Psalm 124 – Help Is Here

If it had not been the Lord who was on our side
    —let Israel now say—
if it had not been the Lord who was on our side,
    when our enemies attacked us,
then they would have swallowed us up alive,
    when their anger was kindled against us;
then the flood would have swept us away;
    the torrent would have gone over us;
then over us would have gone
    the raging waters.

Blessed be the Lord,
    who has not given us
    as prey to their teeth.
We have escaped like a bird
    from the snare of the hunters;
the snare is broken,
    and we have escaped.

Our help is in the name of the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth. (New Revised Standard Version)

As a church pastor, many Sundays I begin the worship service with the ancient confession of faith that “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” It is a call to worship the God who is above all and sees all – and can do something about the adversity and trouble we face in the world. 

With each new day, our attention needs guidance toward the positive acknowledgment that the eternal and ever-present God is ready and vigilant to skillfully and lovingly direct us through our waking hours. 

There is no biblical reference anywhere in Holy Scripture that God helps those who help themselves. The Lord is indiscriminate in providing aid for all without prejudice. All we need do is ask for it. Whereas we can certainly make positive choices and advocate for ourselves with effective help, our supreme and ultimate help is in the Lord. 

Our fears about the future, our insecurities of what will happen, and our anxieties about all the upcoming stuff we must face can be transformed with the biblical perspective of acknowledging our great need for divine intervention. 

The Lord is our most prescient support. The virtual meeting you have been dreading; that conversation you have been avoiding; a deadline that has been looming over your head; the ongoing health issues which seem to never end; these, and all situations, can only find their proper perspective in light of the God who helps.

I am a believer in making daily affirmations of faith in God. Early in the morning, I deliberately affirm and profess my firm beliefs in the Lord, even if I don’t feel like it, each and every day so that some solid robust theology is at the forefront of my mind, and the attributes of God sink firmly into my heart. 

I rely on such rituals because faith does not simply come through checking-off a list of orthodox beliefs, then moving on as if those beliefs have no connection to daily life. Rather, faith arises as a response to the recognition that God is good – all the time – and that the Lord helps those who intentionally and constantly seek divine help and enablement.

There are a lot of things we do not know: What will happen tomorrow? How will that situation shake out in the end? Will this relationship flower or wither?… a million questions can weigh down our hearts with anxiety. Yet, there is a sure and certain truth we can count on right now and for every minute into the future: God is with us.

God’s ever-present help remains the constant ballast in a sea of changing circumstances.

“If God is on our side, can anyone be against us?… I am sure that nothing can separate us from God’s love—not life or death, not angels or spirits, not the present or the future, and not powers above or powers below. Nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord!”

Romans 8:31, 38-39, CEV

Not even the graveyard can limit God. With the Lord, death is defeated. Resurrection is a reality. The enemy is flat on his face. Evil’s power is weakened. We are only in danger if we let ourselves go near our old toothless foe. And even then, we have the shield of faith, the sword of the Spirit, and the shoes of peace.

The dangers of water and fire, traps and snares, enemy armies and spiritual foes are all undone by an almighty God. The maker of heaven and earth personally advocates for and helps us. Indeed, the Lord is on our side.

Creator God, you are the ever-present One who provides everything I need for life and godliness. I need your help today and everyday so that I can confidently do your will.  I stand with full assurance of faith because I serve the Lord Jesus, who is benevolent and always does what is right and just. Amen.

Romans 5:1-5 – Maybe There Can Be Peace…

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (New International Version)

Today, there are millions, perhaps billions, of people without peace in this world.

Maybe…

Maybe there isn’t much peace in your life. Because of that unsettled icky sense of agitation, your mind is somewhere else. It could be that you are upset about something that has happened or are worried about something that is going to happen. 

Maybe the lack of peace has to do with another person. They did or said something, and it’s been grinding on you. So, you are having conversations with that person in your head for which you will probably never say aloud. 

