"Got Your 6"
The Other Part of the full armor of God
"Got your 6." It's a phrase used among those in the military, and after their time of service. Think of the hours of a clock laid flat. 12 o'clock is straight in front of you; 3 o'clock is to your right; and 9 o'clock to your left. "Got your 6" means "I've got your back." And there's where we turn to Paul's description of the full armor of God.
In Ephesians chapter 6 (verses 10-20) Paul tells the Ephesian Christians to put on the full armor of God. You might remember: the "belt of truth," the "breastplate of righteousness," for shoes the "readiness given by the gospel of peace," the "shield of faith," the "helmet of salvation," and the "sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." And someone wonders, what about the back? Is that because the Roman soldier is supposed to be facing the enemy? But there is something unexpected.
In Greek, unlike in English, all the verbs have numerous different forms, so you can tell if they are singular or plural (and a bunch of other things). Every verb Paul uses in these verses is plural. He is not talking about an individual soldier standing by himself. He is talking about all the Ephesian Christians standing together. So the first lesson to learn is that we hold together. We need each other, and we need each other especially when we are worn down, tired or discouraged.
But the second lesson is the "other part of the armor." As he described the whole armor of God, he did not forget about the back. The armor that protects the back of the soldier is his fellow soldier. Every soldier who has served in our armed forces can tell you that! That's why the saying is abbreviated and shortened. "Got your 6" is a brief pledge held in common to watch over each other in the middle of danger when each one is vulnerable and needs the other.
What Paul says immediately after he has finished describing "the sword of the Spirit ... the word of God" is this -- "praying at all times in the Spirit ... making supplication for all the saints, and also for me ..." (Ephesians 6:18-19) He asks them, "You got my 6? Will you pray for me?"
All around you are people in danger, vulnerable, and struggling with everything happening in our country and around the world. They need you to have their back. Begin with prayer. Talk to God about their needs. Ask God to help you see the needs of your neighbors, friends, the doctors, nurses, workers in the stores, on the roads, maintaining our power, light, heat, and so many more things. God is very good at knowing these things.
As He helps you see and know, then pray, reach out, comfort, encourage, see where you can offer to help. This is the work of the Lord, the best and noblest we can be.
In fact, this truly is "the Lord's work." The Bible says that Jesus "is able to save to the uttermost ... since He always lives to make intercession" for us. (Hebrews 7:25) Jesus prays for you. Right now Jesus is talking to God the Father about you. He knows every thought, doubt, hope and need; He knows all that is going on around you and all that is happening within you. And He is able to do both the amazing and the unseen things for you in ways that only God can do. Join Him in praying for your neighbor.
(Make your list; add to it, and talk to Jesus about their needs.)
Lord Jesus, guide me to see my neighbors' needs. Lead me to see and understand as You do; to know how to pray, how to encourage and comfort, and how to help. And right now I pray for _____________
"Goodness" is 6th in Paul's list of the "fruit of the Spirit," (Galatians 5:22-23) and it is important that it is included in the fruit of the Spirit.
Think of the many examples of goodness that we are seeing all around our nation. People are stepping up to check on their elderly neighbors, calling to see if they need anything. Stores are opening up special Senior Hours. Doctors and nurses are working endless hours caring for the ill; and as they do so they are risking their own life and health. I heard of one doctor who set up a tent in his garage. He was working with the very sick, and he did not want to endanger his family. So when he comes home he doesn't come home -- he comes to the tent in the garage. Where did they learn this goodness; this devotion to care for their neighbor?
Again, around the country companies are retooling to make ventilators. People are buying masks for the doctors and nurses. An amazing number of business owners are figuring out how to care for their employees, more concerned with holding together the daily needs of their employees. It is truly an amazing thing to see. Where did this all come from?
Women volunteer to gather the materials and sew masks for others. Teens volunteer to help wherever they are needed. Grandparents take in grandchildren for an extended stay so the parents can work (and we loved it). We pray for each other and call each other. And all over the nation when asked, Churches have right away stopped meeting and adapted to doing everything on line, because we want to protect our neighbor.
There is great goodness. And there are examples of great selfishness, but the many, many examples of goodness are prominent, numerous, and inspiring. Where did this all come from?
