Meditate on the Battle Hymn

Psalm 22:25-31 New International Version (NIV)

25 From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
    before those who fear you[a] I will fulfill my vows.
26 The poor will eat and be satisfied;
    those who seek the Lord will praise him—
    may your hearts live forever!

27 All the ends of the earth
    will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
    will bow down before him,
28 for dominion belongs to the Lord
    and he rules over the nations.

29 All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
    all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
    those who cannot keep themselves alive.
30 Posterity will serve him;
    future generations will be told about the Lord.
31 They will proclaim his righteousness,
    declaring to a people yet unborn:
    He has done it!

Take the Road Less Traveled

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Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany
Psalm 1

UNITY OF THE PROPER:
The connection this week is obvious between the 1st lesson and the gospel.  The only real difference between what is being said is the order in which it’s said.  Jesus begins by speaking about the blessed righteous and concludes with the woes of the wicked and Jeremiah is the opposite.  The theme that runs through both is who does the Lord bless and who does the Lord curse?  The answer is one that is foreign to conventional wisdom of the World.  Love your enemy, rejoice in suffering, be patient in trials and afflictions.  How?  Stay in the Word, cling to it.  It is there that we see our savior, it is there that we learn of eternal life, it is there we build our faith. For this reason I’m preaching on Psalm 1 this week.  It is the first thing taught in the psalms.  And the Psalm resounds with the teachings of both Jeremiah and Jesus.  It was a song that taught an important truth and one that Jeremiah as the son of a priest and Jesus the son of God would’ve known very well.

 

TEXT ANALYSIS:
1  אַ֥שְֽׁרֵי־הָאִ֗ישׁ אֲשֶׁ֤ר׀ לֹ֥א הָלַךְ֮ בַּעֲצַ֪תa רְשָׁ֫עִ֥ים וּבְדֶ֣רֶךְb חַ֭טָּאִים לֹ֥א עָמָ֑ד וּבְמֹושַׁ֥ב לֵ֝צִ֗ים לֹ֣א יָשָֽׁב׃

Blessed the man who does not walk in the council of the wicked or in the way of sinners he does not stand and in the assembly of the scorner he does not sit.

Grammar Note: There is the idea of a progression here, Walking, (הָלַךְ֮) standing (עָמָ֑ד) and sitting (יָשָֽׁב). The picture is of a man who slowly begins to listen to the wicked.  Also, it is singular, the image of a man of God who is outnumbered by his enemies.

 

THOUGHTS:
This is the very first psalm.  The message herein would’ve been well known both by Jeremiah and Jesus.  Essentially, it is the same message that we here in both the 1st lesson and Gospel for this Sunday.  The poetry is very telling here and speaks volumes.

The thought that immediately comes to mind here is Luther’s comment about the bird flying over your head as opposed to a bird making a nest in your hair.  Here though, it’s a bit different.  A man may begin by walking along and talking, entertaining the ideas about what the wicked say, but still has the ability to veer away from them.  But the picture the Psalmist paints here is of a guy who not only walks, with the wicked for a time, but then stands amongst sinners, and finally becomes one who ridicules as he firmly sits or literally dwells amongst the scorners.

2 כִּ֤י אִ֥ם בְּתֹורַ֥ת יְהוָ֗ה חֶ֫פְצֹ֥ו וּֽבְתֹורָתֹ֥ו יֶהְגֶּ֗ה יֹומָ֥ם וָלָֽיְלָה׃

But rather, in the Law of the Lord is his delight. And on his Law he mutters day and night.

 

THOUGHTS:
The word “mutters” here is interesting in contrast to how this psalm opened.  It’s seemingly humble.  It’s not the loud boisterous blathering of a scorner.  One has the image of someone quietly reading through Scripture here.  Sitting down and pondering, muttering through the verses of God’s Word is where this person finds solace.  Not in the seeming excitement of the wicked.

3 וְֽהָיָ֗ה כְּעֵץ֮ שָׁת֪וּל עַֽל־פַּלְגֵ֫י מָ֥יִם אֲשֶׁ֤רa פִּרְיֹ֨ו׀ יִתֵּ֬ן בְּעִתֹּ֗ו וְעָלֵ֥הוּ לֹֽא־יִבֹּ֑ול bוְכֹ֖ל אֲשֶׁר־יַעֲשֶׂ֣ה יַצְלִֽיחַb׃

And thus he’s like a tree transplanted on a canal of water which its fruit it gives in season and its leaves wither not and all which he does prospers

שָׁת֪וּל

Qal, pass. Pt. – “transplanted”  NOTE: NOT planted!  Rather Transplanted!  God plants us by streams of water.  Out from the roots of sin, and planted by a CANAL!  A place where there is always water.

פַּלְגֵ֫י

Noun – but this is not a river that run the risk of a dry season or drought.  Rather it’s a canal, one that is artificially fed like an irrigation ditch that is specifically meant to supply water even when the rest of the land is dried out.

THOUGHTS:
In the first verse we are shown that the wicked plants themselves down amongst their ilk.  The second verse is a progression of thought to a quiet moment of a person reading scripture.  And this third verse is an illustration of what that looks like poetically.  The believer has been taken by the LORD and planted in the Word.  That word, is endless water.

