Lie: Life Should be Easy

10th Sunday after Pentecost
James 1:2-4

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, in the name of Jesus who bore His cross to rescue and save each one of us, dear friends in Christ, All I have to do is push one button on my smart phone and I can instantly call any phone number I want, I can read a text message and have it sent to anyone, I can tell it to navigate me to anywhere in the United States and within milliseconds have the fastest route there. It can look up any information that I want it to. I can go home and have fresh coffee made within minutes, I can warm up any leftovers within seconds in my microwave. I can flip a little switch and instantly have light in my house. More and more it becomes a bit uncomfortable for us to be out of cell phone range, to have the battery in our electronic gadget die, or to lose electricity for hours or days (as some of you did this past week). We live in a world where trillions of dollars and countless hours are spent in finding ways to make life easy. But there’s a caution. We can become so accustomed to an easy life that we begin to feel that life should be easy. Do you think that?

Or, perhaps you’re looking at this lie that, “Life should be easy,” and you’re thinking to yourself, “Now this one, I surely don’t believe. I know that life isn’t easy, trust me. I have many personal reminders of the difficulties and sinfulness of life. All I have to do is watch the evening news and see the problems and difficulties in the world. All I have to do is look at my yard that perhaps is covered with trees that were knocked down or damage or debris. Or, I’ve lost a loved one, I’ve endured sickness, I’ve experienced the stress and frustration at work, I’ve experienced marriage difficulties or tried to parent my children – believe me, I know how difficult life is, I know that life isn’t easy.”

But consider this, even though we know we have difficulties and should expect them, do we want our life to be easy? Do we want things to just work out for us? Part of falling into the trap of this lie is when we see other people who seem to have better lives than we do. Maybe a friend tells you about their wonderful family or a coworker fills you in on all the intricate details of their incredible vacation or your neighbor tells you about his perfect job. Or maybe you begin to think that everyone else seems to have it put together, “why does this always have to happen to me!” No one else has marriage problems like I do, no one else seems to experience the parenting struggles like I do, no one else is as stressed as I am, no one else seems to have as bad of money problems as I have. Other people are smarter, skinnier, have more money, a better spouse, a better job than me. Maybe once I retire I can finally live life like those people, once I get that new job I’ll finally have an easy life like those people, once my children are grown up I can finally enjoy life again. So, while we might say that we know that our life is not going to be easy, is an easy life something that we strive for or live in envy of? Or maybe we’re just plain tired of dealing with all our problems and just wat a break, we just want an easy life. We think, “Life should be easy.”

The effect of believing the lie that life should be easy is bitterness, resentment and envy. Think about it, what are we really saying to God when we’re not content with what He’s given to us and want more to be like someone else? What are we saying to God when we’re envious, resentful of others, and harbor bitterness maybe toward God or to other people for the difficulties that we’ve been through, that we’ve suffered, that we’ve had to endure which seem far worse in comparison to other people. Aren’t we really saying, “Life should be easy”? And perhaps the worst effect of believing this lie is that although we know in our heads that God is loving, powerful, and wise, in our words and actions to we give the impression that God isn’t loving or he wouldn’t have allowed this to happen, that God isn’t wise, otherwise he would have done things this way, or not powerful , otherwise he would have prevented this horrible thing from happening.

Our text this morning is a difficult pill to swallow. God is essentially saying that we should rejoice when problems and trials come into our lives. How in the world is that possible? That’s about the last thing we want to do. Typically we think it’s good if we just deal with the problems we face, let alone rejoice in them! The only way that we can rejoice even in the midst of difficulties and hardships is taking the promises of God that we know in our heads and driving them down into our hearts so that God’s promises have an effect on both on our emotions and our faith.

The writer James addresses this book to “the twelve tribes scattered among the nations.” So, he’s really writing this letter to Christian Jews scattered all over the place, they weren’t living in Jerusalem any more. That gives this letter somewhat of a unique characteristic. He’s not addressing Christians in a certain city with certain struggles, but he’s addressing Christians in general with general truths from God. And one of the things that he takes for granted is that the Christians will experience trials and difficulties. And that’s no surprise. Jesus told us, “If anyone wants to come after me he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” And in the book of Acts the apostles said, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”

So, the truth is not “life should be easy” but really the truth is “life should be difficult” – that’s what we should expect. We should expect a world full of disease and death, stress and money problems, terrorism, persecution, crime, hate. Not only in world but also in our lives. Notice what our text says, we will face “trials of many kinds.” We will face general difficulties in life, but even more, we’ll face trouble because of the fact that we’re Christian. Notice what the first lesson said, “In fact everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” So God promises that we will experience problems and difficulties and trials in life.

But along with the promise of problems, God promises something else- “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” In other words, God’s promise is that the trials we face are for our good. They make us stronger, they cause us to persevere. God’s promise is that He actually does work all things out for our good. A classic example of someone who experienced many trials was Joseph. He was sold into slavery in a foreign country, then thrown into prison, then was forgotten about in prison. There was plenty of opportunities for Joseph to become bitter, angry, resentful and envious or he could choose to trust God and serve God even in the midst of the difficulties.

Problems will come, but God has promised to make them work for our good- so when problems come, “Consider it pure joy.” It’s one thing to deal with problems, it’s another thing to be joyful about it. How can we find joy when we face sickness, when our car breaks down, when work or family problems increase? Most of us have a hard enough time to just deal with the difficult things of life let along “consider it pure joy.”

God wants us to have ultimate joy but in order for us to have ultimate joy the reality is, we must have pain. Think about Jesus. Why did He have to go to the cross? If God loved His own Son so much, why would He send him there? Jesus went through pain and torment far more than we could ever imagine on that cross- both physical and spiritual as God punished him for our sins. Why so? “For the joy set before him he endured the cross scorning its shame.” So that we could be with God permanently. Yes, we have pain and difficulty and it may be hard for us to think that things could be worse, but they could have been. We could be going from pain here to ultimate pain and suffering in hell, but God spared us from that! Instead of God directing his wrath and anger for sin at us, He directed all of it at His own Son on the cross.

So, that means that when we’re experiencing problems or difficulties in life we know they are for our good. When you suffer you KNOW that God is not punishing you for something that you did, because he already punished Jesus for your sins. So there must be another purpose for our suffering. What does God say? The “testing of your faith develops perseverance.”  You are being made “mature and complete, not lacking anything.” God doesn’t send pain in anger, but in love making sure that He doesn’t lose you for eternity.