Maybe you have to deal with someone else who doesn’t have peace, and it’s creating stress for you. And you are wondering when things will settle down.

Maybe the lack of peace runs much deeper than your immediate circumstances and plans. 

Maybe every day, day-in-and-day-out, you are not quite sure about where you stand with a person or a group of people.

Maybe you aren’t sure about how you stand with God. You wonder whether God is really pleased with you, or not. 

Maybe you aren’t even in touch with your lack of peace because you are an expert at pushing whatever feelings you have so far down that you think you’re fine. But you really aren’t.

Maybe you are a perfectionist…

Perfectionists are never at peace. The specter of perfectionism always hangs in the air. There’s a steady stream of “should have’s,” and “could have’s” making noise in your head. Your work, no matter how good, is never good enough. “I should have done better.”  “I ought to do better.”  “I must be better.” 

Instead of viewing life’s opportunities as challenges to be welcomed, the perfectionist sees life as one unending mountain to climb, never quite reaching the top. 

The constant companions of perfectionistic people are disappointment, condemnation, frustration, and perceived failure. There is, for them, an internal world of self-loathing based on the lie that I am not enough – I have to be perfect. Peace, for the perfectionist, is a pipe dream.

Maybe we could focus a bit on God…

The Christian God is a triune God, existing in three persons – Father, Son, and Spirit – the great Three-in-One. The Trinity is the basis for all we are and all we do.

All of life is grounded in the triune God. God exists in perfect unity and harmony. God is God’s own community of glorious love. God’s glory is primarily seen on this earth through creation, through us, God’s creatures.

Glory is revealed as we reflect the image of God stamped on us in creation. Since God is love, God’s people are to be characterized by love – loving God, loving one another, and loving neighbor. God’s people are meant to exist together in unity and harmony, reflecting the very nature of the Holy Trinity. 

Yet, after the creation of the world and humanity, man and woman fell into guilt and shame through bucking God’s design for people. Ever since, God has been on a mission to reclaim the lost glory.

Maybe we need to focus on the Son… 

The ultimate expression of God’s mission was the sending of the Son to this earth. It is through Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension that the way has been opened to a renewed relationship with our triune God.

The way is now clear for us to experience real practical peace. It has been achieved through the cross of Jesus Christ.

Therefore, since God has initiated a rescue mission for us by sending the Son, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God. 

To be justified means God made us righteous – has made things right between us. God has also provided access for us to be right with each other and the rest of creation. To put this in a contemporary vernacular, we ask God, “Are we good?” and God responds, “We’re good.”

Since then, we’re good with God, we have peace with God. 

Since then, that is true, we cannot try and get peace by another way.

Peace does not come through doing the right things, and by being a good person. 

Peace does not come through trying to obtain feelings of peace.

Peace is not merely the absence of conflict – of just keeping people from strangling each other and harming one another. 

Peace cannot be achieved by trying to relieve anxiety through better effort. 

Maybe grace is the answer…

The antidote to perfectionism, the resolution to feeling a lack of peace is unconditional approval from God. 

Grace is the elixir of life. 

Grace is the thing a perfectionist cannot work to obtain, and the thing that truly helps. 

Grace is freely given; it is a gift.   

Grace (God’s loving unconditional acceptance of us) is the true way of peace.

Some folks have so tied themselves to impossible performances and conditional love that the gift of grace is hard to accept. 

Change won’t happen overnight, and that’s okay – because God deals with us according to grace, not by earning spiritual merit badges. 

The renewal that brings transformation is a process, not an event. In Scripture it’s called “sanctification.” So, it’s important to enjoy the process. 

When you’ve caught yourself going back to the pigsty of perfectionism, instead of beating yourself up, go ahead and laugh at yourself and your own fallibility. Perfectionists take themselves way too serious. Anytime they can lighten up, it lights up the face of God (in a non-performance sort of way!).

Maybe peace is possible…

Peace delivers us from our brokenness.  Again, let’s return to the triune God. There is perfect peace within Father, Son, and Spirit. God is perfect unity, harmony, and love.