4 לֹא־כֵ֥ן הָרְשָׁעִ֑יםa כִּ֥י אִם־כַּ֝מֹּ֗ץ אֲֽשֶׁר־תִּדְּפֶ֥נּוּ רֽוּחַb׃

Not so the wicked since they’re like chaff which is blown by the wind.

THOUGHTS:
Continuing on with this plant imagery, the believer is planted and firmly embedded and not driven about.  The wicked, the unbelievers, are tossed about by every light breeze.  Their minds are fickle and can never rest as they endlessly search about for answers.  They search after the moral or the virtuous in vain.  What is the point of virtue for the sake of virtue alone?   With a morality that can change based on a human will or feeling or impulse, virtue is relative and subject to change.

5 עַל־כֵּ֤ן׀ לֹא־יָקֻ֣מוּ רְ֭שָׁעִים בַּמִּשְׁפָּ֑ט וְ֝חַטָּאִ֗ים בַּעֲדַ֥תa צַדִּיקִֽים׃

Therefore, the wicked will not rise in the judgment or the sinner in the assembly of the righteous.

לֹא־יָקֻ֣מוּ

  • Not “amad” not standing, rather rising, they will not be able to stand, they won’t even be able to get up…

6 כִּֽי־יֹודֵ֣עַ יְ֭הוָה דֶּ֣רֶךְ צַדִּיקִ֑ים וְדֶ֖רֶךְ רְשָׁעִ֣ים תֹּאבֵֽד׃

For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

THOUGHTS – v. 5-6
The poem ends the way it began only from a different angle.  Instead of the wicked standing and walking, they are physically able to stand up in the presence of God’s judgment.  Nor can the sinner be considered able to even stand in the presence of the righteous.  They are blown about like chaff, remember!  That way will be blown away and forgotten.

Malady – The temptation to slowly but surely give in to the council of the wicked.  To take the wide and comfortable path.  To see virtue as an end in and of itself – that is the fools road.  There is no solid soil there, nothing to sink roots into.

Virtue – remaining connected to the vine, drinking in and loving the Word of God.

CURE – Believers have been planted, transplanted that is, by God in his Word.  Here we hear of our salvation in Jesus.  Here we hear of eternal life.  Here we learn, because of the aforementioned, how to love our neighbor.  It’s not virtue for the sake of virtue! Rather, virtue for the sake of Jesus.

Take the Road less traveled.

  1. Resist Sin
  2. Love the Word
  3. Bear fruit

For His Love Endures Forever!

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Thanksgiving Day
Psalm 136

Creation – Verses 4-9

There’s a recurring theme throughout Psalm 136. Perhaps you noticed it. “For his love endures forever.” For whatever reason the NIV chose not to translate the “for” or “because” but it’s in every phrase, “for or because his love endures forever.” And the Hebrew word translated “love” is actually a special word for love. In the KJV this word was typically translated with “lovingkindness.” It has the idea of a heart that is so filled with compassion that it has to reach out in love to some object. It has the idea of loyalty, of unearned love and grace.

And, in God’s loving kindness He created the world. Now, think about that for a moment. Here is God. He has existed from all eternity and will exist to all eternity. He has absolutely no need, He has everything, He lacks nothing. He is just fine all on his own. He has no one rebelling against him, no one fighting Him, no one complaining to Him, no one profaning His name, no one angry or upset with Him. It was just God, no one else.

But God wasn’t content to just leave it that way. Rather, He wanted others to share in His joy, share in His love, share in His goodness. So what did God do? He created all things! He made the heavens, he spread out the earth, he made the sun, the moon, the stars. How incredible His power! But he didn’t just stop at creating a beautiful, incredible world, he made humans, he made you, he created you. Why? Because he wants YOU to be able to spend eternity with Him!

And so, today, we say, “Thank you God! Thank you for making all things; thank you for making me!” And why did He do it? Because his love endures forever!

Redemption – vv 10-15

The Israelites faced two things out of which the Lord delivered them. First of all they were slaves. What does it mean to be a slave? To be a slave means you are actual property of someone else. You can’t do whatever you want, you have to do what someone else tells you, you have to do the jobs no one else will, you work and work and work and do it all again the next day without any hope for a future or for release. Second, the Israelites faced death. When God delivered them from Egypt Pharaoh’s army came to attack them from behind and in front of them was a massive sea- they could either be slaughtered by Pharaoh’s army or drown in the water. They faced death. But what did the Lord do? He miraculously rescued them from both. He delivered them from their slavery in Egypt by the final plague, the Passover, where every firstborn in every home would die unless they painted the blood of a lamb over the door posts on their home, then the Lord would pass over them. After that plague the Israelites escaped slavery in Egypt. Then, when they were standing before the Red Sea with water in front and Pharaoh’s army behind them and it seemed like they faced certain death and destruction, God did the unthinkable, He opened up the sea so the entire nation could cross it on dry land and be rescued. God redeemed Israel from slavery and from death.

