Worship Fully (Isaiah 2:1-5)

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A few months ago I was discussing with the small group leaders of our congregation what we might be able to look at as we entered the Advent season leading up to Christmas. One of the suggestions was the Advent Conspiracy. This resource uses the four weeks of Advent to prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birth by challenging participants to Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More and Love All. After looking at the Advent Conspiracy material, we decided to give it a go this year and begin to re-imagine how we might celebrate Christmas differently by putting Jesus’ birth at the centre of everything we did.

Last Sunday we began Advent by looking at what it means to Worship Fully. I find that any discussion about worship is challenging because it seems like everyone has an opinion on how, when and where Christians should or should not worship. We all have personal preferences about just about every aspect of worship such as the styles of music we sing, whether we have a formal, responsive liturgy or not, and a whole lot of other things. Personally speaking, I get concerned whenever people start voicing their opinions about worship because most of the time it is very easy to miss the point of what worship is supposed to be all about.

The word worship comes from an Old English word which can mean to give someone or something worth or value. The things we value most in life, then, can become the objects of our worship. That might be God or some other deity, but it might also be our material possessions, our relationships, our work or even our favourite sporting team. Usually, we value these things because we look for our own sense of self-worth or value in them. For example, we might value our possessions because owning them might give us a sense of self-worth. We might value our relationships because they make us feel valued and significant. A lot of people value their work because it helps them feel useful and worthwhile. Belonging to a sporting club or supporting a team can help us feel like we belong and give us a purpose to our lives.

The problem comes when the things that we value and in which we look for value come to an end, are taken from us, or fail to give us what we hope for. When we look for our self-worth in the things we own, we can spend our lives trying to get more and more as newer and better versions of these possessions are produced. When we look for our value in our relationships, we can end up feeling worthless if those relationships end or become increasingly dysfunctional. I know a lot of people who struggle with their own self-worth when they lose their jobs, retire from full-time employment, or are too old to do the things they used to do. If we’re looking for our value in our sporting teams, what happens when they lose or don’t achieve what we hope they will?

To Worship Fully at Christmas is much more than singing Christmas carols or going to church. It challenges us to ask what we value most about Christmas and where we look for our self-worth at this time of year. For some, we might find our value in the giving or receiving of presents. It might be in the family dinner and the gathering of relatives. For others, it might be in the activity that goes on around a lot of churches during the festive season. There are lots of ways we can look for self-worth at Christmas in the things that we value most of all. As I said, the problem is whether or not they are able to give us a sense of self-worth if we lose them or they are taken away from us.

When we look for our value in Jesus, we can find a sense of self-worth which can’t be taken from us and which we will never lose. One way we can understand the meaning of Christmas is that God gave us the most precious gift he had, his only Son, because he thinks we’re worth it! God values each and every person so much that he enters into the reality of human existence by being born to a teenaged girl in Bethlehem. God’s plan is to rescue us from our superficial and flawed attempts at finding our self-worth in the things we own, the things we do, or the people we are trying to be by giving us a value that can’t be calculated. God values us so much that he enters our lives and unites himself with us in Jesus. He takes our sin and brokenness to the cross because he values us more than we will ever understand in this world. Jesus defeats death, overcomes the grave and rises from the dead to show us how precious we are to him. The entire plan of salvation, from Jesus’ birth to his death, resurrection and ascension all point us to the value God places on each and every person. God does everything that is necessary to give our lives value and meaning by accepting us as we are, adopting us as his children and welcoming us into a new relationship with him.

Basically, Jesus enters the world as an infant at Christmas to save us because he reckons we are worth saving!

When we find our value in Jesus and his birth, life, death and resurrection for us, it is natural for us to worship him – to give him worth for everything he has done, is doing and will continue to do for us. This is what it means to Worship Fully, especially at Christmas. We can find a deep and lasting sense of our self-worth, not in the decorations or presents or meals or any of the other superficial trappings of this time of year, but in God’s gift of himself to us in the baby Jesus. When we trust that God gives us a sense of self-worth in Jesus, then we can worship him fully by making the birth of Jesus the one thing we value most about the Christmas season.