So, all that’s left is rejoicing – even and especially in suffering. That doesn’t mean that we have to jump up and down when we get sick or lose our job, but it does mean that we can rejoice that we have a God who doesn’t just want us to have a comfortable life here, but an eternity of comfort with him. We can rejoice that God loves us like a father enough to discipline us to make us stronger in our faith. We can rejoice that God has the power to even use the sinful things of this world for our good. We can rejoice that God has the wisdom that He can even turn our own mistakes into a way to help us and maybe even others. We can rejoice when we face problems because it’s a reminder that this world isn’t our home.  True rest, true joy, true happiness for our souls is found only in Jesus, not in our outward circumstances.

There’s a neat illustration about two trees. One tree was out in the middle of a field and the other tree was growing right next to stream. Through dry spells and droughts the tree in the middle of field had to struggle to get water it had to put its roots down and deep to find water through difficult seasons. The tree by the stream, however, had it really easy, had a constant supply of water didn’t have to struggle much. But then a storm came – like the storm we had this past week- and the tree in the middle of the field that struggled through dry spells and droughts withstood the strong winds because it had deep roots. But the tree that had it easy by the stream was uprooted by the wind.

No, life should not be easy, life is difficult, God’s promised that. But God also has promised to use every difficulty and trial for our good, to strengthen our faith and drive us closer to Him for He is our God who is all-wise, all-powerful, all-loving and with him as our God we can be content and even consider it pure joy when we face many kinds of trials. Amen.

Lie: My Worth Is Determined by My Performance

communion9th Sunday after Pentecost
Philippians 3:4-11

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus who has given you and me priceless worth, dear friends in Christ, Have you ever heard of the story about Kathy Ormsby? The NCAA track-and-field championships were being held in Indianapolis in 1986. She was a premed honor student and a track star at North Carolina State University. She was also her college’s record holder for women’s ten-thousand meter run. During the championship race she fell behind and couldn’t seem to catch the front runner no matter how hard she tried. All of a sudden she ran off the track and out of the stadium to a nearby bridge where she jumped off. The forty foot fall that she took left her paralyzed from the waist down. I have no idea what was going through her head, but I can take a guess. My guess is that she was believing two lies: first, “I need to be perfect” and “my worth in life is determined by my performance.” And since she was believing that lie, when she was facing failure, it led her to a point of total despair in which she wanted to just end it all.

I think this, too, is a lie that each of us is tempted to believe- hopefully not to the degree of Kathy Ormbsy. Think about it, if you played any kind of sports – or, if your children play sports- how are they graded? The kids who perform well get awards and praise, the kids who don’t, don’t. And as a child did you let your performance on the field or on the court determine whether you’re happy or sad, do you feel low and worthless if you played terribly? You’re probably believing this lie.  What about school? We have a grading system so that the kids who perform well get good grades and are put in advanced classes, while those who don’t aren’t.  So, when you were in school or are in school did you equate your worth in life with how well you scored or what kinds of grades you got? This last week I spent taking a continuing education class which ended with a final review exam on Friday morning- as I stayed up late and got up early to study and cram for the test, I’ll let you decide if I thought I’d be a pretty pitiful person if I did horribly on the test. J Or, think about work. What’s the usual question when you meet someone new after you find out their name? “What do you do?” Think about the response, “Oh, you’re a doctor” vs. “Oh, you clean porta-potties.” J Do you equate how good of a job you have or how much money you have or make with your personal worth as a human being? In other words, if you suddenly had a low-level job and lost ¾ of your income would you feel worthless and tempted to do what Kathy Ormbsy did?

Believing this lie will really put us into to dangerous situations. If I perform well and enjoy success, I feel pretty good about myself and begin to look down on others as less important. Or, if I don’t feel I’ve achieved much, done much, I can feel worthless.

In our text this morning the Apostle Paul is dealing with certain people called “Judaizers” who had infiltrated the church in Philippi. In essence, they were saying that in order to be a good Christian you needed to perform, you needed to do this or that. In other words, you need to be circumcised as the OT law said, you can’t do any work on the Sabbath. So Paul tells them, “If you think that we’re going to be saved by who we are or what we’ve done, look at me. Please note, that Paul’s simply making a point here, he’s not bragging. Notice what he says about himself, “Circumcised on the 8th day, of the people of Israel.” That shows that he’s from good stock, he comes from a very religious family. He also says that he’s from the tribe of Benjamin. You know how special that is? Many of the Jewish people couldn’t trace their lineage- remember how the whole northern kingdom- the northern 10 tribes had been completely destroyed? Only the southern two tribes, Judah and Benjamin, survived. The fact that he could trace his lineage made him a “Jew of Jews.” He was also extremely zealous and religious as a Jew, so much so that he was a Pharisee. That meant he belonged to that special group that didn’t only claim to keep all the OT laws, but 613 additional laws that they had come up with. He was also so zealous for what he thought was the true faith that he persecuted those who didn’t believe. And he comes up with the conclusion that if someone could earn God’s favor by being religious and zealous and pious people would have called him “faultless.”

If one of us were writing this list, perhaps ours would look a little different. Perhaps we would say that we come from a very religious family, we finished confirmation class in 8th grade, we have an almost perfect church attendance record, we pray every night, we fight off temptation better than others. And then come to the conclusion, because of who I am or because of what I’ve done or not done in life, I’m worth more and loved by God more than others. And the opposite of this thought is just as much wrong. Perhaps you know your life and the terrible things you’ve done and you know that you deserve God’s wrath and punishment and you’re just living in fear waiting for God to get you back for those things you’ve done in the past. Whether you’re believing that or you’re believing you’ve earned God’s favor, it means you’re believing the lie, “My worth is determined by my performance.”

But all that changed when God appeared to Paul. On the road to Damascus to persecute Christians, Jesus appeared to him and said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me.” He was literally knocked to the ground, totally terrified. All of his pride, all of his life’s achievement, all of who he was and what he had done came crumbling to the ground with him. Not only had he been persecuting Jesus by persecuting His people, but he fell far short of God’s standard of perfection. And that’s exactly where you and I will be if we think our performance is what determines our worth before God- crumbling in fear because none of us, none of us even comes close to God’s standard of perfection.

You see, what Paul realized, was not that he was worthless, but that everything that he did in comparison to everything that Jesus did for him was worthless. He said, “Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.” He continues by saying where his pride and his worth was now found.  (vs. 8) “What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.  I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.”

