Courage, Not Fear

“Courage, Not Fear

Mark 6-50 jesuswalkingonthewater

Mark 6:46-52 (6:50) – August 12, 2018 – from Dave Ivaska’s book Be Not Afraid

“O God, thy sea is so great, and my boat is so small.” So says the Breton’s fisherman’s prayer on a small brass-inscribed plaque. The plaque was given to John F. Kennedy by Admiral Rickover, and President Kennedy kept this plaque on his desk in the Oval Office.

When I started to think about this Scripture passage from Mark, the narrative where Jesus walks on the Sea of Galilee by night, this plaque came to mind. I suspect the disciples did feel afraid on that small boat as they faced the choppy waves, strong currents, gusty winds, and other weather conditions. Similar to that Breton fisherman.

I have never been to Israel, but I have read that the weather around the Sea of Galilee is particularly changeable. There are hills and even small mountains surrounding a portion of the inland sea. Sometimes, the weather patterns can cause rough weather to flare up with next to no warning. According to the Gospel of Mark, chapter 6, the weather that night on the Sea of Galilee was windswept and the water was churning and choppy. The disciples were out on the water after dark. Some of them were fishermen, but not all. So, some of them were used to being out in an open boat in the middle of open water. Others of the disciples were not fisherman at all, and were probably extremely uncomfortable.

What was the general morale of the disciples? Jesus was notably absent—not with them in the boat. I suspect some of the disciples were fearful and anxious. Maybe even complaining about their sorry situation, out in the middle of the lake and with no Jesus. Just think about their desperate situation, and compare it to your own. From time to time, I am sure all of us have felt like we are adrift in choppy water, all alone, someplace like the Sea of Galilee. Heavy weather is on the horizon. Who can help us deal with our fear and uncertainty?

We need Jesus, that’s who. Just as much as the disciples did.

This scary situation on the Sea of Galilee did not just happen all by itself. This nighttime situation followed after a very busy day for Jesus. This was the day that Jesus miraculously fed several thousand people with a few loaves and fishes. When this all happened, they all were in a lonely place far away from any village or town, near the Sea of Galilee.

I want to be sure all of us understand. This feeding was not just a little miracle. Instead, Jesus did a huge miracle! Feeding well over five thousand people with just a boy’s sack lunch of a few little loaves and fishes? How astounding is that? The disciples were right there with Jesus, serving and distributing all the loaves and fish to all the crowds who attended Jesus’s after-lecture luncheon. Except, Jesus provided all of the food! Miraculously.

Listen again to the beginning of today’s Scripture reading from Mark, which follows the paragraph on the feeding miracle: “ 45 Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.”

At the end of a really busy day with a lot of public ministry, I can see why Jesus wanted to be all by Himself, not only to pray and rest and recoup, but also to spend some down time rejuvenating with His loving, caring Heavenly Parent. Wouldn’t you, if you were in a similar position? Resting and recouping after a long, challenging day of ministry, just about anyone would want to be reassured by the loving embrace of their Heavenly Parent. I know I would!

After Jesus withdraws to be with His Heavenly Father for some hours, it’s time for Him to rejoin the disciples. Let’s continue with the reading from Mark: “ 47 Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. 48 He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake.”  I would have loved to be with the disciples in that boat!

Just imagine all the exciting information we would hear about leadership and discipleship, serving and helping others, and getting closer to God!

Or, even more, I would love to have a film camera and crew on their boat that night! What a bunch of reaction shots! Shots showing fear, anger, uncertainty, anxiety—the whole range of emotions and reactions to the unexpected and miraculous appearance of Jesus, supernaturally walking on the Sea. Considering what huge miracle had just happened only a few hours ago, “what confidence did the disciples would have had to believe that Jesus would now help them in this terrifying situation?“ [1]

We’ve talked about this before, how the disciples sometimes had a problem believing what Jesus plainly said. Or, a problem seeing what Jesus had just clearly shown them. Or, a problem understanding an illustration or object lesson Jesus had just brought to them. This was one of those situations.

The disciples were a bit thick-headed. They just did not get the full ramifications of the huge miracle of the loaves and fishes. They just did not understand how Jesus—who was God’s son, fully God, and creator of the heavens and the earth—could possibly walk on water.

Jonah had this problem, too. He was a prophet of God, he heard the word of God regularly, but he just didn’t get the message clearly. It took getting swallowed by a fish in the middle of the ocean to get the cotton out of Jonah’s ears.

Listen to a part of Jonah’s prayer from the belly of the huge fish, from the 2nd chapter of Jonah: “In my distress I called to the Lord, and God answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry. You hurled me into the depths, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me. But you, Lord my God, brought my life up from the pit. “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.”

It took a miracle of a huge fish to get Jonah to see clearly. It takes a miracle of Jesus walking on the water, on top of the feeding-and-provision-of-food miracle, to get the disciples to see clearly. Yet, God is with them all, even through the darkness and the storm, even through being swallowed by the big fish or being buffeted by choppy seas.

“What does this story reveal about Christ’s involvement in our own trials? He is both aware of and concerned about our struggles and acts on our behalf. In addition to helping us in our plight, His deliverance reveals to us His supernatural power.” [2] another way of says it is that Jesus is God’s son. Fully God, and fully man. Of course, Jesus can walk on water! And, of course, Jesus can be with us, in and through and beyond our trials and problems. Having God incarnate as my—as our personal Friend and Savior is very reassuring, believe me.

