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28Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden  and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

In our Scripture this morning, Jesus is talking about yokes. Now, we know about animal yokes where two animals are connected so they can work together. And, for instance, Paul talks about this kind of yoke when he teaches us not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers in 2 Corinthians 6:14.

But, in this passage Jesus is talking about human yokes, ones that go across your shoulders to carry heavy things. They’re meant to enable you to carry more weight and get more work done.

This one’s actually for sale, made by an Amish craftsman, if you’re interested. Wives maybe this can help your husbands with chores around the house? Christmas is just around the corner.

A yoke like this is described in Jeremiah 27:2 where it says, “make yourselves straps and yoke-bars and put them on your neck.”

Now, this kind of yoke is often used metaphorically in a negative way to speak of being in subjection to someone.

  • In our verse from Jeremiah that we just read it refers to Judah being subjected to the Babylonian empire after being defeated and carried off to exile.
  • And in the New Testament it’s used to refer to slavery in 1 Timothy 6:1.

But in Jewish thinking a yoke can also be used in a more positive way to speak of walking in God’s ways; the yoke of obedience and service to God. (Jeremiah 5:5; Sirach 51:26; m. Abot 3:5). In our passage we have both – a bad yoke that’s too heavy and a good yoke that’s light.

I believe this morning that  –

Many of us are weary from our yokes and carrying heavy burdens

Jesus talks of “all who labor and are heavy laden” – v. 28

  • The first word “labor” has to do with hard work and also the weariness that comes from it.
  • The phrase “heavy laden” can also be translated as “burdened.”

So the image is of a person with a yoke on, but the load is really heavy and it takes a lot of work just to move around. Think of the picture we just saw of the man wearing a shoulder yoke and imagine the two buckets as bigger and loaded down with heavy rocks. So much so that the man is bowed over with the weight. That’s what we’re talking about here.

Jesus mentions “rest for your souls” in v. 29. So here we have the opposite, which would be soul weariness. Your inner person is weighed down, tired, exhausted and maybe even ready to give up.

Now, when Jesus talks about heavy burdens, he is certainly talking here about the traditions of the elders which the Pharisees added to what God’s will is for our lives. Jesus talks about this in Matthew 23:4, where he says, “they tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear and lay them on people’s shoulders.” (Talking about a shoulder yoke here also)

These heavy burdens are rules about how far you can walk on a Sabbath, rules about healing on the Sabbath and on and on (see the stories that come right after our verses.) You name the activity in life and there were rules for it; lots of them. Rules, rules, rules. And this is the important part – rules that went beyond what God’s will was for his people, which the Pharisees said you had to follow to be accepted.

Well, Jesus rejected these traditions of the Elders as we see in Matthew 15:6. Jesus doesn’t load us down with a host of human rules; things that go beyond God’s will for our lives.

Maybe you’re carrying a yoke today of human rules and expectations that are not God’s will for you.

  • Maybe rules that other Christians have thought up about how to worship and serve God that go beyond Scripture. Christians are good at making up extra rules too.
  • Maybe they are other kinds of expectations for your life that others – family or friends impose on you – that have nothing to do with what God has called you to do.

And you’re here this morning and you’re tired of it. You’re tired of being subjected to carrying these heavy burdens around. Jesus is talking to you today in this passage!

There are other yokes and burdens – for instance there’s the yoke of slavery to Sin (John 8:34; Romans 6:16-20). This is where we live our lives apart from God’s will, doing our own thing, going along with the world and our friends.

But sin, once chosen, becomes our master. It comes to control us and it begins to ruin our lives because sin is powerful and brings misery and then death.

And you’re here this morning and you’re sick of all this – you’re tired of the burdens of sin – the shame, the guilt. You’re tired of disappointing and hurting others and God, but you can’t break free. You have a yoke on. Jesus is talking to you right now!

Maybe the yoke you’re carrying today is just the weights and cares of the world.

You’re overwhelmed with life, right? It’s easy to be this way with all that’s going on – Covid 19, politics, financial struggles, relationship struggles, worries about the future. You’ve got the weight of the world on your shoulders.

