Romans 8:18-24 – Groaning Inwardly

depressed person

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? (NIV)

In the wake of the Day of Pentecost, Christians are mindful of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit’s power certainly brings strength and courage for witness and ministry. That same power is also found in the travails and tribulations of this life. Spiritual power can be discovered in the dark places of our lives, in the times of loneliness and doubt, and in the constant need for prayerful intercession.

The Spirit is both a mighty wind and a gentle breeze.

Perhaps you, like me, grieve the loss of over 100,000 Americans to the deathly enemy of COVID-19. Our collective lament is an awful groaning expression of our pain. We need the Holy Spirit! The good news of Pentecost is that when we are not powerful, the Spirit helps us in our weakness – that is our hope and our quiet strength.

In today’s New Testament lesson, the Apostle Paul used the experience of childbirth to illustrate what the experience of the Christian life is often like. Growth, wonder, expectation, hope, patience, pain, and joy are all words to describe pregnancy and childbirth. When it comes to the Church and the Christian life, we are in the gestation period. Our salvation has not yet come to full term. Meanwhile, we must remain encouraged and healthy, keeping our future hope always in front of us so that we will not lose heart. When we are limited in what we can do and where we can go, we pray. And there are times when we are flat on our backs, overwhelmed with our circumstances, not able to utter any words in prayer.

As Christians, we are awaiting our complete redemption. If we lack patience and see little hope, we will find it difficult to persevere. In such times it does no good to be like Eeyore and feel sorry for ourselves. Yet, on the other hand, it also does no good to always be smiling, positive, and upbeat as if nothing is worth grieving over.  To take such a posture toward the awful effects of living in a fallen world with disease and death is, at best, to ignore the power of lament, and, at worst, to live in abject denial. We can neither fix nor control most of what is going on in the world around us. To lament is to acknowledge the reality that something terrible happened. Lament causes us to stare down a painful event and face it in all its ugliness.

In such feelings of helplessness and powerlessness, God comes to us in the person of the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit resides with us and strengthens us with Pentecostal power. We not only celebrate the Spirit’s mighty power to blow a violent wind and upturn history; we are also grateful for that same power in coming alongside us and providing the inner strength to face yet another day of hardship and difficulty as we seek to heal.

We live in an awkward time. Nothing is as it was. And, yet, it has always been this way – a time of spiritual pregnancy in which we possess salvation but do not yet possess it in all its fullness. There is so much groaning going on because we realize there is such a large gap between where we are and where we want to be. If women could have babies without nine months of struggle, limitation, and pain I think they would opt for that instead of the way it is now.

There is a time coming when every tear will be wiped away and unending joy will rule.

All of creation groans because where it is now and where it will be seems like such a long time in coming.  Every creature and every living thing will experience decay and death. The world is not yet redeemed from its cursed bondage. So, the earth produces disasters and diseases because we live in this fallen world that is not yet redeemed.

Pinocchio

Humanity groans because we fall victim to circumstances beyond our control. We also groan because of our own poor choices that give us grief. Although we have been delivered from sin, death, and hell and experience spiritual power… we still must wait eagerly for the redemption of our bodies. We are keenly aware of the terrible disconnect between where we are as people and where we want to be. It is something of feeling like Pinocchio, not yet a real boy who has to deal with strings and other puppeteers who do not care about him; and, who feels the need to lie because of his situation and pays the consequence of his nose growing.

Yet, a deeper thing is happening under the surface: Our frustrations, longings, lusts, jealousies, and escapist daydreams, things we might be ashamed of to take to prayer, are in fact already lifting our hearts and minds to God in more honest ways than we ever do consciously.

If carrying heavy burdens, it is spiritually appropriate to offload your worries onto the Holy Spirit who is waiting to intercede for you right now. And if there is no immediate relief, we are to persevere and keep engaging in prayer without giving up. Pentecostal power may be available, but it is not cheap; it requires a commitment of abiding prayer and waiting patiently for the Spirit to accomplish his purposes in his time.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful. Kindle in me the fire of your love. Send me your gentle breeze, and I shall be renewed.  Spirit of the living God, I invite you to wring the death out of my heart and saturate my soul with your life-giving breath of faith, hope, and love through Jesus Christ, my Savior. Amen.