But he hasn’t just done that for Israel. You and I were once slaves. We were once slaves to sin. We were in bondage, we couldn’t please God. All we could do is follow the sinful desires of our hearts. And not only that but we also faced death, not just physical death, but spiritual death. We were hopelessly lost slaves to sin and facing eternal death. But just like God delivered the Israelites, so he has delivered you. Not by the blood of a lamb, but by the blood of the lamb of God, Jesus, God has set you free from sin forever. He has rescued you from death not by the waters of the Red Sea, but the waters of your baptism where he worked faith in your heart and washed you with the blood of Jesus. That is something to continually give thanks for. Give thanks to the Lord, His love endures forever! Amen.

Faithfulness – v. 16-22

Ok, so we have a bunch of slaves who are going to leave their land of enslavement, travel several hundred miles through a desert wilderness without any food or water or extra clothes, have to defeat several powerful kings so they can take over a land that is already inhabited and strongly fortified. Right, sure, that’s going to work.

But it did. That’s exactly what happened. How so? Not because the Israelites were such great people but because God was such a great God. How did it happen? It happened because God had promised it would happen and when God makes a promise, you can be absolutely certain of it, you can count on it that it WILL take place.

And so, you can count on the Lord completely, 100%, absolutely. He promises that he will never leave you, nor forsake you. You can count on it. He promises that he will guide and direct you. He will. He promises that His angels are constantly guarding and protecting you. They are. He promises that you will have an inheritance – an Eternal inheritance in heaven. You have it. He will make good on all his promises. Why so? Because your God is faithful. You can see it in the “big things’ – that He sent His Son to live, to die, to rise for you. But you can also see it in the “little things” – the sun rose today, and will tomorrow, you have air to breathe, water to drink, food to eat. It all happens because your God is faithful. Thank the Lord for His faithfulness. O Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, His love endures forever! Amen.

He Remember us in our Low Estate – V. 23-26

Yes, our God’s love endures forever. He made us, He created us, He redeemed us, He’s faithful to all His promises to us. But one last thought which leads us to say, “Thank you Lord.” And that’s the truth that He even works through us.

Think about it, in comparison to God, what are you and I? Why, we’re nothing! I’ve often thought about little ants that busily build their little home, little morsels of dirt all piled up, they go about their lives completely oblivious to the fact that my foot towers above them is about to squash them and their little home. And how much infinitely greater God is to us than I am to that ant! Is that the way that God relates to us? Far removed, far away, distant?

Not at all. What are we told here? God remembers us. He remembers us in our low estate. He thinks of us. He even loves us!

And not only is that true, but He also works through us. Verse 23, “To the one who remembered us in our low estate” is quoted by Mary, the mother of Jesus, when she goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth. God had “remembered” her. And God had done what? Worked through her to bring about the most important event of all time – the birth of Jesus. Can you imagine? God worked through one of us humans to accomplish that!

And God continues to remember us and work through us. He brings people to know Jesus – through you and me. He brings His comfort and peace to other people as we share with them the words and thoughts of Scripture. He spreads the message of salvation through you and me! Really, the most important work of all, the sharing of the message of eternal life, God entrusts to you and me!

And so, we can say, not just today, not just on Thanksgiving, but on every day of life, “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good; his love endures forever.” Amen

God’s Purpose For Nature

sunday11th Sunday after Pentecost

Genesis 1:26-31; Acts 14:15-17 – To Serve Human Beings

Chris Jordan is a photographer who had a project of photographing albatross birds on the Midway Islands which are a couple thousand miles from any continent. The pictures are not what you might think. They are pictures of dead baby albatross bird carcasses that reveal their stomachs loaded with plastic garbage: colorful lighters, bottle caps, broken plastic pieces. Apparently what happens is the mother albatross birds will pick these plastic pieces up and thinking they are food stuff them into the mouths of their babies until the baby’s stomach is so full of indigestible garbage that it can’t eat food and literally starves to death. In 2012 it was estimated that the United States spent 1.7 billion dollars in order to rescue animal species nearing extinction. At the same time, it’s estimated that around the world there are 51 million children under the age of five who are suffering acute malnutrition most from severe lack of food which leads to high mortality. And there are about 1 billion people all over the world who live on less than $1.25 a day.

How are we as Christians to properly think about nature, the environment? Is the earth more important than human life? Should we feed a starving animal before we feed a starving human? Should we run roughshod over the environment to serve us humans? God challenges each of us to rethink how we view nature. God makes it clear to us that life on earth is not to be “earth-centered” – that our foremost concern should be preserving the environment. Nor is life to be “human-centered” in that we use and abuse the environment for the sake of human conveniences. God tells us that life on earth is to be “theocentric” that is, God-centered.

In amazing love and grace God created the entire world with amazing variety and creativeness. In incredible grace God then made His special creatures, the crown of all His creation, created in His image: Human beings. Human beings are the kings and queens of His created world. But we fail to be the stewards of His creation God wants us to be.  We fail to perfectly care about the environment or waste God’s gifts. At other times we care more about plants or animals than we do about our fellow human beings!