Sometimes we do go through the storm, and even repeated storms. Sometimes we do have serious illness happen to us or to a loved one. Sometimes we travel through the valley of the shadow, and we need that reassurance that God is with us. Jesus can say to us just as much as He said to the disciples, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

These are the words of Jesus. We can take them to heart. These reassuring words are for the disciples, and for us, too. Alleluia, amen.

[1] Ivaska, David, Be Not Afraid (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 101.

[2] https://intervarsity.org/bible-studies/mark-6c

Mark 6:45-56: Confounded by Christ | InterVarsity

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

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Mary and Joseph, Unafraid

“Mary and Joseph, Unafraid”

angel with trumpet

Luke 1:26-31, Matthew 1:19-21 – August 5, 2018 – from Dave Ivaska’s book Be Not Afraid

When a woman is pregnant and expecting a baby, it can be a marvelous experience. However, an unexpected pregnancy can be surprising, even worrisome. I know I have heard of several unplanned pregnancies over the years, and I suspect many of you have, too. An added complication can occur when the parents of the unexpected baby are not married.

That was exactly Mary and Joseph’s situation. Both were unmarried, only engaged. Both were very much involved with the birth of this unexpected baby. And, both had angels appear to them, telling them “Be not afraid!”

Just imagine: Mary and Joseph, considering the exact same unexpected situation, with two very different reactions and quite separate expectations. We are not told, but I cannot help but wonder whether Mary’s fear and Joseph’s fear of the unknown was compounded by fear for the other. How were their fears for the other encountered, and addressed? [1]

Both Mary and Joseph have angels suddenly come upon them. Both angels immediately say, “Be not afraid!” This occurrence is starting to become familiar to us by now, after two months of this summer sermon series. The sight of angels must be terrifying, since the first words out of their mouths is almost always, “Be not afraid!”

Mary must have been completely flabbergasted at the appearance of the angel. Even though she had heard about miraculous and angelic appearances in synagogue on the Sabbath for years, it’s a quite different thing to have it actually happen to her. Mary probably was interrupted while she went about her usual routine at home.

In Luke’s account, the angel Gabriel—God’s special messenger angel—comes to Mary and reassures her with the words “Be not afraid!” In this longer narrative of the birth of Jesus, the angels come to several people (and one group of people). What is more, according to commentator Shively Smith, “the simple phrase, “do not be afraid,” offers comfort and hope to those without hope, as in the case of Zechariah and Elizabeth (Luke 1:7, 24-25); miracles to those not looking for miracles, as in the case of Mary (Luke 1:26-27); and even disruption to those going about their daily routines, as in the case of the shepherds (Luke 2:8).” [2]

Matthew tells us that Joseph was interrupted by the angel of the Lord in a dream. From the short, spare account of Matthew—only a verse and a half!—we do find out that Joseph was called a righteous man. Joseph certainly was considering the unexpected news that Mary had brought to him. Both Joseph and Mary considering the same situation, but in different circumstances.

We all realize that today’s cultural references are different from those of first-century Palestine. The cultural marriage practices of the Jews of that time were patriarchal and highlighted the joining together of two families, not of two individuals, as marriage is seen today here in the United States. Nevertheless, we can see how God breaks apart first-century cultural practices and societal expectations through this miraculous birth narrative.

Joseph was, indeed, a righteous man. When his fiancée Mary first came to him with this unexpected news, he first thought she had been unfaithful. Wouldn’t you? Isn’t that the first thing anyone would think of? Either that, or that Mary had been raped, which is even more unpleasant and shocking. (But, the Gospel doesn’t go there.) Joseph does not want to expose Mary to public disgrace. So, how to deal with this unexpected situation?  

I suspect the situation was looking pretty desperate to Joseph. That is where the angel of the Lord steps in—or, flies in—to the situation.  The angel reassures Joseph that the baby within Mary’s uterus is indeed holy, conceived of the Holy Spirit. What is more, that the baby will be the Messiah! The words of the angel: “you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

This is quite similar to other appearances of supernatural wonder in the Gospel of Luke. Commentator Shively Smith tells us “each instance is accompanied by an awe-inspiring, even unusual moment that reasonably sparks wonder and even fear. Indeed, the practice of offering a word of assurance at moments of supernatural wonder and disruption to the norms of daily life is something Jesus takes up in his ministry later in the gospel (Luke 5:10; 8:50; 12:32).” [3]

Let us come back to Mary and Joseph, two individuals going through a difficult, even traumatic time, in terms of society’s expectations as well as cultural norms. This is a different way of thinking about the birth of Jesus than that we are used to, every Christmas. Commentator David Lose tells us “let’s not forget the distress, sense of betrayal, disappointment, and a host of other emotions that Joseph must have experienced, or the fear and hurt that Mary would likely have also felt as they sorted out their divinely complex relationship.” [4]

On one hand, Mary has this assurance of supernatural power and presence within her from the angel. On the other, Joseph gets a reassurance of supernatural power and presence concerning Mary from the angel. We might presume from all this that there is some far greater plan that neither Mary nor Joseph has any clear idea about. The injunction “Be not afraid!” is a part of this greater plan.