Psalm 33:12-22 – God Is Watching

sunshine of love

Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord, 
    the people whom he has chosen as his heritage. 

The Lord looks down from heaven; 
    he sees all humankind. 
From where he sits enthroned he watches 
    all the inhabitants of the earth— 
he who fashions the hearts of them all, 
    and observes all their deeds. 
A king is not saved by his great army; 
    a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. 
The war horse is a vain hope for victory, 
    and by its great might it cannot save. 

Truly the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, 
    on those who hope in his steadfast love, 
to deliver their soul from death, 
    and to keep them alive in famine. 

Our soul waits for the Lord; 
    he is our help and shield. 
Our heart is glad in him, 
    because we trust in his holy name. 
Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, 
    even as we hope in you. (NRSV) 

God is in control of the world, and I am not. Although the myth of self-sufficiency and self-reliance thoroughly permeates individualist societies, this in no way lessens the transcendence of a big God. In today’s psalm, the scene of God looking down from heaven portrays him as above all, firmly in control, yet, attentive to all that is happening on the earth. Individual human creatures subscribing to a narrative of personal independence will inevitably run into the Creator God. 

Our success may give us the illusion that our own strength, intelligence, and/or ingenuity has brought us the good things we possess – not God. “I worked hard for my money and I will do whatever I want with it,” and the even more crass, “It wasn’t God who put food on my table,” are just a few of the power delusions I have heard from others, as if personal accomplishments are unconnected to any other force in the universe. 

In addition, our lack of success may also cause us to pause and wonder if God is really observing all our deeds, or not. Perhaps he is reclining in his La-z-God chair and watching old baseball game replays of the Angels. More likely, we have become so expectant of satisfactory service and immediate results as consumers in a capitalist culture that we fail to discern the virtue of patience – that God is not slow in keeping his promises as some would understand it. 

The bald fact of the matter is that we need God. What’s more, God feels no compulsion from us to be hurried along in his purposes for humanity. Since God is the divine gravity in this world, the only way of realizing the good life is to conform ourselves to him, and not the other way around.  

When we learn to exercise the inherent gifts of hope and patience which a gracious God has fashioned in our hearts, then we begin to discover persevering trust, enduring happiness, a settled sense of gladness, and steadfast love. We awaken to the true passion of God for us. Rather than a capricious or indifferent deity, the Lord God looks upon us with endearing faithfulness. In short, God’s heart is forever drawn to us. Therefore, we need not attempt to take all matters into our own hands, as if we are alone in the world. If we can see a vision of God high and lifted-up, observing us with a gaze of delight, then our spirits open to mercy and we find grace to help us in our time of need. The prophet Zephaniah allows us a glimpse into God’s feelings for us:  

The Lord your God is in your midst—a warrior bringing victory. He will create calm with his love; he will rejoice over you with singing. (Zephaniah 3:17, CEB)

God labors on our behalf. God has our backs. God establishes a safe environment for us. And, we must never forget: God delights in you so much that – this very minute – he is singing songs of joy over you. For trust and hope cannot be coerced by another or willed into being by the mind; it can only be generated through the deep conviction of God’s broad love for you and me. 

The best self-help program I know of is not self-help at all – it is the self-care of opening to a loving God and allowing God’s joy and delight to fill us. God is watching us, and it is the gaze of adoration, not condemnation. 

Dear God, the One who watches all, love comes from you. Anyone who loves is your child and knows you. And anyone who does not love does not know you, for God is love. Thank you for showing me love by sending your one and only Son into the world so that I might have eternal life through him. Dear God, since you loved me that much, I surely ought to love others. May you live in me and may the love of Jesus be brought to full expression in me through the power of the Spirit. Amen. 

Isaiah 25:1-5 – Against Violence

“Violence brings only temporary victories; violence, by creating many more social problems than it solves, never brings permanent peace”. —Martin Luther King, Jr.