Goodness is a fruit of the Spirit. It is a thing that God grows in the human heart. The Holy Spirit does His work deep inside, calling us and reminding us that we are made in the image of God. He calls us to every good and noble thing that is within us. He works even within those who do not believe in God, because every one of these good and noble things is a part of the pattern that we were created in.
But there is more. God must Himself be good if He is going to teach and lead us into goodness. That is a basic truth. So we could run through some of the other fruit of the Spirit. "The fruit of the Spirit is love[because God is a loving God, and "God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son" (John 3:16)], joy [God is the joyful God who rejoices in the creation of mankind and rejoices that you live (Proverbs 8:30-31)], peace [He is the God of peace who gives peace as the world cannot give (John 14:27) ], patience[patient and not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9)], kindness [many times the Bible speaks of God's kindness to us in Jesus], [and now] goodness . . . "
As you look around and see the many examples and acts of goodness in these days, realize that you are seeing the hand of God at work. He draws us into and leads in His own work of goodness.
And as you become involved in care for your neighbor, realize that it is God who is at work in you. You may not see how He is doing it, but believe me He is inviting you into His own work. And that is the greatest "you" that you can ever be.
And one more thing. God might begin in your life with things of doing and acting, and all the other outward parts of life. There is more. God knows you deep within your soul and He leads into all the amazing spiritual things that are eternal in Jesus.
Lord Jesus, thank you for the goodness I see around me in the many ways we are caring for one another. Lead me into acts of goodness so I may help my neighbor. Form my soul and my inner character that I may grow in goodness within and walk with Jesus. Let me learn of You, that I may more and more see Your goodness, until I see You in the goodness of Your glory. Amen.
It was Church today. I needed something eternal.
Even though it was different; even though everyone was separated; even though the only connection was through the internet – it was Church. And there was something eternal.
I needed that after a week of looking around and seeing everything changing constantly, and so quickly that it is hard to keep up, and every time you turn around there is another thing coming along. And after a week of looking at all the things that pass along and are gone all too quickly, I needed something eternal.
That is a part of our created nature. We need the eternal. Without the eternal we feel unanchored, drifting, loose and disconnected – and then we thrash around trying to find something to hold on to, something solid.
But there was something eternal today. Isn’t that an interesting phrase, “there was something eternal today”? But there was. There was an unchanging word from God, and it has been the same for thousands of years. It told me about an unchanging grace and blessing; an unchanging forgiveness; an unchanging invitation to prayer; and most importantly an unchanging God with mercy for all my needs.
And then the eternal came into my day; into my moments, my hearing, my feelings, and my life. Isn’t that an amazing thing to say "the eternal came to me"? There were words of promise, “Your brother [Lazarus] will rise again.” There was the shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept” and the eternal Son of God shared a very lowly, humble thing with me. And then there was a command, “Lazarus, come out!” and the Eternal Christ changed things. He undid the undoing, and brought a bit of eternity into our mortality.
I needed the eternal today because I am not. By myself I am temporary. I will change and (sooner than I want) I will be gone. I needed the eternal to call to me and take something eternal and put it in my soul. A few years back, during the sermon, I asked a question. "If you have the eternal word of God in your soul, what does that make you?" And it was Wade who answered right away, "Eternal." And I thought to myself, "Yes!"
But that is what it is to be a Christian, to have the Eternal Son of God taking His eternal Word and speaking it into me; and calling the eternal name of “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” over me to claim me to share eternity; and when we can come together again to have the eternally risen body and blood of Jesus bring His eternity into our bodies.
And that is what it is to be Church. The name in the New Testament actually means “those called out.” We are called out of everything that is temporary and passing. And we are called together into everything that is eternal.
And then, time for church was over. The hour was finished. The day moved on. But the eternal had been in my life and in my soul. The Eternal Savior had kept His promise, “where 2 or 3 are gathered in My name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18:20) Jesus knows His own and He brings us together in amazing and uncommon ways. And through years and generations He is gathering His people into His great gathering at the end.
Lord Jesus, help me to walk through all those things around that are only temporary; and to keep my eyes on what is eternal. You are risen and eternally living. Be the anchor for my soul. By Your words and promises lead me to hear, believe and treasure the things of the soul, the things that are truly spiritual, and the things of God. Amen.
Is It Judgment?
The question had to be asked, because behind the brave front and under the surface we have a lot of nervousness about this virus. So, "Is it judgment?"