What do you value most about the Christmas season? What might that say about where you look for your sense of value and self-worth? How might you celebrate Christmas differently with your family, friends or church community if you intentionally looked for your value in the birth of Jesus and then valued him most of all? The other things aren’t wrong or bad, but how might they look different if we valued Jesus most of all as we find our value in him?

When we find our self-worth in God’s gift of himself to us in Jesus, then we can worship him fully with our whole lives, not just at Christmas.

Living in the Light (Colossians 1:11-20)

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Since the beginning of time, the battle between light and darkness has been one of humanity’s most common and powerful stories. We see it from the Creation story of Genesis 1 where God overcame the darkness by speaking light into existence, right through to the battle between Jedi Knights and Sith Lords using the light and dark side of the Force in the Star Wars movies.

For Christians, the battle between the darkness and the light reached its culmination in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. When Jesus was born, the one who personified the light of God came into our world which has been made dark through sin and evil. Jesus entered the darkness of human existence to bring us light, exposing the darkness that lives within all people and driving it out through his love and grace. When Jesus went to the cross, he carried all that is dark in the world and put it to death. This was symbolized by the darkness that fell for three hours as the Son of God was crucified. When Jesus was raised to new life on the third day, he brought the light of eternal life to all people in a similar way that the rays of the rising sun expelled the darkness of the night. The victory of the light of Jesus’ life over the darkness of sin and death is the good news that we receive in faith and which gives us new life as God’s people. Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, God

has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
(Colossians 1:13,14 NLT)

The tense of the verbs Paul uses is significant. He writes that God has rescued us, and he has brought us into the kingdom of Christ. These are events that have happened in the past and which now determine our current reality.

However, wherever there is light in this world there is also shadow. While we might be living in the Kingdom of the Light of God’s love and peace, we can still encounter the darkness of sin and evil in a range of ways. For example, the darkness can still overshadow us when we experience fear, judgment, guilt or face the reality of death. I’ve known too many Christians who have been brought into the Kingdom of Christ but still live in these and other dark shadows.

I don’t write this to make anyone feel bad about it, but to recognise that in our human condition it can be hard for us to live fully in the light. We can tend to think that the darkness we experience in any form is just the way it is and nothing can ever be different. So, like people who have been kept in the dark for too long, we can feel safe and comfortable in the dark, believing that there is nothing beyond it, and that this is just how it is.

But what if life didn’t have to be this way? What if, instead of living in the darkness of fear, judgement, guilt or death, God intended something better for us? As his people whom he has rescued from the dominion of darkness and brought into the Kingdom of Christ, what if it was possible to live more and more in the light of his love and grace through the power of the Holy Spirit? What if, instead of living in fear, we could find joy? What if the good news of Jesus could actually set us free from the darkness of judgment in our lives? Where guilt casts its shadow over us, what might life be like if we could find forgiveness in the reality of Christ’s Kingdom? All of these and more would contribute to a life that was fully lived in the light of God’s grace, love and peace which we find in the good news of Jesus.

Where do you live right now – in the darkness of fear, judgment and guilt, or in the light of joy, freedom and forgiveness? I’ll say it again: I don’t want anyone to feel bad or guilty about experiencing darkness of any kind in their lives – it is a reality of living in this world and just plays into the devil’s hands when we focus on the dark. Instead, I want to help people see that the light of God’s grace and love has come to us in Jesus. Through him, to use Paul’s words again, God has already ‘rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of his Son’! We don’t have to live in the darkness any more because the light is already here!

Where do you want to live – in the dark or in the light? This is our journey as disciples of Jesus. He calls us to follow him from the dark into the light of the joy, freedom and forgiveness that he gives. We can learn a new way of living from Jesus where we can find increasing joy, freedom and forgiveness by leaving the darkness behind and keeping our eyes fixed on his love, peace and hope through faith in him. As we hear Jesus speak words of good news to us through the Bible, as the Holy Spirit grows faith in us, maturing us as God’s children and making us more like Jesus, then the light of God’s grace will shine brighter within us and others will see the goodness of God in us.

