Psalm 27 – Waiting Patiently

The Waiting Room by South African artist Gerard Sekoto (1913-1993)

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
    so why should I be afraid?
The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger,
    so why should I tremble?
When evil people come to devour me,
    when my enemies and foes attack me,
    they will stumble and fall.
Though a mighty army surrounds me,
    my heart will not be afraid.
Even if I am attacked,
    I will remain confident.

 The one thing I ask of the Lord—
    the thing I seek most—
is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
    delighting in the Lord’s perfections
    and meditating in his Temple.
For he will conceal me there when troubles come;
    he will hide me in his sanctuary.
    He will place me out of reach on a high rock.
Then I will hold my head high
    above my enemies who surround me.
At his sanctuary I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy,
    singing and praising the Lord with music.

 Hear me as I pray, O Lord.
    Be merciful and answer me!
My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.”
    And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.”
Do not turn your back on me.
    Do not reject your servant in anger.
    You have always been my helper.
Don’t leave me now; don’t abandon me,
    O God of my salvation!
Even if my father and mother abandon me,
    the Lord will hold me close.

 Teach me how to live, O Lord.
    Lead me along the right path,
    for my enemies are waiting for me.
Do not let me fall into their hands.
    For they accuse me of things I’ve never done;
    with every breath they threaten me with violence.
Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness
    while I am here in the land of the living.

Wait patiently for the Lord.
    Be brave and courageous.
    Yes, wait patiently for the Lord. (NLT)

The message of the Advent season is perfectly and succinctly encapsulated in this heartfelt psalm to wait patiently for the Lord. Oh, how impatient we can be as people!  Not only do we anticipate the celebration of Christmas with the coming Christ child, but we long for deliverance, courage, help, strength, and, of course, patience.

The way to wait patiently is through hope. And hope is one of those things which needs to be continually be fortified. Whatever it is that we desire to see realized – the return of a wayward son or daughter; revitalization and revival within the church; courage to face the high wall of adversity; protection and deliverance from mean-spirited people; an end to pandemic; freedom from racism and injustice – whatever the situation we long for, patience is to be our breakfast every morning to help us through each day, living one day at a time, putting one foot forward.

Apart from patience and faith in God, we will lose our spiritual zeal and settle for a mediocre existence with tepid relationships and lukewarm engagement of the world. God desires more for us than simply having a marriage in which two people only exist under the same roof; for church to be more than buildings, budgets, and butts in the pews; for our work to be more than a necessary evil to make a living; for our lives to be more than fear, worry, and anxiety; more than broken dreams, messed up relationships, and situations gone sideways.

The confident expectation of hope neither eliminates trouble from our lives nor magically makes everything better. Deep faith, like the psalmist expressed, does not change reality – but it does change us. The way in which we view and handle our troubles is understood differently through the filter of faith and the lens of hope. The mammoth adversity in our lives is no longer feared because of settled trust in God; the danger which lurks about has no teeth to hold us when we are secure in the Lord.

The actions we ourselves take toward God amidst the fallen nature of this world are to wait and hope, be strong and take courage. It is precisely when we are totally discombobulated that these actions are to take effect. “I believe…” and “I have confidence…” become the beginning pronoun and verbs to every sentence we utter. So, let us flesh out those words:

I believe the Lord is the Light which keeps me safe and illumines my path.

I believe the Lord is my Fortress, a castle to protect me.

I believe the Lord is an Army surrounding me, defending my life.

I believe the Lord is the Rock of my salvation, keeping me secure.

I believe the Lord is a Parent who holds me close and does not let go.

I believe the Lord is the righteous, just, and good Judge, always extending grace and mercy to me.

Therefore, I have confidence and courage to engage the world, knowing God has my back.

I have confidence God will handle malevolent persons, systemic evil, and sinister forces on my behalf.

I have confidence I can approach God, since God’s character is always gracious and loving.

I have confidence to pray with authority, understanding God is the Sovereign of the universe.

I have confidence better days are ahead, that the Christ is soon coming.

I have confidence God bends to attentively listen to me praying.

I have confidence God is neither angry at me nor hidden from me.

I have confidence God shall lead me, guide me, and teach me in the way I ought to go.

Rather than losing heart, we can be strengthened with solid theology. Making daily affirmations of faith, persevering in hope, and performing small acts of love are our daily tasks while we wait and watch….

Almighty and everlasting God, the One who sees, knows, and protects, by the power of your Holy Spirit, you are refining us, purifying our discipleship, pulling us into following Jesus in this scary new world of uncertainty. Grant us mercy and grace to trust you more deeply, for the only secure place is with you, our light and our salvation, the stronghold of our life. We pray in the name of Jesus, the first-born of your new creation, and our hope, our life. Amen.