A supernatural plan, a plan that overarches all time and space, whereby the Savior of the world is going to enter in to our everyday lives, and blow apart every cultural norm and societal expectation. It blows our minds, just thinking about the birth of Jesus, two thousand years later. The encouragement “Be not afraid?” Don’t be afraid to step forward with TRUST, as part of a larger plan that comes from above.

You think the situations we find ourselves in today are complex? God understands the complexity and the ins and outs of every situation, every predicament, every sadness and trauma and difficulty each of us might find ourselves in. As we take a closer look at Mary and Joseph, we see that they are not just figures from some stained glass window, but instead flesh and blood people with the same emotions and fears and family difficulties we might have today.

“And the more we can imagine them as people like us — with ups and downs to their relationships, for instance — the more we might imagine ourselves to be people like them — that is, people who go through all kinds of things, some quite damaging, and yet whom God uses nevertheless to accomplish God’s purposes.” [5]

The angel’s words, “Be not afraid!” We can take them to heart, too, and be encouraged, reassured, that God is with us, today, just as much as God was with people in bible times, just as much as God was with Mary and Joseph, all the way through their wonderful and frightening and even shocking experiences. Even though we may go through all kinds of things, God will never leave us, nor forsake us. Be not afraid!

Alleluia, amen.

[1] Ivaska, David, Be Not Afraid (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 97.

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3531

Luke 1:26-38 Shively Smith, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2017.

[3] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3531

Luke 1:26-38 Shively Smith, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2017.

[4] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=2961

“Matthew’s Version of the Incarnation,” David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2013.

[5] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=2961

“Matthew’s Version of the Incarnation,” David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2013.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

“The Lord Our God Helps Us”

“The Lord Our God Helps Us”

2 Chron 32 be strong, fight battles

2 Chronicles 32:14-18 (32:1-3, 6-8, 10-14, 17-22) – July 29, 2018 – from Dave Ivaska’s book Be Not Afraid

Making comparisons can be devastating. It’s so human, isn’t it, for me to compare me and my stuff with someone else’s. In the magazine Psychology Today, I saw an online article on comparisons many people make. I know, from this article, that many of these comparisons are not about life-or-death matters. However, especially in the case of young people, mental comparisons can be extremely damaging, both psychologically and emotionally.

“You know those people who have more than you—money, acclaim, looks, whatever? The spike of envy they trigger is natural, and social media is primed to amp it up. But in a world where followers and likes can seem like rock-solid proof of a person’s worth, you don’t have to take the bait.” [1] How true, isn’t it, for us to make mental comparisons between us and them, whoever “they” are?

This isn’t just a 21st century type of problem. Comparisons have been going on for centuries, even millenia. Take our scripture reading today, where the army and people of Judah were comparing themselves with the army of Assyria. One really big problem: the Assyrian army had conquered many of the surrounding tribes and countries around Israel. The Assyrians not only said they were the biggest, baddest military power in the Middle East in this time period, but they had the battles and victories to prove it.

The country and army of Assyria felt confident they were on top. Listen again to 2 Chronicles 32:1 – “Sennacherib king of Assyria came and invaded Judah. He laid siege to the fortified cities, thinking to conquer them for himself.” The Chronicler is not telling us the complete story here. He does not include what we learn from 2 Kings 18:13-16. King Hezekiah unwisely and unsuccessfully tried to satisfy the Assyrian king Sennacherib with gold and treasures from the temple. That blatant bribery didn’t work. [2]

From what it sounds like, the Assyrian king was strutting his stuff, surrounding and besieging the fortified cities of Judah, and even Jerusalem itself. The Assyrian army had been successful and victorious in many battles over the past one hundred years. King Sennacherib had every reason to believe they would continue to be victorious. So much so that he began to get too big for his britches. He started to boast, and even trash talk to the nation of Judah.

Let’s sample some of that ridicule and boasting, from the modern translation The Message. “You poor people—do you think you’re safe in that so-called fortress of Jerusalem? You’re sitting ducks. Do you think Hezekiah will save you? Don’t be stupid—Hezekiah has fed you a pack of lies. When he says, ‘God will save us from the power of the king of Assyria,’ he’s lying—you’re all going to end up dead.”

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the Assyrian king trash talks some more: “Do you have any idea what I and my ancestors have done to all the countries around here? Has there been a single god anywhere strong enough to stand up against me? Can you name one god among all the nations that either I or my ancestors have ravaged that so much as lifted a finger against me? So what makes you think you’ll make out any better with your god? Don’t let Hezekiah fool you; don’t let him get by with his barefaced lies; don’t trust him.”