Well, whatever may be weighing you down –

Jesus invites us to come to him and find rest

He says, 1. “Come to me” – v. 28. Jesus is the solution. He’s the one who can fix our burdens and our weariness. And he invites each one of us to come. He says, “Come to me all” who labor and are heavy laden.

What do we do when we come to Jesus? We lay down our heavy burdens and invites us, 2. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me” – v. 29.

As I said, in Jewish thought, doing God’s will was seen as a yoke. And here Jesus offers his teaching and example as the new yoke to put on our shoulders. To take on Jesus’ yoke is to live your life according to what he has for you.

  • Not doing more than this by adding on extra human rules – we lay that burden down.
  • Not being slaves to our sins – in repentance we set these aside.
  • Not carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders all the time – we give these into God’s hands to take care of.

We simply take on Jesus’ yoke of walking in God’s ways. We become disciples of Jesus. The word “learn” here is from the same word as the word “disciple.” We become students of Jesus. We study his teaching and example and we do what he says and models for us.

And what we’ll find is that Jesus is a kind master. He said, 3. “For I am gentle and lowly in heart” – v. 29.

The word “gentle” is really meek or lowly. The second word here, “lowly” can also be translated as humble in heart.

Jesus is not a slave driver. Indeed, he himself came and walked this earth as a servant. And he knows that being in charge means serving others, not lording it over them (Matthew 20:25-28). He is kind and humble with us.

And we will also find that Jesus’ yoke is just right for each of us. He said, 4. “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” – v. 30.

  • “Easy” is probably better translated as “comfortable,” or a yoke that fits just right. Not one that digs in or causes pain. According to the testimony of one early Christian, who was raised near Galilee not long after the time of the apostles, Jesus “was in the habit of working as a carpenter when among men, making ploughs and yokes.” (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 88). And so he would know about making a comfortable yoke.
  • “Light” has to do with having little weight. Not being overloaded and weighed down.

Now none of this means that following Jesus can’t be hard. It can be at times. But in comparison to being weighed down under human rules and expectations or slavery to sin or carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders — it is truly a comfortable yoke and a light weight.

And finally, because we come to Jesus, and lay down our false burdens and take up his yoke, Jesus says, 5. “I will give you rest” – v. 28. And, “you will find rest for your souls” – v. 29.

Rest here means the cessation of toilsome labor from carrying really heavy weights that we were not meant to bear. It means peace, wholeness and well- being, which comes from following Jesus and walking in God’s ways. (Jeremiah 6:16).

This rest is connected to the Sabbath rest and how this foreshadows the rest we will have when the kingdom comes in its fullness. (Again, see the stories on the Sabbath that follow our text.)

And we have this rest deep in our hearts and souls; in our inner person.

I invite you this morning to come to Jesus and find rest. As I pray, picture yourself laying down your false yoke and only taking up what he has for you.

“Jesus help us to lay our burdens at your feet and only carry what you have for us; your will for our lives. And bless each one of us with the rest you promise here – relief from weariness, peace, new life, new energy, new strength and new hope.”

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I’m sharing with you today on the topic of the importance of good leadership.

I’ve been involved in churches since I was 14 in various roles, including as a pastor for many years and also working with educational programs that train church leaders. And so let me begin by just saying, what I think you know, which is that –

Congregational leadership can be hard

1. It can be hard because leaders are called to follow the example of Jesus in laying down their lives for their people, walking in humble, sacrificial love.

As Jesus said in Mark 10:45, he “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” And he said this after giving teaching on how leadership is to be done among his people.

So this is the model and this isn’t easy!

2. It can also be hard because the world and God have different ideas about what good leadership is.  

Perhaps in other areas of life leadership can be judged by things like always growing, getting bigger and being well known — but not so in the kingdom of God.

In the kingdom, success is defined as faithfulness to God’s ways, which in some cases can even inhibit growing, getting bigger and being well known. Not always, but sometimes. Faithfulness and “success” aren’t always the same thing. But faithfulness is what’s required by God of good leaders. That’s what true success is.

3. It can be hard because being faithful to God can mean upsetting people who only want to be comfortable and fit in with the world around them.

We would all rather come to church to be affirmed and comforted – maybe even entertained. But God cares more about our growing in Christlikeness – about our being transformed into his image. And this means that leaders have to challenge us and even admonish us at times.

