Instead of Anger or Fear, We Respond With Prayer

We survived another election. Our newspapers, social media sites, and televisions displayed messages based on our greatest fears in the lead-up to the election. Election advertising relies heavily upon frightening us into voting one way or another. We are familiar with the screen that turns black and white and displays something that we should really be afraid of happening. The sight of boarded-up buildings prepares our minds for violence and invokes fear in our hearts. With division, we turn to fear, and these are divided and frightening times.

With all elections, there are winners and losers. You may be pleased with the results, you may be displeased with the results, or you may be in a wait-and-see position with what might still happen. Still, no matter how you feel about the victors or the victors-to-be, your trust must be firmly planted in the Lord, and not in our worldly leaders, because only God can bring us peace and deliver us from our fears.

The Fear In Jerusalem

Turning to Isaiah and how they responded to their circumstances, they had a rationale for their fright. The enemy was literally at the gates of Jerusalem, and Isaiah is telling us about a threatening letter sent from the Assyrian leader to Hezekiah, Judah’s king. This letter taunted Hezekiah and reminded him of the Assyrians’ great military successes, and resistance was futile. They can either comply or face destruction. Sennacherib, Assyria’s king, even went as far as telling the people of Judah that the gods of the surrounding nations could not put down the assaults of their nation. In the eyes of this Assyrian king, faith was futile and powerless to stand up to their great military might.

Isaiah 37:14-20 (NIV)

14Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the Lord and spread it out before the Lord. 15And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord: 

16“Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. 17Give ear, Lord, and hear; open your eyes, Lord, and see; listen to all the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God. 18“It is true, Lord, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste all these peoples and their lands. 19They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands. 20Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, Lord, are the only God.”

Hezekiah’s Response To Sennacherib

Sennacherib sends his message to Hezekiah, that Judah must bend to his will or else Jerusalem will suffer the consequences. Specifically, Sennacherib claims that their God will not save them, but that Jerusalem will fall just like all the other nations that have been conquered around them. This is a direct challenge to God’s power and integrity. Hezekiah spreads this letter out as if before God to read as he bows in prayer. The action symbolizes his need for God’s guidance and his willingness to do God’s will. In contrast with his first prayer of fear, the king now bows in the presence of God with a trust that gives us a model for prayer.

Our Response to Fear

Naturally, we may want to lash out or get angry at the ways of the world, but without first relenting to being the person that God wants us to be in all situations, then we mistake the dangers of the world as being equal to or greater than God. This is how fear encourages us to act. However, when things look menacing or attempting to bring you to a place where you are just going to yield to fear, our first reaction must be to look to God and pray. As Hezekiah’s response guides us, lay everything out before God, and allow God to instruct us on our behavior, let God calm our hearts, and let God bring peace in response to the turmoil. 

1. All news: good, bad, or indifferent; must be presented to God in prayer.

Sennacherib sends his message to Hezekiah, that Judah must bend to his will or else Jerusalem will suffer the consequences. Specifically, Sennacherib claims that their God will not save them, but that Jerusalem will fall just like all the other nations that have been conquered around them. This is a direct challenge to God’s power and integrity. Hezekiah spreads this letter out as if before God to read as he bows in prayer. The action symbolizes his need for God’s guidance and his willingness to do God’s will. In contrast with his first prayer of fear, the king now bows in the presence of God with a trust that gives us a model for prayer.

Hezekiah’s example reminds us that when we encounter any news, instead of being overly jubilant or worried, we must take all news before the Lord in prayer. We are taught by his example that, when pressured, God calls us to cast our burdens upon Him. Any other response will be less than effective and any other methods of relief will be fruitless. God doesn’t require our prayers, nor tears, nor complaints to know what we need; for he “knows our wants and needs before we ask anything from him.” (Matt. 6:8.) By laying out our burdens before God, we acknowledge that God knows what we need and we allow the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts and give us what we need at this time.

In our divided state right now, there is a lot of trepidation and fear about what will happen in our country and the world based on our election results. Worry and fear will drive us to react in unpredictable ways; it will trigger fight or flight mechanisms in our brains. God, instead of reacting to the situation with our own response, asks us to lay them down before Him and let go of the fear and allow the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts. Instead of grumbling at the state of the world, we respond with thanksgiving in our hearts that God has given us this opportunity to serve His Kingdom at this point in history. The world has been filled with good leaders and bad leaders, but none of them has taken control away from the Lord.

2. Recognize that God is greater than anything we encounter.

As Hezekiah begins this prayer, he proclaims God’s greatness and details the character of the one to whom he prays. Instead of starting his prayer with his problems, Hezekiah acknowledges that God is greater than his current circumstance and places his confidence in God instead of merely whining at God. His prayer begins with worship. Hezekiah proclaims the following: God Almighty, Lord over all Israel, the enthroned King over all the Earth, and the Creator of All. With this opening to prayer, Hezekiah acknowledges that God can change this based on God’s character. From that point, Hezekiah can then turn his prayer to acknowledging that this God can hear and see the predicament in which Israel finds itself. That the threats of Assyria threaten and insult Israel, which is a direct affront to God. Hezekiah’s heart and mind become affixed upon worship and not simple pleading for aid, which serves as a guide to how we ought to pray; not with simple pleading, but with worship filled hearts.

When we start our prayers with worship, we set our minds upon the one to whom we pray instead of focusing upon ourselves and our problems. Oftentimes we look to our concerns, and the enormity of God could swallow them up. Christians for ages have been praying The Lord’s Prayer, and it too starts with, “Our Father, who art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name…” This prayer also starts with the focus upon God. There is nothing that we encounter in this life that is greater than God. Disease, violence, war, pestilence, poverty, and strife all plague our world, but God is greater than all those problems. Even if we look at our current mood, no matter how any election results may lead us to dismay or rejoicing, God is still greater than any leader in any country, including the United States. Therefore, as we pray, we need to remember to whom we pray and that God will hear our prayers, and God will see us; therefore, we must place our trust and hope solely upon the Almighty God.