Peace means living, working, and playing together. 

Peace means experiencing wholeness, integrity, and contentment, even in the midst of hard circumstances. 

Peace means being a peacemaker.

The late Fred Rogers, from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, got into television because he didn’t like TV. During spring break of his senior year in seminary he encountered television for the first time. What he saw repulsed him because he saw people demeaning each other and not having peace.  

Fred Rogers worried that TV programming would create a generation of emotionally-bankrupt children. Faced with the decision to either sour on television itself or work to restore the medium, he chose the latter. He dropped out of seminary and began pursuing a career in broadcasting. Fourteen years later, he created a television show that shaped entire generations of children, running on PBS from 1968-2001.

Mr. Rogers was a devout Christian who rarely talked about his faith on the air. Yet, his show infused our society with beauty and grace. “You’ve made this day a special day by just your being you,” he’d famously sign off. “There is no person in the whole world like you, and I like you just the way you are.” 

In many ways, the lasting legacy of Mr. Rogers will not only be the greater emotional stability of generations of children, but also his wonderful example of peace and how to restore the world through basic human kindness.

Maybe the path of peace is different than I believed…

Having all our circumstances like we want them is not the basis of experiencing peace. That’s being delusional. Peace doesn’t happen whenever everything goes our way.

Instead, we are to rejoice in all our circumstances, even the ones which cause suffering – because they the Holy Spirit’s means of teaching us to experience the peace we long for.

Suffering is our triune God’s way of weaning us off all that divides and antagonizes so that we can attach ourselves to God’s peace. 

One of the most read Christian books of all time was written in the 1500’s by a French woman known as Madame Guyon. She saw the disunity of the world and the lack of peace in our individual lives as stemming from our lack of practicing God’s ways. 

Much of the world doesn’t know what to do with suffering, and does not accept it, because people want their own way with everything.

War and Peace by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jamal D. Sutter

To know God’s peace, we must practice just the opposite – by refusing all personal desires we have, whether good or bad. Why? Because the practice of refusing our own will breaks it free so it can attach to God’s will.  

We need our brains to be rewired in saying “no” to ourselves.

The other part of Madame Guyon’s practice is to accept every circumstance, even difficulty and suffering, with joy and thanksgiving. 

We can learn to say “yes, thank you” for each hard circumstance, whether good or bad. As in the case of Mr. Rogers, the evil we observe can spur us toward making peace in this world. We detach from personal desires so we can attach to what God wants to do.

Peace, on the practical level, comes from persevering under suffering and rejoicing in it. Why rejoice? Because suffering produces character and character hope. There cannot be hope without suffering. 

God the Father called God the Son to suffer; and God the Spirit leads us into suffering so that we might know peace and hope on a daily basis.

Conclusion

Abandon everything to God. Let it go – every dream, every personal desire, everything you have so that you are free to know God’s will for your life. 

Accept each circumstance you face with joy and thanksgiving. The Trinitarian love of God is poured into our hearts through every circumstance of life, even if it is difficult and hard. 

When we practice abandonment of our wills and acceptance of our circumstances, the result gives us hope, the confident expectation that nothing in our lives happens in vain. 

Every situation can lead us to know God and experience peace. This is very different from simply believing in the Trinity; it is to daily experience the Trinity. 

Glorious God, make your presence known through our worship, our prayer, and our reading of your Word. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, within you lies unity, love, justice, peace, and power.

Fill our outstretched hearts with your Spirit and encircle us with your love. Make yourself known to us in new and challenging ways. Empower us to forsake every will but your own.  Inspire us toward your peace. Do with us what you will, through Christ our Lord in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Exodus 40:16-38 – No Matter Where We Go, God Is with Us

Israel Encamped Roundabout the Tabernacle in the Wilderness of Sinai
John W. Kelchner (1866-1942)

Moses followed the Lord’s instructions. And on the first day of the first month of the second year, the sacred tent was set up. The posts, stands, and framework were put in place, then the two layers of coverings were hung over them. The stones with the Ten Commandments written on them were stored in the sacred chest, the place of mercy was put on top of it, and the carrying poles were attached. The chest was brought into the tent and set behind the curtain in the most holy place. These things were done exactly as the Lord had commanded Moses.