Everything that I’ve done in the past, good or bad, is rubbish, garbage, junk, filth- useless or undesirable material that is subject to disposal, KJV “dung”.  Paul no longer sees his identity or his worth in what he has done but rather in what Christ has done. Anything that you’ve done in life that makes you feel “worth it” is really rubbish. Anything that you’ve done or not done in life that makes you feel “worthless” is really rubbish. When it comes to pride, your grades, your job, your income level, your achievements- those all are absolutely nothing in comparison to what Christ has done for you.

How do you determine something’s value? An auction is really a good illustration of this. If I had a pen and I asked each one of you, “How much will you give me for this pen?” Some might say a penny, another might say 5 cents, someone else might say 25 cents, still someone else might venture even a dollar. Then this pen would be worth a dollar because that’s what someone is willing to pay for it. That’s how you determine something’s value. So, how much was God willing to pay for you? “For you know that it was not with gold or silver that you were redeemed…but with the precious blood of Christ, a Lamb without blemish or defect.” How much are you worth? You are worth the blood of Jesus, the blood Jesus paid with His death on the cross to pay for all your sins, to win you forgiveness. How much is God’s blood worth? It’s priceless. So how much does that make you worth? To God- it’s priceless.

So often we try to find our worth in life horizontally- by what other people say about us or think about us. The truth that frees us from this lie, though, is when we find our worth in life vertically- from God, about what He says about us.

So if you want to be proud, be proud of your Savior, who is no longer going to judge us based on what we have or haven’t done in life, but who is going to judge us based on what he did for us.  If you want to boast, boast about your Savior who decided to save you and call you priceless even though we were worthless.  If you want to brag, brag about your faith that connects you so intimately to your Savior. Hear it in God’s Word where your Savior says, “You are worth it to me to live and die for you.” Hear it in your baptism where your Savior says, “You are worth it to me, I’ve clothed you with my righteousness.” Hear it in the Supper where your Savior says, “Take and eat, take and drink my own body and blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins- that’s how much you’re worth it to me!”

All the feelings of worthlessness or of sinful pride that you feel go away when we see that our worth is not determined by our performance, but by His.  Amen.

Lie: It’s Not My Fault!


7th Sunday after Pentecost
Genesis 3:8-13

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, I remember it like it was yesterday, it was 4:15 in the morning, it was summer, I was in high school, my brother and I both had the same job- we worked for a porta-potty company that happened to be just ¾ of a mile down the road, one of the largest porta-potty companies in Southeastern Wisconsin. On this particular day all of the drivers- about 10-15 of us- were to start at 4 am because we were delivering hundreds of porta-potties to different locations for a breast cancer awareness walk. 4:15 am my dad walked into the room my brother and I were sleeping in and woke us up, your boss just called and they’re wondering where you are. Oh no! Immediately, I say, “Adam! Did you set your alarm clock!” We rush to work and everyone is standing there waiting for us, and I absolutely hate being late and I remember pointing my finger, “It’s his fault!” Do you do that? There are countless stories that I could relate from my life where I’ve said, “It’s not my fault!” It’s so easy to blame and blame and blame and refuse to take responsibility.

Just about every marriage counselor has witnessed this. And before I go on, I just want to say that if you have marriage problems, like we learned last week It is not easier to avoid them and I do offer marriage counseling and it’s free. But every marriage counselor knows that typically at the first meeting with a couple each spouse has this incredible ability and insight to confess the other spouse’s sins. Why? Because we believe, “It’s not my fault!”

But here’s another angle to this lie that we’re taking a look at this morning. Have you ever said to yourself, “Ooh, I’m just so mad! They make me so upset!” Maybe you’re waiting in line in order to go to some event that you’ve really been looking forward to and there’s this huge line, you’re waiting and waiting, the line is going so slowly, you’re getting really upset, then finally there’s one person in front of you and all of a sudden they let in 15 more people whom they’ve been saving a spot for. Really!! Or you’re driving your car and it’s been backed up for miles, you’re supposed to be in the right lane and car after car is zooming along in the left lane and nosing their way in. Ooh, that makes me so mad! Or you’re at the store, you’re just buying a few things and you get into the “speedy” checkout and the person in front of you has 2 carts piled high with things. Really! Ooh, that makes me so mad! In each of those cases, what we’re really saying, is my misery, my unhappiness is not my fault, it’s someone else’s fault. In fact, if you’ve ever said, “They make me so upset. Or they hurt my feelings.” You’re probably believing this lie.

The truth is, no one owns your feelings except you. No one can make you feel upset, no one can make you feel miserable, no one can make you feel anything. Why not? Because God hasn’t given your feelings to anyone except you. No one owns your feelings except you. No one can make you unhappy, but you can choose to feel unhappy, choose to feel angry, choose to be frustrated because of what so and so said or did.

Again and again in life we can try to shift the responsibility of our problems and responsibility of our feelings by blaming someone or something else. Do we constantly ask, “What did I do to contribute to this problem?” Or, are we saying, “If people would just listen to me then we wouldn’t be in this mess, if we did it my way it would have turned out, if my parents were better parents I wouldn’t be in the mess I am in today, if they didn’t do what they did I wouldn’t have yelled or become angry, etc, etc.”

And think about the ramifications of believing this lie. First, it will destroy our emotional health. Why? Because perfect me becomes the victim of everyone else. I place the responsibility for my lack of joy and peace in life in the hands of everyone else. “It was their insulting comment, it was my children’s behavior, it was that long line, that makes me so upset! You know what that does? It leaves us frustrated, angry and defeated and NOT able to do anything about it because we think it’s everyone else’s fault! Believing this lie will also hurt us spiritually. You see, if I don’t think anything is my fault I’ll find it more and more difficult to repent and confess my sins to God. If you find it difficult confessing you sins to God every day, you’re probably believing this lie. And then furthermore I have less and less of a need for God’s grace, God’s mercy, God’s forgiveness. Finally, believing this lie also inhibits our ability to grow. How can I become a more loving spouse if I don’t think it’s my fault? How will I grow and improve when it’s everyone else’s fault?