3. Acknowledge the circumstances and ask God to guide our thoughts and behavior.

Hezekiah did not turn a blind eye to the dangers posed by the Assyrians; instead, he gave them over to God. You look at the path of destruction that Assyria had followed, and there is reason to hear the words of Sennacherib and be afraid. However, as he prays out the path of destruction, the words out of his mouth turn their path of destruction showed that the Assyrians had conquered gods made by man and not the one true God. When looking at the circumstances of attackers at their gates, breathing threats against him, Hezekiah is turning to God that cannot be defeated by this force, no matter the results of any battle. However, Hezekiah asks for God’s aid, not for the people’s sake, but for the sake of God’s mission in the world.

There are people and things in our world that are scary and have damaged lives, and when we encounter them, we cannot ignore them or diminish the dangers. How many people have died from cancer? How many people have succumbed to COVID? How many people have died from the results of any of the world’s wars? The world is a dangerous place, and many things are sending their letters of threats to our lives. Hezekiah’s prayer shows us that instead of ignoring the dangers, we must acknowledge them and put them before God in our prayers. It isn’t because God doesn’t understand that there is danger, but rather God wants us to trust that He will take care of all of these concerns. Acknowledgment of the danger, allows our hearts to let God’s voice speak to the source of our fear, and redirect our minds to the power of God in our world. 

Our response to the election could lead us toward fear or rallying behind the topics we support, but as we read Isaiah, we are shown that Hezekiah gives a great example of how we are to pray about our nation and our world. We must lay out the results before God and pray. God knows more than we know about the result of our elections, but we need to let go of our feelings and allow God to instruct our hearts. As we lay down the results before God, we then acknowledge that God is the true King of the world and that we are called to pray that our leaders acknowledge God’s power to heal the pain in our world. We then acknowledge that no matter the threats our world faces, God is in control and has the power to bring grace into our circumstances. There are good leaders, and there are bad leaders, but God is always in control, and we need to humble ourselves to ask God to guide us no matter what.

God’s Kingdom Prevails Over All

In a few days roughly half the population will rejoice, while the other half will feel some sort of dismay about the results of the election in the United States. However, no matter the results of the election God’s Kingdom will prevail, because God cannot be thwarted by the acts of man. Israel in the face of humiliation and conquering would have to understand that God would prevail over the conquering nations, and that God’s grace would provide relief in the face of despair.

When we look to the world for help, we will not find what we need, or even what we want. Help from the world often falls short, and at best is only temporary. Our politicians, no matter their party, Republican, Democrat, or even Birthday, are evidence of empty promises that fulfill their purposes, but when we place our faith in God, we are not disappointed, but rather we find fulfillment, and grace. God’s grace will prevail over any circumstance, and we are called to embrace it by placing our faith FIRMLY in God.

As we turn to Isaiah 33, we see God warning the nations that even though they think they have control and superior to those that they had vanquished, but God reminds them that He is in control, and will conquer them.

Lord, be gracious to us; we long for you. Be our strength every morning, our salvation in time of distress. 3 At the uproar of your army, the peoples flee; when you rise up, the nations scatter. 4 Your plunder, O nations, is harvested as by young locusts; like a swarm of locusts people pounce on it. 5 The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high; he will fill Zion with his justice and righteousness. 6 He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure.

Isaiah 33:2-6 (NIV)

To ask for grace is to confess that all human effort has proven futile and no human merit can warrant salvation. From foolish trust in tribute to Assyria, the king and his people put total trust in the Lord of hosts. Like a convicted criminal, they throw themselves on the mercy of the highest court. In this is the confession that they hold no alternative except total dependence on the power of God to save them. Trust then opens their eyes to see the Lord plundering the plunderer and tricking the treacherous into utter confusion and shameful flight. By waiting upon the Lord with penitent spirit, Hezekiah and his people got a confirming glimpse into the vision of God that Isaiah had already seen. God is exalted in His majesty, His justice, and His righteousness. His ways and the knowledge of His Word are acknowledged as the only source of stability and strength for the nation. As for the future, the “fear of the Lord” will be a treasure of hope.

Our sin leads to judgment, separation, and destruction.

Over and over again in Isaiah and in our lives, we repeat the sequence of judgment and comfort. God provides for us an expression of justice and peace, and our sin needs to be dealt with and God’s judgment took care of that for Israel, but Jesus takes care of it in ours, stepping into history to break the cycle. When we sin, when we fall short of God’s glory, we allow our hearts to be guided and instructed by something other than the Gospel. This has an adverse reaction in our lives, we separate ourselves from God, and from each other. Because of this separation, we are vulnerable to attacks and destruction. If we look at our life, if we find ourselves separating from one another, we need to ensure that we are not causing division, but rather ask God to come close to us and bring us closer to His Kingdom and mission in the world.

We cannot allow our faith to rely upon our circumstances.

Judah sought peace with their invaders through bribes and tributes, but the invaders took the tribute, and scoffed at it, and continued to march against Jerusalem. They put their faith in objects to keep the peace, but they failed. We need to make sure that we don’t put our faith in things to lead us to peace, because only God is able to bring peace to the world. God’s peace overwhelms the world. God’s justice fills the temple and churches. Therefore, our faith must be in the Almighty, no matter what is happening all around us.

God is ready to use us, by calling us out of sin and into faith.

Worship provides Judah with stability in the midst of trouble. For God uses chaotic events are understood to serve God’s purposes. They will promote justice and righteousness which are not adequately served in our world. If we are able to step out of the chaos and trust God wants us to let go of all allegiances and follow Him, then we will rise above the conquerors and bring forth God’s Kingdom into the world. We are God’s treasure, there is no election result, no circumstance in life, nothing that separates us from God’s love. God is calling to us to be his servant in this world. 

God’s fulfilling mission is never a random act, but rather God enacting justice and grace in the world. This is executing the purpose of God into a world that is moving counter God’s mission and Kingdom. But the episode turns from the scene of chaotic defeat and plunder to celebrate Yahweh’s place in and above it all. God is in history. He determines its critical changes. There is even purpose in apparent chaos. Beyond that, God provides his most precious treasures in the sanctuary where one celebrates “the abundance of salvation, wisdom, knowledge, and fear of Yahweh,” that is, the total spiritual and worship benefits which faith makes possible for those who know themselves to belong to him.

The fact that we continue to sin reminds us that we still are products of the world. This Sunday is known as Reformation Sunday, which points to the divisions within the church. Our lives must work toward remembering that our faith must guide us away from the powers of this world into the power of the Holy Spirit. If we focus upon the power of the Holy Spirit, God uses us to bring peace, righteousness, wholeness, and grace to the world.