In some ways, the battle between darkness and light seems to be very simple. However, more modern interpretations have shown that sometimes the difference is harder to distinguish. Where would you prefer to live – in the dark or in the light? I understand that sometimes it can seem safer and more comfortable to stay in the dark, or at least in the shadows. However, God has already ‘rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.’ Jesus calls us to follow him into lives that experience the reality of that light so others can find his light in us.

Where would you prefer to live?

Standing Firm (Luke 21:5-19)

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A few months ago I read an article online about an Australian doomsday prepper. A doomsday prepper is a person who believes that a catastrophic event of some kind is coming soon and is preparing what they need in order to survive it. Usually being a doomsday prepper involves buying a property in a remote area far away from a major city, constructing a bunker or another kind of retreat to live in, stockpiling food, water and other supplies necessary for survival, and keeping a few weapons handy, just in case.

When we read the news headlines, sometimes I wonder if doomsday preppers have a point. There are armed conflicts on most continents. There are protests and other forms of serious political unrest going on in various cities around the world. The effects of climate change appear to be causing flooding, droughts and destructive storms across the globe. In this past week New South Wales endured some unprecedented bushfires, and the fires in Queensland look like they could continue out of control for some time yet.

I can understand how a doomsday prepper could look at these and other events around the world, and conclude that something big is coming which we need to prepare for.
Doomsday preppers are nothing new. Over the last two millennia of Christian history, there have been people who have looked at events around them and come to the conclusion that the world as they knew it was about to end. Often, they have used the words of Jesus to back up their fears. For example, in this Sunday’s reading from Luke 21:5-19 we hear Jesus say,

‘Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, and there will be famines and plagues in many lands, and there will be terrifying things and great miraculous signs from heaven.’ (vv10,11 NLT)

On a global scale, we could easily think that Jesus was talking about our own times with what we’re reading about in the news. Then Jesus brings things a little closer to home when he says,

‘But before all this occurs, there will be a time of great persecution. You will be dragged into synagogues and prisons, and you will stand trial before kings and governors because you are my followers.’ (v12 NLT)

If anyone says that following Jesus means having fun, they haven’t read him very closely. Here and in other places Jesus warns us that being his disciple will mean suffering persecution. This won’t just come from wider society, but from even our closest relationships. Jesus continues,

‘Even those closest to you – your parents, brothers, relatives, and friends – will betray you. They will even kill some of you. And everyone will hate you because you are my followers.’ (vv16,17 NLT)

So far this isn’t sounding like good news for Christians. From what Jesus is saying, it sounds like a time was coming when there will be catastrophic destruction, and his followers will suffer persecution and rejection from even those who were closest to them. From an historical perspective, Jesus’ words were fulfilled when the Roman Empire destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple in AD 70, and when Christians were persecuted by various Roman emperors in the first century. However, many also interpret Jesus words as referring to what will happen in the days leading up to his return at the end of time. This interpretation has led groups of Christians to behave like doomsday preppers over the centuries, as they abandoned their homes and families, went to isolated places, and waited for Jesus to return.

What’s significant about Jesus’ words, however, is that he never wanted his followers abandon the world. Instead, Jesus wants us to remain in the world, even if it is difficult or challenging. He says that when we are persecuted and stand trial in front of secular leaders, we will have the opportunity to tell them about him (v13). When we see the signs of Jesus’ return and are questioned by people who don’t know Jesus, God is giving us the opportunity to tell them about Jesus and the goodness of God we encounter in him. It is really important that we don’t see the end of the world as a threat to be afraid of, but an opportunity to witness to God’s love and grace for us to embrace.