We begin with 2 things:
1) Actually, everything flawed and wrong in this fallen world is judgment. The mosquito bite last summer was judgment, and that is judgment in a very general sense. We we all suffer in a fallen world.
2) But be very careful about making specific connections or accusations. That is dangerous. There are some who love to preach judgment and they are pretty bad about this. Remember how the disciples asked Jesus about the man born blind; was it because he sinned or because his parents did? And Jesus told them: "Neither." (John 9:1-3) So be very careful about attributing particular troubles to some "secret sin". None of us has any specific knowledge of that kind. To presume can lead us to hurting others needlessly.
But there is an even worse mistake. We could get preoccupied in thinking about "judgment" and forget about the mercy, grace, and blessings of God. We could start thinking about God as "spiteful," and ourselves as perfectly innocent. That would turn everything upside down. It would blind us to our own faults and we would go along self-justifying and not struggling to grow in the good, the right, and the noble.
But here's the real story of judgment:
It's not our job to justify ourselves. There is someone else who is much better at that. The Old Testament talks about how "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness." Before any good works, measuring up to any commandments, Abraham was counted as righteous in the eyes of God. The Apostle Paul gives more details. He describes Abraham as trusting "Him who justifies the ungodly."
Somewhere in that whole mix, something happened to judgment. This is what it is. Yesterday we talked about Jesus as the "warm body" God. He is also the "standing under judgment" God. What does that mean?
People talk about "judgment" and about "Judgment Day," and they say that Judgment Day is when sinners will stand before God and be judged for their sins. But in one sense that has already happened.
There was a day when there was a man of sin. It was just one man because he was the only one to be judged. He made himself the "one sinner" gathering into Himself all the sins of a fallen world, and accepting the penalty of every one of them individually, and all of them all heaped together.
He stood with me. There under the judgment He stood with me.
The other day I was studying a verse in Isaiah 53. It's the one that says, "surely He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows." But I remembered a different translation from back when when I was young: "surely He bore our griefs and carried our infirmities." I wondered, and I dug a bit further ... I was surprised. Some of the ancient rabbis looked at the verse and they asked whether the Messiah might even be afflicted with leprosy.
Even though that goes a bit too far, it does grab onto something important. Jesus came to be in this fallen world, to carry a sin-sick world, to share with us the judgment part of this fallen world; and that includes even the infirmity, the dying, and the grave. He stood with me draining the judgment in my place, so that ...
Jesus did everything so that I could stand with Him, in glory, when all the glory of life opens up and eternal blessings are poured out in ways that none of us can even begin to imagine.
Lord Jesus, thank You for standing with me: in all the troubles of life; in my times of questioning and wondering; in my days of weakness; in the middle of worry; and when I have wandered far from God. Thank You for standing with me before Your Father, and for inviting me to stand with You in life and glory. Amen.
Among all the posts that have come through on the internet was one that was about a parent and child remembering the time being locked in "back in 2020". The mom asks, "What do you remember?" The child answers that he remembered being together as a family, having meals together, reading books together, playing board games together, and so on -- and then says it was the best time ever.
It is fascinating to see the posts of parents teaching their children, finding activities for them, cooking together. and so on. I come home and there is a racket, from grandkids on the other end of the iPad screen reading a book with their grandmother, and not being able to sit still so all the shuffling and wiggling up close to the microphone is echoing through the house -- and I can't help but think, "This is good. This is how things should be more often." Warm bodies.
I hear someone talking about, "What are we going to do for haircuts?" As a family they will do for each other. Warm bodies.
We are trying to keep in touch with each other in a lot of different ways. Sometimes, a little more often, we are choosing phone calls instead of texting. Warm bodies, even if it is only the voice of a warm body.
I have been out to cemeteries twice this week. People linger. Even if we keep the 6 foot distance, and even if it has started to rain we want to see each other and speak to each other. Warm bodies.
Several times through the years we have had a choice to make for our Vacation Bible School. Should we use the prerecorded music with the singers on a video screen, or should we do the music ourselves. We watched the children as we tried one way and then the other. With the video they watched, and were quite happy. When we turned off the video they joined in, singing, dancing and doing the motions along with the leaders. Warm bodies.
This is one of the most wonderful parts of our Christian faith. God did not stay up in heaven. He did not send a text. And Christianity is not a set of propositions and theories. Christianity is a "warm body" religion.