Called From The People To The People

For many years, we have been attending church without realizing that our calling goes beyond just attending church, but instead, to be the church. Being the church requires us to recognize who we are, recognize our sin, and recognize that our humanity is an asset as we approach our community with the Gospel.

As we look through the first five chapters of Isaiah, we see that God admonishes Israel for not being any different than the world around them, and, unfortunately, this will lead to consequences. Judah will fall into the hands of its oppressors, and invaders will cast the people into exile. When we speak with people, we mustn’t do so thinking we’re better than the world. We are equals with the world, we are sinful, we are guilty, and it is Jesus Christ that came and took away our guilt; therefore, our salvation does not come from self-righteousness but the righteousness of Christ.

Isaiah, like us, was among the people he sought to reach with God’s message. He brought the message of hope in the face of the disruption, and a promise that God’s message will withstand any challenge in the presence of exile and an earthly conquering force. Turning to Isaiah, chapter six, the prophet describes the experience of God calling him to his prophetic ministry and how God uses this fallible human to share an infallible truth to the world. In this chapter, God calls us to focus our eyes upon whom the King of Kings calls and how that calling establishes us as the perfect instrument to play the message of God’s grace for the world.

Isaiah 6:1-13

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another: 

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; 

the whole earth is full of his glory.” 

4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. 

5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” 

6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” 

8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” 

And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” 

9 He said, “Go and tell this people: 

“ ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; 

be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ 

10 Make the heart of this people calloused; 

make their ears dull 

and close their eyes.  

Otherwise they might see with their eyes, 

hear with their ears, 

understand with their hearts, 

and turn and be healed.” 

11 Then I said, “For how long, Lord?” 

And he answered: 

“Until the cities lie ruined 

and without inhabitant, 

until the houses are left deserted 

and the fields ruined and ravaged, 

12 until the Lord has sent everyone far away 

and the land is utterly forsaken. 

13 And though a tenth remains in the land, 

it will again be laid waste. 

But as the terebinth and oak 

leave stumps when they are cut down, 

so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.”

While it may seem odd that Isaiah puts this personal narrative in the sixth chapter, Isaiah is ensuring that the emphasis is on the prophecy, or message from God, not on the prophet or messenger. The passage opens up by describing when Isaiah received the call from God, at King Uzziah’s death, the earthly King of Judah. Isaiah has to deal with an image of the King of Kings filling the temple. In this place, the heavenly beings are praising the triune God, and their praises shook and filled the temple. When in the presence of the Almighty God, Isaiah recognizes his wanting. Every sin, every slight, every way he is not worthy in God’s presence, becomes abundantly clear. With clarity, Isaiah confesses not only his sin, but the sin of the people, and they all are desperately in need of God’s cleansing. The cleansing begins with Isaiah’s mouth, to prepare him to deliver and speak God’s Word to the people. 

After making Isaiah clean, the Triune God gives the call to speak God’s message to the people, which Isaiah answers in the affirmative. However, this chapter doesn’t end here; instead, it goes on to speak judgment against a people that have heard about what God wanted from them, but instead, they ignored God’s message, and because of this, Judah will be ravaged and left in ruins. However, this is not the final judgment, and Judah can find solace in the fact that after this judgment, God will have a portion that will stand up and be a Holy seed for the Lord. The remnant exemplifies God’s promise that they are not forsaken and left to remain in ruins, but rather He will restore His Kingdom, even out of the stumps.

There is no King except for God!

The death of a king, time for a transition of power, is the perfect setting for this encounter with the Holy Triune God. Isaiah enters the temple and sees God sitting on the throne. This vision immediately points to the King of Kings and a reminder that the Hebrew people rejected God as their King and asked God to give them an earthly king. There is an opportunity for Israel to repent from the rejection of God, because this image of God is unmistakably much greater than any human King, and the heavenly beings recognize that the triune God is Holy Holy Holy, unlike any other being.

The temptation to become a king is dangerous. Satan knew this and offered Jesus kingdoms in exchange for worship. However, Jesus called his followers to submit their worship only to God; by doing this, we do not put anything in front of God, and instead, we allow God alone on the throne.

The danger to us is worshipping our creation, but this worship is incongruent with worshipping God. The power the world offers is intriguing; it provides us comfort, importance, and glory. Nothing we worship could compare to the Almighty God, as they could not cause the heavenly beings to hide their face and feet and bow down, proclaiming the Holiness of God. Therefore, we must actively set everything aside to give our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength to the Almighty, and crown Him the KING over us.

God chooses us because God is Holy, not because we are perfect.

The holiness of God guided Isaiah toward understanding and confessing his sin and confessing that he is a product of Judah’s iniquity. Nothing Isaiah could have done would make him worthy of God’s call, and his recognition of his corruption allowed God to provide holiness and purity to Isaiah. Cleansing of Isaiah’s mouth prepares his mouth for sharing God’s message with the people.

Similarly, when calling his disciples, he recognized that they were not perfect, made abundantly clear as we hear their stories throughout the New Testament. Thus when Christ calls to His disciples, He acknowledges and knows that there is nothing they can do to make themselves holy, but they needed God to intervene, and Christ makes the disciples holy through His death and resurrection. Even at Pentecost, Jesus fulfills His promise through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

As Christ’s followers, God calls us to serve, while flawed, broken, and full of sin. God demonstrates His holiness by using imperfect vessels and making them perfect for His mission in the world. However, the first things we need to do are confess that alone we are not worthy and that we need Christ’s salvation to save us. Once we submit to the cleansing of God, then we are ready to echo Isaiah and respond to God with our preparation to serve the Kingdom of God. 

We share the Gospel, but the Gospel is not always easy to share.

The message Isaiah brought to Judah was not going just to be a blessing, but instead, it tells the people that even when they were looking right at God, they were not going to recognize him. It didn’t matter how clear the message was going to be; sin hardened the people’s hearts against the mission of God. The people needed cleansing, and God would clean them up, but the cleansing required the destruction of their norms. Isaiah found this a difficult message to deliver and asked God to clarify. However, the grace is found through God’s remnant, as the ultimate salvation will come from the surviving stumps.

