Tag Archives: faithful living

Bible Meditation

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Wondrously show your steadfast love, O Savior of those who seek refuge.
                                                                                    –Psalm 17:7

  • Who needs refuge? Do you need refuge? What problems, troubles, worries and fears drive you to seek refuge?

In verses leading up to this one, the psalmist said,

As for the deeds of men—by the word of your lips I have kept myself from the ways of the violent. My steps have held to your paths; my feet have not slipped.
                                                                                    –Psalm 17:4-5

  • What is the psalmist claiming about the way he lives his life? What is he avoiding? What does he seek to do?

I call on you, O God, for you will answer me; give ear to me and hear my prayer.
                                                                                    –Psalm 17:6

  • Where does the psalmist get his guidance to know what is right and good?
  • Congress is currently considering passage of the Equality Act. If it passes, the consequence will be that no business may refuse to participate in a gay wedding due to religious conviction that the business owner must not participate in sin. Furthermore, this act includes a clause that forbids the business owner to appeal to the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act for protection against the accusation of illegal discrimination. Does this act make you feel afraid? Where will you seek refuge if it becomes law?

 

 

 

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A Hymn for Meditation

hymnalOh, that the Lord Would Guide My Ways

Oh, that the Lord would guide my ways
To keep his statutes still!
Oh, that my God would grant me grace
To know and do his will!

Order my footsteps by your Word
And make my heart sincere;
Let sin have no dominion, Lord,
But keep my conscience clear.

Assist my soul, too apt to stray, A
stricter watch to keep;
If ever I forget your way, R
estore your wandering sheep.

Make me to walk in your commands,
A most delightful road;
Nor let my head or heart or hands
Offend against my god.

By Isaac Watts

  •  This hymn is a prayer for guidance. What Bible verses come to mind when you read the words, “guide my ways to keep his statutes?”
  • If you order your footsteps according to biblical teaching and keep your personal integrity intact by refusing to sell out your values, you know that it will keep your conscience clear. The federal government, however, has declared repeatedly in federal court that someone who engages in business for profit has no right to assert his religious beliefs in the context of his business. How can you keep your conscience clear if the government tells you not to exercise your beliefs?
  • None of us can stay the course of faithful living without fail. Moses couldn’t, Noah couldn’t, David couldn’t, and you can’t, either. God’s perfect righteousness demands that he destroy unrighteousness. What is the hymn writer’s solution to this problem?
  • Ultimately, Isaac Watts confessed to his inability to do the right thing every time. How does he gain the courage to keep going forward?

 

A Strange Group of People

There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom. Their laws are different from those of every other people, and they do not keep the king’s laws, so that it is not to the king’s profit to tolerate them. Esther 3:8

This quotation from the book of Esther is a harsh reminder that anyone who considers that an obligation to God takes precedence over obligation to any earthly authority will not be popular with earthly authority. In ancient Persia, the state religion was as much a part of governmental authority as the laws about murder and theft. The colonies of Great Britain who fought for independence and later formed the United States of America were unique among the nations of the world at that time for their decision not to have a state church, and their corollary decision to honor the religious convictions of every person, regardless of his religion, was unique. They chose to shape their government in a manner that specifically avoided the issue Haman used to make a case against the Jews in ancient Persia. While some colonies had been established by order of a British monarch, others owed their very existence to flight from oppressive government who, like Haman, could not tolerate violations of national law rooted in religious convictions. Those colonists knew what it was to be harassed and imprisoned for unwillingness to support the state religion. The colonists valued religion for its influence in the lives of individuals which bloomed in a cultural influence for the moral good, and they wanted citizens of the new nation to be able to bring their religious convictions and values to the table to provide moral perspective in the discussion of public issues.

Haman’s accusations against the Jews sound eerily like the accusations of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, as well those of other secular speakers. Haman accused the Jews of following different laws in their daily lives, and he likewise accused them of failure to follow the king’s laws. Their “different laws” would have been Torah, the first five books of the Bible. The single commandment to worship God alone put them at odds with Persia’s state religion, while other teachings in the Bible would have made them look odd, if not dangerous, to the other citizens of the Persian Empire.  The empire was huge and encompassed people of many religions as well as people of no religion, but the Jews alone held that their religion required them to refuse to participate in any other. All the rest of the empire’s subjects followed religions that permitted them to comply with any law requiring them to pray to Persian gods or contribute to Persian temples. Only the Jews were restricted from worshiping more than one god.

This situation sounds a lot like the current uproar in the USA over the definition of preventive health services and the employer mandate to provide preventive health services at no charge to their employees in group health insurance plans. Catholics in particular, and other Christians from various denominations, follow teachings in the Bible that require them to respect the life of human beings from conception to the grave, as well as teachings about the meaning and purpose of human sexuality. These teachings lead them to a conscience objection to the mandate for contraception, abortion, and sterilization. In other words, just as Haman said of the Jews in Persia, “Their laws are different from those of every other people, and they do not keep the king’s laws.” In ancient Persia, there was no First Amendment protection for conscience; in Persia, the king had the right to put people to death for a difference of opinion, let alone an actual failure to comply with the law. In the USA, however, citizens have been accustomed for more than two hundred years to be protected from the government when their consciences demand behavior different from that expected by the government.