So where did all this blame shifting and fault evading begin? It began with our first parents, Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve had both sinned against God and then they heard the LORD as He was coming to meet with them. The fact that they recognized the sound of God as He came seems to indicate that they had previously met with God and enjoyed His company. But this time is now different. When they hear the sound of God they quickly scurry here and there to find a hiding place. The verb form in the Hebrew indicates this back and forth frantic searching. Like a mouse in a dark room when the lights are suddenly turned on it frantically searches for a place to hide. But how ridiculous! God created everything and they think they can hide from him! That’s what sin does- it makes us do foolish things.  And when God questions them notice what Adam does, he tries to shift the responsibility off himself to the two people closest to him. First, it’s the woman. “The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” But that’s not it- it’s not just the woman – it’s also God. “Hey God, if I remember correctly, this whole woman thing was YOUR idea!” Now that’s a scary place to be. But many people go there – maybe you and I. God had made Eve out of love and mercy and when God brought Eve to Adam he greeted her with utmost excitement and joy. Now he’s blaming God for his trouble. We see ourselves in that, don’t we? The alcoholic who is dying of liver disease often points his finger at God and says, “God did this to me, God made me this way.” What a scary place to be, trying to evade the responsibility of our problems by pinning them on God. Adam’s sullen, he’s angry, he’s frustrated. Eve’s not much better, she too blames the serpent.

But what is incredibly comforting here is watch what God does – He does not remain silent. What’s his reaction to His creature’s fall, to their sin, to their blaming? Notice how different it is from how he deals with the Serpent. He doesn’t confront Satan or seek Satan’s repentance, He has no time for Satan, He simply announces Satan’s condemnation- “He will crush your head.” But how different God deals with His human beings! He seeks fellowship with them, like a loving father He asks questions in order to hear a confession, and even before He explains the consequences of their sin, He assures them of someone who would deliver them from sin, “I will put enmity between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head and you will strike his heel.” It’s the first promise of a Savior from sin. Already God comes with grace and mercy to reconcile his wayward children in view of Jesus who would come to rescue them.

There is only one person in all of history who has walked this earth who could properly say, “It’s not my fault, I did nothing but speak the truth, I did nothing but love and live perfectly, I’m not responsible for this mess.” Only Jesus could say that. But what did He say instead? In amazing grace he said to his Father, “Don’t hold them accountable. Blame me. Place the responsibility of all their sin and problems and mess on me. I am the sinner. I am the one at fault.” And on the cross that’s exactly what God did for you and me! He took the responsibility for our sin and shame and placed in on Jesus- forgiving us completely.

And because of that we’re delivered from this lie. Instead of evading responsibility and blaming, we can accept responsibility for our sin, confess it, and then rely on God’s grace and mercy for us in Jesus knowing our sin is forgiven. Because of Jesus we don’t have to be the victims of anger and frustration and unhappiness caused by everyone else, but be filled with the joy and peace that comes from our gracious God. Because of Jesus we can each say, “It’s mostly my fault, but my Jesus has paid for it.”

Imagine a scenario where two people sit down- maybe a husband and wife, maybe two relatives – and instead of blaming each other the one says, “It’s mostly my fault. I’ve been so stressed at work that I’ve just been irritable and impatient, please forgive me.” And the other says, “It’s mostly my fault, I have unreasonable expectations, I should never have insisted on what I insisted, please forgive me.” All praise to God for He is working the freeing power of the truth in their lives: It’s my fault, but I’m forgiven. Amen.

Lie: It’s easier to avoid problems than face them

6th Sunday after Pentecost
2 Samuel 19:1-8

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, do you know what the ball joints are on your car? Maybe about a year ago I started hearing this clunking noise while driving our car. Now, granted, our car is 1995 and is actually the car that I took my driver’s test in when I was 16, but I heard this clunking noise. Wasn’t sure what it was, only heard it when I drove over a bump or on some rough surface, so I ignored it…for about a year. I thought it was easier and cheaper to just ignore the problem, not to face it, the car still drove. Well, last month I was listening to a sermon by another pastor and he talked about how important the ball joints are in the car.  The ball joint is a bolt with round piece on it that that connects the wheel of your car to your car. If your ball joint breaks while you’re driving it could do a lot of damage to your car and more importantly be very dangerous to your safety- it’s nothing to mess around with. After hearing that I did a little research and discovered that the clunking noise was probably a bad ball joint and so after about a year I finally I fixed it.

A couple years ago my daughter Megan was complaining that it hurt when she chewed. My wife and I had thought that it was both easier and cheaper to just make sure we brushed our teeth instead of going to the dentist. Our daughter Megan had never been to the dentist. And when she complained about it hurting when she chewed we told her to chew on the other side of her mouth. Finally we noticed some of her teeth not looking right. We took her to the dentist and found out that she had such major cavities in her teeth that no dentist in town would work on her, no we would have to go down to St. Cloud to a pediatric dentist and she would need child root canals in all her molars with stainless steel caps. It turned out to be much more difficult and much more expensive than if we had been regularly taking her to the dentist.

The lie we’re looking at today is a lie we’re all tempted to believe. “It’s easier to avoid problems than to face them.” Have you believed that lie? Have you found yourself putting something off again and again and again because you don’t want to face it? Then you’re believing this lie. Maybe in school you knew that at the end of the semester there was a large paper due so you found yourself putting it off and putting it off until the week before the due date.  Then you were believing this lie. As a parent do you find yourself rescuing your child in every difficult situation they are in instead of letting them learn their lesson and grow? Then you’re believing this lie (and teaching your children to as well!)

Believing this lie can affect us physically. Perhaps we know that we have a medical history of cancer or high blood pressure or heart disease in our family, but we avoid going to the doctor because we’re afraid of what they will say. Maybe we know that we really should lose weight but we don’t want to face the problem of changing our diet or getting exercise so we put it off again and again. Believing this lie affects us financially. Perhaps we know that we have a spending problem, but we don’t want to face it so we keep charging things to the credit card until we’re broke and can’t pay the bills. There are people who don’t want to do their taxes so they don’t file for one year, then the next year, since they missed the last one are afraid to file again and again and again until they owe thousands of dollars in back taxes. And believing this lie affects our relationships. Maybe we have an issue with a family member but we avoid dealing with it so the relationship gets more and more distant. Maybe we have unresolved issues in our marriage, arguments never settled, issues never dealt with. They pile up and up, we avoid them thinking it’s easier to avoid the difficult conversation and soon we think our marriage is dead and looking for a divorce, when if we had dealt with the problems right away we wouldn’t be in this situation.

The truth is, problems do not just go away if you avoid them, they pile up. Avoiding a problem is not an escape, it’s just a postponement of the inevitable. Whereas when problems are faced, they’re usually not as bad as they are imagined to be.