Any confidence the officers and the army of Judah had had would have been completely undermined. They must have been feeling really small and dispirited after all of this. I mean, the Assyrian army was the biggest, baddest army in the whole known world, and they were besieging Jerusalem! So much so that the Assyrians were playing tremendous psychological mind games with the people of Judah

This unhealthy practice might be similar to comparing so much we feel a constant sense of inadequacy and helplessness. The author of this magazine article from Psychology Today has a sense of inadequacy that “flares especially when she compares herself to friends, colleagues, and people from her past—many of whom linger in her awareness because of social media. There’s the college buddy who achieved her dream of becoming a performer and lives in a gorgeous home in a tony suburb. There’s the junior high rival, now a globetrotting public health specialist. “He’ll post, ‘Leaving today for Liberia to help with the Ebola crisis,’ and get dozens of comments like ‘You’re the most amazing person I’ve ever met!'” [3]

Sure, the king of Judah had been previously unwise in trying to bribe the Assyrians, and he hoped they would just pack up and go home if the nation of Judah gave them a big enough payment or tribute. King Hezekiah’s army and officers are down in the dumps and really anxious and fearful about the Assyrian army outside the fortified walls of Jerusalem. What would you do in a similar situation, with intense anxiety and fear freezing your heart and mind?

The people and army of Judah fell into this trap so easily. And, frankly, I would agree with them. According to all reports, the Assyrian armies sure looked like the biggest, baddest army around. Listen: “18 Then they called out in Hebrew to the people of Jerusalem who were on the wall, to terrify them and make them afraid in order to capture the city. 19 They spoke about the God of Jerusalem as they did about the gods of the other peoples of the world—the work of human hands.” I really would half-expect to hear the Assyrians at a rally chanting “We’re number one! We’re number one!”

But, God says, “NO!” Here in this example of Hezekiah saying “Be Not Afraid!” in 2 Chronicles 32, we can surely find a prescription for the comparison trap. Here’s what King Hezekiah did. He held a rally of his own with all the army officers and government officials. He said, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him. With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles.” And the people gained confidence from what Hezekiah the king of Judah said.”

But, that is not all. God steps in, and sovereignly takes over. After Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah cry out to heaven on behalf of Jerusalem and the people of Judah, “21 the Lord sent an angel, who annihilated all the fighting men and the commanders and officers in the camp of the Assyrian king.” God’s angel kills everyone in the enemy camp! The Assyrian king is so cowed and dispirited himself that he slinks off to Assyria, his tail between his legs. Listen to our bible reading: “the king withdrew to his own land in disgrace. And when he went into the temple of his god, some of his sons, his own flesh and blood, cut him down with the sword. 22 So the Lord saved Hezekiah and the people of Jerusalem from the hand of Sennacherib king of Assyria and from the hand of all others. God took care of them on every side.”

This special kind of situation doesn’t happen a lot, where God’s angel kills all the enemy army, but it’s recorded here to show that God took care of the people! God will always be with us, even when we are walking through the bad guys, or in the middle of the dark valley, or during a raging storm. We are told to Be Not Afraid! God will be with us, even to the end of the age. Alleluia, amen!

[1] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/201711/the-comparison-trap  By Rebecca Webber, published November 7, 2017

[2] https://www.blueletterbible.org/comm/guzik_david/studyguide2017-2ch/2ch-32.cfm David Guzik :: Study Guide for 2 Chronicles 32

[3] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/201711/the-comparison-trap  By Rebecca Webber, published November 7, 2017

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

In the Middle of Fear

“In the Middle of Fear”

Isa 43-2 redeemed

Isaiah 43:1-3, 10-13 (43:2) – July 15, 2018 – from Dave Ivaska’s book Be Not Afraid

If you were ever in the middle of a fearsome, hair-raising experience, you might be able to relate to my sermon today. Even if you have not been personally involved in a terrifying experience like being trapped in a dangerous house fire or caught in the middle of a raging storm in deep water while on a small boat, you probably know someone who has. Or, at least heard first-person accounts of those terrifying experiences.

What does the prophet say in this morning’s scripture reading? It is really difficult to hear what anyone is saying when you or I are in the middle of a fearful predicament. Even if the words are really important, or even if they come from a particularly significant person.

We might have the words coming at us, but we are still in the horrible situation of being in the middle of a devastating fire, or a terrifying flood, or other traumatic experience. We still have situations as if we are lost in deep water, or caught up in the middle of fear-inducing flames. What will we do? How will we cope? Will the wild flames overwhelm us? Will the raging waters close over our heads? Dear Lord, answer me! Gracious God, help!

Take the nation of Judah, who the prophet of God is talking to. The nation has been conquered. The best and brightest of the people of Judah have been captured and taken captive, far away in Babylon. “By outward circumstances, the people of Judah had [good] reason to be afraid of Babylon’s army and exile. God points them past the present circumstances to both this command and promise.” [1]

Did you hear? These verses have good news! They have within them both a command and a promise. These words are a proclamation, from the Lord, no less! “But now, this is what the Lord says—God who created you, Jacob, He who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you.”
In the paragraphs just before our reading today, in Isaiah 42, God is called not only the creator of the heavens and the earth, but also creator of all the people on the earth. God is the “source of breath and life for humankind (42:5). Now God reveals the divine self strictly in relationship to God’s chosen ones. The God who speaks the new word of freedom, life, return, and redemption is “the creator-of-you, Jacob,” “the shaper-of-you, Israel” (verse 1). This is the transcendent God whose word created all that is good (Genesis 1).” [2]

So, God not only created the heavens and the earth, and is the creator of all that is vast and unending in this universe, but God is also the Lord of the small and the personal. The prophet proclaims God as the Lord of all, of that which is large and small, the creatures and people of this world, too.