Contemporary accusations against Christians arise in many different contexts, not just the Affordable Care Act. Recently, a chaplain was ordered to remove an essay from his “Chaplain’s Corner” website, because it quoted the statement, “There are no atheists in foxholes.”  Mikey Weinstein, director of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, called Christians “fundamentalist monsters,” and labelled Christian evangelism “spiritual rape,” in his efforts to classify Christian free speech as “hate speech.” Weinstein says, ““Lt. Col. Reyes must be appropriately punished.”  Secular academics have raised a ruckus over the hiring of a professor of astronomy who believes in intelligent design. Guillermo Gonzalez is accused of teaching “creationism,” despite Gonzalez’ statement that he is still researching cosmological origins, a profoundly scientific attitude. An atheist who found a Gideon Bible in a dresser drawer in a state park cabin complained that its presence constituted an establishment of religion. Secular thinkers, who by definition are atheists, consider the public exercise of Christian faith to be a privilege, not a Constitutional right, and they are becoming ever more aggressive in their attempt to suppress what they call Christian privilege.

In ancient Persia, Haman proposed to King Xerxes that he simply exterminate Jews the way a householder might exterminate vermin, saying, “Let it be decreed that they be destroyed.” (Esther 3:8) At the moment, Christians in the USA are not targeted for extermination, but Christian faith speech in public is certainly under fire. The display of crosses anywhere but on a church steeple has been questioned. Reading the Bible or praying anywhere outside a church building is viewed with skepticism by many. Even people who self-identify as Christians may say that they believe people should keep their religion to themselves and not speak of it in public. What’s more disturbing, some Christians are being lured into the notion of rearing children without teaching them the faith until they are “old enough to decide for themselves.” Cultural pressure is eating away at the Constitutional freedom for citizens to “exercise” their religious convictions in public.

When Haman tried to eradicate the Jews, God worked through Esther to save the people. Esther prayed and fasted for three days, and then she demonstrated great wisdom and creative thinking to achieve the reversal of Haman’s decree. God worked through a person who trusted him and took the time to listen to him before speaking or acting. Esther told Mordecai, Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king.” (Esther 4:16)

Esther is a good model for Christians in the US. The culture wants to suppress Christians and Christian teaching. The government, shaped by the culture, is more and more open to suggestions to restrict Christians and Christian faith speech. The Affordable Care Act specifically classifies religion as something that happens inside a church building, and by implication it denies the application of conscience to activity outside a church building. The First Amendment notwithstanding, the federal government has argued in court that when someone engages in business, he is automatically separated from any right to claim that religious conviction motivates or constrains his actions. Christians fight the same battle Esther fought. For Esther, the culture pressed against the Jews in the person of Haman, who was able to influence the government to exercise its power against Jews. In the US, secular thinkers and Christians influenced by secular thinkers act within the culture to dismiss or restrict Christian voices and Christian influence. These same people influence the government to reshape the whole meaning of the First Amendment protection of religious liberty. Like Esther, Christians need to draw near to God for guidance and strength to act. To defend religious liberty will require assertive action and speech, diligence to fight the same battles over and over, and vigilance to recognize clever deceits in language and law that increasingly restrict religious freedom.

Trust God alone, and trust him completely, just as Esther did. Pray and listen and mature in your faith to be ready to do what he leads you to do, just as Esther did. The battle isn’t looming near; the battle is already in progress. Christian commitment to live according to Christ’s call rather than do the popular thing looks very strange to the culture. It is even seen as a threat by some. If Christians are to re-assert and re-establish religious liberty in the USA, they must be willing to be perceived as strange.

As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. (Colossians 2:6-8)

 

A Verse for Meditation

Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for God who has promised is faithful.                    Hebrews 10:23

  • Do you hope in God? Or do you think it is all up to you?
  • Do you really believe that God is faithful? Do you really trust God with your life? What are you really afraid of?
  • In action movies, we often see someone clinging to a branch or a rock or the gutter on the roof of a tall building. The character is doomed if he or she cannot hang on. Do you hang on to your faith in God that way? Do you actually believe that there is a bad consequence if you lose your faith?
  • Think about your days at work. When was the last time you were about to speak of your hope in God, but you wavered? Why did you hesitate? What did you decide to do? What will happen the next time?

Who Am I?

Little children often play games where they describe a character or act out something and then ask, “Who am I?” They do this in the belief that every individual has traits that distinguish him from all other individuals. They can say, “The farmer caught me in the garden. I tried to run, but my jacket got caught in a net, and I barely wriggled out of it in time to escape. Who am I?” Most of the children would know it was Peter Rabbit.

Jesus didn’t play games with his disciples, but one day he did ask them some “Who am I?” questions. One day he asked them who everybody else thought he was. He had been wandering from town to town, teaching in synagogues, healing sick people, giving sight to the blind, and so forth. Jesus asked his disciples how people interpreted these things. The disciples responded by telling him that people thought maybe John the Baptist had come back to life, or maybe Elijah. Jewish people all knew that Elijah had not really died, and they knew there was a prophecy that he would return, so this idea was common. There were various other interpretations.