King David is a prime example of someone who believed the lie, “It’s easier to avoid problems than face them.” One of David’s sons, Amnon, became overwhelmed with lust for his half-sister Tamar who is described as being very beautiful. One day Amnon devised a plan to be alone with Tamar, over powered her and raped her. Then, after he had his way with her, he became just utterly hateful toward her. Tamar happened to be the full sister of another son of David’s named Absalom. When Absalom found out what Amnon did to his sister he was furious. David was also furious- but that’s all we’re told. David never intervened, never called Amnon to repentance. It seems that David thought it would be easier to avoid the problem than to face it.

Absalom on the other grew and grew in his hatred toward Amnon and devised a plan and had Amnon murdered for what he did to his sister. Afterwards Absalom fled and stayed away for 3 years and David never spoke to his son. Again, it seems David thought it would be easier to avoid the problem than to face it and have a difficult conversation with his son. After 3 years, finally, with the intervention of some of David’s friends, Absalom is allowed to come back to Jerusalem to live but spends 2 years without seeing David because David didn’t want to see him. Again, it seems David was avoiding problems than facing them. Finally, after two years they reunite. Then over the next four years Absalom began to conspire against his father, he stole people’s hearts away from the king, saying that if he was king he would rule and judge so much better than David. Four years. It’s hard to believe that Absalom did that for four years right in the same city as David and David didn’t know anything about it. 4 years goes by and David doesn’t intervene – avoiding problems and not facing them? Seems like it. Well, it leads to David having to flee Jerusalem because Absalom leads a rebellion against David, Absalom wages a civil war in Israel between his own army and the army that was faithful to David, 20,000 men die in this battle and so does Absalom. Wow! And it all happened because David tried to avoid problems rather than to face them. Then, in our text, David is mourning for his son Absalom who had tried to overthrow David and kill him and his soldiers feel like even though they won, they lost. David’s about to lose everything, but finally Joab steps in, does the difficult thing, faces the problem and tells the king to encourage his army. And David does so.

Problem after problem after problem. Easier to avoid problems than face them? I don’t think so.  The problem started around a decade earlier and since it was not dealt with it spiraled out of control. But David says something very instructive a few chapters earlier when he was fleeing Jerusalem he said, “It may be that the LORD will see my distress and repay me with good for the cursing I am receiving today.” You see, although David’s problems had gotten out of hand for him, they were not out of the control of our gracious God.

What amazing grace that we have a God who does not avoid problems. We have a God who never has had and never will have a problem caused by Him. We have a God who rightly wouldn’t have to deal with any of our problems. And the  greatest problem that none of us can avoid is our sin and the consequence of our sin which is eternal death. So what did our God do? He faced not His problem, but our problems. He faced Satan’s temptations, He faced hunger, He faced exhaustion, He faced ridicule, he faced rejection, He didn’t avoid any problem, He faced them all, then He took our problem head on as He faced the cross of crucifixion and took our problems on himself, faced our punishment, faced our death.  Jesus died and Jesus rose to forgive you for all the times you’ve foolishly tried to avoid problems rather than to deal with them.

And knowing that means we can face all problems in life with the confidence that our God has already taken care of our greatest problem. It is knowing that that gives us the confidence to face every difficult situation in life. Think about it. What do you have to fear? Christ has redeemed you! Your sins are forgiven! You have peace with God! You have joy! Nothing can change that! With God’s grace empowering you, you can face problems.

What a gracious God that not only does he come to us and forgive us for all the times we’ve let our problems spiral out of control instead of dealing with them, but He promises to never leave us or forsake us and he will help us and lead us through the difficult situations we bring on ourselves. Think about your life- times when you were really stuck, had no where to turn, and did God bring you through it?

Since we don’t live in a perfect world we will face problems. Problems give us opportunity to turn to God for strength, comfort, encouragement, and empowerment to face them. Problems give us a chance to demonstrate a Christian attitude and response to the problems that everyone faces in life as an example for those around us. Problems give us a chance to grow in our faith and trust in God who promises to never give us more than we are able to handle.

And did you notice what Joab did here in our text? Joab confronted the king. Joab helped his friend not avoid but face his problems. God’s grace in Christ empowers us to do that too. Not only can we face our problems and deal with them as forgiven children of God, but we can help those around us to face their problems with the comfort we ourselves have from God.

Easier to avoid problems than face them? Nope. Thank the Lord for His grace and forgiveness that washes away all our sin of trying to avoid our problems and thank Him for dealing with our greatest problem, our sin, for us so that as His forgiven children we can face our problems head on. Amen.

I need you to like me!


5th Sunday after Pentecost
Galatians 1:10

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, “I want you to want me, I need you to need me, I’d love you to love me, I’m beggin you to beg me, I want you to want me, I need you to need me, I’d love you to love me.” That’s the refrain of a 1978 song by the classic rock band Cheap Trick. I’m not exactly sure the history of that song but the words illustrate quite nicely the lie that we’re looking at this morning, “I want you to want me.” It’s the teenager who doesn’t want to wear the outfit mom bought because he or she doesn’t want to be laughed at or ridiculed by others. It’s the constant struggle to fit in, it’s the utter disappointment of not being invited to the party, it’s the parent who always gives his teenager money because he doesn’t want them to dislike him, it’s the worker who lets himself be taken advantage of by coworkers, it’s the mom who always babysits for someone else even when she has things she needs to do because she doesn’t want to lose the friendship, it’s the hesitation to share your faith or stand up for God’s Word for fear of embarrassment or criticism. “I want you to want me.”

And perhaps it’s part of the big push among the LGBT community today. Everyone is looking for approval, for acceptance, to be included. And if I don’t have God’s approval, I look for it, I need it from others. By and large our society is lost and has no idea of God’s acceptance in Christ. So our society sympathizes with those who are or seem to be marginalized- they just need to be accepted, included, approved for who they are- even if that to which they are clinging is a damnable sin before God. “I want you to want me!”

Our desire to fit in, our desire to be liked, our desire to be included –do we still struggle with that today? Well, let’s think about a few questions: Does it happen that someone’s well-targeted criticism has the power to devastate you? Do you think about it again and again? Turn it over on in your mind, ruminate on it, can’t get it out of your head, days, months, years later? Then you are believing this lie. Or, does a well-aimed bit of praise by a certain person put you on cloud nine? Is someone’s praise that which keeps you going and makes your day? Then you believe this lie. Do you compromise God’s Word or your faith to fit in? Do you change your tune to fit in with the majority of the people around you- even though you believe something different? Then you believe this lie.