Jesus comes from the remnant and springs forth to guide the church toward a ministry. However, the disciples did not understand that ultimately God’s Gospel required the death of Christ. Christ spoke this Gospel message through parables, and the message had to be broken down into stories to connect to the lives of the people so that they may see the Gospel more clearly. 

It is hard to share the Gospel because the Gospel’s values are often contrary to the values we find around us. The quest for power, self-preservation, and self-aggrandizement is contrary to the message of the Gospel. Therefore, asking our neighbors to change is not easy; asking the world to submit to a power outside the world is challenging; however, Christ calls the world to become obedient and worship the Almighty God. Many will object to this call, but God still calls us to deliver His message.

When we acknowledge that God is greater than all the things we have given a voice in our lives, then we are called to respond with confession and submission to God’s mission in the world. We cannot make ourselves good enough, but God makes us clean, so He can use us to carry out His call in our lives. However, that will is not easy, but we must share even when the world rejects the message.

Through Christ’s death, we are made Holy, but we must frequently submit to the call. We must understand that we come from the world, and there are many things we do that reflect that we are a product of our worlds. We are human; therefore, we are not immune to the problems that the world has to deal with, which makes us the perfect witness to God’s saving grace.

The church must make ourselves aware that we have made idols out of our traditions. It is hard to give up old traditions because these are the things we have done and seen God move through these traditions; therefore, we cling to that experience. However, when the tradition gets worshipped above the Almighty, we shut down the outward ministry and turn the church inward, contrary to God’s mission for the world.

As people from the world, God wants to use us to bring His Word into the world. We must remember that God’s ministry is not ours and that we must humble ourselves to what God desires of us. Ministry begins with worship and giving entirely of ourselves to whatever God desires, because often God’s desires may not always align with what we want. Therefore, when our actions align with Christ, we humbly share the Gospel with the world.

God Doesn’t Give Up On Us

A question we may ask when looking at our nation; Is this even worth redeeming? How should the church look at our surrounding world? We see hatred and violence; we see a world with rampant problems with justice, corruption, greed, and violence. As we look at the world, we wonder, is it worth saving? As Isaiah looked at Israel, he was dismayed at the injustice, the lack of desire to serve God, the casting aside the orphans and widows, and selfishness that Israel had been practicing. He urgently wanted to get their attention that they needed to REPENT and turn back to the way God had established for them.

One word defines our time, DIVISION. People are at odds with one another because they worship, dress, cook, or work differently. If there is more than one way of doing something, there will be an argument over it; as a people, we fight with one another over everything, even what ride is the best at Disney will cause people to argue in earnest. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that our politics are as contentious as they are. The power of the world thrives on division, but God calls us to unity, so we may be dismayed that we are far from where God wants us to be. Still, God reminds us that He loved the world enough to send Jesus to die for our sins and that we can be a part of God bringing peace and unity back to the world. 

Isaiah had this hope and reminded Israel that God would bring hope, peace, and His pure love to the world. God will clean up the filth and make it beautiful again. Let us turn to Isaiah, chapter four, to look at Isaiah proclaiming this over Israel.

Isaiah 4:2-6

2 In that day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors in Israel. 3 Those who are left in Zion, who remain in Jerusalem, will be called holy, all who are recorded among the living in Jerusalem. 4 The Lord will wash away the filth of the women of Zion; he will cleanse the bloodstains from Jerusalem by a spirit of judgment and a spirit of fire. 5 Then the Lord will create over all of Mount Zion and over those who assemble there a cloud of smoke by day and a glow of flaming fire by night; over everything, the glory will be a canopy. 6 It will be a shelter and shade from the heat of the day, and a refuge and hiding place from the storm and rain. 

The previous chapter in Isaiah details the sin of Judah and the results of that sin, as it will lead to the destruction of the nation. The nation that God set apart, or made HOLY, had become full of corruption and injustice. The country had turned away from God. In this passage, Isaiah echoes Isaiah 2:2-5, where he tells those that remain faithful to God will serve as a sign to the world that sin cannot thwart God’s mission, but rather God will redeem the world through His people, through His Holy Nation, through His Church. God cleans the nation of its iniquity and protects from the storms that come.

God is faithful to fulfill His promises.

God has not changed His redemptive purpose for Israel’s children, and Isaiah has not lost this hope for his people. So, as he began this series of prophecies with God’s original vision for the house of the Lord (2:2–5), he ends the series with God’s vision for Judah and Jerusalem after their suffering in conquest, and their exile has passed. While our current circumstances may lead us to doubt God, God will remain by our side, God is going to guide us through the darkest night, and His ultimate message to us is to have HOPE. The effects of sin cloud our vision of God’s providence, however through God’s grace, the power of love and peace break through the darkness and show us that God desires us to place our faith and trust in Him.

Although God protects us, we are not immune to the painful results of sin.

The cost of sin, which is rebellion against God, is exile and facing conquering at their neighbors’ hands. Judah could not escape the fact that the nation was facing expulsion because of their fighting with God and would not eat the land’s good. While they remained God’s People, they still had to face the results of their sin. The wages of sin is death; Paul reminds us. Jesus Christ gave His life on our behalf that we may not suffer the ultimate consequences of our sin, but we are not immune to the results of our faithlessness or turning our backs on God’s calling in our lives. Sin is a deadly disease, far more lethal than CoViD-19. Even though God rescued us from the fatal consequences, our bodies, minds, and actions are still affected and show symptoms of our infection. So too, many in our world are showing signs of infection and are desperately in need of the cure, the healing that can only exist in Christ Jesus. What are we prepared to do to bring those around us into the shelter provided by God?

As the church, we aren’t just survivors but are glorified by God to be His light amid the world’s darkness.

The survivors or remnant of Israel and Jerusalem demonstrate to the world that they were not just survivors, but that God could pull them through their circumstance. They were thriving in a post-exile life, not to become what they were before, but instead, they would grow into a nation that establishes justice and embraces God’s holy mission for them in the future. The world is full of danger, and the storms will surround us. Some want to prevent the mission of the church from moving forward. We cannot be afraid of confronting the dangers because we remember our hurt, but instead, we must be willing to put our mission out into the world, with complete knowledge of God’s protection. The early church grew unafraid of the circumstances of the first century, facing persecution from Rome. They went out into the world, knowing that God’s grace was upon them. GOD’S grace didn’t make them immune from deadly circumstances, like Stephen, but they knew God had made them secure eternally. Horizon will emerge from our current circumstance, which can feel like an exile at times. We will once again have in-person services. However, we do not know when we know that the God we serve is preparing us for something that will be life-giving in the midst of death. Right now, as a church, we need to prepare our hearts and souls for walking in God’s glorious light and going out into the world to bring God’s grace to our community.