They have to talk about difficult things. Or as Paul says in Ephesians 4:15, they are to “speak the truth in love.”

4. Congregational leadership can be hard because, well, how can I say this, they’re leading people, and sometimes people can be difficult!

We all, including myself, have shortcoming and weaknesses; flaws and foibles. And we say and do things that we shouldn’t; that aren’t loving or kind.

This is the background to Hebrews 13:17 which talks about leaders as those who are “keeping watch over your souls.” And then it goes on to say, “Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

Did you know that was in the Bible? Here’s a question maybe we can ask ourselves from time to time, “Do I make our congregation’s leaders groan?”

5. It can be hard because they bear the weight of the wellbeing of the community on their shoulders. And this can be very heavy and stressful.

They can’t just think about what they want. They have to think and act for the good of all. What keeps the flock together? And as well, what is God’s will for us as a group?

6. It can be hard because we live in the age of the almighty individual. We place more value on the individual over the community. Yet, to be in a community means being flexible and not always getting just what you want.

So people tell leaders, “Lead us!” But they often don’t mean, “We’re ready to sacrifice and give up things to follow your leadership.” Rather they mean, “Do what I think is right.” And then there are many saying this and each one likely has a different view on what they think is right. It can be a no-win situation and a source of deep frustration for leaders.

7. It can be hard because there’s a lack of trust in leaders these days, including church leaders.

We all know of the scandals and moral failures that’ve happened. And the good leaders, who are honorable, self-sacrificing and doing what’s right, end up under this shadow as well.

The role of leadership simply isn’t valued or held up like it used to be.

8. It can be hard because, often church members put the work on their leaders.

The actual job of congregational leaders is to equip you to do ministry. This is what Ephesians 4:12 says, they are “to equip the saints for the work of ministry” – not to do it all themselves. They do their share, for sure, but it’s to be a team effort with everyone using their gifts.

9. It can be hard because moving forward as a congregation often means dealing with disagreements.

But churches tend to avoid this at all costs. And when we do finally have to deal with it, we often don’t do it in a healthy way and things get worse. So we’re stuck.

So what should leaders do?

I think we can all agree, and the examples I’ve given you should help us to remember that congregational leadership can be hard.

Yet despite all this –

Good congregational leadership is crucial

It makes a tremendous difference in the health and well-being of a church community. I want us now to look at two very different sets of verses on leaders, that point this out.

And the first is Ezekiel 34:1-6. In this passage the Lord is talking to the shepherds of Israel. This would include, for sure the kings of Israel, but also other rulers, priests and prophets. And the Lord has some very strong things to say about these faithless shepherds.

2Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. 4The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them.

Three things stand out in these verses:

  • They have not fed the sheep the word of God and so they have not led them in God’s paths.
  • They have taken advantage of their roles as leaders to get what they could out of it. As v. 2 says, they fed themselves, not the sheep.
  • And they didn’t care for the sheep, you know, encouraging the weak, binding up the wounded and seeking the lost. They were not gentle and caring, but rather they were harsh with the people.

So this is an example of terrible leadership. Here they were so bad that it says in v. 5 that “there was no shepherd”; or no true shepherd.

The result? The sheep were scattered

5So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; 6they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.

  • The phrase in v. 6 – “wandered on every high hill” is a reference to idolatry at the various high places. Because they weren’t fed God’s word or led in God’s ways they went to other gods and idols.
  • The phrase “scattered over all the face of the earth” refers to how they were sent into exile in Babylon as judgment from God.

So you can see how crucial good leaders are, by taking note that bad leaders can destroy a people!

But then listen to what good leaders can do in our second passage Ephesians 4:11-16

11And he (Christ) gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.

15Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

If bad leaders can destroy a congregation, we learn here that good ones can:

  • build up the community
  • equip it for the work of ministry
  • and lead it to a mature, rooted faith

In this light, what a gift good leaders are to us!!! They are so precious to congregations. And given this let me end by saying –

We should honor and celebrate good leaders

My hope is that you don’t take good congregational leadership for granted. They should indeed be cherished, encouraged and blessed.

And finding new leaders should be seen as a priority. And they should be nurtured and trained. Invest in them and in their ministry.