And it’s irrational, isn’t it? You know that it’s impossible to please everyone. Stand up in a full restaurant here in Bemidji and say loudly and proudly, “I’m a democrat.” There will be some who will cheer and some who will jeer. Stand up in the same restaurant and proudly and loudly say, “I’m a republican.” And guess what, some will cheer, some will jeer.  Share your religious convictions with someone, and guess what, some will simply not like you anymore.  Even though we live in the good state of Minnesota and I declare proudly that the Vikings are the best team in the NFL, some of you will vehemently disagree with me. That’s just the way it is. You cannot be liked by everyone. It’s an unattainable goal, but one we often try to achieve.

And what happens? What happens to you if you are a people pleaser? If you are a people pleaser you put your well-being in the hands of other people. You hand your life to someone and say, “I’ll do whatever it takes to get your love and acceptance.” You don’t know how to say no to people so other people determine your priorities, determine what you can or cannot wear, what you should say, how you should act, etc. It really ends up making other people into a god that you are serving. You can only be happy when other people like you, want you, accept you. You’ll end up running yourself ragged or bitter or resentful. “I want you to want me.”

Thank the Lord that He gives us the truth that sets us free. Listen to what God has the apostle Paul write to the Galatians: “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” What was going on with Paul? There were people who were infiltrating the congregations in Galatia who were attacking Paul. They accused Paul of being a people pleaser. You see, to be a Jew in the OT you had to follow a lot of rules and regulations. Some were saying, “Yes, that’s nice that Jesus died for us, but you still have to follow OT rules, you still have to be circumcised, you still have to obey all these rules and regulations.” They attacked Paul for not being genuine, for saying what people wanted to hear. Paul told people you don’t have to be circumcised to be a believer in Jesus. Paul told others, “You can be circumcised if you want to.” So Paul was under attack – people called him a people pleaser, he just said whatever people wanted him to say, that he was a false prophet and people shouldn’t listen to him.

So how does Paul respond? He doesn’t become a coward, he doesn’t change his message, he doesn’t try to find harmony by compromising the truth of the gospel. He defends the truth that in Christ Jesus we are free from a slavery to the law. So, if you have a concern for the Jews, you’re free to be circumcised. If you have a concern for the gentiles, you’re free not to be circumcised. Paul’s goal in everything that he did was that more and more people would know Jesus. “If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Notice what we’re told. You can’t be a people pleaser and a God-pleaser at the same time. There are only two options: either become a servant of people or become a servant of Jesus. You can’t be both a servant of people and a servant of Jesus.

Jesus warned about the same thing in the gospel. “Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you.” Did you catch that? Jesus says, “Woe to you” if you get everyone to like you. If everyone likes you, then you are doing something wrong, you’re not speaking the truth of God’s Word, you’re hiding your beliefs compromising your character. You become a people pleaser instead of a God-pleaser.  Who here wants Jesus to say, ‘Woe’ to them?

So what’s the answer to this lie? Human love, human approval, human acceptance will never fully satisfy the empty human heart. Only divine love, only love from God can provide the antidote to the “I want you to want me” syndrome. The only place that you’ll find divine love is from God. The Bible gives us a love that will never, ever change. It’s a love that’s so high, so wide, so long, and so deep, it’s a love that surpasses knowledge. It’s a love that so great that it frees us from having to find love from other people. How could the apostle Paul write so boldly that he could even risk losing the love of the Galatians? He knew that despite of who he is and what he had done, he was loved so deeply by the God who sent His own Son Jesus to live for him, die for him, rise for him and then bring him to faith. His answer to this lie, “I need to be liked” was “I’m already loved by God through Jesus.” And he told them that earlier in this letter, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ who gave himself for our sins.”

So what’s your answer going to be to this lie “I need you to like me”? “I am loved by God through Jesus my Savior.” When someone important to you criticizes you, what’s your answer? “I am loved by God through Jesus my Savior.” When you’re tempted to let someone’s praise put you on cloud nine, what’s your answer? “I am loved by God through Jesus my Savior.” When you’re tempted to compromise God’s Word, to keep quiet about your faith, remember, “I am loved by God through Jesus my Savior.” In Christ Jesus you already have all the approval, all the acceptance, all the love you need for all eternity.

And you know what that means? That means you can live your life playing to an audience of One, God. You’re free to seek to please only one in all of life- your God and Savior. It’s His love alone that we need and that we have. Find in the cross your heavenly Father telling you, “See how much I love you!” Find in your baptism, your heavenly Father telling you, “I’ve washed you clean of all sin and brought you into my family as my own dearly loved child.” Find in the Lord’s Supper your heavenly Father telling you, “Receive my own Son’s body and blood for the forgiveness of all your sins.”

We all have a deep need for love, for acceptance, for approval. And yet it’s met perfectly through God’s grace given us in His gospel through Word and Sacrament. Rejoice! You’re free to serve your Savior alone. Amen.

I must be perfect!

5th Sunday after Pentecost
Romans 3:19-28

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, in the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, John Quincy Adams was the sixth president of the United States, served as Secretary of state, was a senator, a congressman, minister to Russia, Prussia, and the Netherlands, he knew not only English but French and Dutch some German and other European languages, he learned Latin and Greek, translated the New Testament, graduated from Harvard University, taught at Harvard University. And yet, at 70 years old with most of his life behind him he is recorded to have said, “My whole life has been a succession of disappointments. I can scarcely recollect a single instance of success in anything that I ever undertook.” Most of us would agree that he accomplished a lot in his life and he experienced many successes. What, then, would lead him to conclude that his whole life has been just a bunch of failures? I submit to you that he may have believed the lie that we’re looking at today.

You know the phrase that we use all the time in some way or form. A child spills a glass of milk and you say, “That’s ok, no one’s perfect.” A coworker makes a mistake at work at you tell her, “That’s ok, no one’s perfect.” We use that phrase a lot. We know that no one is perfect. And there’s definitely a difference between mistakes and sins. Mistakes happen all the time without you even having to think about them. Sin is when you know something is wrong and bad and you do it any way.  The lie we’re looking at this morning is “I must be perfect.” And I’m guessing probably a lot of us are looking at that lie and thinking, “I know that’s a lie, no one’s perfect, I don’t believe that.” But there’s a big difference between what we say on the surface and what is actually, functionally true in our thoughts and emotions.