Jesus also tells us not to worry about what we are going to say and how we will answer the accusations people will make against us because he will give us the words to say (vv14,15). There is always value in learning more about how to share our faith or to defend what we believe. However, when we are so immersed in our faith and so grounded in the good news of Jesus that it becomes part of who we are, when people ask us about him we can answer from a deep, personal encounter with and reliance on his message. This is more than having the right arguments about Christian teachings or doctrines. The words that Jesus will give us will come from the Holy Spirit through a deep, committed relationship with him and our own personal experiences of living as his disciples.

When we are living in the reality of the grace God gives us, we will be able to stand firm and receive the life he has promised. The words the New Living Translation interpret as ‘standing firm’ can also mean ‘patient endurance.’ As we wait for Jesus, not knowing exactly when he will return (see Mark 13:32, Luke 12:40), Jesus wants us to persevere in the hope that when he comes again he will fulfil all of his promises to us. The events Jesus describes in this passage will make it hard for us to remain faithful to him. However, when we are standing firm in the faith we have, that God is with us in all the circumstances and events of life, no matter how bad they might be, and that Jesus will come again to make everything wrong in the world right again, we will receive the perfect and eternal life that he promises us.

We can think of doomsday preppers as living their lives in fear of what might be coming. As God’s people, we don’t need to live in fear! Instead, as we wait for Jesus’ return, we can interpret what we see around us as opportunities to point people to the life-giving grace of God that we meet in Jesus, and to share the hope we have with others. As we live as people who look forward to Jesus’ return, standing firm means trusting that Jesus has taken the world’s brokenness on himself, he is making all things new in his resurrection, and he will bring a life that will never end to all who trust in him.

With My Own Eyes (Job 19:23-27a)

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I remember the first time I saw the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House for myself. I had grown up seeing pictures of these iconic Australian landmarks my whole life and had always thought they looked pretty impressive. Then, in my early twenties, I was able to travel to Sydney for a holiday. I caught the train into central Sydney, got off at Circular Quay and looked out to see Sydney Harbor with my own eyes for the first time.

Seeing pictures of Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House was good. Seeing them for myself with my own eyes was so much better…

Job had everything anyone could possibly want. Then he lost it all. Job’s story presents us with a whole range of philosophical challenges which we will need to wrestle with another time. One thing that amazes me in this story, however, is that when Job was sitting on a garbage pile, with nothing but a wife telling him to curse God and die and three friends who are giving him advice which wasn’t at all helpful, Job still had hope. The optimism which is evident in his words from Job 19:23-27 is just incredible.

The hope Job had was that his Redeemer, the one who could rescue him from his troubles and give him everything he needed for life, was alive. In the context of Job’s story this doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. These words may have been written anything from a couple of hundred years to more than a thousand years before the birth of Jesus. However, in these words Job points us to a Redeemer who overcomes death, who stands on the earth in victory, and whom Job can physically see with his own, two eyes. Even in the darkest place of human existence, Job still had the hope that he will see Jesus face to face as a living, flesh and blood person.

When I think about the joy I had in seeing the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House with my own eyes for the first time, I find it hard to imagine the joy that will come with seeing Jesus for the first time with my own eyes. Like Job, the promise of seeing Jesus face to face as a real flesh and blood person can give us hope when we are going through dark times or when we wonder where God is. It can give us the hope that what we are enduring is temporary, and that what is permanent and eternal is the life of Christ which is stronger than death and is God’s gift to us through the gospel.

This is a different way of thinking about eternity than people often have. A common idea I often come across, among Christians as well as others outside the church, is that when we die, our souls go to heaven but our bodies remain in the ground. However, this is not the Bibles message. The gospels tell us about the physical resurrection of Jesus. The triumph of Jesus over death as a flesh and blood person points us to a physical resurrection for all of God’s people. In the same way that Jesus was physically raised to new life, so the Holy Spirit will also raise all of God’s people to eternal life which will be lived in real, flesh and blood bodies.

