Psalm 125 declares that “Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds his people both now and forevermore.”(vss.1-2) This is a great word, and a great encouragement, but we also find ourselves in the midst of a world of trials, problems, and uncertainties. We can find it difficult to keep our trust in the Lord. But we do have the many real promises from our Lord that He is there for us “both now and forevermore”. Even further, we look back in our own lives seeing the times God has acted in life’s situations. He has brought us through many difficult times. Both Old and New Testaments teach us not to worry or be anxious, but to keep the eyes of our hearts fixed upon the One who is faithful. In Him “we cannot be shaken”.
Everyone hates the C word. There is apprehension and fear when one hears a diagnosis of cancer. It usually means lengthy and painful treatments. A person wants to seek the best medical option that is currently available. The value of the treatment is in proportion to the seriousness of the disease. We have learned how serious this disease is, and so seek the best treatment possible. Now to my spiritual parallel. I am thinking of people’s attitude toward our Lord Jesus. We have a serious, in fact terminal, disease called sin. “All have sinned,” Paul tells us, “and fall short of the glory of God”.(Romans 3:23) The Christian faith declares that because of our sin we are lost, condemned, and separated from God. We deserve eternal death. Yet Jesus took the penalty for our sins in His own body, dying in our place, and giving us as a free and unearned gift His perfect righteousness before God. We have salvation and life through faith in Jesus Christ. The problem is that too many today minimize the seriousness of sin. In so doing they minimize the value of the Saviour. He becomes only a great moral teacher, and a perfect example of love. Think about the disease. One far more serious than cancer. And humbly bow in worship of our gracious Lord.
The Apostle Peter has taught us to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”(I Pt.3:15) But perhaps we need to ask two questions first. Do we have a real and solid hope for whatever is ahead? And what is the content of that hope? Christians should be able to answer a solid “yes” to the first question. We are people of hope, and that hope is the strength of life. But to the second question we need to be clear on what that hope rests. It is not upon some vague belief that everything will somehow turn out OK. It is not a hope based on some political figure, some scientific achievement, or even upon a belief in the basic goodness of mankind. Our hope is in the One who created us, the One who has loved us enough to redeem us from the power of sin, and the One who will bring His purpose for His creation, and His people, to perfect fulfillment. It is in this hope we “give answer” by actions of God’s love, and words of His truth, to as many as God gives us the opportunity.
Acts chapter sixteen gives the account of Paul and Silas having been put in jail in Philippi. They had been arrested for preaching the Gospel and accused of causing a disturbance. They were stripped, beaten with rods, thrown into a dungeon, and had their feet put in stocks. A terrible experience for anyone. One would expect them to be angry, to be looking at their wounds, and concerned about what their fate would be in the morning. Instead, the text tells us that “about midnight (they) were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.”(vs.25) You can read the account to see the outcome, but my point here is what they were focusing on. Of course they were hurting and uncomfortable, and their fate uncertain, but they chose to focus their attention, and their hope, upon the Lord. Instead of allowing themselves to be consumed with their situation they focused upon the Lord with prayer and song. They looked to the Lord who is our strength in all situations.
New Years celebrations are important. Many people make a big deal out of celebrating on January first, the beginning of the calendar year. Actually it’s probably been 20 years since I’ve seen the New Year in. I usually sleep through it. But there are other New Year celebrations. The Jews celebrate Rosh Hashanah in the Fall. The Chinese have a Spring New Years festival, and the Muslims also have a date in the Fall for the beginning of their year. For Christians the New Year begins this coming Sunday with the First Sunday in Advent. The year is geared to the Scriptural accounts of all that God has done for us in Jesus Christ. The year begins by looking back at the astounding wonder of the Incarnation, Almighty God coming among us in the Baby born in Bethlehem. But it also looks forward to the time of the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to return. The calendar New Year is a time for revelry. The Christian New Year infuses us with hope, knowing all that God has done for us in the redeeming love of Jesus Christ, and in the certainty of the fulfillment of His promises to bring all things to their right conclusion.