Scripture teaches us to honor good leaders:

Paul says in 1 Timothy 5:17 – Elders who do their work well should be respected – and paid well, especially those who work hard at both preaching and teaching. (NLT)

And Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 – We ask you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. (Also Philippians 2:29; Hebrews 13:7)

We are to honor them.

And not to be outdone, God himself will honor such leaders on the final day.

  • Peter says this in 1 Peter 5:4, talking to elders, “when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”
  • And in a parable on leaders, Jesus says this about a good leader in Luke 12:44 – “the master will set him over all his possessions.” That is, in the kingdom of God. Wow!

God honors good leaders and we should too.

And it’s at this point that I want to say, yes, congregational leadership can be hard. But it’s worth it! It’s the Lord that we serve and he will reward you. An unfading crown of glory given by the chief shepherd himself. And a place of honor in the eternal kingdom. It will indeed, be more than worth it!

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Sin is insidious. It stealthily works its way into every nook and cranny of our lives, affecting every part of us and how we interact with others bringing pain and brokenness all around. We’re looking at just one aspect of this, this morning –

The sin of prejudice

Prejudice is when we treat people unfairly because of how they are different than we are or are perceived to be different

  • I was raised in the South – mostly Alabama and Georgia – and so I’m certainly aware of prejudice based on something as simple as the color of someone’s skin. And, of course, I mean white people treating black people unfairly. And this still goes on despite the way white people enslaved and brutalized African Americans – a monstrous sin that still today stands as a giant scar on the soul of America.
  • Prejudice can also be based on differences of culture, region or country. Some people treat differently, dislike or even hate those who come from a different group than they do. Jesus notes this human tendency when he says that Gentiles only greet those who are like them in Matthew 5:47.
  • Prejudice can also be based on gender, and almost always this involves men mistreating women.
  • And prejudice can also be based on social class; usually involving wealth or the lack thereof. James talks about this in the second chapter of his letter and how when we favor the rich and dishonor the poor, we sin (James 2:1-13).

Prejudice can be based on any differences between people.

And it’s especially dangerous when those who are different are a minority among a majority population that has social and political power all the way from school yard cliques of popular kids who pick on those who are different, to the kind of oppression, including ethnic cleansing that happens among nations when one group gains power over another.

Next, let me say, and I believe we will see this in our Scripture text today, apart from conscious, willful acts prejudice can be as simple as the majority not being aware of or taking into account the needs and concerns of the minority, so that they’re left out and thus treated unfairly. Right? We’re doing fine, so everyone else must be too. And that’s often not true.

I do not doubt that many of you have experienced prejudice in various ways. Just to take one example, although I was not raised Mennonite, I know that Mennonites have always been a religious minority and our views, especially on loving enemies, have brought prejudice and persecution at various times in history.

I want us to look this morning at –

Acts 6:1-6

– to see what we can learn from how the apostles responded to an example of prejudice in their midst.

The church at this time was still all Jewish. But nevertheless there were differences among them. And where there are differences, prejudice often lurks in the human heart.

And sure enough there was prejudice in their midst

1Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.

The Hebrews were the dominant group in Jerusalem – they were Aramaic speaking and culturally Palestinian. The Hellenists may or may not have been born abroad, but Greek would have been their first language and they would have had more affinity for aspects of Greco-Roman culture.

We learn earlier in the book of Acts that all these different groups had come together and were caring for each other’s needs, so that “there was not a needy person among them” (Acts 4:34). This was a beautiful example of love and unity among people from all different Jewish backgrounds.

But here we see that something has gone terribly wrong. The Hellenist widows were not getting their fair share of support, and this is how they fed themselves and met their basic needs. This is how things worked back in that day. The Hebrews, who were in charge, including the Apostles, have treated them unfairly.

Now, we don’t know the details of what happened. Was there willful, overt prejudice on the part of some? Or was it that, as the majority, they simply weren’t careful to watch out for the needs of the Hellenists? Given the response of the community, that we’ll see in a minute, it looks more like the latter.

In this story we learn that the apostles did three things:

1. The apostles listened to those who had a “complaint.” This is evident in v. 1, that we just looked at. They heard the “complaint” of “neglect” of the Hellenists about their widows, the substance of which was that an injustice has happened.

