Agents of Hope

Psalm 37 37

Happy Saturday!  Some of you have been walking with me on this slow and steady journey through Psalm 37.

We started reading and chewing on and praying and resting with God in these verses on Sunday.  Hopefully you have found times when you were able to delight in God.

Today we come to the final portion of this magnificent Psalm.

Once again, let us read it Lectio Divina Style: Read, Meditate, Pray, Rest in God.

1.  Read through verses 35-40 slowly, at least 3 times.

35 I have seen a wicked and ruthless man

flourishing like a luxuriant native tree,

36 but he soon passed away and was no more;

though I looked for him, he could not be found.

37 Consider the blameless, observe the upright;

a future awaits those who seek peace.

38 But all sinners will be destroyed;

there will be no future for the wicked.

39 The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord;

he is their stronghold in time of trouble.

40 The Lord helps them and delivers them;

he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,

because they take refuge in him.

2.  Meditate.  Choose a word or phrase and spend some time thinking deeply about what it says and what it means.

For me, two contrasting phrases stand out and speak loudest to me.  “A future awaits those who seek peace” and “there will be no future for the wicked.”

I have spent a considerable amount of time in recent months studying the phenomena of despair and the state of depression.  Life expectancy in the United States has declined for three consecutive years.  More younger people are dying from what has been labeled “deaths of despair.”  These are deaths that result from drug addiction, alcohol related deaths and suicide.  The rate of deaths of despair is massively increasing.  Despair can kill a person.

In the story, The Inferno, Dante has the gates of hell have a sign over it that says “abandon hope all ye who enter.”  Dante wasn’t really talking about an afterlife here, but more likely a state of being.  Hell is where people find themselves when they are living without hope.  The absence of hope is despair.  When a person lives without a meaningful hope for the future it is soul destroying.  As I see it, as followers of Jesus Christ we are called to be agents of hope who are called to share that hope with a world of people who are in despair.

In a world in despair and hopelessness we bring with us a message of hope and with that, the opportunity to bring people into a state of shalom or peace.  People need not live in alienation from God, from others or from themselves.  People can be reconciled to God, to others and selves.  They can be made whole.  They can experience salvation/wholeness from God which results in healing and hope.  The Psalmist rightly says “the salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord.”  Only God can save us, heal us, make us whole and bring an end to our existential despair.

God, I want to continue to be one who lives life with a hopeful future.  I want to be one who seeks peace/shalom.  Jesus was probably thinking about this Psalm when he spoke in his Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God” (See Matthew 5:9).

3.  Pray.  Whatever your meditation brings up, bring that to God in prayer.  For me I pray- “God, am I living as a peacemaker?  Am I acting as an agent of your shalom/healing/wholeness/salvation in this world.  Am I living life out of the deep well of hope?  In what ways do you still want me to seek peace in my home, in my church, in my workplace, in my neighborhood and community, in my country and in this world?

4.  Rest in God.  Living as a peacemaker and an agent of hope in this divided and despair filled world can be spiritually and emotionally (as well as physically) exhausting at times.  We need to draw our strength from the deep well of God’s love and mercy.  As you prepare for whatever the day may bring you as you prepare to be a peacemaker, spend a few moments resting in God’s love.

This concludes our slow and deep reading of Psalm 37.  We have divided the 40 verse Psalm into 7 smaller sections and, within each section we have read, meditated, prayed and rested in God.  I hope that you have come to appreciate how this form of reading and praying the Bible can deeply enrich your spiritual life as you seek to serve God.  I encourage you to practice Lectio Divina prayer/scripture reading on a regular basis and note how it helps strengthen your life of prayer with God.

Pastor Jeff Fletcher

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4 Benefits for Christians in This Age

 

Out in the world today, we see a lot of bold claims made by companies. They promise you weight loss, happiness, wealth, status, and anything else that you can think up. What is their purpose in making these bold claims? They want your money. Many of the times the claims are flat out lies and at best they deliver only a fraction of what was promised. What about Christianity? Does the Bible make big claims like companies do?