So, how do you know if you are believing the lie: “I must be perfect.” First, do you obsess about mistakes that you make? In a conversation maybe you say something you shouldn’t have said and later on you dwell on that and wish you hadn’t said what you said. Do you constantly find yourself telling other people how they can do things better? Are you constantly correcting one of your children causing them to believe the lie, “I must be perfect”? Do people around you feel judged by you? (And, how could you know that unless you asked them ?) Do you think to yourself, “I know that God forgives me, but I can’t forgive myself?” Do you find yourself putting things off and procrastinating because you’re waiting for the perfect conditions to come? Do you get really defensive when someone criticizes you? Do you find yourself having a difficult time being honest about how you are really feeling? Thinking “I need to be perfect” makes you think that you need to be emotionally strong in every circumstance and so you’re afraid to discuss your fears, hurts, problems.

Not only does believing this lie hollow you out personally, but it will also end up draining your relationships. If you believe this lie your whole life becomes a report card. Any kind of failure is absolutely devastating. So what do you do? You end up prioritizing your work and leaving relationships on the back burner. If you believe this lie you begin to find your validation in life from your performance and so when things aren’t going well or meeting your high expectations, you’re grumpy, upset, easily angered, which then negatively affects the people close to you. And you also may begin to extend your high expectations on those close to you. A mom expects her child to get straight A+’s, a husband becomes upset with his wife who doesn’t to housework in exactly the right way. You get the picture.

Here’s a quote that I found, “For perfectionists, life is an endless report card on accomplishments or looks. It’s a fast track to unhappiness, and perfectionism is often accompanied by depression and eating disorders. What makes perfectionism so toxic is that while those in its grip desire success, they are most focused on avoiding failure, so theirs is a negative orientation. And love isn’t a refuge; in fact, it feels way too conditional on performance.[1]” You can’t enjoy relationships because you feel you need to perform in order to be acceptable.

And if you’re thinking at this point, “So, you’re saying I should be ok with mistakes, that I should be ok with sinning?” If you think that, I can almost guarantee you are believing this lie. No, sin is not ok. We’re going to talk about that. But at the root of believing this lie is a sin. What’s underneath believing this lie is the thought, ‘If I look perfect, if I do things perfectly, live perfectly, then I can be accepted, I can avoid shame and judgment.” So you become the means to your own salvation, you’ve established your own standard and set of rules in order to feel accepted, secure, to be wanted, to be saved.

Yet, it’s God’s Word that frees us from this lie. People who believe the lie “I need to be perfect” in a weird way like rules, they like following standards and laws. But what does God say? “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.” In other words, the more that you try to live up to any moral standard, the more your mouth is silenced because the more you do, the more you realize that you’ve failed. It’s really a life of self-condemnation. “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” So, by following laws or rules you’ll never get to the point of arriving- instead, you become conscious of sin.

Another way of saying “I must be perfect” is saying “I must be righteous.” I once heard “righteous” defined this way: a validating performance record that gets you in. So, having good grades is a validating performance record that gets you into good colleges or universities. Having a stellar athletic record is a validating performance record that gets you scholarships. Having a great resume is a validating performance record that gets you into great jobs. We can look to all kinds of things in life for a validating performance record: being a hard worker, always having a clean house, having perfect children, etc. But what God is saying here is that no one will have a validating performance record before God by living up to some standard, by obeying certain laws or rules. You can’t get your truest security in life, your acceptance before God by following rules, by doing things, by being perfect.

But there is a validating performance record that opens the door to God and it’s apart from law, apart from doing things, apart from performance, apart from trying to be perfect. It comes not from us, but from God through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” In other words, we’re all in the same boat, there’s no difference between any of us, nobody’s perfect, all are sinners, but all are justified.

Do you know what “justification” means? When we think of “justification” we are usually thinking about trying to justify our actions so that we don’t look bad for something we did. But the word in Scripture is literally a courtroom term that means that the judge declares the defendant innocent. Perhaps a better word would be acquitted, you are declared innocent of all charges. You see forgiveness has two parts. Not only does God take all your sins away, paying for them with Jesus’ death on the cross, but he also imputes to you, credits to your account Jesus’ entirely perfect life. You have been given Jesus’ righteousness, his perfect life, that identity is now yours! “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished (in other words, God didn’t strike people dead because of their sins, he was holding back to strike Jesus for all the sins committed) – he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”

Where then is boasting?” If you want to know where your righteousness is coming from, what you are looking to for your validating performance record, just look at where you boast, what you take pride in. That’s what the law does- it’all about standards, looking good, making comparisons, trying to be perfect. But “It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.”

You see, the root problem of trying to be a perfectionist is that I’m trying to prove something, I’m looking to what I do for approval, significance, validation. So the key is not just repenting of sin, but repenting of my self-righteousness. It’s repenting of all those things that I do in order to think that I don’t desperately need God and His grace to completely cover my life.

How is that possible? Because we look at what Jesus did. He didn’t just die for your sins, He also lived perfectly for you. Because of Jesus you already are perfect, that’s your identity, that’s your status, you are a child of God, an heir of eternal life.

And so yes, with hearts cleansed by God’s forgiving grace in Christ we strive to live in a way that is pleasing to him, we strive for excellence, we strive to do our best with the talents and the abilities that God has given us, but not to earn or win or gain anything for ourselves, but because we want to out of love for our Savior. And when we fail, when we make mistakes, when we find ourselves ruminating and thinking about our mistakes, stop, and just start thinking about all your sins- even your worst sins – and tell yourself this: “Christ has forgiven me. My performance record isn’t my own, it’s what Christ has done for me, He’s bled and died for me, He lived perfectly for me.”


The Meditation of the Heart


3rd Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 19:14

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, Sunday, October 30th, 1938 at 8 pm was prime time for the golden age of radio. It was a common past time that millions of people across America would turn on their radios and listen to whatever show or music was playing. It just so happened that on that night Orson Welles was broadcasting an updated version of H.G. Wells classic the “War of the Worlds” on CBS. But right at 8:00 most Americas were tuned into NBC listening to ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and only switched their radio to CBS at around 8:12 only to hear the “War of the Worlds” well underway complete with sound effects and actors. A weather report broke off and the announcer took people to a music room where an orchestra was playing. When suddenly the orchestra was interrupted with a report that explosions had been detected on the planet Mars. Music played again. Then another interruption where a large meteor had crashed into a farmers field in New Jersey. Suddenly an announcer broke in describing the crash sight and Martians emerging from a large cylindrical metallic object.