Now the apostles were overseeing the setup that was being unjust to widows. So even though they may not have been personally involved or have had any willful prejudice themselves – they are a part of the problem.

Again, you can be involved in mistreating others even when your heart’s in the right place or if you’re not personally prejudiced in your attitudes. The apostles were in charge (Acts 4:34-35) and so were implicated.

And so it would have been really easy for the apostles to get defensive. ‘Well, I’m not prejudiced’ or ‘I wasn’t the one overseeing giving out resources for the widows!’ and so forth and so on. But they didn’t do this, they genuinely listened to the complaint and the pain of the widows. And the pain wasn’t just that they got less than others, it’s that they were treated as less than the other widows; they were disrespected.

2. The apostles saw the prejudice as a very serious problem. 

 2And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples . . .

In other words, they stopped everything and brought everyone together to deal with it. They saw prejudice for what it is, which is sin. And so they purposed to take action to correct things, which is the next point.

3. The apostles made changes that empowered those who were mistreated.

Picking up the last part of v. 2 –

. . . and (the apostles) said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3Therefore, brothers and sisters pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

 Two kinds of “service” are contrasted in these verses. In v. 4 it says literally the “service of the word” and in v. 2 “table service,” which has to do with meeting practical needs.

The apostles’ call was to the ministry of the word – preaching and teaching. And, given what happened, they feel that they can’t both do this and oversee taking care of the widows in the community, especially as the group was getting bigger and bigger.

So they ask the community to pick qualified people to perform what they call, “table service.” Table service might mean literally tables where food was distributed or it might refer to handling and distributing the money needed for this.

In any case, they made structural changes to put in place the first deacons. The system wasn’t working well so it had to change.

5And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. 6These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.

And so here the community does what the apostles ask them to do – and what they do is quite amazing. Every person chosen has a Greek name! Now, some Palestinian Jews had Greek names, but that all of these deacons have them shows that most, if not all of them are from the Hellenistic group. They are now in charge of the care of all the widows. And these were commissioned by the apostles to do just this.

So their response to the injustice was to empower those who had been mistreated, in part to make sure that it didn’t happen again.

Well –

The church still struggles with prejudice

If there was prejudice in the church overseen by the very apostles of Jesus, you can be sure that we have these problems among us as well. And I’m not just thinking of our congregation but of congregations throughout the world.

  • God calls us to be his new people made “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Revelation 7:9) united in love under allegiance to our Lord, Jesus.
  • God calls us to be “a city set on a hill,” as Jesus talks about (Matthew 5:14), that shines the light of a better way, in this case, of a community that welcomes all and values all equally under Jesus’ lordship.

But, sisters and brothers, as you know, we do not always live up to this calling! We often look just like the world around us with all of its divisions and hatreds. And this should not be so! It cuts at the very core of who we’re called to be as followers of Jesus; a people marked by love and reconciliation.

I’m not saying that Acts 6:1-6 teaches us everything we need to know about dealing with prejudice, but I am saying that it teaches us three very important responses that we should put into practice in our church communities.

1. We need to listen to those who have been mistreated. Like the apostles we need to listen and hear the person’s or the group’s perspective and pain. Just as we would want to happen, if we were mistreated. And we need to do so even if the person or group is angry with us. We have to listen and not be defensive.

2. We need to take prejudice seriously. It is sin in our midst and like any sin it must be dealt with.

3. We need to make changes that empower those who are mistreated to make sure it doesn’t continue.

And as I close, let me also say that we should also respond to any prejudice we see in the world in the same way. No one should have any doubt about where we stand!

In love we listen to those who are mistreated, we call out prejudice as sin and we support the encouragement and empowerment of those who are mistreated. This is who we are as God’s people.

Sisters and brothers, this world has enough hatred and bitterness. So let’s be God’s beacon of light of a better way; the way of love and respect for all.

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Our passage this morning is Ephesians 5:15-20. And the title is “What are you full of?”

Let me say first of all that there are lots of things we could look at in chapter 5. Before our verses there’s great teaching on:

  • Imitating God in our love and grace toward one another
  • Sexual purity and integrity
  • Righteous speech
  • And walking in God’s light in the midst of a dark world

And the verses after ours deal with the relationships of wives and husbands under the heading of the words of v. 12, “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

But I want us to dig into vs. 15-20 and see what God has to say to us in these verses. 

15Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ . . .”

I want us to start in the middle of our passage, in v. 18, and then we will go to the verses before it, and then the verses after it. Let’s begin with v. 18’s admonition –

“Do not get drunk with wine”

 With these words Paul forbids the abuse of alcohol. Now he says “wine,” but, of course, the point is drunkenness – which would include any kind of substance or drug abuse; anything that gets us high or intoxicated.

We get a hint at why Paul teaches this in the next phrase of the verse, “for that is debauchery.” This isn’t a word that we use much anymore, so let’s see what else we can come up with.

The Greek word (ασωτια) has as its root idea – ‘wastefulness.’ And a good definition of it is senseless or reckless behavior. It’s associated with drunkenness, as in our verse, and also with sexual immorality (1 Peter 4). It can also be translated as ‘wild living.’

And that makes sense, because once you’re drunk or high and lose control, who knows what you’ll do, or for that matter what will be done to you?

I would put it like this, drugs and alcohol are sin magnifiers. They amplify whatever sinful desires you have and take away whatever restraint you might normally have – so that you act recklessly. From a Christian point of view the bottom line is that it’s impossible to love God and love your neighbor while you’re drunk. In other words it’s impossible to be a Christian. And it’s even hard to love and take care of yourself.

A portrait of drunkenness as senseless and reckless is found in Proverbs 23:29-35:

29Who has anguish? Who has sorrow? Who is always fighting? Who is always complaining? Who has unnecessary bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? 30It is the one who spends long hours in the taverns, trying out new drinks. 31Don’t gaze at the wine, seeing how red it is, how it sparkles in the cup, how smoothly it goes down. 32For in the end it bites like a poisonous snake; it stings like a viper. 33You will see hallucinations, and you will say crazy things. 34You will stagger like a sailor tossed at sea, clinging to a swaying mast. 35And you will say, ‘They hit me, but I didn’t feel it. I didn’t even know it when they beat me up. When will I wake up so I can look for another drink?’” (NLT)

This passage speaks to how drunkenness causes harm to the person who is drunk. It also notes the element of addiction at the end. After all the harm, the question is, “When will I wake up so I can look for another drink?” But more broadly it presents a picture of a life that’s truly getting wasted.

Next we move to vs. 15-17. And I want to suggest that we are to read them in light of verse 18 and what Paul says about not getting drunk. And specifically that the language of “wise” and “foolish” in these verses is connected to the critique of drunkenness as foolish in Scripture. So –

There’s a contrast in vs 15-17 between wise-sober living and foolish-drunken living

The foolishness of drunkenness is talked about, for instance in Proverbs 20:1. This verse says, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise” (or “will not become wise.”)

And so when Paul says in v. 15, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise,” this language of “wise” and “unwise” is a reference back to passages like Proverbs 20:1.

And when in v. 16 he says, “making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” Paul is saying,  life is short. Don’t waste the precious gift of life with drugs and alcohol.

And in v. 17 when he says, “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is,” he’s saying, drunkenness keeps us from acting with wisdom or from growing in wisdom.

Paul’s making a contrast in vs. 15-17 between living foolishly by giving ourselves to drunkenness and living wisely by being sober so that we can walk according to God’s will.

Next, I want to show you that –

There’s a contrast in vs 19-20 between drunken speech and righteous speech

That is, just as vs. 15-17 before v. 18 are connected to its admonition against drunkenness, so vs.19-20 are also connected.

This becomes apparent when we realize that Paul is actually quoting a scripture in v. 18. And it comes from Proverbs 23:31, from the passage we’ve already read, the portrait of drunkenness as reckless.

Now, you probably didn’t notice this and that’s because Paul’s quoting the Greek version of the Old Testament which says something a little different than the Hebrew version, which is behind our Bibles. The Greek version of Proverbs 23:31 says in part, “Do not get drunk from wine”

And in Proverbs 23:33 it talks about drunken speech when it says “you will say crazy things” when you’re drunk. The Greek Old Testament says “your mouth will speak perversely.”

 In contrast to this Proverbs 23:31 says, “rather converse with righteous people, and converse in public places.” (NETS). So the Proverbs 23 passage is contrasting drunken speech and righteous speech.