The table for the sacred bread was put along the north wall of the holy place, after which the bread was set on the table. The lampstand was put along the south wall,then the lamps were attached to it there in the presence of the Lord. The gold incense altar was set up in front of the curtain, and sweet-smelling incense was burned on it. These things were done exactly as the Lord had commanded Moses.

The curtain was hung at the entrance to the sacred tent. Then the altar for offering sacrifices was put in front of the tent, and animal sacrifices and gifts of grain were offered there. The large bronze bowl was placed between the altar and the entrance to the tent. It was filled with water, then Moses and Aaron, together with Aaron’s sons, washed their hands and feet. In fact, they washed each time before entering the tent or offering sacrifices at the altar. These things were done exactly as the Lord had commanded Moses.

Finally, Moses had the curtains hung around the courtyard and at the entrance.

Suddenly the sacred tent was covered by a thick cloud and filled with the glory of the Lord. And so, Moses could not enter the tent. Whenever the cloud moved from the tent, the people would break camp and follow; then they would set up camp and stay there, until it moved again. No matter where the people traveled, the Lord was with them. Each day his cloud was over the tent, and each night a fire could be seen in the cloud. (Contemporary English Version)

There is no place we can go where God is not.

The presence of God is an overarching theme, not only of the book of Exodus, but of the entire Bible.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, and formed man and woman as the apex of divine creative work. Humans alone bear the stamp of God’s image and likeness. People were created to be with God. 

Sadly, however, humanity took their own path, apart from God, and fell into the suffering of guilt, shame, and misplaced love. 

“No one can hide so that I can’t see him,” declares the Lord.
“I fill heaven and earth!” declares the Lord.

Jeremiah 23:24, GW

Ever since the fall of humanity from their majestic position with the Lord, God has been on a determined, yet patient, mission to restore, reconcile, and reclaim lost humanity so that they can be together again. The Lord longs for people to find their way back to the peace and rest of the garden.

God chose Abraham and set apart his descendants, the Hebrews, to be a people and a kingdom of priests, to reverse the curse. 

The Lord chose Moses to free the people from bondage, giving them laws and commandments to communicate that the divine presence is among them. For the ancient Hebrews, God was like a pillar of cloud, a sentinel watching over them. 

Eventually, in the fullness of time, when it was ripe for the promised Savior to come, God sent the Son, the Lord Jesus, the “Immanuel,” meaning “God with us.”

Jesus lived a holy life, died a cruel death on our behalf to atone for all guilt and shame. Christ rose from death so that people might experience new life and once again connect with God and enjoy the divine presence forever. The Lord Jesus ascended to heaven, and now watches over us, interceding on our behalf. 

And that’s not all; until Christ comes again to this earth, to judge the living and the dead, God’s Holy Spirit has been sent to be the continuing presence of Jesus for this present time. The Spirit is with God’s people, always.

There is no place you can go where the Spirit of God is not already there.

It just doesn’t matter where we are located geographically; it doesn’t matter if we screw up; and doesn’t matter what kind of situation we find ourselves in. The truth of the matter is this: God is with us. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ. 

God’s eyes are on human ways,
   and he sees all their steps.

Job 34:21, CEB

There are no guarantees in this life that things will turn out well, or that everything will go our way, just because we are believers. In fact, we are promised the opposite – that there will be suffering and hardship. Yet, what makes all the difference for the believer, is that we have the abiding presence of God with us.

The Lord has gone to the greatest lengths possible to make relational connection happen. And it is the persistent and pervasive presence of God that enables God’s people to face and endure all things with faith and confidence.

