Come to the Table

Psalm 23:5-8: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

David has celebrated the Lord as his shepherd in the first half of Psalm 23. Now, we move into the image of the Lord as his host. There is the table, the anointing with oil, and the overflowing cup. The Lord is nourishing his servant through a meal. At the table are God’s goodness and mercy; these are the very attributes of the Lord that nourish and sustain David; these are the attributes that give him confidence to press on in his journey with the Lord. David knows his days are secure — secure because he lives and will live in the house of the Lord forever.

Just as the Lord invited David to his table, he invites you. He is there ready to anoint your head with oil, to nourish you and sustain you, to surround you with his goodness and mercy.

Are you coming to the table? Are you receiving the good gifts of the Lord? These are the very gifts we need to receive in order to persevere through our many trials and tribulations. We, too, are guaranteed to live in the house of the Lord forever.

Ask the Lord to give you a picture or a sense of what it looks like for you to sit down at his table today. What does he want you to know? What does he have for you there?

I Will Fear No Evil

Psalm 23:4: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

Death surrounds us these days. It is hard to turn on the news without hearing about all the deaths from the coronavirus and the many more that are expected. Many would say that we are walking in the valley of the shadow as we have no guarantees of a cure or a vaccine.

So how does David find hope as he walks in the shadow of death? He looks to the Shepherd of his soul. David knows that the Lord is sovereign over all things and that he will faithfully care for his sheep.

We have this great hope of David. We have the good Shepherd of our souls. We are the sheep of his pasture; we have his presence to guide us even in the darkest days. Even more, we have the promise of everlasting life with him. This world is not truly our home. If the Lord chooses to take us to our true home, we can still be at rest. Our eternal life is secure in him.

How are you experiencing the comfort of the Lord’s rod and staff during this time? How could you experience that comfort more?

Do Not Harden Your Hearts: A Reflection on Covid-19

Many people have been asking me what I make of the coronavirus, what I think the purpose of it is, and what God will do through it. My humble answer is that I have absolutely no idea! There is a reason that God is God and I am not!

While I do not have any answers, I do believe that we can be asking ourselves how God wants us to live through these days.  I think there is a faithful way to live, one that puts our trust and hope in the Lord, and I think there is a fear-based way to live, one that looks around us and sees panic, doom, and gloom. No matter what your response is, God still sits on his throne. He is sovereign over this virus. Despite the pain, suffering, and loss, I know that God is good. I believe that he will work for his glory and our good through this.

As a Lenten discipline, I am meditating on a Psalm each week. This week, I am focusing on Psalm 95. There is a phrase that keeps calling me, speaking to me, and challenging me: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work” (verses 7-9). I keep wondering how my reaction to this coronavirus will either harden my heart or soften my heart to the Lord.

In Psalm 95:7-9, the Lord speaks to when he led the Israelites out of Egypt. He worked powerfully on behalf of his people and accomplished many miracles so that the people could not only escape Egypt but leave with plunder. The Israelites saw the mighty hand of God as he parted the Red Sea for them to walk through. That sea then crashed upon the Egyptian army that pursued them. God changed bitter water to sweet water in the wilderness of Shur (Exodus 15:25); the Lord provided manna for food in the morning and quail for food at night.

As the Israelites moved on to camp at Rephidim, they couldn’t find water and became indignant. They grumbled against God and against Moses: “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst” (Exodus 17:3)? Pause here a moment to think about all the miracles the Israelites had witnessed with their very own eyes, to remember how God had provided everything they needed just when they needed it. Instead of asking God to once again provide water, they whined and complained. Can you imagine how frustrating that must have been for Moses, for God? In his mercy, the Lord does provide water. Moses struck the rock at Horeb and water came out to quench their thirst.

The Israelites were slow to understand and slow to believe. They say it took 40 days to get the Israelites out of Egypt but 40 years to get Egypt out of the Israelites. All those years of bondage certainly took their toll. Likely, the Israelites felt forgotten by the Lord. God never forgets his covenants! God never forgets his people. During the years of slavery, the Lord had a plan for their escape. He knew their course through the wilderness, and he knew the glories of the promised land.

In Numbers 13, Moses sends the men to spy out the promised land. They go into the land and find it is even more glorious than they could have imagined. The only problem was the people in the land. The report from 10 of the spies was that the people were like giants and there was no way to overcome them. Only Caleb and Joshua brought back the report that the land was glorious, and although the land was occupied, they knew that God would give them the land. Caleb and Joshua remembered God’s faithfulness through their Egyptian escape and their journeys. They believed that the same God who provided water, food, protection, and guidance would allow them to supernaturally defeat the giants.