And by quoting from this passage, Paul is connecting back to all this context. And he’s saying, yes, don’t get drunk and say crazy things like Proverbs talks about. Rather say righteous things to fellow believers and to God.

This is why he moves in v. 18 from talking about drunkenness to suddenly talking about “singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. And give thanks . . .” (v. 19-20).

Paul is developing what Proverbs 23:31 says about righteous speech. And he’s saying, when you’re drunk you talk one way. When you’re filled with the Spirit you talk a different way – there’s joyful singing and thanksgiving to God.

Now drunken speech is brought on by the alcohol, but righteous speech comes from the Holy Spirit. And this leads us to one last point:

The final and foundational contrast in these verses is between being filled with alcohol and being filled with the Spirit

The NIRV version of the Bible catches the sense of this verse well, “18Don’t fill yourself up with wine. Getting drunk will lead to wild living. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Paul’s saying, you can be filled with “spirits” or with the Spirit; with alcohol or with the presence of God.

It’s interesting that the Spirit is spoken of in Scripture in ways that are comparable to drinking.

  • The Spirit is poured out, according to Joel 2:28.
  • We can drink the Spirit, as 1 Corinthians 12:13 says.
  • And as our verse indicates we can be filled with the Spirit, just like we can be filled with alcohol. And remember when the disciples were filled with the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, some thought they were drunk! (Act 2)

Now notice, from this passage as a whole, that what you’re filled with is what overflows into the rest of your life.

  • When we’re filled with alcohol we’re influenced by it to say wrong things and act foolishly. We behave recklessly and end up wasting our lives.
  • But when we’re filled with the Spirit of God we’re empowered by the Spirit to speak right things and to live wisely according to God’s will.

So let me end by asking –

What are you full of?

We can be full of lots of different things, not just alcohol. We can be full of the stuff farmers spread on their fields in the Springtime. We can be full of ourselves. We can be full of bitterness or anger or lust or envy – you name it.

But God calls us to be full of the Spirit so that the gifts, power and fruit of the Spirit overflow our lives transforming us and those around us into an ever greater Christ-likeness.

God calls us; God invites us to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

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A number of weeks ago I saw an article entitled, “The coronavirus pandemic is making earth vibrate less.” (CNN April 2013, by Harmeet Kaur). It talked about how since people were staying home and not using cars, trains and buses, that seismologists were noticing that the earth’s upper crust was actually moving less. I thought that it was very interesting that human activity can have this kind of effect on the earth, that we make it shake! But I also thought that in a way the earth is moving and shaking much more than I have ever seen it shake before. This is the kind of –


– that Psalm 46:1-3 speaks of when it says – “1God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, 3though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.”

This kind of shaking has to do with events that happen that leave us stunned or even traumatized. When life changes in ways that we never imagined. When things happen that we thought never would.

And that’s exactly what has happened because of the coronavirus pandemic. Under the stay at home order almost everything has come to a screeching halt.

  • Large cities seem deserted. Even around here, as I drove to work in mid-March through April (I work in an isolated office) there was hardly any traffic on the streets. It’s like something from a post-apocalyptic movie.
  • Businesses are closed.
  • Schools have closed during the school year.
  • Sporting events are shut down.
  • Churches have stopped meeting.

And life has changed. We have to social distance. We have to wear masks. When I drove down to Georgia in April to care for my father, I actually had to check to see if there were curfews or mandatory quarantines that would stop me from getting there.

Life has changed. Many have lost jobs. And for those who have jobs things are very different with many working from home. Many are lonely now, not being able to be with friends and family. Some are experiencing mental health issues that are heightened by the stresses of this situation. Something as simple as getting groceries is a far different experience than it was just a few months ago, as is also getting food from a restaurant.

The world economy has been devastated. And, of course, underlying all of this many have become sick or have lost their lives.

Such unprecedented change. And it came on us so quickly. It can leave us feeling dazed. It seems like the very earth under our feet has crumbled and our stability and equilibrium is gone. And the deep waters are raging all around us, as Psalm 46 pictures.

The question I’m asking is –

What is God’s purpose in all this?

Let’s turn to Hebrews 12:26-29. This is a passage that talks about God shaking things and so let’s see what we can learn about God’s purpose in shaking things.