God did not prevent Judah’s exile, for the results of their sin led to tragedy and being driven from their land. However, God used exile to prepare the nation to fulfill a greater calling to bring light to the world. God is also calling His Church to share the Gospel message with the world, to share the light given to us through the saving power of Christ Jesus, with the world. It may seem dark and that we live in a merely irredeemable world, but God, who is infinitely just, wants his Church to bring light into the darkness. For into the darkness, God sent His Son to redeem us, while we were worthy of death, saved us from death, and brought us new life. Therefore, since God sought to redeem us from our sins, we must be willing to go out into the world and be His light in the darkness.

The Kingdom of God Is At Hand: Are You Ready To Be A Part of It?

A Reflection on Acts 1:6-14

When is life going to be normal again? God why don’t you just make this all go away? These are a couple of the questions that must swirl through our heads at a time like this. We don’t embrace terms like “new normal” and we are simply fatigued with our circumstance. However, God is not a static God, He is not like a bridge or a building, but rather God is active, God is moving, God is a dynamic force on the world, and the Church is called to be powerful, dynamic, and moving into the world.

Kingdoms of the world are generally static, and are defined by the buildings and structures that they have built. Egypt had it’s iconic pyramids, Rome had the Colosseum, China had its wall, throughout the world there are palaces and castles dedicated to the kingdoms throughout history. The followers of Christ sit in contrast to that, they focus upon a cross, an empty cross, a cross that reminds the church that God’s kingdom is on the move.

There is a temptation of the church to mimic the worldly kingdoms by building extravagant churches and edifices intended to honor Christ, as we can see throughout the world extraordinary cathedrals and churches. These churches and buildings, while dedicated to the service of God, are static, and only good if they promote the church to get up and go out and spread God’s message and kingdom.

The disciples of Christ still thought like much of the world that the kingdom was a static place, and that Israel would get its land back from Rome, and it prompted this interaction with Jesus just prior to His ascension, in Acts chapter 1.

6 Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 

7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 

9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. 

10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” 

12 Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. 13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. 

Commission

Jesus opens up correcting the assumptions of the disciples, for they were thinking about a transformation that looked like the conquering kingdoms of the past. They still hoped that Jesus was going to lead an army into Jerusalem and take over, and yet Jesus patiently reminds them that their thinking is incorrect, and that they needed to rely upon the Father as He is the ultimate authority and provider of all things. They wanted to know the ending, but Jesus reminds them that the next step is the most important step, and that God is calling them to yield their thoughts and vision away from the physical and political, and toward the Spirit.

When we focus on the Spirit, our understanding shifts away from the world as geography, to the Kingdom of God as a spiritual kingdom that extends beyond geographical boundaries. Jesus tells the disciples that their power, and our power comes not from government, or money, or property, but it comes directly from the Holy Spirit. God’s Kingdom is spread by witness, not by soldiers, through a gospel of peace, not a declaration of war, and by the work of the Spirit, not by force, political intrigue, or violence. At the same time, when we reject the politics of the kingdom, we must avoid super-spiritualizing it, because God’s rule operates on Earth and not only in heaven.

Just as Jesus told the disciples that the ministry did not have boundaries like the kingdoms of the Earth, so too we must appreciate that our ministry must be focused outside our church buildings and out into the communities that we are called to serve. This requires us to release our attachments to the Earth and allow God to take everything and use us to our full capacity.  

Vision

In order to operate at this capacity, we must allow our vision to synchronize with God’s plan for the world. We must take time to be in awe of all the things that God has done for us, but there also comes a time when we must fulfill and act upon the commission God has given to us. While we come up with ideas, and plans, if they do not have an understanding of the fullness of God’s mission in the world they are lacking and without vision. 

The disciples needed a reminder from the people dressed in white, that Jesus is coming back, don’t be fixated upon when and where, but trust God and carry out His plan, and that we only need to be better at carrying out what God has planned for us. The vision God has planned for us is unique, and we must be adaptable to the circumstances that we find ourselves.

Unique times put us in unique circumstances that require the church to adapt. This adaptation requires us to be flexible in our vision, and try new things. Most of us have had to learn how to attend church via YouTube, Facebook, or Zoom, something that most of us had not even thought about before it became a necessity. However, the successes in this new way of church have shown us the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome the negative, and continue to spread the message of hope, peace, and love in spite of physical distancing. This should encourage us to be able to move forward trusting that God’s vision for the church will succeed, no matter the circumstances. 

Prayer

To begin trusting this vision, we need to start in the same place as the disciples after Christ’s ascension, in prayer. Prayer is where we seek God’s vision, where we ask for the Holy Spirit to come and lead us, and we quiet our voice and vision and yield to what God desires for us. As we move forward may God’s blessings be upon us, His vision guide us, and the Holy Spirit power our mission in the world to spread God’s Kingdom beyond our walls, and all boundaries.

Jesus Didn’t Leave Us Alone

A Reflection on John 14:15-21

One of the scary parts of more than a month of staying at home is the feeling of isolation we often feel. There is a disconnect from our loved ones, our friends, our family, our co-workers, and our churches. This disconnect is dangerous as it leads us away from the connection that we have with one another, and leads to situations where many of us feel as if we are going to crack, and break apart. We become weary of not being able to have the social connection and are more prone to think less about others, and rely more on fulfilling our selfish desires.

The lack of physical connection opens up the door for the opportunity to only think about how this affects us personally, and we begin to feel alone. Even for the person that doesn’t enjoy much interpersonal interaction, still is feeling the loneliness that this brings upon us. As a world we have a mental health crisis on our hands as depression, anxiety, and other issues are on the rise. For a long time this has led us to further isolate ourselves, which amplifies and perpetuates the problem. As a church, we must be part of the solution, and not further exacerbate the problem, in a world that is isolating for the purpose of health, we must be aware and respond to the “side effects” of self-isolating, by ensuring that those isolated physically, are not isolated socially or spiritually.

