Is God Here in Difficult Times?

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S (Scripture): Psalm 143

1

Listen to my prayer, Lord!

Because of your faithfulness, hear my requests for mercy!

Because of your righteousness, answer me!

2

Please don’t bring your servant to judgment,

because no living thing is righteous before you.

3

The enemy is chasing me,

crushing my life in the dirt,

forcing me to live in the dark

like those who’ve been dead forever.

4

My spirit is weak inside me—

inside, my mind is numb.

5

I remember the days long past;

I meditate on all your deeds;

I contemplate your handiwork.

6

I stretch out my hands to you;

my whole being is like dry dirt, thirsting for you.

O (Observation): The author is in the midst of a most difficult circumstance. They realize their lack of control over the outside circumstances, and life is dry and numb.

Does this mean the author is not faithful? Does this mean the author doubts? Does this mean the author was unfaithful and caused this harm to himself or herself?

A (Application): So often, we think that blessings come in good times when we are faithful, and bad things happen when we are unfaithful. That correlation cannot be more wrong.

Sometimes, faithful folks encounter difficult times and good things happen to us when we are doubting God and others.

The psalmist gives us space to be in the midst of difficult circumstances and still feel like God is still present. Even though things aren’t going our way, we can still trust in God to be with us and walk us through the challenges.

This can look like a friend being with us, or a pot of soup being brought over on a cold day.

Be on the lookout for signs of God showing up where we least expect. Especially in our times of challenge.

P (Prayer): God, we are challenged, but looking for you. Amen.

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Change is Hard

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S (Scripture): Luke 13:6 Jesus told this parable: “A man owned a fig tree planted in his vineyard. He came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7  He said to his gardener, ‘Look, I’ve come looking for fruit on this fig tree for the past three years, and I’ve never found any. Cut it down! Why should it continue depleting the soil’s nutrients?’ 8  The gardener responded, ‘Lord, give it one more year, and I will dig around it and give it fertilizer. 9  Maybe it will produce fruit next year; if not, then you can cut it down.’”

10 Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 11 A woman was there who had been disabled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and couldn’t stand up straight. 12 When he saw her, Jesus called her to him and said, “Woman, you are set free from your sickness.” 13 He placed his hands on her and she straightened up at once and praised God.

14 The synagogue leader, incensed that Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, responded, “There are six days during which work is permitted. Come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath day.”

15 The Lord replied, “Hypocrites! Don’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from its stall and lead it out to get a drink? 16  Then isn’t it necessary that this woman, a daughter of Abraham, bound by Satan for eighteen long years, be set free from her bondage on the Sabbath day?” 17 When he said these things, all his opponents were put to shame, but all those in the crowd rejoiced at all the extraordinary things he was doing.

O (Observation): Dang. Jesus just changed things up again! Goodness gracious! Come on! Why can’t she just wait one more stinkin’ day!

Cut down the tree? Come on. That trees been there forever! We’ll feed it some more. Just wait. You’ll see.

A (Application): Just one more day? I don’t think so. Ever been in pain? Real pain? One more day is torture! One more day is an eternity.

Ever found yourself holding on to something so tight that you get tunnel vision? Can’t see the others around you trying to talk to you? Trying to give you a new and different perspective? (I’m mostly talking to myself now…needing to hear others.)

What is Jesus up to? What is the next thing God is calling me to? What is that for you? And should it wait one more day?

P (Prayer): Lord, open my eyes to your presence! Amen.

Which Way is Harder?


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S (Scripture): Jeremiah 26 1 Early in the rule of Judah’s King Jehoiakim, Josiah’s son, this word came from the Lord: 2 The Lord proclaims [to Jeremiah]: Stand in the temple courtyard and speak to all the people of the towns of Judah who have come to the temple to worship. Tell them everything I command you; leave nothing out. 3 Perhaps they will listen and each will turn from their evil ways. If they do, I will relent and not carry out the harm I have in mind for them because of the wrong they have done. 4 So tell them, The Lord proclaims: If you don’t listen to me or follow the Instruction I have set before you— 5 if you don’t listen to the words of the prophets that I have sent to you time and again, though you haven’t listened, 6 then I will make this temple a ruin like Shiloh, and this city I will make a curse before all nations on earth.

7 The priests, the prophets, and all the people heard Jeremiah declare these words in the Lord’s temple. 8 And when Jeremiah finished saying everything the Lord told him to say, the priests and the prophets and all the people seized him and said, “You must die! 9 Why do you prophesy in the Lord’s name that ‘this temple will become a ruin like Shiloh, and this city will be destroyed and left without inhabitant’?” Then all the people joined ranks against Jeremiah in the Lord’s temple.

O (Observation): The priests and prophets don’t want to hear the hard truth that Jeremiah is called to preach.  They don’t want to see their blessed temple destroyed.   Who would?   

And the mob mentality sets in.    You won’t destroy our temple!  You won’t kick us out!   Never mind that God is the one speaking…the people don’t want to hear it!

A (Application):  People don’t want to hear the hard truth.   In my context, in middle TN, most people think the hard truth is embracing a tough stance against things like the LGBT community, against the Muslim community, against the homeless population (we’ll give to charities, but we want “them off our streets”).    

To me, standing against these things is the easy way…because this is how we’ve always done it.  We are told to distrust everyone who is “not like us.”   But the reality is that they are us and we are them!   We simply fool ourselves if we think we don’t have the poor or LGBT folks in our faith communities.  We are fooling ourselves if we think we don’t know those of the Muslim faith – they are our bankers, pharmacists, teachers, and more.   We are fooling ourselves if we think the poor are not in our midst.  They are us!  We are them!