Israel was—and is a country with desert regions and vast wilderness places. Israel was—and is also a country where sudden storms come up, and flash floods suddenly happen. That can be extremely scary, to be caught in a sudden flash flood where the water starts to rise all around you without any warning. We hear on the news today about flash floods that overwhelm people and stall out their vehicles. And sometimes, those individuals even die.

What fear! What anxiety! And, what threatening troubles!

What can we do, in the face of all of this difficulty and challenge? The prophet gives us the answer. God has redeemed us.

But—what does “redeemed” mean, anyway? Isn’t that a religious word? We certainly hear it in religious contexts. According to the dictionary, “redeem” means to buy back, to recover, as by a mortgage or pledge.

So, we are kept captive by our fear and anxiety. The nation of Israel is similarly kept captive by their fear and anxiety, too. Here in the United States, in the 21st century, we do not have debtors’ prisons any longer. However, centuries ago, when people became bankrupt and could not pay their debts, they were often either were thrown into prison or made slaves until the debt was paid.

God does not magically erase all difficulty. “God does not manipulate the created order and introduce entirely new categories: fireless existence. Rather, God redeems what God has made, and redemption involves an exchange within the created realm. A price is paid in order to set things back the way they were.” [3]
This act of redemption is not the end of things. No, the Lord does not stop there. As the prophet says in today’s reading, “I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” God speaks our name. That is what the prophet says!

In this act of speaking their name, God takes ownership. The Lord God claims Israel as God’s own and sets them free. “In these verses God speaks to God’s people not like a king on a throne pronouncing an edict, but like a lover whose heart is bursting, who has waited an eternity just to say their name. In this act of speaking their name, You are mine” means also “I have ransomed you” (43:1) [or, redeemed you]. Maker, lover, and redeemer, God will pay any price and overcome every obstacle to be reunited with God’s own. [4]

We can take heart. We can claim these precious verses as our own, as we go through fiery trials. God has called us by name, too. The Lord says “You are mine.”

Bible study teacher David Guzik states plainly “God twice owns His people. God has right of ownership both as Creator and Redeemer. God’s ownership is personal, because He says I have called you by your name. His ownership is certain, because He seals it by saying You are mine.” [5]

We have the Lord’s assurance that we are God’s creation, we are redeemed, and we have been called by God’s name. What is more, we have been bought with a price, with the precious blood of our Savior.

Knowing we belong to God is a wonderful response to fear and anxiety. So, “Be Not Afraid!” No matter the trial or difficulty, God will be with us. The Lord is right by our side. We have God’s word on it, from right here in Isaiah 43.

Alleluia, amen.

[1] https://www.blueletterbible.org/comm/guzik_david/studyguide2017-isa/isa-43.cfm

Study Guide for Isaiah 43 by David Guzik – Blue Letter Bible

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=494

Commentary, Isaiah 43:1-7  Anathea Portier-Young, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2010.

[3] Seitz, Christopher R., The Book of Isaiah 40-66, New Interpreters Bible Commentary, Vol. 6 (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2001), 381.

[4] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=494

Commentary, Isaiah 43:1-7  Anathea Portier-Young, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2010.

[5] https://www.blueletterbible.org/comm/guzik_david/studyguide2017-isa/isa-43.cfm

Study Guide for Isaiah 43 by David Guzik – Blue Letter Bible

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

Be Strong, Courageous, Unafraid, My Son

“Be Strong, Courageous, Unafraid, My Son”

1 Chronicles 28:14-18 (28:20) – July 8, 2018 – from Dave Ivaska’s book Be Not Afraid

King Solomon's Temple at Jerusalem

An older father, giving the gift of encouragement and advice to his younger son. We have seen this sort of touching scene play out, over and over again. In books, on television, in movies. This is like a pep talk from a wonderful motivational speaker, only even better.

King David is aging, and he knows his time is short. God has already chosen David’s favorite son Solomon to be the next king, among all of his sons. (And, he did have a number of sons, from a number of different wives.) What is more, David calls together a large crowd of the leaders, nobles, and executives of Israel for an important royal address.

What is the backstory here? How did this grand scene with a cast of hundreds of the leaders and administrators of Israel come about?

For that, we’ll need to step back and consider King David. He was considered a man after God’s own heart. He wrote a good portion of the book of Psalms, the song book of the Bible. He truly had a relationship with the Lord. But—God did not want David to be the one to build a special Temple for the Lord in Jerusalem. Can you imagine? Why? Why was that?

King David had also been a warrior for years, and had either killed or ordered the killing of a large number of people. The Lord God communicated in no uncertain terms to David that he was not supposed to be the one to build the special Temple. It would be up to David’s son Solomon to build the special house of the Lord. That was by order from God most high.

Can you imagine the scene? All the people, gathered for this grand motivational speech at the end of David’s life. He had been collecting the best of everything for use in the construction of such a fine structure, for years. All for Solomon’s use, and all for the glory of God. Remember, this was a dearly beloved wish of David’s, to see God’s Temple built in Jerusalem.  

David had it all. In his prime, he was a skilled warrior. David also was a fine musician—he played the harp and wrote songs; he was incredibly attractive, and he was a natural leader of men. What was not to like about King David? Or, to look at him from another point of view, King David must have been really intimidating, certainly for young Solomon. And probably for most of all the leaders and administrators of Israel.