The disciples had the same issue as they approached ministry after Christ had ascended to heaven. We saw how they responded after Jesus died, they went and “self-isolated”, as an act of fear of what comes next. Then Jesus came back to them, gave them assurance that what He had said before was true, and yet, they still needed further assurance. Jesus, during His time with the disciples taught them that they would not be alone, but rather Christ would ask the Father to provide the Spirit, the Spirit is a gift, a gift that we are never truly alone, and by the power of the Spirit we are the blessing to the world, and an embodiment of God’s promise that no one needs to be alone, even in quarantine.

Jesus instructs His disciples in John 14 about the promise that they need not be alone because the Holy Spirit is coming.

15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” 

John 14:15-21 (NIV)

If you love me…

Jesus opens with these four words, not because they didn’t love Him, but rather He is appealing to them on the basis of love. Out of their love for Christ, they would listen to Him, and follow Him, and fulfill the command that He has over their lives. To help with fulfilling the charge to go out into the world Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of truth is present to ensure we are not alone.

Following God begins with love, first, God’s love for His people, and then our responding with love for God. From this love we act according to our faith, we follow God’s precepts, we act as God’s children, living upright lives, feeding the hungry, comforting the hurting, and living out God’s message for the world. Living in this manner may put us in situations where we feel powerless and alone, but God reminds us that we are not alone, we have the Spirit, and the closer our walk is to the Spirit, the closer we are to fulfilling God’s commands.

The world will not accept us, selfish thinking is contrary to the way of the Spirit. This is the ultimate irony, selfishness leads to isolation, but yet the world clamours to selfish thinking because they feel isolated. The Holy Spirit offers us all a different perspective, one that leads us to think of others, one that listens first and acts out of an understanding gained through the Holy Spirit’s guidance. This ultimately leads us away from isolation, into a deeper understanding that God is always with us, and will always work on us, in us, and for us.

While this does not make us immune from negative results, because there is evil in the world that is resistant to God’s purpose. There is evil that presents us from acting out of our own reading of the Bible, there exists a selfishness deep inside that allows us to act out of our impulses rather than what God desires of us. There are lies that we end up believing that ultimately we see humanity as our enemy and fight our neighbors driving us into isolated thinking, instead of having compassion and earnestly caring for one another, we look at each other with animosity. This type of thinking breeds, and infects society, this is the type of thinking that leads to people hoarding supplies, the type of thinking that leadings to people arguing and belittling one another on the street corners and social media, the type of thinking that leads to isolation, depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders. 

Selfishness and isolation have a chemical and biological effect on us, and we must work hard to prevent this type of thinking. Jesus promises His disciples that they will never be alone, that He will come back to them, but even those that were closest to Him did not understand that, because when things did not happen the way they anticipated, they scattered and isolated themselves. We must do better than that, because our health is at risk. We threaten the very bodies, in which the Holy Spirit inhabits, and leads us toward the Father, and toward the Son. We cannot rebel against God, but rather we must rebel against the forces of selfishness, greed, and isolation that lead us inward instead of outward.

Outward thinking leads us away from protecting our idols, our institutions, our sense of what is mine, and prompts us to follow God wherever God may lead us. We find it difficult that we cannot go and celebrate a birthday, or come to a building and worship together, or even get our hair done, but God prompts us to think more about what we can do, and more about what we should do. Our needs are going to be met, we do not need to worry about that, we need to listen to where God is leading us right now.

We have an opportunity and an advantage to think about church outside the building, which is what a living church is, a living church is a prayer chain, a living church is giving to people in need, a living church is showing it’s love and appreciation for God by going out from the comfort of our church building and giving to our world. When we do this we listen to the message that God has given to us and we go out and break the chains of isolation, and bring God’s grace to a world plagued by selfish thinking. 

When we switch our thinking, we begin to realize that God is our Father, a good Father that seeks to show us His love through the teaching of Christ, and the gift of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The Holy Spirit breaks the chains of suffering, breaks the chains of isolation, and breaks the chains that we are alone in trying to carry out God’s mission in the world. The Holy Spirit breaks down the idea that we are in this world as orphans, but rather guides us into the understanding that we are members of the family of God. As brothers and sisters, and children, we must listen to how God wants us to act, and the Bible reminds us that these actions must be out of love and compassion, and away from self-centered action that does not think of others.

Overcoming While Facing Death

A Reflection on Acts 7:55-60

Death has become something that many people have had to face during this time of pandemic. While it has always been real, and something that we ultimately must contend with, we often choose to look at other things, think of other things, not allowing this to be our reality. However, we now all get the opportunity to understand this is a reality many of us have had to deal with, either our own mortality, or the suffering and death of a loved one or someone close to us. Another reality that the pandemic has brought to the forefront is that we are a part of a dying world that is crying out for an answer to suffering and pain.

God reached out to a world that was dying, and gave His Only Son sacrificially to save the world, to save you and me. This Mother’s Day, I am reminded of many mothers that have given sacrificially to give their children, either biologically or not, love, joy, peace, and hope. Many have come beside us and loved us unconditionally, so that we have had opportunities far beyond our own abilities to succeed, and thrive, in spite of our own selfish actions. We have fallen and hurt ourselves, and the mothering love has picked us up and cleaned out our wounds, and allowed us to get up again. We also see the example in our world of so many mothers stepping up and providing the compassion and caring for a world that is suffering.

God is the author of this type of love, and God offers it to us in the darkness of the world. Stephen, in the Book of Acts, experienced this love, and when he faced his own death, he looked to the heavens and saw Jesus Christ, the embodiment of that love, and was as peace, and realized that even though his life on Earth was over, he had a reason for hope, and he could share that hope and peace right to his last breath.

55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.
59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

Acts 7:55-60 (NIV)

Those that attacked Stephen were not open to hearing the message of hope that he was offering that they covered their ears and yelled trying to drown out this hope. Hope in the form of a conquering Savior, and a compassionate God, stand in stark contrast to the message of a dark and dying world, and that contrast creates friction that leads to an angry response. Stephen, however, through the power of the Holy Spirit, responds to this with a peaceful acceptance, and yielding to God. He didn’t raise his voice louder to try and speak over the screaming, but rather he allowed his actions to embody the peace that God offers.