But it’s for us imperfect human beings that God did something amazing. It wasn’t for the birds, it wasn’t for the animals, it wasn’t for the bugs or plants, but for humans like you and me that God sent His Son Jesus who perfectly cared for the environment and perfectly cared for fellow beings and perfectly remained God’s steward of nature. And He did that for you and me. You’re forgiven!

And because of that, we can enjoy nature, not exploit it, we can rule it and subdue it, but not abuse it, we can use nature as a trust given us by God to give him glory. And yet, even more importantly, we can view our fellow human beings as immortal souls more important than animals or plants that first and foremost need to know about their Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.

 

Psalm 19:1-6; Romans 1:20 – To Testify About God

Have you ever said something without saying it? Someone just knows what you’re thinking by looking at your face or your expression or your reaction to something. People can read disappointment or surprise or sadness. Somewhere I came across a figure that communication is 7% content, 38% tone, and 55% non-verbal (what you look like when you’re saying it). And it makes sense. Ever since we were infants before we could understand words we were watching non-verbal cues from our parents or siblings.

There is a wordless communication that’s going on constantly all around us every day. The whole beautiful and orderly universe in which we live, which God created and still maintains gives a silent testimony to God’s power and His wisdom. There is around us every day a silent rebuke to every fool who says there is no God, there is no Creator. Anyone who denies that is totally left without excuse on Judgment Day because of the silent testimony that God has put into His created world and universe.

Think about the power of the sun. The content of the sun is 1.3 million earths! The circumference of the sun is 2,715,000 miles! And the sun gives warmth and light to the earth, but the sun is just a normal star! Think about how many stars and galaxies there are in the night sky! The heavens declare the glory of God! Everyone who has eyes should be able to read and perceive this testimony. Although it’s silent, it reaches every person. Even though you can’t hear the sun or hear the stars it gives a testimony to God to His power and His might and His strength and His wisdom throughout the whole world.

Yet, if all we knew about God was from nature, how should we feel about Him? He’s powerful- He has the sun in the palm of his hand- so-to-speak, He’s mighty – He created this vast universe, He’s strong- He holds the whole earth together. How should we feel about such a powerful mighty God? By nature it ought to frighten us to death! He’s powerful and I’m not. He’s perfect and I’m a terrible sinner who deserves nothing but His punishment! No wonder so many people turn to the myth of evolution to try to escape such a powerful and mighty God!

But the testimony about God in nature isn’t the only testimony we have. God’s testimony in nature serves the purpose of getting us curious about the true God who reveals Himself to us in the words of Scripture. You see, it’s in the Bible through the Gospel that we are assured of where we stand with such a powerful, mighty, magnificent Creator.

Some people say that they can be as close to God sitting in the woods as they can sitting in a church and use that as an excuse not to come. But that’s not true. No matter how long you listen to the birds chirp or leaves rustle, they will never tell you how you are forgiven, they’ll never tell you how you’re saved eternally, they’ll never inform you on salvation. That’s found in the gospel which tells you about Jesus, your Savior how he died on the cross to forgive all your sins and rose to prove it.

Knowing that means we can look at nature, look at the world and be comforted because since we are God’s children all that we see is a constant witness to God’s power to watch over us during all our lives, His strength to keep us in the faith, and his might to raise us to eternal life. Thank the Lord for the testimony He gives about Himself in nature!

 

Matthew 6:25-34 – To Illustrate God’s Truth

Illustrations have a way of making the abstract concrete or clarifying or instructing a certain truth or piece of information in a way that’s both clear and memorable. Jesus was, of course, the master at making apt illustrations of God’s truth. And on a number of occasions Jesus used things from nature to make a point. Here is one of those examples.

It’s part of Jesus’ sermon the mount. He’s just concluded showing that the human heart has room for only ONE master. Either your master is God or it’s something else. But if it’s something else the inevitable result is fear and worry and concern over things like food and clothing. However, when you serve God the Father because of God the Son, then there can be an entirely different take on things like food and clothing which are so part and parcel of human life.

One of the things we can so easily do is redefine wants and needs. We take luxuries and define them as mere wants, but then we take mere wants and define them as needs. But the reality is, if God would take the vast majority of all our earthly goods from us we’d still be able to praise him for richly providing all that we need for body and soul. Even if we were in extreme physical need, we can still trust God to provide because we are His dear children and are far more important to God than birds and lilies.

But it’s so easy for us to fall into worry. And there’s two ways you can deal with worry. You can deal with it directly: it’s sin, rebuke it, confess it, receive God’s forgiveness and his strength to turn from it and live without it. Or, you can do what Jesus did here. Everyone can picture birds. But now picture birds driving tractors, busily harvesting in a field, driving a truck to take the grain to the barn – it’s absurd! They don’t do that and yet…God feeds them. “Are you not much more valuable than they?” Well, Jesus, I guess, if you put it that way, of course we’re more valuable and if God feeds them He will certainly feed us too.”

Or picture lily flowers sitting at looms, actively spinning cloth to wear. It’s absurd! They don’t work hard and yet God clothes them with incredible beauty! “Will He not much more clothe you- you of little faith?” Well, Jesus, if you put it that way, of course we’re more valuable than them, God will clothe us.