The Apostle Paul talks about the physical resurrection a number of times in his letters. In particular, in 1 Corinthians 15 Paul writes a lot about the resurrection of Jesus and the hope this good news gives to believers. He describes the difference between ‘heavenly bodies’ and ‘earthly bodies’ (1 Corinthians 15:40 NLT), ‘natural bodies’ and ‘spiritual bodies’ (v44 NLT), as well as ‘mortal bodies’ and ‘immortal bodies’ (v53 NLT). His language might sound a little strange, almost contradictory, but Paul is saying that we will have physical bodies which will be different to the bodies we now have. We will need to wait to find out exactly what our heavenly, spiritual and immortal bodies will be like. However, what we can learn from Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15 is that we will live as real, flesh and blood people, and not disembodied spirits, for eternity with God.

This is important for a couple of reasons. Firstly, sometimes people might think that what is spiritual is good but the physical is evil or corrupt. While we need to take the reality of sin seriously, we also need to recognise that when God created the physical world, including people’s bodies, he said that it was very good (Genesis 1:31). Since God has created our bodies, and redeemed them through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we need to see our bodies as good gifts from a loving God and take care of them. Just like we might take care of a valuable gift that someone gives us, when we see our bodies as gifts from God, then we will look after them to honour God with our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19,20).
The second reason takes us back to Job. When we listen to his words and, remembering Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15, when we trust that even after our bodies have decayed we will see God in our new, eternal bodies, then we can find hope even in the middle of life’s most difficult or darkest times. Like Job, God does not abandon us. Instead, God redeems us as whole people, body and soul, through Jesus’ death and resurrection for us. Our Redeemer lives and one day he will stand on the earth in victory over sin, death and all the powers of evil. When that happens, even though our bodies have decayed in the earth or been cremated, bodies we will see God in all of his glory in our new, physical, flesh and blood bodies. With our own eyes we will see the face of our Redeemer and Saviour in perfect 20/20 vision. When that happens, all the pain, all the sorrow, all the loneliness, confusion and uncertainty will disappear as we see face to face the one we hope for, the one we hope in.

I’ve seen some pretty cool things in my life. I always find that they look a whole lot better when I can see them with my own eyes rather than just a photo. When our lives in this world are over and we finally see Jesus with our own eyes, it will be like nothing else. Like Job, I’m overwhelmed at the thought!

Until that day, we can live every day in the hope that in our bodies, with our own eyes, by the grace of our Redeemer Jesus, we will see God!

The Communion of Saints (Ephesians 1:11-23)

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Since the early centuries of the Christian movement, followers of Jesus have said the words of the Apostles’ Creed together. This confession of faith serves God’s people in a few ways. It outlines the basic content of what we believe as Jesus’ disciples. It makes a declaration to the world of who we are and who we believe God is. The Apostles’ Creed also unites us with people around the world and across time who share our common faith. Confessing the Creed signifies that we belong to a community of faith that transcends time, space and denominational differences. It unites all Christians as one Church.

There is a lot in the Apostles’ Creed that we can reflect on and learn from. As we celebrated the Festival of All Saints on Sunday, there was one part in the Third Article that I thought it would be good to think about more: The Communion of Saints. It can easy to say the words of the Creed without giving much thought to what they mean. When we confess our faith in the Communion of Saints, however, there is a lot of depth in those few words.

Firstly, the Communion of Saints is about our identity. Most people that I talk to think of saints as people who have done a lot of good things in their lives. in a common way of thinking, sainthood is something we can aspire to and achieve by doing a lot of ‘good’ things. However, the New Testament gives us a very different idea of what a saint is. Six letters of St Paul begin by addressing the recipients of those letters as ‘God’s holy people’ or ‘saints’ (see Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Ephesians 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:2). Paul explains in Ephesians 1:11-23 that sainthood or holiness was God’s gift to his readers when they were united with Christ (v11 NLT) through faith by the power of the Holy Spirit (vv13,14 NLT). Here and in other places of the New Testament we can read that God gives us his holiness as a gift through the Holy Spirit on account of what Jesus has done for us in his life, death and resurrection.