Psalm 27 by British songwriter and producer Jonathan Ogden

Matthew 8:23-27 – Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up

To Tell the Truth

Then he [Jesus] got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”

He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.

The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” (NIV)

When I was a kid, every evening after supper and the news, I watched a show called To Tell the Truth.  The show featured a panel of four celebrities attempting to correctly identify a described contestant who has an unusual occupation or experience. This central character was accompanied by two impostors who pretended to be the central character. The celebrity panelists questioned the three contestants; and, the impostors could lie but the central character was sworn “to tell the truth.” After questioning, the panel then attempted to identify which of the three challengers was telling the truth. The host would conclude the show by saying the famous line, “Will the real ______ please stand up!”  The four panelists on the show often missed the real person, mainly because they had certain expectations of what the real person’s occupation or experience would be like.  And their expectations did not match the real thing.

People in the first century had expectations of what the Messiah would be like.  Their assumptions centered mostly in a manly Savior who would enter history and beat up the Romans, establishing the kingdom of God on earth with strong leadership over everyone.  And that was why they missed the Messiah because their expectations did not fit the real Jesus.

It is imperative we do not miss Jesus because we have certain expectations of who he is, and what he should do, based on our own experience, or on what we want, rather than what God is doing.

God is at work bringing all things under Christ’s authority. The kingdom of God expands and develops when people follow Jesus through genuine humility, confession of sin, and reception of grace. Satan and his demons are quite displeased when this happens because they do not want Jesus on the scene to bring deliverance.

The devil had his own aspiration to do away with Jesus so that Christ could not accomplish the mission of redeeming the world back to God. Wiley old Satan wanted the violent storm to kill Jesus. However, Christ’s authority and power overwhelmed the “natural” act.

Jesus calms the storm

The real Jesus is, in truth, beyond our expectations. The emphasis in the story of deliverance from the storm is on the person of Christ. The people were surprised that even the wind and the waves obey him!  They were afraid because of the furious storm. But Jesus was sleeping, not the least bit fearful. The disciples woke him, and the original text of the story has just three short staccato-breathed words expressing their abject fear: “Lord! Save! Dying!” Jesus seemed to lazily awake and chided them for little faith, for their inability to recognize who he really was. The disciples’ expectations of Jesus were way too low!

Many people believe that God hears and answers prayer. Yet, sometimes our faith can be so small that, when God answers those prayers in ways far superior to our expectations, we are slack-jawed astonished by it.  Matthew’s Gospel records several instances of people being surprised by the real Jesus:

When Jesus had thrown out the demon, the man who couldn’t speak began to talk. The crowds were amazed and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.” (Matthew 9:33, CEB)

Everyone was amazed at what they saw and heard. People who had never spoken could now speak. The lame were healed, the crippled could walk, and the blind were able to see. (Matthew 15:31, CEV)

When the followers saw this [Jesus withering a fig tree] they were very surprised. They asked, “How did the fig tree dry up and die so quickly?” (Matthew 21:20, ERV)

They were surprised to hear this [how insightful Jesus is to the human condition]. Then they left him alone and went away. (Matthew 22:22, GW)

But Jesus said nothing in answer to Pilate, and Pilate was very surprised at this. (Matthew 27:14, NCV)

The real Jesus is more marvelous, wonderful, powerful, and awesome than we know. Jesus will take care of us; he will not let his people be destroyed.  When we truly grasp the real Jesus, and how much he loves us, there is no room for fear, only faith.

Even though the disciples’ faith was small, Jesus still responded to it with grace because even small faith is faith. Grace is undeserved help. Our Lord helps anyone who approaches him, whether with little faith or big. Our small faith is no obstacle for Jesus in delivering us from the storms of life.

I am wondering if you are presently experiencing a violent storm in your life. Please know that Jesus can bring peace.

Perhaps you have a besetting sin that dogs you every day. Jesus can deliver you.

It could be that depression follows you like a lost kitten wherever you go.  Jesus can bring new life and fresh joy to your life.

Maybe there is a relationship you have lost hope over. Jesus can restore it.

Perchance you think your neighbor, co-worker, or family member is too far from God to ever know Jesus. By now you know the response. Our expectations of Jesus are much too small!  We can pray big prayers because we serve a big and powerful God who has the authority to command even the wind and the waves!

When the real Jesus confronts the world, he confronts injustice and the darkness within human hearts.  Some people are crushed by their awareness of sin, disobedience, and guilt. Therefore, they respond by hungering and thirsting after true righteousness. Others respond by trying to domesticate Jesus in serving their own ends.