Why do coaches, teachers and other motivational speakers give those rousing speeches? To encourage and hearten their listeners, of course. King David must have known that Solomon needed encouragement, and even reassurance.

As an important note, King David also wanted to let everyone know for sure that Solomon was his chosen successor. Just in case, even after the death of David, he wanted everyone in the kingdom of Israel to understand that fact—even though there were a number of sons of David, including several with eyes on the throne and the king’s succession.

Let’s focus on Solomon, specifically. Sure, he had already been anointed as king, and David his father had already made his views on the succession crystal clear. Can you picture Solomon, standing there next to his father?

He must have been young and inexperienced. Plus, his father David was putting the extensive plans and provisions for the Temple into his hands.  What a remarkable position to be in.  His father David is at the end of his life, and the young, inexperienced Solomon is offered both detailed plans for the Temple plus letting everyone know—for sure—that Solomon is the one God wants to follow the aged David,

Let’s take a closer look at the provisions for the Temple. David made it absolutely clear to everyone listening that everything Solomon would need would be given to him. Reading from our scripture passage today again, “10 Consider now, for the Lord has chosen you to build a house as the sanctuary. Be strong and do the work.”

11 Then David gave his son Solomon the plans for the portico of the temple, its buildings, its storerooms, its upper parts, its inner rooms and the place of atonement. 12 He gave him the plans of all that the Spirit had put in his mind for the courts of the temple of the Lord and all the surrounding rooms, for the treasuries of the temple of God and for the treasuries for the dedicated things.”

Imagine how meticulous the Temple plans of King David were. The brief excerpt I just read was only scratching the surface. I get the feeling that this kind of explanation and planning might have been right up the young man Solomon’s alley. From several situations that are mentioned about the heir apparent, after he has succeeded to the throne, I suspect Solomon might have particularly relished the level and amount of detail in the plans.

There is another important focus in this passage. I could preach a whole sermon on this aspect of David’s instruction and command to his son. However, let us just mention the charge that David gave: “in the sight of all Israel and of the assembly of the Lord, and in the hearing of our God: Be careful to follow all the commands of the Lord your God, that you may possess this good land and pass it on as an inheritance to your descendants forever.” In other words, be faithful to God! Follow the Lord all the days of your life! This is a solemn command, just as much as the rest.

We come, finally, to the assurance God has given to Solomon, and by extension, to all of us. “20 David also said to Solomon his son, “Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. God will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the Lord is finished.”

Just like a skilled motivational speaker, David hits on facing and overcoming natural fears and anxieties. Plus, he also focuses on assuring his son of God’s caring, enabling presence. As commentator Leslie Allen says, “The Lord is David’s own God. David is testifying that God had seen him through every problem and would be there to help Solomon to the end.” [1]

“Be not afraid or discouraged!” This is on top of “Be strong and courageous!” After the clear unequivocal statement of God’s presence being with David his whole life long? What a tremendous encouragement and reassurance this must have been to Solomon, especially since David his father said those things in front of all the important people in Israel.

What is this summer sermon series all about? We are taking a look at different aspects of the “Be Not Afraid” passages. Yes, the aging David was giving his son a much-needed boost of encouragement, as well as reducing fear and anxiety. When anyone has a huge task looming over their heads, fear and anxiety naturally enters the picture. Solomon had two huge tasks ahead of him: that of taking over as king, and of building the Temple.

As we can see from the example of Solomon, fear of huge tasks can be disabling. Fear and anxiety can cause us to trip up, even to freeze. David has a remedy for this kind of paralyzing fear: do the work! This matter-of-fact strategy helps many people conquer their fears and overcome anxiety. This apparently was just the ticket for Solomon. And, this is a great suggestion for anyone facing a really big task.

Hear the words of David: be strong! Be courageous! Be not afraid! And then, we can celebrate. For, our God will be with us, even to the end of the age. Amen, alleluia.

[1] Allen, Leslie C., The First and Second Books of Chronicles, New Interpreters Bible Commentary, Vol. 3 (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1999), 463.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

Jonathan Encourages David

“Jonathan Encourages David”

be not afraid, words

1 Samuel 23:14-18 (23:17) – July 1, 2018 – from Dave Ivaska’s book Be Not Afraid

Running for your life. Always in hiding, always on the look-out. It’s what psychological specialists in trauma and similar mental challenges call hyper-vigilance. I suspect, if we think about it, we can come up with a situation where either a person we know or people who are familiar to us have been worried, afraid, looking over their shoulders, if not on the run.

This is similar to the situation David was in, for many months, on the run in the wilderness of Judah.

But, let’s back up a bit. The strong, young David—charismatic leader of men—was the hero of Israel. Young, good-looking, he had walked onto the field of battle and won in single-handed combat with the mighty warrior Goliath the Philistine champion. Everyone in Israel praised David, up-and-coming rising star in the court of Israel. Men looked up to him, women adored him. (Apparently, he was really attractive.) His name was on everyone’s lips. What was not to like about David?

We must not forget about the other important part of David’s story. He been anointed while still a teenager to become king by the aging prophet Samuel. That means, David would take the place of King Saul. Except, King Saul was still king. Awkward!  

