When one is away from home on vacation or for whatever reason there is always a sense of it being temporary, along with a longing to be home. It really doesn’t matter how necessary the away stay is or how good a time one is having, it is still not home. There is a longing for the settled, the familiar, the perminent. The place where one belongs. We are told that when Abraham was called to leave the place where he was living to go toward the Promised Land that he understood he was ultimately “looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”(Hebrews 11:9) Nothing in this life is permanent. Nothing here is exactly as we would like it to be regardless of how many resources we have to try to make it that way. There is a longing for the permanent home, the place where we really belong in perfect fellowship with our Lord, “longing for a better country—a heavenly one.”(vs.16) We have a very real task to do while we are here summed up in the second great commandment, to love our neighbor as ourselves. But our ultimate longing is for the place where we truly belong, our home in perfect harmony with our Lord. All other longings are just pointing forward to that.
Americans are well grounded in their concept of freedom and rights. We cherish the freedoms granted in the Bill of Right in our Constitution, and rightly so. But I think this makes it a bit hard for us to think in Scriptural terms about our right relationship with the Lord. All of our Lord’s Apostles referred to themselves as slaves of Christ. We declare that we are free to do what we want, but the Lord’s Word says “you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price, therefore glorify God in your body.”(I Corinthians 6:20) That price was the very blood of Jesus Christ. Both Testaments declare that God is our Maker. We were created by Him for His good purpose. Paul writing to the Philippian Church said, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”(2:10) Yes, we are thankful for our political freedoms, but we find our true freedom when we submit ourselves to the will of our Lord.
Each week at our time of prayer in out worship service we pray for the president and the leaders of our nation. We are taught in Scripture to pray for our leaders so that we may lead an orderly and productive life. We have no allusion that all of our leaders are Christians or are guided by Biblical principles, but, by the presence of God’s Spirit, He can still use them for His good purpose. After all Cyrus the Great, king of Persia five centuries before Christ was a pagan ruler, yet God called him “my shepherd and (he) will accomplish all that I please;…” God used Cyrus for the good of His people.(Isaiah 44 and 45) We pray that God will work in our leaders even beyond what they themselves understand. It is also our prayer that God’s Spirit will open hearts and minds to be receptive to His word, and find the truth of His saving grace. We have the promise that when God’s Word goes forth it “will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”(Isaiah 55:11) “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword,…”(Hebrews 4:12) So we pray for our leaders, and we pray that God’s Spirit will enlighten many hearts and minds.
We all like to get something free. Maybe it’s that toy that comes with a Happy Meal, or the Buy One get One Free deal at the food store. But we’ve also learned that if it is free it usually is not very valuable. It’s a gimmick or a “come on” to get you to buy something else. We’ve been ingrained with the idea that you only get what you pay for. But then the Lord steps into the path of our lives. He give us something free that is valuable beyond measure. So valuable that there isn’t enough money on earth to buy it. Our redemption, our standing in righteousness before God’s absolute holiness, our life now and for eternity. This is a gift purchased with the blood of the sinless Son of God, a free gift to each of us from Almighty God that no amount of money, no amount of good works, can possibly earn. Jesus asked the question “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”(Matthew 16:26) There is noting we can give, but it has already been given to us on a cross outside Jerusalem. All we can do is bow in humble worship and thanksgiving.
Some of the treasures of history are letters that have been written from man and women on distant battle fields of the Civil War, and the First and Second World Wars. We can also include letters from people separated from family and friends in distant lands for a variety of reasons. These give insight into the conditions of the times, but more importantly into the life and feelings of the person writing. When one takes time to put words on paper they are conveying something of themselves to the recipient. It is this personal bond with others, and ultimately with our God, that gives meaning to being human. I decry the loss of this skill (and also the ability to write in cursive, but that’s another issue!). I can’t really imagine our text messages being archived for a hundred years! God, Himself, came among us in His Son, and He has told us of his desire to dwell among us for eternity. All that we do now that deepens our personal bond with one another is a small taste of what we are intended to share eternally. Letters are just a small piece of that.
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.” We who have been baptized in Christ Jesus remind ourselves of these words from St. Paul in Galatians 2:20. The motivating power of our life is not talent, ability, education, or personality. These are only tools given by God’s grace to use for good. Our motivating power, our reason for living, is Jesus. He is the only one who gives true life. With His life at work within, He directs and uses our gifts and talents in ways that are a blessing for others, and for the glory of God. When we try to take off in our own direction things go wrong. Let this be a day where you know even more deeply that it is no longer you who live, but Christ who lives in you.
Some people have felt that if you read the Bible through once you really don’t have to read it again. But the Bible is not like any other book. When one reads a novel, even a good novel, they know the story. They may read it a second time at a later date, but that is pretty much it. The Bible can’t be set aside that easily, even when one knows the basic story. We call it the Word of God, and for good reason. It is. God is speaking to us in many and varied ways. Further, it is a book that God, Himself, uses to speak to our hearts. The Holy Spirit uses various passages to speak to us at different time and in different needs. A passage that is read ten time will have a new and deeper meaning on the eleventh reading. The Bible is our food for life, and one can never exhaust is nourishment.
In Psalm 119 is the longest of the Psalms, and many people find it too redundant and boring to read. I think we would do well to reconsider.
“Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever with me. I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes. I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts. I have kept my feet from every evil path so that I might obey your word. I have not departed from your laws, for you yourself have taught me. How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path.”(vss.97-104)
In a world where we think we know more than God does on virtually any subject, considering the writers words is a necessary correction. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge…”(Proverbs 1:7)
The beginning of a new year. There are many prediction about what it will hold, but no one really knows. In face, we don’t know what the next month, or day or hour will hold. And you know, I’m not sure we want to. We likely would be consumed with anticipation and fear. Nothing really turns out exactly as we anticipate anyway. Psalm 23 is one that many people have read at a funeral, but it really is a Psalm for life.
The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil,
for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
May our gracious Lord be with you through all the days of this new year and always, and may your trust rest firmly in Him.
When a pastor stands up to begin a sermon he often opens with the greeting, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul used it in greeting each of his churches. It is a marvelous statement of the good God extends to His people. It is followed by an exposition of God’s Word intended for the good, for the up building, of all who hear. “Grace to you…”, the extending of God’s good, free, and totally unearned gift of life. At times the Word must be hard, cutting through something in us that is blocking the good work God’s love seeks to do. The Word is always intended to bring life and guide us into His peace, a peace that passes all understanding. The Word comes to us from the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ in the midst of our broken life in this fallen world, to bring us into fellowship with them. This is the place, alone, where we find life and hope. May God’s grace and peace be abundant upon you for this day.