Doubt and Despair

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S (Scripture):

Lamentations 1:9 

Zion’s gates sank into the ground; he broke and shattered her bars;

her king and her officials are now among the nations. There is no Instruction![b]

Even her prophets couldn’t find a vision from the Lord.

10 

Daughter Zion’s elders sit on the ground and mourn.

They throw dust on their heads; they put on mourning clothes.

Jerusalem’s young women bow their heads all the way to the ground.

Hebrews 7:26 It’s appropriate for us to have this kind of high priest: holy, innocent, incorrupt, separate from sinners, and raised high above the heavens. 27 He doesn’t need to offer sacrifices every day like the other high priests, first for their own sins and then for the sins of the people. He did this once for all when he offered himself. 28 The Law appoints people who are prone to weakness as high priests, but the content of the solemn pledge, which came after the Law, appointed a Son who has been made perfect forever.

O (Observation): Today’s texts remind us of two very different points in the revelation of God and God’s overall story. In Lamentations, God’s people sense that God – in the form of Instruction, or Torah – has “left the building” so to speak. Their understanding of God’s presence was wrapped up in the physical presence of God in the book of Instruction and in the Temple, neither of which were present any longer (at least not perceived to be present). God’s people begin their Babylonian exile.

Fast forward to God’s story post-ascension of Jesus, post-Acts. Now we have a God being understood as a priest forever. But not just any priest. Jesus is now the priest forever. Nothing can separate God’s presence from God’s people now. For our priest is perfect, now and forever.

God is always “in the building.”

A (Application): In our heads, we get what the Hebrews text is speaking to. In our hearts, we can get mired down in the world of Lamentations.

THIS IS TOTALLY NORMAL FOR US!!!

No shame is found in doubt or despair. As we discover (and re-discover) the story of God’s people, we are constantly being reminded that God’s people have (and will) experience moments or even seasons of doubt or despair.

How do we recall that our priest – Jesus – speaks to God for us, giving us freedom to act out of grace? We gather around the story as individuals and as community. We worship together. We serve together. We find ways to build relationships and ways to give to God and neighbor. Here, we rediscover God’s presence.

The story of God includes you. You are made in God’s image. Remember that this day. Remember that Jesus intercedes for you and brings your prayers to God. Jesus encourages you and me and all that seek grace.

Turn to God. Do so in community. See the grace flow.

P (Prayer): Gracious Jesus, sing for us, speak for us, when we can do neither. Amen.

BE and DO, Prompted by the Spirit

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S (Scripture): Acts 2:38 Peter replied, “Change your hearts and lives. Each of you must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit…” 41 Those who accepted Peter’s message were baptized. God brought about three thousand people into the community on that day.

42 The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. 43 A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles.

O (Observation): God’s Spirit comes. Pentecost. In the wake of this outpouring of the Spirit, those touched by God’s Spirit are able to do miraculous things! Healing is the key, and brings folks back from the depths of their despair.

So many baptized…receiving God’s Spirit. What a day!

A (Application): So we do have the Spirit of God dwelling in us. Do we believe it? We all have ample opportunity to express God’s will, but we resist…we doubt. That doesn’t make us less Christian. All Christians doubt at some level. Nothing to be afraid of…just aware of.

So, we gather regularly for mutual upbuilding and forgiveness and encouragement. We can do what God calls us to. Let us simply BElieve. Then, let us DO!

P (Prayer): God, give us discerning hearts and minds. Amen.

“I Saw the Sign”

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S (Scripture): Judges 6:36 But then Gideon said to God, “To see if you really intend to rescue Israel through me as you have declared, 37 I’m now putting a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece but all the ground is dry, then I’ll know that you are going to rescue Israel through me, as you have declared.” 38 And that is what happened. When he got up early the next morning and squeezed the fleece, he wrung out enough dew from the fleece to fill a bowl with water.

39 Then Gideon said to God, “Don’t be angry with me, but let me speak just one more time. Please let me make just one more test with the fleece: now let only the fleece be dry and let dew be on all the ground.” 40 And God did so that night. Only the fleece was dry, but there was dew on all the ground.

O (Observation): God’s people are in God’s favor once again. (Not because they decided to become good, but because God – in God’s infinite grace – reached out to the people through a good leader.) And remember…God equips those who are called.

But how would Gideon know he’s called? Well, a couple of ways.

Just before this bit about the fleece, a messenger / angel comes and chats with Gideon about helping God’s people against foreign armies. And then God’s messenger zaps a small offering for the Lord just to make sure Gideon’s questions are satisfied. (Mmm, smells good.)