In other words, nature provides for us a continual example of God’s continual providing care. And if God provides and sustains and maintains and preserves all those things in life, will he not continue to provide and care for the crown of his creation? The people whom He redeemed with the blood of His own Son on the cross?

Instead of worrying, seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, reorient your life away from the things of this life and to Jesus who has promised to provide all that you need for this life and for the next. Amen.

The Meditation of the Heart

Otto_Greiner_Betende_Hände

3rd Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 19:14

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, Sunday, October 30th, 1938 at 8 pm was prime time for the golden age of radio. It was a common past time that millions of people across America would turn on their radios and listen to whatever show or music was playing. It just so happened that on that night Orson Welles was broadcasting an updated version of H.G. Wells classic the “War of the Worlds” on CBS. But right at 8:00 most Americas were tuned into NBC listening to ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and only switched their radio to CBS at around 8:12 only to hear the “War of the Worlds” well underway complete with sound effects and actors. A weather report broke off and the announcer took people to a music room where an orchestra was playing. When suddenly the orchestra was interrupted with a report that explosions had been detected on the planet Mars. Music played again. Then another interruption where a large meteor had crashed into a farmers field in New Jersey. Suddenly an announcer broke in describing the crash sight and Martians emerging from a large cylindrical metallic object.

“Good heavens,” he declared, “something’s wriggling out of the shadow like a gray snake. Now here’s another and another one and another one. They look like tentacles to me … I can see the thing’s body now. It’s large, large as a bear. It glistens like wet leather. But that face, it… it … ladies and gentlemen, it’s indescribable. I can hardly force myself to keep looking at it, it’s so awful. The eyes are black and gleam like a serpent. The mouth is kind of V-shaped with saliva dripping from its rimless lips that seem to quiver and pulsate.” Suddenly these Martians started annihilating people and whole cities. The result? Perhaps a million Americans panicked because they thought this was a real Martian invasion. People packed highways trying to escape New Jersey, in other parts of the country people wanted the electric company to shut their lights off, people pleaded with police for gas masks. Some apparently even attempted suicide.

Now certainly Orson Welles helped create some of this mass hysteria, but really, people panicked because of what they chose to believe. They chose to believe something that was simply not true, something that was fictional. The same thing is happening all over the world today- and is happening right in your life. There’s an invasion of lies. Lies that have been started by the father of the lies himself, the devil. And when we believe these lies it wrecks us emotionally, it wrecks our relationships, our work life, our families, even spiritually and physically.

Whether we like it or not, the truth is, we are all influenced by the things going on around us. We’re influenced by what we watch on TV or what we read on the internet. We’re influenced by our family members and our friends – that’s why it’s so important to regularly gather around Christian friends and family. But we spend the most time and are influenced the most by ourselves. By what we think, by what we tell ourselves, a counselor might call this “self-talk” but the more Biblical term is meditation. What do you spend your time thinking about, considering, chewing on, ruminating over? Where do you find your thoughts going when you have free time? What do you think about?

There’s a fascinating difference here between children and adults. My wife and I can be having a pretty intense conversation about something going on in our extended family, or with what’s happening in the  world at large, or something related to the church. We can be worried, stressed, anxious, concerned and…my little daughter is calmly drawing  a picture of a flower. Really?  Why? How? Doesn’t it come down to the meditation of the heart? Young children don’t often get stressed, worried, frantic about the big things of life. Why not? Because they trust their parents have things under control and they can run, play, have fun, enjoy God’s creation. Whereas we adults worry, are stressed, think we have the world on our shoulders to take care of. Why? Because it comes down to a lie. We think it all depends on us. And what does that do to us? Emotionally we become worried and anxious and stressed. Stress- I’m learning more and more – wreaks havoc on someone’s body physically. And spiritually God becomes just a small compartment in our lives and we don’t have time for His Word, our worship is half-hearted, and our prayers cease- God becomes small and our problems become huge. For people whose meditation of the heart is so often wrong, so often believing lies, so often unacceptable to God, for people like you and me- God comes with truth, truth that frees, truth that settles and calms us and we’re going to focus on these truths in the next few weeks.

So what kind of meditation does God want us to have? The Psalm writer David helps us, “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.” There is God-pleasing meditation. It isn’t what you often see popularized on TV with yoga masters or some eastern religion sitting in some posture not moving or repeatedly saying some phrase. That’s not Christian meditation. The word “meditate” in the Hebrew is really interesting. It comes from the same word that’s used to describe the “coo” of a dove or the “growl” of the lion. The picture that comes to my mind is my dog when I give her a large bone to chew on. She lies there just gnawing on this bone, with this soft growl, just happy as a lark, she’s in dog heaven just thinking about and savoring and relishing and licking and enjoying this bone.

That’s what Christian meditation is: enjoying, savoring, relishing over and over in one’s mind something else: God and His Word. David models it in this Psalm. He begins by enjoying God’s creation, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” He’s enjoying God’s incredible creation. Then he moves from there to the “law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy.” The precepts, the commands, the ordinances of God. What is all that? That’s God’s Word. He’s considering God’s creation, He’s thinking about God’s Word. He’s like a dog with a bone, chewing, relishing, turning over and over in his mind God and His Word.