At first, King Saul thought David was a good guy to have around the palace. Plus, David had some skill with the harp, so he could soothe the king when the king was depressed and out of sorts. Then, to add to all of this, David and Jonathan, King Saul’s oldest son and heir, became close friends.

Imagine your best friend. I mean, your best-best friend, closer to you than even the closest members of your own family. That was David and Jonathan. Best friends forever.

King Saul probably had some uncertainty and insecurity in his life, even though he was the king of Israel. We can read about the several times that the king displayed his irritation and even outright hatred for David. Eventually, middle-aged King Saul’s anger and jealousy at the younger, good-looking, charismatic David boiled over. He sent his loyal soldiers after David. Yes, to kill him.

So, the powerful king of your country is seriously jealous, and hopping mad at you. What do you do? Run, of course. Make yourself scarce.

We see several reasons for people to be on the run from powerful leaders. Yes, politics may play a part in this. War and conflict might also figure in. Power and control are also important possibilities in any severe disagreement. And with Saul, his violent anger against David was definitely more personal.

For several chapters in 1 Samuel, we can read about the adventures of David. Life-and-death adventures, too. If Saul’s soldiers had ever caught up to David, the situation would mean death for David.

Sure, David had been playing cat-and-mouse with the king’s soldiers for months.           As commentator Bob Deffinbaugh said, “David saw that Saul had come out to seek his life. …The full weight of Saul’s pursuit and its implications seems to bear down on him. Perhaps weary in both body and spirit, David is greatly distressed to hear that, once again, King Saul is nearby, fully intent on killing him. There is ample evidence to show that if given the chance, Saul will do so.” [1]

We see that King Saul decided to go out into the wilderness and eradicate David once and for all. We also know that David and Saul’s son Jonathan are best friend, even though it had been many months since they had seen each other. What a wonderful friend to have, even taking his life in his hands. That’s what it meant for Jonathan to risk visiting David, in the wilderness.

What kind of stress and trauma must David have been going through? Let’s read from 1 Samuel again: “While David was at Horesh in the Desert of Ziph, he learned that[a] Saul had come out to take his life. 16 And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God.”

This is one reason why it’s so important for us to see how Jonathan encouraged David, even though both friends must have felt extremely pressured. David had been on the run for many months, and his psychological state could only have been one of extreme trauma!

When these two dear friends finally meet, what the first things Jonathan does? Helps his dear friend to find strength in God.  If you are alone and struggling to keep your head above water, no matter what challenges or difficulties are coming your way, having a dear friend come alongside of you to encourage you can make all the difference.

Of course, David was in extreme difficulty. Running for your life from the king’s best crack troops must have been both mentally and physically exhausting. Having the king’s oldest son and heir as your best friend must have added a layer of challenge to the whole mess.

What does Jonathan lead off with? “Be not afraid!” He reminds David that all Israel knows that the prophet Samuel has anointed him to be king after Saul, and says that he—Jonathan—will be his right-hand man. All of which must have been a great comfort and encouragement to David. They two dear friends renew their covenant, and then Jonathan has to leave. I suspect David has to continue to elude the king’s troops, too.

Our situations and challenges today are not as dire as David’s horrible predicament. However, God continues to speak. God continues to encourage and lift up hearts, even through great trials and tribulations. Are you having troubles and difficulties in your life today? God is there, and ever present help in times of trouble and need.

Just as David’s best friend Jonathan was there to encourage him through the deep dark times, God can bring friends alongside of us, too. Friends can speak words of encouragement and trust to us, like “Be not afraid!”

Are you someone’s best friend? Is your best friend going through difficulties, pain, even trauma right now? Can you come alongside of your friend and encourage their hearts today? Consider your part. The Lord might be calling you to be that friend, today, or tomorrow.

What a ministry, that of being an encourager. What a kindness, and what a service to others. Whether you are the one who could use a friend, or whether you are the one called to be such a friend, remember David and Jonathan. Best friends forever. An encouragement, finding mutual strength in God.

Alleluia, amen.

[1] https://bible.org/seriespage/20-friend-indeed-1-samuel-2315-29 Bob Deffinbaugh 

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

Gideon: Fearful and Uncertain

“Gideon: Fearful and Uncertain”

Judges 6:1, 7-24 (6:22-23) – June 24, 2018 – from Dave Ivaska’s book Be Not Afraid

Judg 6_19-24-Gideon-Sees-the-Angel-of-the-Lord

Occupied territory. An oppressive military force. Just the very words conjure frightening images in a person’s mind. Thinking of different wars and conflicts, throughout the centuries. It doesn’t have to be a conflict we actually remember. There are—sadly—plenty to draw from, from many centuries in the past.

The tribes of Israel had settled in the land of Canaan after wandering for forty years in the wilderness. But, what happened to the new country of Israel in just a few decades? How did they lose control of their country so quickly? How did Israel become a conquered region so easily?  