Personally, I think the Bible makes a lot of claims about those who put their faith in God. But the logical follow up question to that statement is  – are they true? So in this blog post I want to set out to show you four claims the Bible makes about the benefits a Christian receives in this age. The fact that we are talking about this age is important. Obviously a Christian has a major benefit in the age to come with eternal life and the kingdom. However, I want to focus on this life and how being a Christian makes our lives better, now. The four benefits to being a Christian are peace, purpose, perspective, and people.

Peace is a commodity of which the world is in short order. It seems that mental illness is all over the news with illnesses like depression and anxiety sweeping over our nation. Christianity promises to those who put their faith in God that they can find peace. Look at Philippians 4:6-7, “6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Paul, talking to the people of Philippi, is saying that if we hand over our anxiety to God through prayer and thanksgiving in return we will receive peace that surpasses all comprehension. I love how Paul makes the point to say that this peace will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus. I think Christianity has the best solution for finding peace in this life.

1 Peter 2 9

Purpose is an elusive things that some people spend their whole lives searching out. I truly think that people thrive the most when they are living a life after the purpose for which God created them. If you are looking for purpose look at 1 Peter 2:9-10 which says, “9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” First look at verse 10 where it says, “you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God”. In other words, once you had no identity and no purpose but now you are the people of God and you have a purpose. The purpose statement is at the end of verse 9, “so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light”. I think when we are giving the good news to people, and that is our driving purpose, we find fulfillment with our lives. What could be better than helping someone change their life forever?

Perspective can be a tricky thing to find, especially perspective that is trustworthy and true. Let’s talk about the world’s perspective on one of the most difficult things we deal with in life, death. To the world, death is crushing, scary, oppressive, breaking, and most of all final. The world has no hope when it comes to death but the Bible offers a better perspective on death. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 says, “13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.” If you are a Christian, you are offered a perspective on death that doesn’t include fear but instead centers on hope. Don’t get me wrong, death is still a painful and difficult event but it isn’t crushing for Christians. To me, 1 Thessalonians 4 is a clarifying and liberating passage. Because of the Bible I am freed from the fear of death. Christianity offers us a better perspective on death and a whole multitude of other things.

People, who doesn’t want a people to call their own? Community is an essential part of human flourishing and Christians absolutely crush the competition when it comes to community. Look at what Jesus says in Mark 10:29-30, “29 Jesus said, ‘Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, 30 but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life.’” In this present age we will receive 100 times the family that we currently have. This doesn’t mean that all of a sudden our family multiples by 100. What it means is that those who are Christians become our family. You are probably familiar with the term family of God. It is short hand for the community of believers that form one large family all around the world. When I walk into church I know that those people have my back, they love me, they support me, and they are my family.

Maybe now you are asking how can I be sure that these claims actually hold up under pressure? Are these claims made by the Bible like the false claims made by big companies? If you are curious about the validity of the Bible, just ask a long time Christian that you know. They will tell you about the peace they have felt in their lives when there should not have been peace. They will tell you about the purpose they have found. They will tell you about how the Bible has shifted their perspectives for the better. They will tell you about the community that they have in the family of God.

If you are looking for peace, purpose, perspective, or a people I think you should give Christianity a serious look. Maybe you have been on the fence about dedicating your life to Christ or maybe you have fallen away and aren’t where you want to be with God. Either way there is a better life out there, it just takes commitment. You need to commit to following God wherever He leads and you need to put your trust in Jesus. If you are thinking about dedicating or rededicating your life to Christ find a pastor or Christian you trust and talk to them about how following God can change your life for the better.

-Josiah Cain

Anxiety or Peace?

Philippians 4

phil 4 6

I almost always feel anxious about something. When I am working or if I am driving, even playing video games or watching tv, I am anxious. I don’t really know what causes this mindset of anxiety but all I know is that it is there. However, there is one place that it reaches least. That is in a state of worship. However you worship you probably understand what I mean. Singing songs, prayer, or even serving someone can often reduce my sense of anxiety. I think this is because I can allow Jesus to dominate my thoughts rather than my feeling of dread.  Paul in Philippians 4 puts it this way.

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

I would recommend the next time you might feel anxious or dreadful about something, that you may serve the Lord in some form of worship. Whether it be serving another person, praying, or singing a song that refocuses your center of peace. This is what really helps me in times of need.