Sainthood, or holiness, becomes the foundation of our identity in Christ. No matter what the world, other people or our own hearts might say to us or about us, we can always come back to God’s promise to us that we are his holy children through faith in Jesus. In those times when our sense of identity takes a beating, or when we have a negative view of ourselves, God’s promise to us is that we are saints, his holy people, because of Jesus’ redemptive love for us which makes us new and clean.

This leads us on to the second important aspect of the Communion of Saints. If God has made each of us saints by giving us the holiness of Jesus through his Spirit, and if he has done the same thing for every other believer, then we are united as one in our faith. This is what Paul means when he writes, ‘the church is his body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with himself’ (Eph 1:23 NLT).

The Christian church, the body of Christ, is the community of God’s holy people which exists across time and space and into eternity. The words communion and community are closely connected, so we can think of the communion of saints as the community of God’s holy people. This community is the place where we can grow as God’s holy people as we encounter the reality of God’s love and grace in relationship with other believers. Following Jesus was never meant to be an individual exercise. Jesus’ command to love one another only makes sense when it is lived out in relationship with others. The communion of saints, then gives us a context to not only love other holy children of God, but to be loved by them so we can live together in the reality of Jesus’ life-changing grace.

This kind of community is vitally important in our time and place. I’ve heard it said a number of times that our digital age has made us more connected than ever before, but at the same time people are lonelier than ever before. People in the developed world are starved for real community where we can extend and encounter grace, love, forgiveness, hope, joy, and so much more through meaningful, Christ-centred relationships. Confessing our faith in the Communion of Saints means that we can find a place where we belong in a community of God’s holy people which transcends our differences and unites us as the living body of the risen Jesus in the world.

This brings me to a third aspect of the Communion of Saints. As the community of God’s holy people, we have a new purpose for our existence. We live in a broken world where people are alone and hurting, relationships are easily fractured, where virtual or fake attempts at community result in people feeling more isolated and lost. As God gifts us with his community of holy people, we have something good to give the people of our world. The Communion of Saints is also God’s gift to the world so that people can find a sense of who they are, where they fit and what they’re here for in relationship with God through their relationship with us.

The Communion of Saints is the community of God’s holy people that he calls into existence to praise and glorify him (Eph 1:14 NLT) by being part of his redemptive mission in the world. We can praise and glorify God by singing songs in worship, but we also praise and glorify God for his saving love in Jesus by living as God’s holy people in the world, bringing his goodness, grace and healing love to the people around us. God gifts his community of holy people in the world with the purpose of living in ways that are made holy through faith and love, and embracing others in the community of God’s holy people so they can find their identity, belonging and purpose through faith in Jesus and in relationship with us.

The next time you confess the Apostles’ Creed, I encourage you to keep some of these things in mind. There is a lot of depth in these few words. They talk about who we are as people who are gifted with Jesus’ holiness through his Spirit, where we belong as the community of God’s holy people, and what we’re here for as we praise and glorify God by embracing others in the community of holy people. The Communion of Saints is God’s gift to us. It is also his challenge to us. As we grow in relationship with him and with his people in this community, we also have the opportunity to gift God’s community of holy people to others.

Be Still (Psalm 46)

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Adelaide has started experiencing some warmer weather in the last couple of weeks, reminding us that summer is just around the corner. When the temperatures start to rise, a lot of Australians head to the beach to cool off. While we’re enjoying the surf, we also need to remember what to do if we find ourselves in trouble. If something happens that we can’t swim back to the beach, we’re taught to raise our arm to signal for help and call out to the surf lifesavers or someone else on the beach. When that person comes out to help us, the best thing we can do is to do nothing. When someone swims out to save us, we need to relax, be still and let the rescuer carry us to safety.

Doing nothing requires a lot of faith. Our natural instinct is to do anything we can to keep our heads above water. Especially if we are panicked or terrified of drowning, we want to do whatever it takes to save ourselves. To stop what we’re doing and rely on another person means we need to trust that they can and will get us to safety. Being still in another person’s saving arms is only possible when we believe that they can save us and we trust that they are able to rescue us.