Then Jesus asked “Who am I?” He actually said, “Who do you say that I am?” but the real question to the disciples was more piercing. He wanted them to answer from their hearts. Simon Peter spoke right up. “You are the Messiah,” he said.

Jesus needed to be sure that his disciples understood who he really was, because otherwise, they would misunderstand everything he did. People in general misunderstood him for a lot of reasons, but it was important that the disciples get it right. They did not know what was coming, but Jesus knew, and he knew that if they did not understand that he was God come down among them, then they would never be able to do the work of telling the good news to the whole world.

After the feeding of the five thousand, people gathered around Jesus with questions that made it clear that they did not recognize who Jesus really was. They actually pursued him all the way across the Sea of Galilee from the remote location where five thousand had been fed. When they found him, they asked him to explain himself. First they wanted to know how Jesus got to Capernaum. He responded by piercing the façade that hid their real desire to know how he had managed to feed all those people. He answered the real question, where did all that bread come from? Jesus knew, because he always knew what was going on inside people,  that each person who asked was actually trying to figure out how to get in the bread line again. The moocher society did not sprout full-blown for the first time in the twenty-first century. Even in Jesus’ day, there were plenty of people who wanted benefits, not jobs.

Jesus said they needed to work, not for daily bread, but for the food of eternal life. Eugene Peterson captures the response of the crowd well when he says that they “waffled.” Of course they waffled. We all do. We want to ask God for what we want, and we want to receive what we want. We don’t want God to tell us to get to work, and we certainly don’t want to be expected to work for things we can’t see. Peterson’s translation/paraphrase records that they responded saying, “Why don’t you give us a clue about who you are, just a hint of what’s going on? When we see what’s up, we’ll commit ourselves. Show us what you can do.” (John 6:30-31) In other words, prove yourself to us.

I encounter people all the time who say the same thing. They consider faith in Christ to be akin to belief in a four-leaf clover. Or the tooth fairy. The culture of the US today is growing daily more cynical about the existence of God, and doubt of his existence leads to doubts about his right to expect anything of human beings. At this very moment, a lawsuit is in process in a US federal district court in which the ultimate question is whether a person ought to obey God or live according to human reason. That is not the way the question is worded, because it is about contemporary law and political administration and a businessman who believes he should live according to his faith principles, even in his business. But the real question is the same question the disciples had to answer over and over after Pentecost: Must Christians obey government, namely human beings, when government expects Christians to disobey or deny God? The government, like the people who chased Jesus down in Capernaum looking for free bread, challenges the very existence of God by challenging God’s authority in people’s lives and daily work.

The people questioning Jesus made their case by asking Jesus to prove himself to them again, as if the miraculous multiplication of loaves and fish had been merely a sideshow. They pointed out that in the wilderness, their ancestors at manna, the bread of heaven, a miracle they attributed to Moses. Presumably, since the manna had been provided for nearly forty years, they hoped to see Jesus provide bread for a similar period of time. Jesus refuted their premise by pointing out that Moses was not the source of manna; God provided the manna. Then he said that God’s bread comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. The people liked the sound of that. Bread from the sky, bread they could eat and live and never worry about being hungry any more. They wanted this bread.

This is the moment when Jesus named himself. Jesus, God in the flesh, named his name just as God had done at the burning bush when Moses asked “Who are you?” Well, not in those words, but anyone can see that he was tap-dancing when he said that the Israelites would ask for the name of the god who had sent Moses. If Moses had already acknowledged in his own heart that he was talking to God, he would not have asked God to explain himself. To Moses at the burning bush, and to people seeking bread for life, God said, “I AM.” Jesus said, “I AM the bread of life.”

A long discourse follows this moment, and there is no record that Jesus (God) was interrupted. Up to this moment, people had been engaged in conversation with Jesus, asking impertinent questions, expressing their snickering skepticism, but when Jesus said “I AM” it set them back. They said nothing for a long time, and when we next read that they did speak, they werenot speaking with Jesus, but rather, they werearguing among themselves. When Jesus claimed to be God, claimed that he himself was the bread of life, they were afraid to argue with him. They believed and trembled, like the demons of whom James wrote (James 2:19), but they didn’t believe and follow, at least not at that moment. Unlike Simon Peter who clearly saw that Christ was the promised Messiah for which Israel had been waiting, the people who had eaten their daily bread at the hand of God were not ready to commit themselves to the One who offered himself as their eternal bread, the bread of life.

Are we that different? Do we love and serve Jesus for the eternal and infinite blessings of his kingdom, or do we pray with skepticism, asking God to prove himself by giving us what we want, doubting his loving sovereignty when things don’t go our way? Do we respond to our daily challenges by asking “How could God let this happen?” or do we respond like Job, praying, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Jesus identified himself as God, and that means that his every word is the nourishment that sustains us. He himself is our bread of life, a truth we celebrate every time we celebrate Holy Communion. Each time we receive that bread, we ought to remember Jesus’ real question to us every moment of our lives, in every choice we make: Who am I?