 

-Jesse Allen

He Has Conquered

JOHN 16

John 16 33

Theology is one of my favorite things to study. It’s fascinating because people have read the same 66 books for 2000 years and have created millions of different explanations for how it all fits together. For example, there is a belief in certain Christian groups that has been labelled “Christus Victor” or “Christ is the conqueror”. This view believes that our sin was atoned for by Christ being the ransom for our sin. By being killed and rising again to life – sin, death, and the devil lost all right to those who trust in Christ. This view has some strong language of support (Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45, 1 Timothy 2:6). And of course, Christ’s victory is made clear in John 16:33.

 

It’s important to note the situation Jesus is talking about here. He is letting the disciples know that he is going to die. (John 16:16) Moreover, he is letting his disciples know that he is going to the Father. (John 16:28) And for the first time, the disciples get it. They are finally understanding what he is telling them. But he lets them know, “You will all desert me.” But even knowing they will all leave him, he has been telling them all these things, about the Counselor coming, about Jesus being the vine and the branches, about Jesus and the Father and the Spirit abiding in believers, he is telling his disciples this so that they would have peace.

 

The words of John are in Greek, but he thought like a Jew. In the Hebrew language, “peace” is shalom. Shalom is not an absence of conflict, but a flourishing of life (usually accompanied by an absence of conflict!). Jesus even makes this case himself, “so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world.” Right there back to back, we have peace and suffering. Shalom and conflict. Jesus is letting us know that we will have struggles. I may sound like a broken record with yesterday’s reading, but it’s important. When those people hate you for doing what is right and for trying to be like Jesus, then we need to find our shalom in him. We are called to take courage in him.

 

Why?

Because Jesus has overcome.

And this is before the resurrection.

 

The Messiah has beaten the system. Jesus in the Gospel of John is different, in some striking ways, from the Jesus of the synoptics in regard to his death. He insinuates that he is willingly going to the slaughter. He tells the people that he will lay down his life (John 10:15) and take it back up (10:18), as that is the missions given to him by his Father. Jesus is not afraid to die, asking God for it to pass, but knows that no one takes his life from him by force (19:11) but that he lays it down (15:13). Jesus knows that he is going to win; he says “if I am lifted up, I will draw all people to me.”(12:32) In this Jesus makes a pun about his own death: “lifted up” in the Greek could mean the metaphorical “lifted in Glory and honor” and also the literal “raised up, i.e., on a cross.” Jesus knows that his crucifixion, far from being the moment of defeat, is the moment of triumph and success. In his crucifixion, he removes sin from his followers as a sacrifice and he buys us, the slaves of Satan, as a ransom to become children of God.

 

I am not asking you to have the same unadulterated confidence; that would be too much. I am asking you to trust in the one who we already know was victorious. Jesus was asking his disciples to trust in him as he was about to be sentenced to death. How much more should we trust that Jesus will care for us knowing that he has been raised to life.

If you are going through a trial, something that the world is throwing at you, keep this in mind: Jesus has already won. Not could win, not even will win.  JESUS HAS ALREADY WON.

 

Christ is, for now and forever more, the conqueror. 
-Jake Ballard

Wandering in the Wilderness

Text placeholderChristmastime can bring so much joy to our lives. It’s during this short period at the end of the year that we reconnect with family and friends and enjoy time spent resting from work and school. I think it’s so fitting to end our year reflecting on the importance of who Jesus is in our lives. As seen in the carols that Jill discussed last week, we spend the month of December reflecting on and resting in the truth of who Jesus is before moving into the new year with high hopes and resolutions.

Though it’s not a Christmas carol, I love the song “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” partly because of Andy Wiliams’ voice and partly because I agree that Christmas is the most wonderful time because it is the “hap-, happiest time of the year.” However, some Christmases don’t always bring this cheer. Sometimes, in the midst of the crowds of happy faces and the busyness of the year, we can feel lost in the drift of the season. Feeling this way can make us feel lonely, upset, or isolated from those that we love, and crucially, it can also make us feel isolated from the voice of God. I like to call these times in our lives our ‘wilderness wanderings.’ It’s the moments when it seems like God isn’t near you, has ‘turned his face from you,’ and that feeling affects every part of your life. Though this can happen in the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season when we’ve forgotten to focus on God, it can also happen throughout the year, in the low points and in the high points.

