there has always been a bent toward exploiting the earth for our own purposes, rather than carefully maintaining it. Wherever we see abuse of both land and lives, behind it is the fear of not having enough and not being safe enough. Our anxiety gets the best of us.

It seems to me that creation care must begin with ourselves. The lack of self-care inevitably works itself out by neither caring for other creatures nor creation. We need to acknowledge our fears and address them. Then, place those fears in the shining light of our Creator’s glory.

My kids grew up in the ‘90s watching Veggie Tales. The tunes were catchy and full of some solid truth about God. One of their favorites was “God is Bigger.” Here is the chorus:

God is bigger than the boogie man.
He’s bigger than Godzilla or the monsters on TV.
Oh, God is bigger than the boogie man,
And he’s watching out for you and me.

Today’s Psalm expresses the bigness of God – clothed with splendor and majesty, covered with light as with a garment, stretching out the heavens like a tent. Indeed, God is big – bigger than anything and everything. The Lord is sovereign and supreme over all creation, and always does what is right, just, and fair. God sees all and watches over the earth.

Sometimes we get lost in our situations, problems, and screw-ups. We get stuck in our anxiety and fears. We view them as larger than life and can become so overwhelmed and burdened with our inabilities, weaknesses, and lack of handling things well, that we lose sight of the reality that God is bigger than it all. 

Instead of fear and anxiety ruling the day, we can allow sound theology to purge the worry and trouble from our minds and hearts. Using today’s psalm to pray and praise God is a foundational way of beginning to put into perspective the issues and problems of our lives.

Confident living, and mitigating our fears, cannot simply be mentally or emotionally stirred up. Confidence needs a foundation, a basis in truth and reality. The believer’s assurance comes from the firm ground of God’s character and competence. Trust is born when we have a vision of a Divine Being, large and filling the universe with grace and justice.

Tending to our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health begins with a sense of divine largeness. Initiative and assertiveness can be freely exercised when we are secure and non-anxious because of God’s immense presence.

Caring for creation, and enjoying our great big world, is the logical action of being peacefully connected to the Creator of it all. We are all bound together as creatures and creation. We’re all made up of the same stuff.

Everything in the universe, including creatures and creation, share 97% percent of the same kind of atoms.

The crucial elements for life on Earth – carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur – are all found in abundance across the stars of our galaxy.

Our differences make us unique. Our similarities connect us. And we are inextricably connected to every atom in this universe. Just as we carry the DNA of our ancestors within our biological bodies, so we are all holding the same elements of the physical creation.

The ultimate connection, from a Christian perspective, is that Jesus holds it all together – thus making him the supreme Connector.

The Son is the image of the invisible God,
        the one who is first over all creation,

Because all things were created by him:
        both in the heavens and on the earth,
        the things that are visible and the things that are invisible.
            Whether they are thrones or powers,
            or rulers or authorities,
        all things were created through him and for him.

He existed before all things,
        and all things are held together in him.

He is the head of the body, the church,
who is the beginning,
        the one who is firstborn from among the dead
        so that he might occupy the first place in everything. (Colossians 1:15-18, CEB)

Christ is our connection to all things, reconciling us to our fellow creatures, creation, and the Creator. All the bigness of God lives in Jesus. In the face of the Lord, all fears melt away.

Almighty God, you are mighty big! My problems are really small as I glimpse your sheer immensity. Lord God, you are very great! I bless your holy name. Praise the Lord! Hallelujah, Amen.