Saturday, June 25, 2016

"the Lord knows the way of the righteous"

All Christians struggle with sin.  When we have faith in Jesus as our Savior and Lord we are saved from the eternal consequences of our sin but we still live in this world, and so we live with the effects that our sin brings to our day-to-day lives.  We are saved by Jesus but we live in the world, and so we live surrounded by the desires of this world, the desires lurking in our hearts.  Desires that are ungodly and to which we often give in to, all too easily. 

This came to mind when I had a visitor stop by the parsonage.  As we talked he wanted me to read Psalm 1.  In my Bible this psalm is titled "The Way of the Righteous and the Wicked."  Psalm 1 paints a beautiful picture of the blessings of following God, and contrasts those blessings with the consequences of going in the opposite direction from God.  Verses 1-3 say:

"Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
 He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers."

My visitor struggles with a very visible behavior, to the detriment of his own life and many people around him.  In contrast to the righteous, the psalm says this about the wicked in v.4-5:

"The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;"

So is being cast out from God's presence in eternity, and all that that means, what my visitor has to look forward to when he casts His eyes toward God?  Verse 6, the end of the psalm, points to the answer to that question, saying:

"for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish."

I have known my visitor for most of the time I have lived in Dulce.  I know his particular struggle, and I also know his love for Jesus.  Great comfort and encouragement is found in the words "the Lord knows the way of the righteous."  My visitor isn't righteous because he always walks in the ways that God calls him to.  He is righteous because God has called him to Himself and given him a love for Jesus, who is his faithful Savior and Lord, no matter how my visitor may be behaving towards Him at any particular moment. 

All Christians struggle with sin at different times and in different ways.  We stumble into it.  We wrestle with it and give up.  We run directly towards it.  However it may be happening, we need not lose heart.  By faith we belong to God.  He knows our way, and He never lets go of His own, even when we are going in the opposite direction.   

When it seems to you as if the struggle is being lost take comfort and know hope in the fact that in the cross of Jesus victory has already been won.  Your struggle is real, you struggle with a defeated enemy who is desperately trying to drag you down with him.  By faith your place, now and forever, is with Jesus.

 Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Nature of Peace

This morning I preached at a funeral, using John 14:25-27 as the text.  In that passage Jesus is speaking to his close disciples and He is preparing them for the rapidly approaching time of His departure from their presence.  They have been together nearly three years and there are some things that He believes are very important for them to know now, and so in verse 27 He says:

"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."

In this time of departure Jesus wants His disciples to know peace, and He wants them to know that the peace He gives is not the same thing as peace that is found in the world.  Dictionary definitions of peace include:

The normal, nonwarring condition of a nation, group of nations, or the world; A state of mutual harmony between people or groups, especially in personal relations;
A state of tranquility or serenity. 

These are all pretty good things to have, be it for an individual person, a group of people or even between countries.  But they pale in comparison to the peace that Jesus gives to those who, by faith, follow Him.  The peace that comes through the world is a transient thing.  It is a temporary thing.  It endures for a time, but that time always ends.

The peace of Christ is an everlasting thing.  It is an eternal thing.  It comes as a gift from one whose nature is everlasting, and so all the things He gives to those who follow Him are also everlasting.  By faith in Christ we are restored in our relationship with God, and the peace that Christ gives cannot fail.

Having the peace of Christ does not mean that we won’t have times of hardship and suffering.  But it does mean that even in those times we can know true peace, because Christ is with us.  And this is the peace that I tried to point to this morning.

People were gathered to worship God and remember a man who was a husband, a father, a grandfather, a brother, and a friend.  There was much sorrow and much grief.  My prayer for them is that they take to heart the words Jesus spoke to His disciples and know the unfailing peace that is only found in Him.  And may you know this peace too.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, June 6, 2016

The Good Shepherd

Robin and I recently read Psalm 28.  It is a psalm written by David, where in the first part David cries out to God for protection and strength and in the second part he praises God because God has answered his prayer.  The Bible we were reading from had some notes about the psalm and this thought caught my attention: God is a Shepherd who cannot abandon His sheep.

I have heard first-hand stories from people in our congregation about the days of living out on the reservation and caring for sheep.  Sleeping in a tent year-round, gathering wood for cooking, moving the sheep south in winter and north in the summer.  Spending so much time with the sheep that they smelled like sheep.  I have heard stories of sheep camp but never a longing to return to those days.  There are certainly many fond memories of that time but the work and way of life were much harder than things are today.  They may not have abandoned the sheep but there seems to be a sense of progress in moving from caring for sheep to other ways of making a living.

When we think about the images in the Bible of God as a shepherd and His people as the sheep we know that we have all the characteristics that make being a shepherd very hard work.  We have a poor sense of the dangers around us and often run gladly after them.  We have little regard for the shepherd and wish that he would just take a break, or perhaps quit, so that we can be left to our own desires.  And when we come face-to-face with something that we see is truly threatening to us we tend to run blindly in any and every direction, seeming to end up in the arms of the shepherd more by chance than through our own good choice.

But as the note in our Bible said, with great truth, God is a Shepherd who cannot abandon His sheep.  He cares for His sheep faithfully, without ever having a single thought of giving up on them.  It is in His very nature to care for His sheep, no matter what they do.  If He took even ten minutes to do something else, then He would be a failure at His calling to be our Shepherd, and  God cannot fail at anything He takes on and still be God.

When it comes to seeing God as a Shepherd and His children as His sheep there is more to His role than the truth that God cannot abandon His sheep.  It is also true that God could not abandon them.  God would not abandon them.  God does not abandon them. And looking forward, God will not abandon them.  And so today we can rejoice with David in the closing verse of the psalm,

"The Lord is the strength of his people;
    he is the saving refuge of his anointed.
Oh, save your people and bless your heritage!
    Be their shepherd and carry them forever."

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.