Realizing that they are us and we are them is another step closer to anxiety and confrontation, though!   “How dare you say that our temple will be torn down!?!?!”   My great-grandpappy built that temple!   Over my dead body will I accept those other people!  Forgive the Muslim extremists, when my child is fighting them in the Middle East?  Heck no!  Those poor folks can work hard, like I do!   Become friends with a homeless person?  Never!

Acceptance is not the easy way.  Acceptance is a struggle…a struggle to let our false self die so that our true self – in Christ – might live!

I acknowledge the pain and suffering of the hard way of forgiveness; of standing FOR something, rather than against it; of going beyond one’s comfort zone.  And I dare not push anyone today.  My point is not to push you into my way.   

My hope is to invite you into the way of Christ, who is the way of love and peace and reconciliation. 

P (Prayer):  Lord, help us to hear your voice in the midst of challenge.  Amen.  

Difficult is the Road

S (Scripture): Acts 12:1 About that time (circa a.d. 42-43) King Herod laid hands on some from the church to harm them. 2 He had James, the brother of John, executed with a sword. 3 When he saw that this pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter too. (This took place during the feast of Unleavened Bread.) 4 When he had seized him, he put him in prison, handing him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him. Herod planned to bring him out for public trial after the Passover. 5 So Peter was kept in prison, but those in the church were earnestly praying to God for him.

O (Observation): The early church certainly knew struggle.  Peter was telling the church that Gentiles were just as welcome to become followers of Jesus as were the Jewish people.  This certainly got the Jewish Christians riled up, not to mention the Jewish people themselves.  

As King Herod started to put pressure on the Christians, like Peter, the king saw how the Jewish people reacted positively. Making a political move, King Herod decided to put even more pressure on the followers of Jesus.  Herod arrested Peter, and planned on putting him on trial. 

A (Application):  We think we’ve got it bad here as Christians in America?  Just read the text above from Acts 12.  I don’t buy into the “Christians are being oppressed” stuff that a lot of folks bemoan.   In some ways, I welcome the challenge.  

Can’t say “under God” in the pledge.   We have “moments of silence” rather than prayer time in schools.  Can’t hang the 10 Commandments in the courthouses.  

I get it.  

But when did we have to rely on public institutions to do the work of making disciples?   When did we hand the reins over to politicians to decide how the Christian faith was to be lived out and taught to our children?  

Oh wait…we didn’t.   Or at least, we didn’t mean to.  

Passing on the faith to my children is the responsibility of me, my wife and my wider family, as well as the faith communities in which we are involved.   All of us in the Christian community have the joy and duty of helping to raise folks in the faith.   We do this not by only being a Sunday School teacher, but by also living out Christ’s love in your daily life.  We share faith not just by attending worship, but also by cooking a meal for your sick neighbor.  

We do not face the same challenges (in this country) of being persecuted for our faith, but I hear this sentiment quite a bit. 

Instead of blaming and pointing fingers, figure out what role you are playing to help build up disciples where you are.  Are you able to invest time in learning or teaching others the ways of discipleship?   I am both a student of discipleship and one who leads other disciples.  

If you are interested in taking a journey with me towards discipleship, committing to weekly times of growth and learning, please contact me through my Contact page.  Let us have a conversation to see if you would like to work towards this lifelong task and joy of discipleship, so that you can go and make other disciples.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, you strengthen us for this journey of discipleship.  Grant us courage and a heart full of your abundant grace.  Amen.  

The Dark Side is here…

  

S (Scripture): Revelation 6:1 I looked on when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying with a thunderous voice, “Come!” 2 So I looked, and here came a white horse! The one who rode it had a bow, and he was given a crown, and as a conqueror he rode out to conquer.

3 Then when the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, “Come!” 4 And another horse, fiery red, came out, and the one who rode it was granted permission to take peace from the earth, so that people would butcher one another, and he was given a huge sword.

5 Then when the Lamb opened the third seal I heard the third living creature saying, “Come!” So I looked, and here came a black horse! The one who rode it had a balance scale in his hand. 6 Then I heard something like a voice from among the four living creatures saying, “A quart of wheat will cost a day’s pay and three quarts of barley will cost a day’s pay. But do not damage the olive oil and the wine!”

7 Then when the Lamb opened the fourth seal I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come!” 8 So I looked and here came a pale green horse! The name of the one who rode it was Death, and Hades followed right behind. They were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill its population with the sword, famine, and disease, and by the wild animals of the earth.

O (Observation): Conquest.  Anger. Wrath. Death!   These are not pleasant thoughts.  And these thoughts seem to be emanating for God!   Didn’t God reveal that a new heaven and earth would come and all would be well just a chater or two earlier?   Yes!  But apparently this other stuff is gonna go down first!. 

The scene is laid out for us to consider.  Who are these horse riders and what comes with each one?   Many have tried to interpret…and even more (like me) have mostly ignored these verses (and others like these).   

Can God allow such death?   Can that be a part of who God is?   Is this type of action to be expected when evil is being rooted out?   Perhaps.  

A (Application):  These verses seem a lot less like the teddy-bear, grace-hugging God we like to hear about.  (Or that sweet, 8lb, 6oz, baby Jesus we all want to see in the manger.). And yet, here we are.  The beauty of the Moravian Daily texts revealed:  you encounter some Scriptures you just don’t want to deal with.   

The dark side is here.   And it is part of the Scriptures.  We cannot deny it.  And so we pray for revelation. We pray that God is the one in control, even when conventional wisdom fails.   

We do know this…especially highlighted in this season of Advent:  the light shines in the darkness and darkness cannot overcome it. 

 Can you think of other texts that are difficult to handle? If so leave them in the comments section below, and maybe we can banter back and forth a little bit about those.  

P (Prayer): Lord, you are beyond us at times, and in other times, so simple and close.   When we sense darkness, remind us that you bring light and life itself!  Amen.