Sadly, the Israelites succumbed to the dour report of the 10 spies instead of choosing the faith and hope of Caleb and Joshua. They cried and groaned all night and once again asked why they couldn’t have just died in the land of Egypt or in the wilderness. After all God’s faithfulness, they still did not believe. Their hearts were hard to the Lord.

The Israelites serve as a warning to us. Though we are quick to criticize them, they represent us. In Psalm 95, we are warned not to harden our hearts. How do hearts become hard to the Lord? The Psalmist says that hearts harden when we hear the voice of God and choose unbelief instead of belief, when we put God to the test, and when we go astray in our hearts. The Lord was certainly worthy of the Israelite’s full-hearted faith. Nevertheless, they chose fear over faith; they chose to complain instead of pray; they chose despair over hope.

As Christians living in the year 2020, have we seen God’s faithfulness? Have we experienced his gracious provision, his mercy, and his love? If so, how do these experiences shape our response to the coronavirus? As we see the people of the world around us panicking, retreating, and lamenting, do we join them or do we take a posture of trust in the sovereign Lord? Do we move into complete dependence on him and into continual prayer? I am not saying we won’t have a range of emotions. We are human, and those emotions are normal and even healthy. It is what we do with those emotions that makes all the difference. Perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). We can choose to dwell in the perfect love of the Father or we can choose to camp out in fear. Love will keep our hearts tender, soft, and dependent on the Lord, while fear will harden our hearts and cause us to seek comfort in idols and the things of this world.

So, what does faith look like? Solitude, contemplative prayer and meditative Scripture reading are Christian disciplines that have been lost in our day and age. We are constantly busy with our agendas. If it is not work, school, family, or friends then we find ourselves lost in social media. What if we used this extra time in our schedules to get truly still and quiet before the Lord? What if we turned off all our technology for certain hours of the day so that we did not have the constant distractions? What if we read a passage of Scripture, then re-read that passage asking the Lord how he wants to speak to our hearts and lives through his words? What if we sat before the Lord without a major list or agenda and just invited him to speak? What if we spent some time journaling, allowing our thoughts and feelings to be released, knowing that God sees, knows, and cares about each and every one of those thoughts and feelings?

What does fear look like during this time? Fear can take many shapes and forms. It can look like the person obsessed with the next announcement by the CDC, absorbed by the media, and consumed with all the unknown. It can look like choosing to put our trust in busyness to keep our minds occupied and to keep our hearts hard and unknown, even to us; it is looking to our ways of comforting ourselves – food, alcohol, internet, online shopping, exercise, etc. You know your go-to. We all have them.

What if God wants to take this time to expose our idols so that we can turn aside from these lesser things, these things that never truly bring comfort and healing, so we can fix our eyes firmly upon him? What if God wants to use this time to search us and know us, to reveal the things in our lives that rob us of true intimacy with him, of living his abundant life so that we can choose life, so that we can choose faith, so that we can choose him?

Today, let’s make the choice to not harden our hearts. Let’s ask God to soften our hearts. Let’s allow him to work through the trials of this coronavirus to draw us to the only true hope in him. Let’s trust him to provide what we need, to comfort us in our sorrow and fear, and to lead us through these uncertain times knowing that he is good, that he sees all of it, knows all of it, and will love us in the midst of it.

“Oh come, let us sing the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods” (Psalm 95:1-3).

The Lord is My Shepherd

Psalm 23:1-3: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”

A shepherd is committed to protecting his sheep, nourishing his sheep, and caring for his sheep. When David says the Lord is his shepherd, he is saying that he is trusting the Lord to do all these things for him. David certainly knew his share of hardship; there were many occasions in which David’s very life was in danger. In the midst of all his trials, David learned to put his trust in the Lord, to find his rest in the Lord, and to allow the Lord to guide him.

The result of David doing these things was contentment, rest, peace, restoration, and the paths of righteousness. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

So, in difficult times, why do we resist entrusting ourselves to the Lord? Why do we often want to live as the shepherd and not the sheep? How is that working for us?

Do you want contentment, rest, peace, restoration, and paths of righteousness? Even in the midst of this coronavirus, financial crisis, and uncertainty, the Shepherd is there ready to care for us. He knows our needs even better than we do. Today, let’s choose to entrust ourselves to him.