AgainstViolence

Lord, you are my God.
I honor you and praise you,
because you have done amazing things.
You have always done what you said you would do;
you have done what you planned long ago.
You have made the city a pile of rocks
and have destroyed her walls.
The city our enemies built with strong walls is gone;
it will never be built again.
People from powerful nations will honor you;
cruel people from strong cities will fear you.
You protect the poor;
you protect the helpless when they are in danger.
You are like a shelter from storms,
like shade that protects them from the heat.
The cruel people attack
like a rainstorm beating against the wall,
like the heat in the desert.
But you, God, stop their violent attack.
As a cloud cools a hot day,
you silence the songs of those who have no mercy. (NCV)

These wonderful words of celebration were uttered not in a time of peace and plenty but in an era of hardship and loss. It seems the Jewish people have always faced a plethora of others who would rather see them wiped off the face of the map than existing with their own customs and religion. It was in one of those times of experiencing problems from Gentiles that this poem was crafted. It is precisely in the adverse times that we need to flee to the open arms of God and enjoy the divine embrace of security. In the sixteenth century, John Calvin reflected on these verses:

“When our minds are perplexed by a variety of uneasy thoughts on account of numerous distresses and afflictions which happen daily, we ought immediately to resort to God, and rely on his providence; for even the smallest calamities will overwhelm us, if we do not betake ourselves to him.”

God Almighty is the One who intervenes on behalf of the poor and helpless. The Lord God is the divine Protector who hears the voice of those overwhelmed with a crushing load of hard circumstances. The great “I AM” is the ultimate refuge and shelter for the vulnerable who possess no resources of their own. There is no bully, whether in the form of a person, an institution, or a government which can stand against the God who bends his ear to listen on behalf of the forgotten and the faint-hearted. Brutality and arrogance might touch our lives, yet it is the Lord to whom all those who exploit others must give an account. The violent, using cruelty and ruthlessness, shall not survive under the shadow of the Almighty God.

The poor and the needy may have no apparent chance against abusive persons and systems of the world. However, no power on earth can take on the Ruler and Sustainer of all creation and expect to have their way. God is the defender of the powerless. He specializes in tearing down the walls of oppression and lifting-up those in need of mercy.

So, then, I shall be explicit about the ancient and almighty God and our present circumstances:

  • Pandemic is a ruthless enemy which knows no pity from both rich and poor, the healthy and unhealthy; and, God is a merciful Deliverer who transcends all disease.
  • Poverty is a cruel master which is never satisfied; and, God is benevolent, bringing both spiritual and material satisfaction to life.
  • Patience is a virtue exemplified and amplified through the divine who desires to see all persons realize new life; and, impatience is a vice of the arrogant who demand their needs be met immediately without any regard to the common good of all.
  • Peace is a harmonious and wholehearted life gifted by God, even despite the surrounding storms of hardship; and, pride is the stance of the privileged who either cannot or will not see those who are underprivileged, and, so, they live in a constant state of unrest and disunity.

Wherever you find people speaking of their individual rights without emphasizing their communal responsibilities, there you will find a situation ripe for God to destroy the walls built by the selfish in order to create a safe place for the afflicted.

The Lord will silence the songs of the unmerciful; and, shall allow the shouts of the ones crying out for mercy to be heard. And he will do it in his own good time and grace.

Lord Jesus Christ, we thank you that through your death on the cross you disarmed the powers of evil. Help us, we pray you, to enter your resurrection victory and to stand in your authority against all evil. Send forth your light and your truth. Bring to light the deeds of darkness and let plans of violence be revealed. Through the power of Holy Spirit, almighty God, disarm every evil power and influence in your good world; and, bring loving connection where there is hatred and cruelty. Amen.

1 Peter 1:3-9 – Joy and Suffering

This is the day the Lord has made.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it!

Simply click the video below for a message from God’s Word.

Here are a few links for you:

You can click TimEhrhardtYouTube to view this message on YouTube.

Click Les Miserables to watch the scene described at the beginning of the message.

And, click I Am Not Alone by Kari Jobe to be encouraged that God is with us.

Grace to you always, my friends.