The Gospel of Matthew portrays Jesus as both a powerful and compassionate God. Christ has authority over all things, and uses that authority to bestow grace, even in the face of the smallest of faith in his followers. Jesus cares about people and seeks to deliver them from the dominion of evil.

So, may we participate with Jesus in his agenda for this world.  May we submit to his rule and authority. May we exhibit the same care, compassion, and concern for people as Jesus does. May we identify the real Jesus to stand up.

Lord Jesus, Son of God, I believe all things are possible through you; help my unbelief! Take my small and seemingly insignificant faith and use it to calm the storms in my life and demonstrate your authority even over the wind and the waves. Amen.

Luke 11:29-32

            Just when we think we might have a handle on Jesus as the meek and gentle Savior we get a picture of Jesus behaving badly.  When the crowds begin increasing we might expect Jesus to be pleased.  After all, we can have more being reached; wider influence; greater impact; good for business.  But Jesus isn’t down for all the people following him around.  He opens his mouth and says to them, “This generation is an evil generation.”  Jesus went on to chide the people who were looking for a cool miracle and a neat sign of his power and authority.  Nope.  Instead, Jesus lets them know that they have ample opportunity to accept him but are not moving in that direction.
 
            Sometimes we so desperately want to make Jesus cool and acceptable so that others will follow him.  If only Jesus will heal this person, we reason, lots of people will believe.  If only Jesus will compassionately and powerfully perform a great miracle, we think, the world will take notice and put their trust in God.  But Jesus simply points people back to characters of the Old Testament.  If people won’t take notice of what they already have, they are not going to be swayed with a shiny new sign.
 
            Jesus defies stereotypes.  And he ought to, because he is King.  This is why we need a steady daily stream of God’s Word to help ground us into the ways of Jesus.  The more we allow the Scriptures to shape our spirituality, the more our lives will be formed into the likeness of Jesus.  It is a process.  It is often slow.  There are not a lot of bells and whistles to it.  On most days, there is not a lot of drama – just the pedantic plodding of a faithful believer trying to make sense of living the Christian life.  And those are the people I think Jesus most likes to hang-out with.
 

 

            Astounding God, you sometimes shake us out our pre-conceived notions about you and invite us to see Jesus from a different viewpoint.  Help me to see Jesus so that I might more fully embrace him and walk in his ways in the strength of the Spirit.  Amen.

Luke 4:16-30

            Jesus was the hometown boy of Nazareth, the rising star who was putting the small village on the map.  He walked into the synagogue on the Sabbath with the people all watching with pride, their chests puffed with delight over one of their own making it to the big time.  It just so happened that on that day the Old Testament reading was from the prophet Isaiah – a prophecy of grace and healing that fit the budding ministry of Jesus.  Here was the hope of Israel.  It was all bunnies and butterflies, until Jesus decided to say a few words to them all….
 
             Jesus took the prophecy of Isaiah about proclaiming liberty to captives and the oppressed and applied it not to his fellow Jews who were present, but to, of all people, Gentiles!  Jesus just had to open his mouth and point out that in the days of Elijah, the prophet was sent to a Gentile woman instead of Jews.  What is more, Jesus let everyone know that the prophet Elisha cleansed a Gentile.  The gathered synagogue worshipers understood exactly what Jesus was doing.  He was claiming to be the ultimate prophet, sent for those other people.  It was too much for them.  All hell broke loose as the ‘worshipers’ became so angry and insolent that they drove him out of town and tried to kill him.  Jesus had that kind of effect on many of his fellow Jews. 
 
            The people of Nazareth had always interpreted the message of Isaiah and the prophets as being for themselves, not others.  This is a probing story for today’s Christian church.  Whenever we lose sight of the Bible’s message and re-interpret it as being for only us, then we end up like the Nazarenes of old who did not recognize Jesus for who he really is and what he really came to do.  The burning question for individual Christians and the corporate church is this:  Are you ready to throw Jesus off a cliff?
 
            Take some time alone with God today and think about whether you have made Jesus into the image of what you want him to be, or whether you accept him as he is.  One clue to this is if you think some person or people group (hint: what do you really think of LGBTQ’s and Starbucks?) should not have Jesus – he belongs to people like you.  Perhaps today some soul-searching repentance is in order so that you will be a true worshiper of Jesus, and not just a fan of him.
 

 

            Gracious Lord Jesus, you are the Savior of the nations and not just of people who look, act, and believe just like me.  Open my eyes to see others as you see them so that I can worship you in spirit and in truth.  Amen.