This same peaceful response is the type of response that we as the Church must offer to the world. Right now, there is so much noise in the world, many have even resorted to screaming and yelling and covering their ears, just to drown out any message other than the one they believe. Unfortunately, many Christians have also been those trying to scream over the top of all this noise. When the church does this, it contributes to the chaos, which contradicts the peace God offers to us. Stephen understood this, and sought to allow his action to speak peace into the anger and rage of the crowd.

In the midst of getting stoned, the crowd’s attempt at squelching his voice, Stephen responds with a prayer to God to accept him and his sacrifice, and a prayer for his persecutors. Stephen’s last words were a prayer for the forgiveness of the sins of his murderers. It was this type of peace that spoke the truth of God’s salvific grace. In a world that has been plagued with protests, and counter-protests, and counter-counter-protests, the attempt to speak over one another does not lead to any dialogue. However, if the church looks at the world, the way that Stephen looked at his killers, with compassion, and offers up a prayer for the world, we can contribute to the solution, and embody God’s peace, compassion, and hope to a dying world facing an uncertain future. God has given us a reason to have hope, and a purpose to bring peace to our world.

Don’t Underestimate God

A Reflection on 1 Kings 18:19-39

As we move into a new month, a quick look through the news and social media, most everything still revolves around the fallout from a pandemic that has had the country and much of the world in some state of lockdown for 6 weeks, or 6 months, or 6 years; I have lost count. Many parts of the state are beginning to discuss what re-emerging from our isolation is going to look like. This seemed to reignite the what is essential debate, and I perused just a few random comments about the Phase 1 reopening program ideas, and in them I found outrage that the churches are not included. I heard words like persecution being thrown around at will, and that we need to be able to meet together, so that we can pray together, because when God’s people get together to pray, then God acts, and miracles happen. 

I absolutely agree with the sentiment that when the Church gathers to pray, mighty acts are possible, but what we need to be careful of is thinking that God won’t act while we are physically distant. We cannot allow ourselves to place “what we want” ahead of “what we are called to do”. We must be able to listen carefully to God’s call on our lives, while being careful to not to allow our thoughts to conflate our selfish desires with what God desires. There are too many stories of churches meeting against the orders of the state, and then members becoming infected with CoViD19. We want to meet, we want to be with one another again, and there will be a time when we can be with one another again, but for this time, God wants to show us just how great He is, and if we are willing to watch and listen, then we will see God work miracles now.

During a similar time, Elijah was a prophet of the Almighty God. During the reign of King Ahab, the people of Israel began to lose focus on what God’s call was on their life, and they began questioning whether Baal or Yahweh were God, or were they the same, or were they both God. The two began to bleed into each other, and the Israelites began worshipping both just to cover all their bases. This led to syncretism merging the new religion of the country, Baal worship with the faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Elijah refused to participate in this new faith, and focused his worship on God. This made him unpopular with the king and queen. Ahab thought he was being stubborn and that Elijah was the reason the country was suffering through a drought. The king appealed to the prophet to relent and to bow to and serve Baal along with the rest of the prophets that had turned to Baal worship in addition to their worship of Yahweh. As an attempt to quell these urgent pleadings from the King, Elijah responds to those that think they can serve both Baal and the true God of Israel, by proposing a contest to determine the one true God. We find the telling of this contest in the eighteenth chapter of 1 Kings. 

1 Kings 18:19-39

19 Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.

20 So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel. 21 Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” 

But the people said nothing. 

22 Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only one of the Lord’s prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. 23 Get two bulls for us. Let Baal’s prophets choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. 24 Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire—he is God.” 

Then all the people said, “What you say is good.” 

25 Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one of the bulls and prepare it first, since there are so many of you. Call on the name of your god, but do not light the fire.” 26 So they took the bull given to them and prepared it. 

Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made. 

27 At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” 28 So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. 29 Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention. 

30 Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come here to me.” They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the Lord, which had been torn down. 31 Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, saying, “Your name shall be Israel.” 32 With the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord, and he dug a trench around it large enough to hold two seahs of seed. 33 He arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. Then he said to them, “Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood.” 

34 “Do it again,” he said, and they did it again. 

“Do it a third time,” he ordered, and they did it the third time. 35 The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench. 

36 At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. 37 Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.” 

38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. 

39 When all the people saw this, they prostrated and cried, “The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!”

The people of Israel had become a people that looked for a sign, they looked for something upon which to put their faith. Comfort and safety was what Israel had focused their faith in. When Jezebel brought Baal worship into the royal worship of Israel, many of the people followed the new state religion. More specifically, the worship of their desired results replaced the worship of God, and this was something that Elijah was warning them against. 

This worship sits on the fence, and tries to blend the worship of the one true God, with the worship of self. Baal represented luxury, materialism, and social power, while worshipping God requires letting go of self-centered thinking, letting go of what I want, and embracing a mission that belongs to God, something that seeks to help the helpless, bring joy to the sorrowful, and peace to the chaos. Elijah seeks to remind the people that the way they live represents the God that they serve.

We should remember this same thing about the way we represent God, especially during this time. We have heard a repeated desire to re-open, and that is a perfectly understandable position. The calls come from protesters on the beach, marching into statehouses, and civil disobedience, and when done well and for the right reasons, it can be respected, but when it flaunts and makes a spectacle of self it is less like the austere position of Elijah, and more like the loud and showy prophets of Baal.

The stark contrast was on display in this showdown on Mount Carmel. So confident in God, Elijah allowed the Baal prophets to set the terms of the showdown, he let them go first, and then “encouraged” them to change their tactic when they weren’t successful. The prophets of Baal, chanted loudly, took a majority of the day, and yet it did not result in fire. One could imagine this as a large group of prophets over 400, praying together, loudly, and because the god they were worshipping was not the One True God, their prayers were ineffective and fell on deaf ears, no matter how many of them there were, no matter how loudly they prayed.

It is this type of praying we need to guard ourselves against, loud ineffective prayers to ourselves. When we don’t get our way, when we don’t trust God, when we don’t stop to listen to what God is telling us, we make our gods look more like Baal, and less like Yahweh. We really want to see things like Disneyland, shopping malls, and even our churches reopen, but we must be mindful to do it in a safe way, with the well-being of everyone in mind. There will be a time when this will happen, and it will be relatively soon, but we must listen to what God wants us to do, and not just simply act out of what we personally want to do. Elijah teaches us how we pray for these items to happen with a focus on God and away from self.