This natural tendency to want to do something to get ourselves out of difficult situations can be seen in almost every aspect of our lives. When troubles of any sort come our way, or when difficulties or struggles occur, we usually look for something we can do to fix things or make them right again. It’s like getting into trouble while swimming at the beach – our natural instinct is to want to keep our heads above water and sort things out for ourselves.

The person who wrote Psalm 46 knew what it was like to experience ‘times of trouble’ (v1 NLT). His world must have been collapsing around him as he describes earthquakes, mountains crumbling into the sea, oceans roaring and foaming, and mountains trembling as the waters surged (vv2,3). Whether we interpret these events literally or figuratively, they represent the chaos which this person was experiencing in his life. From where he stood, it looked like his world was falling apart!

However, in the middle of this chaos and confusion, the writer of Psalm 46 was not afraid. He trusted in God as his refuge and strength, a fortress into whom he could retreat and find security and safety. His relationship with God gave him the stability and shelter he needed to live in peace and hope. Like a lifesaver who swims out to a person in trouble at the beach, the writer of Psalm 46 looked to God to keep his head above the waves, hold him in his arms and bring him back to safety. He trusted that God would use the power he has to end wars, break bows, snap spears and burn shields (v9 NLT) to protect and care for him in the middle of his troubles.

All God asked of him was to be still (v10). In the same way that the best thing we can do to help a lifesaver get us back to the beach is relax, be still and do nothing, when God speaks in Psalm 46 he tells us to be still and trust him. The good news of Psalm 46 is that when we are experiencing times of trouble, when our world is falling apart, when our natural instinct is to either save ourselves or try to fix things, God asks us to be still and trust that he will take care of it. This isn’t easy for us because we feel like we need to do something, but this is one way we can understand grace: God does for us what we can’t do for ourselves. He just asks us to trust him. This ‘being still’ involves letting go of things that are out of our control, relaxing when troubles cause us stress or anxiety, and trusting that God can and will bring us through our troubles to a better place.

God does this for us in the person of Jesus. To use the lifesaver analogy, when Jesus was born as a human baby, he dove into the surf of human existence. Throughout his life, and especially in his suffering and death, Jesus joined us in the troubles, worries and pain of life in this world. Jesus’ life and death was him swimming out to meet us and wrapping his arms around us, no matter what we might be going through. Jesus’ resurrection is the way he carries us back to the safety of the beach. His triumph over sin, death and the power of evil carries us through the difficulties and traumas of this world to the safe and secure place of God’s presence in a new relationship with him. That is why Psalm 46 repeats the declaration that ‘The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us; the God of Israel is our fortress’ (vv7,11). God swims out, meets us and carries us in his arms to safety through Jesus because he has already won the victory over the waves and storms of life in Jesus’ death and resurrection. Now he asks us to relax, let go, be still and trust that he will carry us to safety.

There are times in life when faith calls us to be active, especially in our love for each other. Psalm 46 teaches us, though, that there are also times in life when faith means doing nothing and trusting that God will work things out for us. There have been times in my life when I’ve experienced troubles that my natural reaction was to try to fix things or try to make them better. My efforts only resulted in making things worse. When I listened to the word of God telling me to ‘be still’ I relaxed, let go and trusted God to work things out. That was when things started to improve as God displayed his grace by doing what I couldn’t.

What is happening in your life right now? What troubles are you facing? If life is good, please remember to thank God for his blessings to you. However, if you are going through times of trouble, if there are things which are causing you stress, worry or anxiety, is it possible that God is asking you to relax, let go, be still and trust him? The promise of Psalm 46 is that through Jesus, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies is there with you and the God of Israel is your fortress. So you don’t need to be afraid. God is always ready to help in times of trouble.

Be still, and know that he is God.