For a quick explanation, we need to look at the beginning of Judges chapter 6. “The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years God gave them into the hands of the Midianites.” Throughout the Old Testament book of Judges, that is the way it was. The people of Israel stopped doing the things God told them to do, and stopped worshiping the Lord. Then, God would allow a foreign nation to take over and oppress Israel for a time. When the people couldn’t stand it any longer, they would cry out to the Lord. Then, the Lord would raise up a mighty warrior and judge. The judge would throw out the invading armies and then rule over the people of Israel for a time, and all would be prosperous and happy again.

You would think the people of Israel would learn, but, no. They would keep doing the same flawed thing; they would stop worshiping God, and get conquered by a foreign nation.

At the beginning of Judges chapter 6, we are in one of the parts of the cycle where a foreign nation is occupying the country of Israel. The Midianites are a particularly savage nation. Their armies steal all the flocks and crops from all the farmers, wherever the occupying forces go. This is a particularly fearful and uncertain time for the tribes of Israel, to be sure!

Back to the land of Israel. Occupied territory! As the scene in Judges 6 opens, the narrator lets us know that the Midian army is so greedy and grasping that they will confiscate any animals or produce from any Israelite farmer. How do we know that? Because, Gideon is threshing wheat inside of a winepress, in secret. He’s in hiding from the Midianites, so the occupying army won’t find out and take the wheat by force.

I also get the idea that Gideon is timid. Uncertain. Perhaps even fearful. Do you blame him? With the marauding Midian army prowling around, confiscating any crops from any farmer, wouldn’t you be afraid, too?

Thank God we do not have to deal with occupying armies or marauding bands of thieves today in the United States, unlike Gideon, unlike countless farmers in areas of conflict even now. But, are there big, challenging things in our lives today that cause us to be timid? Uncertain? Perhaps even fearful? Chronic sickness, unemployment, a serious accident, or a fire? Have any of these happened to you, or to your loved ones?

The next thing he knew, Gideon was shocked down to his shoes. (Or, sandals.) Wonder of wonders, an angel appeared to him. The angel spoke, saying, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.”

“Wait a minute! What? The Lord God said that to me? Is there some mistake? Has the angel got the wrong person? Or, made the wrong connection?  Believe me when I say I am not mighty. And, I am certainly not a warrior.”

If we paid attention in Sunday school class and read the Bible carefully, we would be familiar with several people telling God that they were not cut out to do the things God told them to. But, Gideon really means it. His clan is the weakest in the tribe of Manasseh, and he thinks he is the weakest (which probably meant he was the youngest) in his family.

But, the Lord has not made a mistake. God surely wants Gideon, believe it or not. For sure.

Imagine today, with God telling us that we are exactly what God wants, exactly what God expects from others. I wonder what else God is saying that we forget to notice. Or, maybe even outright refuse to hear?

Back to Gideon. Uncertain, fearful Gideon. I suspect he might have been a bit of a cynic and a pessimist, too. What’s the next thing out of Gideon’s mouth, in his conversation with the angel of the Lord? 13 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all God’s wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”

Whoa, Gideon! Did you really mean to say that? It sounds a little like you are scolding the Lord for not helping out Israel, and leaving the nation in this awful situation. Or—did you really mean to say exactly that?

I’ve got to say, I have felt like telling the Lord something like this, when I’ve been in several seemingly hopeless situations. When my former husband and I both pounded the pavement, we fruitlessly looked for work for several years. We both went to several job placement agencies over those years, and we were not able to find anything other than short-term, low-paying, temporary jobs. Between us we had thirteen years of college and graduate school education, and—no solid, permanent job offers. None. For years.

It was infuriating, and unbelievable, and incredibly frustrating. For years, I spent countless hours in prayer, raging at God, begging, pleading. Plus, we had two preschoolers, and neither of us had health insurance coverage. A frightening time, for years. I suspect Gideon might have felt the same way, except his situation was even worse. But, back to Gideon.

The angel of the Lord was patient and understanding with Gideon “when Gideon needed proof that it was an angel of God. The Lord then led Gideon on a series of events that helped Gideon gain courage to do as God had told him.” [1] We see the Lord encouraging Gideon with several statements, such as this:  14 The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”

Gideon wants to make sure that this is God talking to him. 22 When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the Lord, he exclaimed, “Alas, Sovereign Lord! I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!” 23 But the Lord said to him, “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.” 24 So Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and called it The Lord Is Peace.”

This is not the end of Gideon’s uncertainty and questioning. Not by a long shot! Gideon continues to check and double check with God, just to make sure God is really and truly going to use him to deliver Israel.

Doesn’t the example of Gideon show us how patient and understanding God is, even when we have fears and uncertainty? God patiently answers so many of Gideon’s questions. God was right there with Gideon, just as God was with me and my former husband, through all those years of unemployment and under-employment. Just as God was with Joshua, and Moses, and Abraham before him.

Moreover, Gideon shows us how God looks at our potential, and not just the person we are right now. Instead, God helps us to believe in what we can be, and what God knows we can be, for God’s sake.

Gideon finally got God’s lesson into his head. I’m afraid it takes a great deal to get things into my thick head, too. But, praise God! The Lord had great patience with Gideon. I know God has great patience with so many of us, today, even when we are fearful and uncertain. Let us see what God sees, looking at one another.

Amen, alleluia.

[1] http://childrensermons.com/gideon/ August 4, 2013 Jim Kerlin People in Old Testament Hiding from the Enemy (Gideon)

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)