“Good heavens,” he declared, “something’s wriggling out of the shadow like a gray snake. Now here’s another and another one and another one. They look like tentacles to me … I can see the thing’s body now. It’s large, large as a bear. It glistens like wet leather. But that face, it… it … ladies and gentlemen, it’s indescribable. I can hardly force myself to keep looking at it, it’s so awful. The eyes are black and gleam like a serpent. The mouth is kind of V-shaped with saliva dripping from its rimless lips that seem to quiver and pulsate.” Suddenly these Martians started annihilating people and whole cities. The result? Perhaps a million Americans panicked because they thought this was a real Martian invasion. People packed highways trying to escape New Jersey, in other parts of the country people wanted the electric company to shut their lights off, people pleaded with police for gas masks. Some apparently even attempted suicide.

Now certainly Orson Welles helped create some of this mass hysteria, but really, people panicked because of what they chose to believe. They chose to believe something that was simply not true, something that was fictional. The same thing is happening all over the world today- and is happening right in your life. There’s an invasion of lies. Lies that have been started by the father of the lies himself, the devil. And when we believe these lies it wrecks us emotionally, it wrecks our relationships, our work life, our families, even spiritually and physically.

Whether we like it or not, the truth is, we are all influenced by the things going on around us. We’re influenced by what we watch on TV or what we read on the internet. We’re influenced by our family members and our friends – that’s why it’s so important to regularly gather around Christian friends and family. But we spend the most time and are influenced the most by ourselves. By what we think, by what we tell ourselves, a counselor might call this “self-talk” but the more Biblical term is meditation. What do you spend your time thinking about, considering, chewing on, ruminating over? Where do you find your thoughts going when you have free time? What do you think about?

There’s a fascinating difference here between children and adults. My wife and I can be having a pretty intense conversation about something going on in our extended family, or with what’s happening in the  world at large, or something related to the church. We can be worried, stressed, anxious, concerned and…my little daughter is calmly drawing  a picture of a flower. Really?  Why? How? Doesn’t it come down to the meditation of the heart? Young children don’t often get stressed, worried, frantic about the big things of life. Why not? Because they trust their parents have things under control and they can run, play, have fun, enjoy God’s creation. Whereas we adults worry, are stressed, think we have the world on our shoulders to take care of. Why? Because it comes down to a lie. We think it all depends on us. And what does that do to us? Emotionally we become worried and anxious and stressed. Stress- I’m learning more and more – wreaks havoc on someone’s body physically. And spiritually God becomes just a small compartment in our lives and we don’t have time for His Word, our worship is half-hearted, and our prayers cease- God becomes small and our problems become huge. For people whose meditation of the heart is so often wrong, so often believing lies, so often unacceptable to God, for people like you and me- God comes with truth, truth that frees, truth that settles and calms us and we’re going to focus on these truths in the next few weeks.

So what kind of meditation does God want us to have? The Psalm writer David helps us, “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.” There is God-pleasing meditation. It isn’t what you often see popularized on TV with yoga masters or some eastern religion sitting in some posture not moving or repeatedly saying some phrase. That’s not Christian meditation. The word “meditate” in the Hebrew is really interesting. It comes from the same word that’s used to describe the “coo” of a dove or the “growl” of the lion. The picture that comes to my mind is my dog when I give her a large bone to chew on. She lies there just gnawing on this bone, with this soft growl, just happy as a lark, she’s in dog heaven just thinking about and savoring and relishing and licking and enjoying this bone.

That’s what Christian meditation is: enjoying, savoring, relishing over and over in one’s mind something else: God and His Word. David models it in this Psalm. He begins by enjoying God’s creation, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” He’s enjoying God’s incredible creation. Then he moves from there to the “law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy.” The precepts, the commands, the ordinances of God. What is all that? That’s God’s Word. He’s considering God’s creation, He’s thinking about God’s Word. He’s like a dog with a bone, chewing, relishing, turning over and over in his mind God and His Word.

May this meditation be pleasing in your sight. Clearly there’s a pleasing meditation and a non-pleasing mediation to God. A meditation that is not pleasing to God would be turning over and over in your mind and heart life’s worries and problems and troubles. But what is pleasing? To what are we to direct our meditation? “O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.” Like a dog delighting over a bone we’re to delight over these truths.

Think about that. The Lord is our Rock. God is described as a rock. What does that mean? Why is God pictured like a rock? A rock is the best place to lay a foundation because it is strong and unmovable and unshakable.  A rock can also provide protection – rain, hail, storms, sleet, even a hurricane can beat against a solid rock and the rock remains unshaken. A rock also provides protection against enemies that want to kill- bullets and arrows can’t penetrate a solid rock. The Lord is our rock, that means He is the foundation for our lives, He is our protection against every storm of life, He is our stronghold against every enemy. He is our strength. Think about that, meditate on that!

The Lord is also our Redeemer. Let’s chew on that one for a bit. The “redeemer” is a beautiful picture in the Old Testament. A redeemer was someone who was called into action when an Israelite was unable to help himself. For example, if you lost everything and were sold into slavery, a redeemer could buy you back to set you free. The Israelites as a whole nation were enslaved in Egypt, but the LORD their Redeemer came and set them free. You and I were also in a helpless state. You and I were enslaved in our sins and faced eternal punishment, but the LORD, our Redeemer, came and died Himself in our place paying the punishment of all our sins – even our sins of unacceptable meditation. You and I faced death, but our Redeemer, Jesus, came and died our death on the cross and then rose from the dead freeing us from death’s curse. The LORD our Redeemer stepped in when we couldn’t help ourselves and He continues to be the one called into action on our behalf in every struggle and every situation that we face. When we think about our Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer – that’s God-pleasing meditation.

Why does God want us to focus our mind and our heart on Him and His Word? Because it’s healthy. It leads to spiritual health- we grow in our trust in God as our Lord and Savior no matter what. It leads to emotional health because even though we face trials and troubles- we know God is our Rock, our protection and He remains our Redeemer the one who continues to help us in every situation. And it leads to health physically because trusting in Him leads to less stress and less worry and therefore less havoc on our body.

You see, when the meditation of our heart is off, when it is wrong, it has a way of making whatever our problem is huge. You see, when we think about something over and over, that problem becomes this huge, immovable mountain. But this is what the right meditation of the heart does: It makes God big. It’s amazed and the almighty power and strength of God. It’s amazed that God in love uses His almighty power to save and redeem us. It meditates on all the wonderful aspects of God and His grace. When God becomes huge to us, what happens to our problems in comparison? What happens when God’s Word dominates our thoughts? Our problems shrink and they become manageable. That’s what we’re going to be focusing on: making our Savior big, huge, awesome and letting his truth dominate our thoughts and meditation. And when we do our problems grow smaller and smaller and not worth worrying about.

Meditate on the truth. Replace the lies you tell yourself with the truth of your God and His saving love for you. Amen.