This is unique, where God actually comes into our world to become one of us. He laid in a manger, was tempted in the wilderness, hungered and thirsted. Jesus was there in the water with John the Baptist, in the Synagogue with the man with a withered hand, and out in a lonely place with a crowd of 5,000 hungry men plus women and children and fed them. Later that night after He invited Peter to come walking on the water with Him and after Peter looked around and began to sink, what did Jesus do? He "reached out His hand and took hold of him". (Matthew 14:31-32) Warm bodies.
Jesus touched the blind man, took the little children in His arms, and invited Thomas to poke a finger into the marks of the nails. On Easter morning and evening Christianity became the ultimate "warm body" religion. The Apostle John, who was leaning up against Jesus at the Lord's Supper (John 13:25), said "what we have seen with our eyes ... and touched with our hands" (1 John 1:1), and then there was the ear of the servant of the high priest, that Jesus healed. (Luke 22:51) Warm bodies.
This was not just God taking a body. He was not untouched by our human condition. Jesus needed to spend time in prayer. He is able "to sympathize with our weaknesses," and was "tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin." (Hebrews 4:15) And the ultimate -- He knows what it is like to be weighed down by sin and stand before God. And it was not His own, it was mine; so He knows what it is like to have my particular sins.
When we come to Him we are coming to a Friend who knows our need, and understands what it is to walk by faith. By being one of us Jesus has turned prayer into a "warm body" experience -- and that is amazing.
So, reach out to one another. Phone and talk. Assure one another that we are together in this. We have been bound together in Jesus and are not alone. And reach out to those who are not part of the body of Christ. Make them less alone in these times.
Lord Jesus, thank you for being with me. Thank you for being my brother, my fellow human being. Thank for knowing my weaknesses and for caring. Thank you for knowing what it is to have to walk by faith and not see. And thank you for hearing all my prayers that don't seem very well sorted out at all. Thank you that for all time You will always be that "warm body" God that I can come to. Amen.
"When the Lamb broke the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour." (Revelation 8:1)That's one of my favorite verses in the Book of Revelation. Very briefly, the breaking of the seals is about Jesus opening up of the future and bringing in the Kingdom of God. With the seventh seal everything is fulfilled.
We are a busy people, filling the time with things to do; filling the silence with things to say. It's hard to restrain ourselves. If there is a gap in action, noise, or entertainment we want to fill it in. We are uneasy with quietness and silence.
When God has acted and spoken, and brought everything to completion; there is nothing left to say and nothing left to do. It is time for quietness and time for silence. It's a beautiful thing, quietness in the presence of God. It is when we recognize that it is time simply to admire and wonder at what He has done. No speaking. No applauding. No intruding with our words and our responses. Simply seeing and hearing and quietly worshiping.
There are times of quietness and stillness scattered through the Bible. In Genesis 15 God gave His promise to Abraham taking him outside and saying, "look at the heavens and count the stars if you can. So shall your descendants be." And Abraham believed the Lord. In that brief moment of silence there was simply hearing and believing; nothing more. And then, after that brief moment of quiet in the presence of God everything starts in again.
When the people of Israel were at the shore of the Red Sea and filled with fear, what did Moses say? "Do not fear! ... The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent." (Exodus 14:13-14) That experience echoes through the pages of the Old Testament coming to the surface vividly in Psalm 46 with the words, "Be still and know that I am God." The entire Psalm 46 is about quietness in the middle of turmoil.
King David says in another psalm "I do not occupy myself with things too great ... for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul ..." (Psalm 131:1-2)
Jeremiah, in the middle of the book of Lamentations [the middle of the middle chapter is where the references to Jesus are tucked away] says, "It is good that one wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. ... Let him sit alone in silence when it is laid on him; ... let him give his cheek to the one who strikes ..." (Lamentations 3:26-30) Jesus in the wilderness, facing temptation gives His answer from the quietness of faith, "It is written" three times over.
There is a basic quietness to faith, where hearing the Word of God and trusting His promises is enough. And I remember a friend in Southern Illinois, Olinda Fausz. I used to visit her and she told me her favorite stories many times. And Olinda talked about how she loved to come to church almost an hour before services started. She said she liked to spend time in God's House simply being there in the quietness. I still think that is the most beautiful example of quietness I have ever heard and known.