May this meditation be pleasing in your sight. Clearly there’s a pleasing meditation and a non-pleasing mediation to God. A meditation that is not pleasing to God would be turning over and over in your mind and heart life’s worries and problems and troubles. But what is pleasing? To what are we to direct our meditation? “O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.” Like a dog delighting over a bone we’re to delight over these truths.

Think about that. The Lord is our Rock. God is described as a rock. What does that mean? Why is God pictured like a rock? A rock is the best place to lay a foundation because it is strong and unmovable and unshakable.  A rock can also provide protection – rain, hail, storms, sleet, even a hurricane can beat against a solid rock and the rock remains unshaken. A rock also provides protection against enemies that want to kill- bullets and arrows can’t penetrate a solid rock. The Lord is our rock, that means He is the foundation for our lives, He is our protection against every storm of life, He is our stronghold against every enemy. He is our strength. Think about that, meditate on that!

The Lord is also our Redeemer. Let’s chew on that one for a bit. The “redeemer” is a beautiful picture in the Old Testament. A redeemer was someone who was called into action when an Israelite was unable to help himself. For example, if you lost everything and were sold into slavery, a redeemer could buy you back to set you free. The Israelites as a whole nation were enslaved in Egypt, but the LORD their Redeemer came and set them free. You and I were also in a helpless state. You and I were enslaved in our sins and faced eternal punishment, but the LORD, our Redeemer, came and died Himself in our place paying the punishment of all our sins – even our sins of unacceptable meditation. You and I faced death, but our Redeemer, Jesus, came and died our death on the cross and then rose from the dead freeing us from death’s curse. The LORD our Redeemer stepped in when we couldn’t help ourselves and He continues to be the one called into action on our behalf in every struggle and every situation that we face. When we think about our Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer – that’s God-pleasing meditation.

Why does God want us to focus our mind and our heart on Him and His Word? Because it’s healthy. It leads to spiritual health- we grow in our trust in God as our Lord and Savior no matter what. It leads to emotional health because even though we face trials and troubles- we know God is our Rock, our protection and He remains our Redeemer the one who continues to help us in every situation. And it leads to health physically because trusting in Him leads to less stress and less worry and therefore less havoc on our body.

You see, when the meditation of our heart is off, when it is wrong, it has a way of making whatever our problem is huge. You see, when we think about something over and over, that problem becomes this huge, immovable mountain. But this is what the right meditation of the heart does: It makes God big. It’s amazed and the almighty power and strength of God. It’s amazed that God in love uses His almighty power to save and redeem us. It meditates on all the wonderful aspects of God and His grace. When God becomes huge to us, what happens to our problems in comparison? What happens when God’s Word dominates our thoughts? Our problems shrink and they become manageable. That’s what we’re going to be focusing on: making our Savior big, huge, awesome and letting his truth dominate our thoughts and meditation. And when we do our problems grow smaller and smaller and not worth worrying about.

Meditate on the truth. Replace the lies you tell yourself with the truth of your God and His saving love for you. Amen.

Godly Resolutions for the New Year

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New Year’s Eve 2015

2 Timothy 3:12-17; Joshua 1:8; 1 Peter 3:20-21; Matthew 26:26-29 – Make More Use of the Means of Grace

Earlier this week my family and I were in the Cities visiting family. I spent a little time with my brother Adam there and I helped him change the brakes on his car. My brother doesn’t have that many mechanic tools, so we spent quite a bit of time searching for the right sockets and wrenches to get the job done. And in the process we broke a couple of tools because they weren’t of the right quality to get the rusted bolts off. As we were working in his cold garage I was reminded of an important truth: In order to get a job done, you need to have the right tools.

Well, the truth is, each one of us is a broken project needing to be worked on by God. We have broken thoughts that are so often selfishly directed on ourselves and attempt to justify our sinful behavior, we have broken words that are horribly lacking in building up and encouraging others or praising God, but are filled with the opposite, we have broken actions that give in to temptation. Each of us is in desperate need of God’s repair.

And the truth is, God can do anything. However, when it comes to working on us, God has chosen to work through His tools: the means of grace. Why do we call them “the means of grace”? Because God could have left us on our own, but He graciously chooses to use beautiful ways to bring His grace to us over and over again.

First, God’s Word. God has chosen to speak to us not through premonitions, not through visions in the night, not through whispering in our ears, but through His own inspired Word. Do you want to hear what God has to say to you? He speaks to you through the Bible. And what message do we hear from God in the Bible? In thousands of different ways God tells us about His grace and love for you and me that found a way to rescue us from our brokenness with His Son Jesus who was born to die on a cross to forgive our sins. There on the cross God restored the broken relationship that we had with Him.

Yet, that’s not all! God then brings us everything that Jesus has won for us through the waters of baptism. In baptism God saves you. He saves you by connecting you personally to Jesus’ death and resurrection. Through baptism God works faith in your heart. There are times in life when you can feel your sins most severely and Satan is right there pointing his bony finger at you, “How do you know you’re saved? How do you know God loves you? How do you know you’re going to heaven?” There’s one thing that no one can take from you and that’s your baptism. It’s part of your own personal history. In it, as we’re told, God saved you!