Persistent in Prayer (Luke 18:1-8)

Luke 18v1 persistant prayer 01

When I was serving as a pastor in Lutheran schools, there were times when I would be teaching a class and students would ask me for things such as going to their locker, getting a drink, sitting with their friend, and so on. If my answer was ‘no’ it usually wouldn’t take long before they would come and ask me again. If my reply was still ‘no’ they would come back to me again and again in the hope that I would give them what they were asking for. I wondered sometimes whether my answer of ‘no’ was interpreted as ‘not now, but if you come back enough times you’ll get what you’re asking for.’

These experiences in the classroom, and more recently as a parent, helps me to understand the perspective of the judge in Jesus’ story. The widow kept coming back to him, asking him for the same thing, until she got what she wanted. The big difference between the widow and the students in my classes was that their requests were usually for things to make their life easier or more convenient. The widow in the story, however, was asking for justice.

We don’t know exactly what the ‘justice’ was that the widow was asking for from the judge. What that does, though, is give us room to read the injustices that we experience into Jesus’ story to help make it our story. In some way, though, the widow had been wronged. Something had happened to her or been done to her which was unjust and not right. She was looking for someone to make the wrong she had experienced in her life right again. Her desire for justice was a hope that someone with more authority than she had would do for her what she couldn’t do for herself and make right the wrongs that had been done to her.

There are times in our lives when we can probably identify what she was going through. We all witness or experience wrongs of one kind or another. This is because the world is not the way God intended it to be. When we read the creation story from Genesis 1, at the end of each day (however you want to interpret that period of time) God saw that what he had created was good. When we look at the world now, though, it seems a long way from that goodness. We can see conflicts and natural disasters happening all over the world. Closer to home, our nation is suffering from social, cultural and environmental wrongs. Our relationships can go wrong for a range of reasons, either what we have done or has been done to us. Even within ourselves, there are things that are wrong that might not be our fault, but still take life from us and from others. Wherever we look, we can see that there is something wrong with the world in which we live.

This wasn’t how God intended life to be, so in Jesus he did what was needed to set the wrong things right again. This is one way we can understand the biblical role of a judge. When we read the Book of Judges from the Old Testament, we can see that they were not people who sentenced offenders in a court of law. Instead, the Old Testament judges were people God raised up to right the wrongs that were being done to God’s people. This flows from an understanding of God as judge, who makes the wrong things in the world right again through his justice, grace and love.

Ultimately, God establishes his reign of justice in the world through Jesus. When he was born, he entered this world-gone-wrong and took its wrongs on himself. Jesus embraced everything that is wrong with us, our relationships and our world on himself, and takes it to the cross where he puts it all to death. This is one way of understanding the idea that Jesus takes away the sin of the world – he overcomes all that is wrong with this existence in his crucifixion, even death itself.

Jesus then restores us and all creation to its original state of being good and right in his resurrection. When Jesus was raised to new life, he triumphed over the wrongs of the world and set things right again so that we can live in right relationships with God, ourselves, other people and all of creation. This is what is called ‘the righteousness of God’ – his gift to us of making everything that is wrong in us right again through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We can also call this God’s justice as Jesus removes the wrongs that infect us and all creation and fills us with God’s goodness.

As long as we live in this world we will still encounter its wrongs in one way or another. That is why Jesus encourages his followers to ‘pray and never give up’ (v1). The widow in his story kept asking the unjust judge for justice because she believed that he could make the wrongs in her life right again. Jesus is encouraging us to believe that God is good and just, that he can and will bring about justice for us as well. Jesus is contrasting the character of the unjust judge with our just God and saying that if the judge in the story ended up providing justice for the widow, how much more will God bring justice for us when we look to him for it?

Where do you see or experience the injustice of this world? In what ways are the wrongs of this world robbing you of the life God has for you in Jesus? God can and will bring justice to the world and to our lives. In Jesus, God embraces all that is wrong with us and our world and makes us right again through his grace.

When we believe that, when we trust that good news, then asking God to set the wrong things right again will be a natural thing for us to do. Things are what they are, but they don’t have to continue to be that way. In Jesus, God makes all things new and sets things right again. This faith gives us good reason to always pray for God’s justice to reign in us and never give up.