In a six foot span of my desk top there are at least a dozen separate pieces of paper, each with a purpose, and each needing some kind of action. It looks like chaos, but I really do know the purpose of each, and the action to be taken (even if I put it off!). Some items are waiting for further information before I can do anything, but none are forgotten. I think about our Lord looking at the chaos of this world, infinitely greater than my desktop. Yet He knows every part. Nothing escapes His concern or His ultimate action. Perhaps He has to allow other things to take place first before He acts, but He will act in His good and perfect will. David looked at the chaos that surrounded Him, and cried out, “How long. O Lord? Will you forget me forever?” But, after several verses of lament, he concludes saying, “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.”(Ps.13) There really is hope in the midst of the chaos of life.
The leaves are beginning to change color. We saw one tree yesterday that three different colors in it. My Father made that for me to enjoy. My fingers are moving to type these letters. The mechanics of how our hands function is absolutely amazing. My Father designed them and gave them to me. We can look around at a thousand of other things in everyday life, things we take fore granted, but which are absolutely wonderful gifts from our Heavenly Father. My Father and your Father gave them to us. I will be at the hospital today with a cancer patient’s family. We weep time and again over this terrible disease, and the many other ills that face our world. Yet we can thank our Father that He has given many people the skills and desire to help and to heal. Look around today at the gifts your Father has given you. Rejoice, give thanks, and love Him.
Sometimes it is difficult to know what to say in a very broken world. One looks at the world where sabers are being loudly rattled to the point of serious conflicts. I talked with a policeman from one of our cities who gave a very bad assessment of inner city condition. Many western nations have pushed aside the Christian foundation upon which they were built. And the list goes on. All things out of my control that I can do nothing about. Certainly we pray for our nation and world. Yet, even that can feel like a rather hopeless effort. But I do have a family who depends upon me. I have a neighbor who is having difficulty and needs my support. I do have those close by who need prayer, and encouragement. I have clerks and attendants in places of business I patronize that need a smile and greeting by name. There are lots of things in this world I can do nothing about, but there are also a lot that are much closer at hand where I can provide some positive good. I will pray and weep before the Lord over the bigger things, but I will love and serve those who are close at hand. That will at least mend some of the brokenness.
Psalm 121 asks and then answers a question. “I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; From where shall my help come? My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth.”(vss.1-2) This is one of the so called Songs of Ascent. The city of Jerusalem is situated on a high hill, and pilgrims would sing these palms as they were going up to worship at the Temple. It was a rocky path, but their eyes were fixed on the Temple and the Lord they would worship there. There eyes were looking up. They knew their help came from the Lord. Is this not a song for life as we make our ascent through the various paths before us? Our tendency is to keep our eyes down, only seeing the four walls in which we live, or the uncertainties of the days ahead, but God has reached out to us. He has called us to come to His Temple. He has verified His call by many acts of grace. Lift up our eyes. Our help does come from the Lord who made heaven and earth.
One heresy of the Christian Church that has been around since ancient times, and still persists in some ways today says that Jesus was God, but He only looked like a man. He really didn’t suffer or truly feel the pain that we experience. Yet the writer of Hebrews assures us that Jesus is “one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are…”(4:15) In Matthew 14 it is striking to see the range of human pressure and burdens our Lord experienced. It begins with His cousin being beheaded by King Herod, the loss of a family member and the evil that would cause this. Then the demands of the multitude, the dullness and slowness of His disciples to believe, and seeing fear where there should have been faith, Jesus felt it all deeply. Twice in this 14th chapter it indicated that Jesus needed to get alone to pray. His burden was greater than we can imagine. But by His carrying that burden, and ultimately that of our sins to the cross, we have the assurance that He knows and cares about our individual needs and hurts. He has been there, and just as He reached out His hand to save Peter from drowning (14:31) He reaches out to us each day. His strength and grace are sufficient.