With very little time left in the day, because the Baal worshippers had taken so much time, Elijah prayed a simple, direct, effective prayer, that was sourced from the deep sincere faith in God, and God responded. Even with the handicap of having doused the sacrifice in water, still God heard the prayer and acted upon that prayer. God hears our prayers, because He cares about His people, and acts upon those prayers. It does not matter if there is one of us praying, or a thousand, as long as we are praying out of a recognition that God is true, then He hears us. 

God made us into people that were made for fellowship, and during this shutdown we have been reeling from those losses. However, when we start saying that it is essential to meet together physically to pray so that God will act, then we are not praying with the same faith that Elijah had. God answered Elijah’s prayers, not because Elijah had some secret canticle, but because Elijah was praying to the One True God, and God will answer our prayers, when we direct our prayers to Him.

Our worship, our order of prayers, they are not needed by God to answer the problems of the world. God didn’t need us to create the world, and He doesn’t need us to change it, but because God is all loving AND all powerful we are invited to worship, we are invited to pray, we are invited to be people that are willing to speak out against injustice, we are invited to be God’s messengers, God’s peacemakers, and God’s kingdom builders.

God will defeat COVID19, have no doubt. Just as Elijah had no doubt that God would act on that day, and may we offer up our prayers to God, that His answer to that prayer may be seen by the entire world, and that the world will respond to that answered prayer, by saying that God is true, God is powerful, God is loving, and that God’s servants are the servants of the One True God.

Precious Freedom

A Reflection on Psalm 116:1–4, 12–19

In our time of distress, and a dramatic loss of life and freedom in our world, we may feel afraid and ready to rebel and strike out against our leaders, and our God. We miss one another, we are missing our friends and family, and we may be getting stir crazy! We are more prone to making choices that are selfish and for our own good, rather than the good of God’s Kingdom. 

Such is the debate going around now, as we see that some things and places are going to be starting to open up again soon, while other locations remain shut down. Our thought process is that if we aren’t getting what we want then we feel as if we are suffering a loss. God does not take our losses lightly, but rather His love for us is present for us, and wants us to thrive in all things.

We are all in danger, not just from disease and death, but we are in danger of losing our perspective about God’s control over the universe. This perspective must be firmly placed upon what God is capable of and upon the things that God has already done for us and for his people. Just as Israel was reminded that God had rescued them from slavery, from death, and from destruction, so too we need to be reminded that God has been with us and rescued us in times of danger and death.

The Psalmist uses this recollection of God’s salvation power and mercy as an important aspect of worship in the community. Psalm 116 is a recitation and recollection of God’s salvation of the Psalmist, and while this was a personal experience, it has become a part of the corporate worship experience. The joy and gratitude expressed in this Psalm reminds the hearer that we cannot thank God enough for what He has done.

In our current situation let us read the text of Psalm 116, and worship with the Psalmist.

I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live. The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came over me; I was overcome by distress and sorrow. Then I called on the name of the Lord: “Lord, save me!”  

Psalm 116:1-4

What shall I return to the Lord for all his goodness to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord. I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful servants. Truly I am your servant, Lord; I serve you just as my mother did; you have freed me from my chains. I will sacrifice a thank offering to you and call on the name of the Lord. I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the house of the Lord— in your midst, Jerusalem. Praise the Lord.  

Psalm 116:12-19

The opening of this Psalm expresses the love for God, and although present in worship, is still rare in the Old Testament. This expression is a fulfillment of the call to love God with our whole selves, heart, mind, soul, and strength. We often entreat God with our admiration after God has come in and showed us that He hears us, He cares about our condition, and when we need God- God intervenes on our behalf.

Out of control, we too often grasp for something that we can control. Unfortunately, in the situation we find ourselves now, no protest, no yelling and screaming, nothing will give us any lasting comfort. Our circumstance reminds us how we cannot control life and death, even if we do everything we are told, we can still fall ill, we are still susceptible to death.

We need God, and thus we need to call out to God when we are in need. We must place our trust in God, we must fully submit to God’s grace, guidance, and guardianship in order to fully experience the benefits of that covenant relationship with the Almighty God. In the midst of trials, we must bind our heart and mind to God, and seek out God in that time. As we do that, we are breaking the bonds that death has over our life, and binding ourselves to God and God’s purpose for the world.

Even though we ask God to guide us in all things, we are not immune from the negativity and disease of sin in the world. Bad things still can happen, and we cannot ignore that, but we need to call out to God. As so many of us have been brought through some terrible experiences, sometimes they have even been worse than the situation we see in the world now. God is by our side, and delivers us from evil, and we worship God, because He never fails.

What could we possibly give to God to repay His love for us? Nothing. No offering, no sacrifice, no praise, no worship, no vow, nothing is enough to repay to God for the grace that has been poured out upon us. We cannot possibly give enough back to even the ledger with God, so we must give back the most we can, which is our very selves, all of ourselves must be given to worship. It is this that Paul writes about in Romans when we are asked to present our bodies as living sacrifices.

We do this to make sure we don’t take God’s blessing for granted. God doesn’t require our praise, but God loves receiving our prayers, as a loving Father loves the words of devotion from His children. As a loving Father, God does not expose us to the death lightly, as He looks upon us as His precious children. In this, His salvation for us, out of the darkest of darkness, shows how powerful, and how in control God is over all things.

God’s salvation comes as a response to the cruelty and injustice in the world. When we take up our cross and follow Christ, we submit ourselves to be God’s servants, and to submit ourselves to be a part of God’s salvation and kingdom coming to the world. God doesn’t want to see anyone suffer and die, and invites us to be an expression of God’s mercy to bring peace and love to those hurting, those suffering, those dying. 

Because God has saved us, we bring His grace, His peace, and ultimately His salvation to a world facing an executioner. We practice and live out our faith so that the world can see life in the face of death, hope in the face of despair, and peace in the midst of chaos. We don’t do this alone, but if the church raises up to bring this, we practice our mutual faith, and it ultimately will stimulate the cultivation and environment that leads to godliness. This is ultimate freedom, freedom from death, freedom from despair, and freedom to live a life as a precious child of God.