No matter where we travel, God is with us.

Ever-present God, your grace and mercy overwhelm the universe. Thank you for your constant and abiding love, even in the midst of hate and violence. Enable me to always live in awareness of this reality so that my life might confidently follow you anytime and anywhere; through Jesus Christ, my Lord, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

John 1:14-18 – This Is the One

The Word became flesh and blood,
    and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
    the one-of-a-kind glory,
    like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
    true from start to finish.

John pointed him out and called, “This is the One! The One I told you was coming after me but in fact was ahead of me. He has always been ahead of me, has always had the first word.”

We all live off his generous abundance,
    gift after gift after gift.
We got the basics from Moses,
    and then this exuberant giving and receiving,
This endless knowing and understanding—
    all this came through Jesus, the Messiah.
No one has ever seen God,
    not so much as a glimpse.
This one-of-a-kind God-Expression,
    who exists at the very heart of the Father,
    has made him plain as day. (The Message)

This is an astounding passage of Holy Scripture! These are verses to savor and not quickly read through. The Apostle John’s opening comments to his Gospel are theologically rich, lovingly beautiful, and missionally sensitive. 

The high and holy God has chosen to come and show himself to us in the person of Jesus. We know God through Christ. We learn about what God is like through Jesus. God has condescended to us, bent down and communicated to us through means we can understand and discern, through the Lord Jesus. 

In the biggest cities of the world, like Mexico City, Mexico and Manilla, Philippines, there are huge garbage dumps that cover several square miles. On top of these heaps of waste there live thousands of families who have made this their home. 

Each day they send their kids out to forage for scraps so they can have something to eat and survive. Few others tread where these families are. Yet, there are believers who make the journey and try to bring the love of God to such a place.

As incredible and sad a situation this is, the journey from heaven to earth that Jesus made has no comparison.  Christ came to the sin-soaked dump of this world, to us who were living on a heap of garbage and entered into our lives to save us from our wretched condition.

“The Self-revealing of the Word is in every dimension – above, in creation; below, in the Incarnation; in the depth, in Hades; in the breadth, throughout the world. All things have been filled with the knowledge of God.”

St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation

Jesus did not just appear to be human. He actually became one of us. Christ, the rightful King of the universe, chose to live with all the same things we face from day to day.  He “tabernacled” with us, using the imagery of God’s presence with the ancient Israelites through their desert journey.

John and the other Gospel writers were evangelists; they wrote so that people might believe in Jesus and clearly see what God is doing for them amidst the grinding spiritual and physical poverty of this fallen world.

The Apostle John saw and experienced first-hand Jesus interacting with families in the dump. John knew what was happening; God was coming to save the people. 

The way to reach people, who are so concerned for scurrying about their business and trying to survive apart from God, is through the incarnation. Christ’s descent to this earth – his earthly ministry, his crucifixion, death, resurrection and subsequent ascension back to heaven – demonstrated how we, as his followers, are to live our lives.

Believers in Jesus testify to what God has done in Christ. They do so through being little incarnations, entering fully into people’s lives with the grace and compassion given them by their Lord. Christians are to be like the moon, not we ourselves producing light, but in the middle of darkness, reflecting the light of the sun (Son) so that the earth may know that Jesus cares and can deliver them.

The sort of God that Christians worship and serve is an over-the-top gracious and generous God who has gone to the most incredible lengths possible to restore lost humanity. 

Since God has bridged the great chasm between heaven and earth, the very least we can do is walk across the street, or across the room, and develop a new relationship with someone who needs the sort of deliverance Jesus can expertly provide. 

This is the One, Jesus, who shows us the glory of God.

God’s loving initiative can become our own motivation. Sit and soak with this wonderful passage of the New Testament today. Let it seep deep into your soul. Allow it to shape how you live your life.

Almighty God, whose blessed Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things: Mercifully give us faith to perceive that, according to his promise, he abides with his Church on earth, even to the end of the ages; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.