When everything is said, and everything is done, and it is time for us to finish with our frantic doing and our business with filling the time with our words -- there is an eternal Word from God to simply be heard, and treasured deep within -- simply hearing and believing, and nothing more.
Lord Jesus, teach me quietness, that I may hear Your word and Your promises in the simple stillness of faith. so I may learn to wait for Your time and Your guidance; and know that in the quiet times You are with me and I can be at peace. Amen.
Next after "Patience" in the list of the "fruit of the Spirit" is "kindness". I was wondering whether to do a meditation on kindness until this morning when I started hearing the word "kindness" over and over on the radio. It seems to be a thing we need to pay attention to.
Kindness. Paul wrote to the Ephesians "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you." (Ephesians 4:32) It is a little thing, kindness. An example I heard was, "say 'thank you' to the ones who are working to provide food, and the other necessities of life. There are workers in the grocery stores overwhelmed by the demands. Show kindness. You, yourself are under a lot of stress. Think of how it eases the tension when someone else shows you a small kindness, and act toward your neighbor with kindness.
It is significant that Paul wrote this to the Ephesians. They were in a hostile culture where odd cults were all over the place, and yet Christianity was becoming treated with more and more suspicion. Paul, himself was writing from prison. And he writes to them in order to help bind them together so they could endure. Does that sound familiar. Soon some would be jailed for being Christian, and some would be put to death for the name of Jesus. That is not familiar! And Paul writes of this simple little fruit of the Spirit, "Be kind to one another."
It is surprising how much of an impact kindness can have. Even in worldly settings little acts of kindness received can inspire further acts of kindness passed on to others. There are examples that go by the name of "pay it forward." A customer in a drive-through tells the worker they want to pay for the meals of the people in the next car. A man buys coffee and buys another one for the next veteran who comes in.
But Paul says more. He says, "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you." "As God in Christ" connects the whole matter to the plan of salvation. It is kindness in Jesus Christ toward us. Paul talks about, "when the kindness of God our Savior ... appeared, He saved us ... according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit". (Titus 3:4-5)Kindness is bound up in the work of salvation in Jesus Christ. And kindness is part of what God is working within us, as the Holy Spirit plants, grows and develops in us everything that is ours through Jesus.
So show kindness. Within the body of Christ this little fruit of the Spirit binds us together, and it is true that we need each other even in the best of times. Show kindness. To those outside the body of Christ it shines the light and the love of Christ to a sin-darkened world.
Lord Jesus, we are in the middle of something where we do not see the ending. Our concerns and worries can make us impatient and lead us to react with stress. Help us to remember the kindness of Your love to us, so we are able to show kindness to each other and to everyone around. Help me to live with Your kindness in my heart that I may serve You as a bright spot in the lives of others, and so may show Your love in a time when Your love is so much needed. Amen.
"Lord, how long?"
Patience is one of the traits listed as "fruit of the Spirit." (Galatians 5:22) And, yes it can be an elusive and frustrating thing that is difficult to learn. We joke, "Lord, give me patience. I need it right now!" Patience is a tricky thing, that you cannot achieve by pursuing it. We have to be trained in it, and Jesus is the master teacher and the master in the art of patience.
Psalm 40 is an entertaining study in patience. David starts out, "I waited patiently for the Lord; He inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, ... He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. ..." Everything sounds completely filled with faith -- until v. 13 "Be pleased , O Lord, to deliver me! O Lord, make haste to help me!" and v. 17 "You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God!" What happened? Why such a change?
That is the nature of patience, and why it is so closely interwoven with faith. Patience in the Bible is the character of waiting for a promise and very specifically not being allowed to see it ('cause then it would be neither patience nor a matter of faith). God asks us to know that He will act. He is not telling us when or how. But He has been faithful through all those times in the past, in fact through all the centuries as they have slowly unfolded. So we can trust Him. He will do what He has promised at exactly the right time.
I learned a lesson about patience some years ago. I was staying with Bishop David Tswaedi in Soweto. I wanted to buy a gift for my wife at a shopping mall. Bishop Tswaedi dropped me off and was supposed to be back in a couple of hours. But he was delayed. It was 3, then 4, then 5 hours. I was alone in a strange country, no phone, no means of transportation. The mall closed. They had a waiting area for shoppers waiting for a ride. I sat there thinking, "What could possibly have happened? Should I worry? But he said he would return. He has always been faithful. Could something have happened? But he has told me how it is different here. In America you show up on time. But here when cars break down or when trains are not running, he said, "We trust each other that we will get there somehow. Even if we have to walk, we will be there."