And that’s not all! God uses another tool: the Lord’s Supper. In the Lord’s Supper time and again you receive not just bread and wine, but Jesus’ own body and blood. And for what purpose? The forgiveness of sins. What assurance! What peace! What joy! To receive the body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. Through the Lord’s Supper God assures you of His love for you and repairs your relationship with Him!

So, do you want more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control in the New Year? We all need those things because we all need to be repaired by God. How about this resolution for the New Year: Make More Use of the Means of Grace. Amen.

Psalm 63:2-8; Philippians 4:6 – Persistently Practice Praise and Prayer

Attitude makes all the difference, doesn’t it? In my past jobs I’ve worked with quite a few people who ended up being fired. And some of them, it wasn’t because they weren’t hard workers –some were very hard workers, it wasn’t because they weren’t dedicated to our company, it wasn’t because they lost the company money, they were fired because of their bad attitude.

And you know what that’s like. I’m sure you’ve seen it in other people, I’m sure you’ve seen it in yourself. You can wake up in the morning grumpy, angry, sullen, expecting everything to go poorly in the day. And how does the day go for you? Not only is the day miserable for you, you also end up making the day miserable for everyone around you.

Is that right? Is that good? Is that really who we are? Are we really people who have reason to be upset, angry, grumpy and grouchy? No way! If we are, what are we really saying about the gospel? Are we saying it doesn’t affect us? Are we saying it only matters on Sunday morning? Are we saying it doesn’t really change our lives?

You see, we have every reason to praise God…all the time! You have a God who doesn’t treat you like your sins deserve! You have a God who tells you that as high as the heavens are above the earth so great is his love for you! You have a God who reminds you that in Christ Jesus He has cast your sins into the depths of the see where they will never ever be found! You have a God who has won you eternal life! That’s just scratching the surface!

Now, yes, bad stuff happens in our lives. And we can choose to react angrily or we can choose to react to it in view of the gospel. God has restored the relationship between you and Him that means you can go to Him, approach Him, talk to Him in prayer- even when you’re confused, anxious, or troubled and leave it in His hands.

So, looking for another New Year’s resolution? How about this: Praise Him. Wake up in the morning praising your God and Savior who’s rescued you and blessed you in incredible ways and pray to Him. Pray to Him in everything.

2 Corinthians 5:1-10 – Live in Light of the Last Day

New Year’s Eve. We’re closing out 2015, another year done and another year lies ahead of us. One thing that we can say is that although we don’t know when Jesus will return, we do know that His return is nearer than it was yesterday. Might Jesus return in 2016? He could, we don’t know. And why don’t we know? So we’re constantly ready. And how are we ready? We’re ready as we believe in Jesus as our Savior and live each day like Jesus could return at any moment.

As you notice in your bulletin, this isn’t the only place where the Apostle Paul wrote about the Last Day. It was something that was constantly on His mind and something He was constantly reminding people about. So, what’s the lesson for us? The Last Day puts our lives in the proper perspective.

Jesus could return at any moment. And it’s going to be great! It’s nothing to fear, it’s something to look forward to. Jesus is coming to take us to our real home, our heavenly home –that’s great!

Here’s a  New Year’s resolution for you: Live in Light of the Last Day. Live like Jesus is returning tomorrow and this is your Last Day. If you do that, your relationships with others will be stronger- you’ll be more willing to repair any wrongs and express your love to your loved ones, you’ll have less stress – God might just take care of everything tomorrow by returning, and you’ll have more joy and probably more energy – Jesus is coming! What could possibly be better than that? Amen.

The Lord is in Complete Control

Pastor Gerald Geiger from the staff of Great Plains Lutheran High School
15th Sunday after Pentacost
Psalm 8 (A printed copy of the sermon was not available)

Theme: “The Lord is in Complete Control” Text: Psalm 8 (NIV84)

1 O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.

2 From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.

3 When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,

4 what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?

5 You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.

6 You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet:

7 all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field,

8 the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas.

9 O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You Are With Me!

4th Sunday of Easter
Psalm 23

He is risen! He is risen indeed! Grace and peace to you from Him who is and who was and who is to come, our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In the name of Jesus, our Good Shepherd, dear friends, and especially you confirmands, what lies ahead for you in your life? What does the future hold for you? I think we’d all be able to admit that the world can be a pretty difficult and unpredictable place, right? If you watch the news, you’ll hear about this tragedy or that, about this natural disaster or that, about this wild fire, this drought, the rising price of gas or food, the world can be a pretty difficult and unpredictable place, right? Then closer to home, as we journey through life our own lives can be filled with plenty of challenges and difficulties. Bones break, cancer hits, sickness comes, jobs disappear, people we trusted aren’t trustable. So, we ask, “How can we make it through a world like this?” I’ve heard from people nervous about the future say that they fear what the world will look like in 20, 30, 40 years.