Too often, I think we choose to focus on the high points of our relationship with God or on the ‘do’s and don’ts’ of our faith. Though our relationship with God can bring us blessings after blessings and should be the foundation of our faith and though a life that reflects a heart that loves God is incredibly important both for our relationship with God and the credibility of our witness to others, I think focusing on these moments of wilderness wanderings is crucial to fostering a life that honors God. Because, it can be hard to get back to those high points if we are crippled in the wilderness by doubt and sin. 1 Peter 5:8-9a says that “Your adversary the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour. Resist him and be firm in the faith.” If we lose ourselves in the wilderness and allow Satan to steal our joy, we can be destroyed in that wilderness.

So, this week, we’ll be looking through scripture to see what the purpose of the wilderness is and how to make it through. Words translated as wilderness “occur nearly 300 times in our Bible.”** By looking through some of these occurrences, we will gain the tools to understand the purpose of our own wildernesses. We’ll look at the wilderness experiences of the Israelites, Elijah, David, and Jesus to learn from their examples. And, at the heart of this, we’ll focus on the importance of joy, both at this time of the year and every other time. Don’t despair if you are going through a time in the wilderness. Have hope. And most importantly, have joy, because “the joy of the Lord is your strength!” (Neh. 8:10b)

joy to the world

 

 

~ Cayce Fletcher

** View this link for more information on wilderness in the Bible: http://www.environmentandsociety.org/exhibitions/wilderness/midbar-arabah-and-eremos-biblical-wilderness

“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”

 

Hark! the herald angels sing

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With th’ angelic host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem.”
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Hail! the heav’n born Prince of Peace!
Hail! the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
Risen with healing in his wings
Let us then with angels sing,

“Glory to the newborn King!

Peace on earth and mercy mild;

God and sinners reconciled!”
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

As is common at Christmastime, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” proclaims peace on earth.  In Isaiah’s prophecy about the coming of the Messiah he states that Jesus will be called the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).  Jesus certainly came to bring peace.  The most important way that he brings peace, is that he enables us to have peace with God, as is referenced in the hymn when it says, “God and sinners reconciled.”  We have all sinned, and as such we are enemies with God (Romans 5:10).  Enemies cannot become friends until their differences are dealt with.  For reconciliation to occur there is often a price that first has to be paid.  In the case of our sinning against God, the price that needs to be paid is death.  “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).  When Jesus died on the cross he paid the price for us to have a relationship of peace with God.  “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).

Jesus also gives us peace in the midst of difficult and painful situations.  Hours before Jesus was crucified he promised to give his disciples peace.  On what should have been one of Jesus’ worst nights, on a night he might have been consumed with his own anxiety and despair, he tells his disciples he wants them to have peace.  “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).  The peace Jesus is offering is not the world’s peace, which is usually just based on good circumstances.  On the contrary, we are told to expect trial and pain, but that Jesus’ peace can prevail.   Jesus says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

We have no reason to fear the present or the future.  We can rest assured that God is in control of every situation.  When we are faced with difficult conditions do not give into worry, but rather turn to God in prayer, asking for our requests, and thanking Him for all that He has already done.  Then rest in peace, knowing that He loves us and is in control. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

-Jill McClain

 

God of Hope

Romans 15 13

One of my favorite sounds in life is that of rain. I love sitting under a metal roof or outside under a covering and just sit and listen to each individual raindrop. It brings a sense of peace to my mind. With this said I would like to say that God works in mysterious ways. I have been in situations where I was feeling stressed out and needed to calm down, but then all of the sudden it would start to rain. It was as if God was patting me on the back saying its okay, just calm down.

God will often intervene in our lives whether we see it or not. (Haha just caught myself making a pun on accident.) Romans 15:13 says that God fills us with joy and peace so we will hope. He knows we need him to fully be at peace regardless of our current situation. Good, bad or ugly, He is there for us trying to wave and say it’s going to be okay.

Look around in your everyday life for little things that seem to happen on accident, and you might find that God is right there with you. Have you ever seen God work in your life through something like the rain?

-Jesse Allen