God’s Perspective

1 Samuel 16:1: “The Lord said to Samuel, ‘How long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.’”

In our passage today, Saul is still the reigning king of Israel though he has been rejected by the Lord. Saul was given specific orders from the Lord, and Saul chose his way instead of fulfilling the Lord’s commands. It was a small tweak but an important tweak. As God’s anointed king, Saul was to obey the word of the Lord completely. Saul was Israel’s king under the true King, the Lord. Saul’s act of disobedience led to God’s rejection of him as king. For the rest of the kingship, Saul will fervently hold to his crown while knowing that he is no longer God’s chosen instrument.

Meanwhile, God has called the prophet Samuel to anoint a new king. As Samuel views the sons of Jesse, he assumes he can pick God’s chosen man. How wrong he is! God has chosen David, the youngest of the sons and the one working as a shepherd to lead his people. Based on Samuel’s and Jesse’s response, David would not have been their choice for a king. Nevertheless, David was God’s choice.

What does the Lord want us to take from this text? First, God’s commands are to be obeyed wholeheartedly and completely. Second, God works in ways that we cannot begin to fathom. Why would he choose the youngest son and apparently the least likely son? The Lord is the true king, and the true king operates outside of our logic and understanding.  

There are certainly things in the world today that we cannot understand. Why has this coronavirus reeked such havoc among the world? Answers to that question are not yet revealed; however, the most important question we can ask ourselves is — how shall we live in light of this virus? Just as the Lord had a plan for Israel’s king, he has a plan for this virus. While we watch, wait, and pray, can we choose to trust and obey God wholeheartedly and completely?

The Collect for Sunday

“Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.”

Father, we thank you for the nourishment of our souls and bodies that can only come through your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Strengthen us in him and through him to do the work you have called us to do, especially during these difficult days.

Seen, Known and Loved

John 4:16-18: “Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come here.’ The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying I have no husband; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.’”

In this conversation with the woman at the well, Jesus shows his compassion and his omniscient knowledge. Jesus chose to speak with this woman knowing who she was and all that she had done. Truth, love, and grace. Jesus speaks the truth in love, offers the woman grace and then tells her about living water.

That is exactly what the Lord does with us. He speaks the truth to us about our sin through the conviction of the Holy Spirit, he offers us grace and reconciliation through his Son, and he fills us with his life-giving living water. Just like the woman at the well, we are seen, known, and loved.

How do you respond to being completely known and completely loved?

Perfect Knowledge and Perfect Love

Romans 5:6-8: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Through my years in my ministry, I have heard many people speak these words: “If God really knows what I have done, he cannot (or will not) love me.” Romans 5 speaks directly to that lie. Christ knew exactly the sins we would commit. He chose to lay down his life as a perfect sacrifice for those very sins.

Jesus didn’t wait until we got our act together; he didn’t wait for us to repent; he knew our weakness, knew our rebellion, knew the ugliness of our sin. Still, he chose to put his love upon us.

God does know the depth of your sin and depravity. He knows all the ways you have fallen short and all the ways you will continue to fall short. Coinciding with his perfect knowledge is his perfect love.

This Lenten season, will you openly acknowledge your sinfulness before the Lord, and will you acknowledge his love for you in spite of your sin? There is nothing you have ever done that will make him love you more, and there is nothing you will ever do to make him love you less. God loves you! He sent Jesus to reveal that love to you.

Living in Hope

Romans 5:1-5: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

Paul exhorts us to remember our hope of glory and to live according to this hope. Our hope is found in the righteousness given to us through Christ. When we put our faith in him, we are justified before the Father. I have heard justification explained this way – “just as if I never sinned.” The righteousness of Christ covers us so that when the Father looks at us, he sees us covered in righteousness. What a gift! We have full access to the Father and an eternal assurance of life with him.

While we are in this world, we will continue to endure suffering. Paul reminds us that suffering produces endurance which leads to character which leads to hope. Our worldly afflictions create a transformation within us so that our lives look more like Jesus.

Are you living in this hope of glory?

Let Us Worship and Bow Down Before the Lord

Psalm 95:6-7: “Oh come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! For he is our God, and we are the sheep of his hand.”

Each day, we get to make a choice as to who or what we will worship. What do you think about more than anything? Where do you spend the most time? What are the greatest sources of your anxiety or fear? What brings you the most joy?

The answers to these questions will quickly reveal what you worship. Throughout Psalm 95, the psalmist reminds us that God alone is worthy of our worship and adoration. He calls us to come wholeheartedly before him, to recognize that all that we have and all that we are come from him. He is our maker!

Who are we? We are his people. As in many other passages of Scripture, we are likened to his sheep. As sheep, we acknowledge that we need the Lord’s guidance, protection and provision.

This Lenten season, let’s allow God to examine our choices of who and what we worship. May we repent of our idols and return wholeheartedly to the Lord. Let’s make the choice to bow before him alone.