You know, that’s probably the same concerns people have had on their minds for many generations. And perhaps that’s at least part of the reason that throughout the ages this Psalm, Psalm 23, has been a favorite for so many people. In fact, I’d probably guess that this may be one of the most well-known sections of the whole Bible. And it makes sense. It paints for us a really cool picture. God is our shepherd and we are the sheep. God is caring for us the sheep through the thick and the thin, he’s caring for us in the good times and in the challenging times. Therefore, the sheep can rest securely.

But let’s think about this image for a little bit. God is the shepherd. We are the sheep. Jesus even applied this Psalm to himself when He said, “I am the Good Shepherd, I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” I’m not a shepherd, so I don’t have personal knowledge of what sheep are really like. So my knowledge of sheep is based on those who have worked with sheep and recorded their knowledge down. But apparently, sheep really aren’t the most impressive animals. The descriptions that I’ve found aren’t the most complimentary.

First of all, sheep are very skittish. One shepherd noted about how someone came to visit and their little dog jumped out of the car and caused an entire herd of some 200 sheep to stampede. Their only recourse in danger is to run. Sheep are also territorial and selfish. Usually an older bigger sheep would try to dominate and if it saw a younger sheep eating where it wanted to eat it would charge that sheep, lower its neck and butt the other out of the way. Sheep are also stubborn, rebellious and rarely content. One shepherd wrote about a certain sheep who was never content to feed in her own pasture, but would constantly look for breaks in the fence where she could sneak out. And not only would she do it herself but she led others to as well, putting herself in danger as well as others. Eventually the shepherd had to take her to the slaughterhouse just to protect the rest of the flock.

So, skittish, territorial, selfish, rebellious, rarely content. Sound familiar? Sounds an awful lot like us humans, doesn’t it? Selfish? We think first about ourselves and our own wants instead of others. Rebellious? We’ve often heard God’s Word about something and done just the opposite. And skittish? How many times have we worried or fretted about something that didn’t even turn out to happen?

And yet, “The LORD is my Shepherd.” God claims…you! God claims…me! God makes you and me part of HIS flock! What does that mean? That means God Himself is going to look after me, HE is going to keep watch over me. HE is going to be with my day after day after day.

And it’s the LORD who is my shepherd. The LORD – all capital letters- that special name for God that emphasizes His full, free and faithful grace, he will never leave me, he will never forsake me. Jesus used this Shepherd picture for Himself when He said, “I am the Good Shepherd. Who lays down His life for the sheep.” That means I have a Shepherd who was willing to go the cross and die for me. I have a Shepherd who thought I was worth it to shed His blood for me. I have a Shepherd who died and rose for me! That means I’m incredibly valuable and incredibly special to Him.

And yet, there remains one thing, we still live in this world that is so full of danger, disappointments, and difficulties. How do we make it? Glance at verse 4. . “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” One of the cool things about Hebrew poetry is that it’s kind of like climbing a hill. You begin on the bottom, you ascend to the top- which is the high point, then you descend back down. Often, the high point is found right in the middle of the poem or Psalm. So what is the high point of this Psalm?

In Hebrew there are 26 words before and 26 words after the phrase “for you are with me.” That’s the middle, that’s the top of the hill, so while the whole Psalm is important, the whole Psalm is beautiful, the high point is: You are with me.

Apparently, there is just nothing like the presence of a shepherd that will change the attitude of a flock of sheep. When the shepherd is around, the sheep rarely butted each other. When the shepherd is around, the sheep are less likely to wander away. When the shepherd is around the sheep are far less skittish. The presence of the shepherd did all those things for the sheep. The presence of the shepherd eliminated most dangers and difficulties and ensured security for the sheep.

Who goes with you in this world? Jesus does. The Good Shepherd does. Who is with you through the darkest, difficult, and most dangerous days of life? Jesus is. Who is with you in every situation, in every dark trial, in every dismal disappointment, in every distressing dilemma? Jesus is. It is Jesus and His presence who make sense and purpose out of life. It is Jesus who makes your life significant. It is Jesus who gives you endless attention and meticulous care. He’s never asleep, never lax or careless, never indifferent to your well-being, He always has your best interests in mind. He is with you as you go to high school, with you as you find a job, with you as you lose a loved one, with you in every dark valley and on every mountaintop. And finally He is with you as you walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

What challenges and difficulties lie ahead for you? For me? I don’t know. But what I do know is Jesus will be there. Jesus will be there with his care, with his guidance. Jesus will be there with His power! Jesus will be there with His forgiveness. Jesus will be there with His love!

And so we can live our lives with continual confidence. No, God doesn’t promise us that things will be easy, that everything will go the way we want it to. But surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life – because Jesus is there. And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever – with Jesus! Amen.

It is the alertness, the awareness, the diligence of a never-tiring master which alone assures the sheep of excellent care. And from the sheep’s standpoint it is knowing that the shepherd is there; it is the constant awareness of his presence nearby that automaticallhy eliminates most of the difficulties and dangers while at the same time providing a sense of security and serenity. The sheep owner’s presence that guarantees there will be no lack of any sort, that there will be abundant green pastures, that there will be still, clean waters; that there will be new paths into fresh fields, that there will be safe summers, that there will be freedom from fear, that there will be antidotes to flies, disease, parasites, that there will be quietness and contentment.