Finally he arrived. The car had broken down. The mechanic did not have the parts and had to travel across town to get them. What's more the mechanic had to borrow a car, and the rental car places had none. But he was there. He had promised.
Now as we wait for problems to be solved and disease to be figured out and cured, we have an opportunity to learn something about patience.
God has promised. He is faithful, far above any other friend. We can have all kinds of thoughts going through our minds; and all sorts of emotions going on inside of us. What is going to happen? How many ways could things go wrong? Do the doctors, researchers, the President, and others know what they are doing? What if everything falls apart? What if the economy crashes and everyone around me loses their jobs? (And our own special worry, "Where am I going to find toilet paper?")
But He is faithful. He has promised. He has always been trustworthy.
And patience has then become an exercise in faith. Remember how we keep on saying it this way, "Faith is believing the words and promises of God; no matter what." What is your measure of "no matter what" today? That is also the measure of how much God is asking you to trust in Him and believe that He is faithful and He will be there.
Since Jesus is the Author and Perfecter of faith (Hebrews 12:2) He is also perfect in patience. From Gethsemane to Calvary Jesus had to wait without seeing, trusting only in the promise, enduring the hours of darkness and praying with absolute faith, until all was done and blessings and joy were restored, and He had redeemed and won us for eternal life.
God measures out the "no matter what" in our lives for a reason. He is building our relationship with Him leading us through times of blessing and times of needing to trust. Time after time He tells us, "Trust in the Lord." "Wait for the Lord." David had learned the lesson. That's what the beginning of Psalm 40 is all about. He knew the times of blessing. But once again it was time to wait. That's what the end of Psalm 40 is about. Patience all over again.
Because, finally, the lesson of patience is knowing who we are trusting and knowing He is faithful. It is what Paul had learned when he wrote this from prison in Rome, "but I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day." (2 Timothy 1:12)
Lord Jesus, this is a time of waiting and not knowing. But You have promised, and You have been faithful every day and hour of my life. Even when I have been weak in faith You have been with me "to the end of the age." Help me to wait, and know that you will be faithful and You will act. Through the in-between times help me to grow in hearing Your promises and trusting Your constant care. Amen.
Dolores said to me, "It was like the Lord was right there with us." This is the peace that passes understanding. It is also the very simple thing of hearing the promises of Jesus, "I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:20)
But how many in the world do not understand this peace? How many times have we, ourselves, looked around frantically wondering and worrying about what is coming? It is our nature to take our eyes off of the constant and reassuring care that comes from God; and instead chase after other solutions. And then we become frantic. But in the middle of the turmoil and confusion of life Jesus our Savior and Friend is always there. He gives assurance, reassurance and peace.
This assurance and reassurance is uncommon in this world. It is unlike anything else, and different from any other experience. In fact, Jesus Himself told us this:
"Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid." (John 14:27)
How can He give such peace? Well, He is the One who has won the victory. Think through all the troubles you have ever lived through. Is there even a one of them that Jesus is not able to deal with? Jesus said, "In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)
Think through the temptations you have faced. Again, with every single one of them Jesus has the strength to conquer. "We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin."
Is there suffering? Jesus is the One who has endured all things for your sake.
Even death! "Christ is risen!" " He is risen indeed!"
That is why the Christian can have peace, no matter what. Because Jesus is living "no matter what," and He is with us "no matter what," and He gives promises that are and will be true "no matter what." If we were to try to attain peace through calming ourselves, through finding security for our soul and safety for our lives, or through all the different kinds of meditation practiced all over the world; we still would not find the extraordinary peace that is there in Jesus.
This peace is not a thing we do. It is a gift that comes from outside ourselves. It comes to us through the work and the words of God. It is established and founded in the cross of Jesus -- so it is a peace that holds even in the most extreme situation. It is confirmed in the opening of the tomb and Easter morning rising of Jesus -- so it cannot be undone as long as He lives. And it is given in the words and promises of Jesus -- so it is peace that reaches as deep into the soul as the Word of God reaches and touches.