And then this whole bit about the fleece comes up.

Satisfied yet, Gideon???

A (Application): Who’s kidding? If a messenger of God came up to me…I’d be quite hesitant to believe. I’d want proof.

So, I’ve been known to ask God to wet the fleece or keep it dry. I try things in ministry to see if the fleece ends up wet / dry. I listen to those around me to see if fruitfulness comes from their words. I read the Scriptures, listening for words of comfort and challenge. I do, then reflect.

Where was God in that moment? How was I a witness to God’s presence in what we just did? How can I invite others to those moments?

Looking for the fleece. It’s not doubt. It’s reassurance from God. God’s putting signs out there for us. The question is: are we tuning into those signs?

P (Prayer): Lord, please show us the signs of your presence all around us. Amen.

And now, for your ear-worm: “I Saw the Sign,” by Ace of Base.

My Personal Hell

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S (Scripture): Psalm 86

11

Teach me your way, Lord,

so that I can walk in your truth.

Make my heart focused

only on honoring your name.

12

I give thanks to you, my Lord, my God,

with all my heart,

and I will glorify your name forever,

13

because your faithful love toward me is awesome

and because you’ve rescued my life

from the lowest part of hell.

O (Observation): Recognizing God’s hand is a powerful thing. Knowing that the pit / hell can feel all encompassing, the psalmist is relieved to know that God still pulls her out of that situation and into a new way.

A (Application): My personal hell is nothing compared to what many have had to go through in their lives…but I still have a personal hell: self-doubt, feelings of being a failure, lack of self-discipline. And yet, God keeps finding ways to pull me out of my hell. God surrounds me with people who see the beauty in me, the strength in me, the calling of the Spirit in me. And even though I just used the word “me” 4 times in that sentence, I know it’s not about me, but about how God desires to work through me.

Step One, on a daily basis, I seek God to pull me out of my personal hell…to remind me that I have been set free!

Step Two, I wonder how God will wake me up to my purpose every day.

Third, I go out and do my best for God and for neighbor – and some days I get it right and some days I fail. But then, I go back to step One : )

P (Prayer): Lord, make me an instrument, a vessel of your grace…helping to pull others out of their personal hell today…to show them that you have a purpose for every one of us. Amen.

Homeostasis – the Force is Strong With This One

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S (Scripture): Matthew 13:53 When Jesus finished these parables, he departed. 54 When he came to his hometown, he taught the people in their synagogue. They were surprised and said, “Where did he get this wisdom? Where did he get the power to work miracles? 55 Isn’t he the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother named Mary? Aren’t James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas his brothers? 56 And his sisters, aren’t they here with us? Where did this man get all this?” 57 They were repulsed by him and fell into sin.

But Jesus said to them, “Prophets are honored everywhere except in their own hometowns and in their own households.” 58 He was unable to do many miracles there because of their disbelief.

O (Observation): Wow! Stubborn disbelief. So much so that Jesus was unable to do many miracles there. Yikes!

That’s pretty powerful stuff, right there.

And Jesus kind of recognizes that they will not likely believe in him, precisely because they knew him before his baptism and ministry began.

They say, “We knew him when…”. And because of this, they can’t see the possibility that Jesus is the Son of God. His parents are Mary and Joseph, right? Don’t we know his sisters and brothers? What makes Jesus so special?

A (Application): Ever tried to disagree with someone at a family reunion? Ever tried to buck a trend in your place of business? Ever tried to steer away from a family tradition?

Talk about difficult! “This is how we do things.” “This is the way we’ve always done it.” Phrases like this are either spoken or unspoken, but implicit in the language and the reactions of the people around you. Even if the reaction is subconscious. Heck, I’ve been guilty of this, too! I’ve given a visceral reaction when a change is suggested. It happens to all of us…

I’ve had times where I agreed with the proposed change or agreed with a dissenting opinion, but my body language or a look on my face defied that suggestion. It’s a little thing we call homeostasis – a force exists that pulls us back to the way things are. And that force is strong!

(The term “homeostasis” is usually used in discussions of biology, and we need homeostasis in some things…like a level body temperature and such…but in terms of behavior, homeostasis can be a stumbling block.)

So…Jesus faces this force of “oh, that’s just Mary and Joseph’s son. He’s not the Son of God. Surely he can’t perform miracles.” And with that kind of attitude, a stubbornness borne out of doubt…and sure enough, Jesus can’t perform the miracles…or maybe they just blinded themselves to this possibility of these miracles.