That is what Dolores was talking about. The peace and the strength of the Christian come to the Christian very simply through Jesus' words. Jesus Himself, and Jesus through the working of the Holy Spirit, whispers His promises deep down within our soul. And again, that is exactly what Jesus promised. "I have said these things to you that in Me you may have peace." (John 16:33)
Lord Jesus, thank You for the promises You give. They are my strength, and my peace. Because You have promised to be with me always. You have promised never to leave me or forsake me. And You have promised that whoever believes in You will live even if he dies. I ask You to speak Your promises deep within my soul as often as I am worried or fearful; that I may grow in knowing Your peace. Amen.
What is worship? How do we worship when so many things are going wrong? Why would we?
Martin Luther wrote, ""What does it mean to have a god? What is God? My answer is: A god is whatever a person looks to for all good things and runs to for help in trouble. (Luther's Large Catechism on the 1st Commandment, "You shall have no other gods.")
Did you notice the two parts? "For all good things" and "for help in trouble."
He didn't leave it there, He took it up again in the Small Catechism, this time explaining the 2nd Commandment not to take the name of the Lord in vain. He wrote, "but call upon [God's name] in every trouble, pray, praise and give thanks." Did you notice the two parts again? "call" and "pray"; and then "praise and give thanks."
This is the first part of worship.
We worship because: every blessing comes from God and we have had a lot of them through the years. Hymn after hymn sings of the blessings, and Christians gather to sing those praises with great feeling. Century after century the song of praise continues. God has created us, knows us individually and is a constant source, stream and river of blessings. Every breath and heartbeat is a blessing from our Creator. Every blessing is sweetened because it is not just a good thing; it is a good thing from the hand of God. It is personal. There was a youth group meeting that included pizza, and I got to do a brief devotion before we ate. I said, this is not just pizza; this is pizza from God!! And then I think I started to give thanks for every one of the ingredients until they made me stop. (Thus endeth the lesson!) God blesses and loves to bless. And when we needed rescue from our sins God the Father sent His Son Jesus to carry our sins and carry us out of darkness and into light, out from under judgment and into life.
We worship because: we have been through trouble, and through it all we have learned that God is a very present help. (Psalm 46) Troubles in the soul, or problems all around us, He is there and we can turn to Him. I learned this very powerfully one year when I was in high school. Early on Christmas morning my family got the phone call that my grandfather had died. In the middle of the heart-wrenching sadness my older brother said, "I'm going to Church." I went with him. In between the tears, I learned that there was no other place that made as much sense to be there than in God's house. There was no one else who could actually do anything about what had happened. He could. He had. He, Jesus, was born for exactly that moment, and so many other thousands and millions so much like it.
The Second part of worship goes further and is deeper:
Worship goes beyond calling out for our needs and thanking for the blessings. Greater by far than what we need and what we get from God -- we worship God for who He is. To learn this part of worship we have to focus on God, learn of Him, read and hear His promises and savor what they mean.
What is it like to have a God who created you because He really does want to share eternity and every blessing He can create (Psalm 16 -- In Your presence there is fullness of joy);
or who says "I have called you friends" (John 15); or invites one of them to come walking on water with Him;
or who finished His prayers before going out to the garden to be arrested with, "Father, I want them to be with me". (John 17)
who says, "I am with you to the end of the age" and "where 2 or 3 are gathered in My name there am I in the midst of them."
And one more: Zephaniah in the Old Testament describes "in that day". And then God describes something that will happen "on that day". The Lord ... in your midst [that would be Jesus] will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you by His love; He will exult over you with loud singing." This is what our God is like, and this is part of what will happen on the day that Jesus returns. At some point on that day Jesus will break into loud, exultant singing, celebrating that we are with Him.
Worship happens when we see God as who He is and realize, "This is who I want to be with. I want to be with, hang around with and run with Jesus for all of forever." To know God in that way is a sweetness that trouble cannot take away, and becomes more important than any individual blessing. It is a constant theme that runs through all that life can bring; and helps us to focus each prayer that we offer up. And it brings every part of life into worship and connection with God.
Lord Jesus, I ask You to work in my heart and deepen my worship. Let me look to You for every blessing; and run to You in every trouble. Fill my thoughts with Your promises that I may desire to know You more fully all through this life and then all through the endless time of eternity. Amen.
Rev. Mark Willig
Pastor Willig is pastor emeritus of Friends in Christ Lutheran Church.