This is a good warning for me. To be vigilant for times when God is on the move in the systems of which I am a part. A church goer, a family member, a co-worker who makes a suggestion to keep things as-is or change things to something new…maybe we can move away from the knee jerk reaction and focus on what God is saying to us in that moment. We can do that in our own minds or share with one another this tension that is rising. Name the thing that is in the room causing tension. And being brave enough to speak out. You never know who else may be thinking the same thought as you. But if no one speaks up, an opportunity may be lost.

Speak out. Let your concern or idea be heard. Let God guide the conversation.

P (Prayer): Lord, pull us beyond the force of homeostasis to be able to listen and appreciate all voices in the room…of the raw and uneducated, of the wise and sophisticated. Amen.

The Opposite of Faith is…

Certainty-is-overrated

S (Scripture): Job 37
14 “Pay attention to this, Job!
Stand still and consider the wonders God works.
15 Do you know how God commands them,
how he makes lightning flash in his storm cloud?
16 Do you know about the balancing of the clouds,
that wondrous activity of him who is perfect in knowledge?
17 You, whose garments are hot
when the earth is still because of the south wind,
18 will you, with him, spread out the clouds,
solid as a mirror of molten metal?
19 Tell us what we should say to him.
We cannot prepare a case
because of the darkness.
20 Should he be informed that I want to speak?
If a man speaks, surely he would be swallowed up!
21 But now, the sun cannot be looked at –
it is bright in the skies –
after a wind passed and swept the clouds away.
22 From the north he comes in golden splendor;
around God is awesome majesty.
23 As for the Almighty, we cannot attain to him!
He is great in power,
but justice and abundant righteousness he does not oppress.”

O (Observation): Elihu is wrapping up his speech to Job.  He wants to convey the vastness of God’s immensity…of God’s awe-inducing magnificence.   God’s dominion is all-encompassing, and as such, Elihu wants to know if ANYONE should feel like they have the ability to wrestle with God.

Elihu points to the vastness of creation for an example of humanity’s powerlessness compared to the forces of nature.   We cannot control clouds or lightning.   We cannot look into the sun.

And as much as God is more powerful than us, God still seeks justice and righteousness.  God does not oppress justice and righteousness.

A (Application):  Even if the winds don’t seem to be blowing our way, God is on the side of justice.   Even if the sun seems to be a burden on us, God is still on the side of righteousness.

We try to understand why all things happen.   We want certainty…Job wants certainty…and who could blame him?  So many things went wrong for no apparent reason.

Paul Tillich said (in his “Dynamics of Faith”) that “the opposite of faith is not doubt…the opposite of faith is certainty.”   Certainty means that no risk is involved.   Certainty leaves no room for faith.   And faith is all we have when it comes to believing in Jesus Christ as the Messiah, the Son of God.

With faith, we become vulnerable to being let down, being hurt, being disappointed…  But with faith, we also have the possibility of a new day, a new hope.

Even though things may be difficult, faith (instilled in you by the Holy Spirit) still allows us to be surprised by hope.  Elihu is trying to give Job hope.

P (Prayer):  Lord, fill us with faith, even though we crave certainty.  Amen.

 

Doubt and Worry is Okay


S (Scripture): Psalm 56
1 Be gracious to me, O God, for people trample on me; all day long foes oppress me;
2 my enemies trample on me all day long,
for many fight against me.
O Most High, 3 when I am afraid,
I put my trust in you.
4 In God, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I am not afraid;
what can flesh do to me?

O (Observation): Trusting in the Lord is a hallmark of our faith.  When the Israelites were downtrodden and disoriented, they trusted in God for comfort and guidance.   

A psalm like this is borne out of a people who have known strife.   And yet, in the midst of their troubles, they rely on their faith in the Lord to carry them through the day. 

A (Application):  We have a hard time dealing with the struggles of the world around us.  Sometimes it’s a thing that happened to us directly: sickness, worry, fear.  Sometimes the thing happens to a loved one: death, disease, moving away.

In all cases, we can wonder and doubt along with the author of today’s psalm.  And we do not have to fear that our worries or doubts will cause God to push us away.  In fact, God blesses the broken and contrite heart.  

So fears, worries, doubts…these do not mean our faith is weak.  Indeed, our weaknesses are exactly where God plans to meet us.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, meet us in out weaknesses today.  Amen.