 26At that time his (the Lord’s) voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.”

The writer begins with a reference to the giving of the Law in Exodus 19:18. This verse says, “Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly.” So, when God gave the ten commandments, God shook the earth.

Next he refers to Haggai 2:6 with the phrase that begins, “yet once more . ..” This passage is taken to refer to the final judgment. And in this case God will shake not only the earth, but also the heavens.

Hebrews 12:27 is the writer’s exposition of Haggai 2:6 –

27This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken – that is, things that have been made – in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain.

So, on the final day God will shake all of creation; all that God has made; heaven and earth.

And this shaking will be a kind of sorting process whereby anything that can be shaken – the old creation – will be removed. It will be no more. And only those things that cannot be shaken will remain – a reference to the new creation.

Scripture talks about this coming event in several places. For instance in Isaiah 65:17 the Lord says, “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.” And Isaiah 66:22 seems to be in the writer’s mind, because it says, “the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before me.” The same key word and idea.

28Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29for our God is a consuming fire.

So yes, anything in this old creation, the world that we currently live in, can be shaken. But God and God’s kingdom (or new creation) cannot be shaken. God and his new creation will remain forever.

I wanted us to look at these verses because we learn here what God is up to when he allows us to be shaken. God uses shaking to show us what is ultimate and eternal – and what is not. To rephrase the last part of Hebrews 12:27, God uses shaking “in order that the things that cannot be shaken may” – it says “remain.” But since we’re not yet at the final judgment we can insert “be seen” or “revealed to us.”

When things are shaken we are enabled to see the difference between what is temporary and what is eternal. We are enabled to see the difference between what has to do with this earthly life and what has to do with God’s kingdom.

Now in the examples in Hebrews God is the one doing the shaking – in the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai and on the final day. With regard to the pandemic I cannot say that God is directly causing it. But I can say that God has allowed it, because its happening. God has allowed us to be shaken as individuals and as a people. And, as we know, whatever God allows God will use for God’s own purposes and even for our good, as Romans 8:28 teaches us.

So since this is so, let me end with what I see as –

The message for us

– in all of this. Because of the pandemic we are reminded in a big way that 1. Anything in this world can be shaken. Things do not always stay the same; there are no guarantees.

Whether it’s:

  • our daily routines of life
  • our jobs and career path
  • our health
  • our earthly relationships
  • our life goals and plans for the future

All the things that we take for granted and so often give us a sense of comfort and stability – all these can change so quickly and even disappear. So this shaking shows us that they are not ultimate or eternal. This is the sorting or revealing process I’ve been talking about. The pandemic makes this clear to us.

2. We shouldn’t be overly focused on or attached to these earthly things. All of the things I’ve mentioned – jobs, plans, earthly relationships, comfortable routines, health – they are all good things, even blessings of God.

But like with all created things we can turn them into idols that we put in place of God. We become overly devoted to them; excessively absorbed with them. We orient our lives around them. We live our lives for these things and not for God. We can get so caught up in these things that 20 years pass by without a thought. It’s like where did my life go?

What I’m saying is that we can love them more than God, or instead of God. And the shaking that’s going on can reveal this to us. It can be a wake up call. It can give us an opportunity to make some hard choices to rightly order our lives once again – or maybe for the first time.

So let’s not just rush ahead to try to get through the pain and suffering of this shaking. There is pain and suffering. But in the midst of the shaking:

  • Let God challenge you.
  • Let God sort through some things in your heart and life.
  • Let God reveal some things to you about where your true loves are. 

And then finally, 3. We should supremely be focused on and love what cannot be shaken. As Christians we know God. And in the words of Hebrews 12:28, “we have received a kingdom that cannot be shaken.” We have this now! The world doesn’t have this. But we do. And this should be the foundation and center of our lives.

And that we have what is unshakeable in our lives should lead us to praise God. As Hebrews 12:28 also says, “thus (since this is so) let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.”

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   Many are suffering right now because of the coronavirus pandemic. It may be due to the disruption of our normal life patterns and relationships, or economic distress and even the potential of financial ruin. We may be grieving for lost loved ones, or we ourselves may be sick and fearful of whether we will live or not. As I write the global death toll is approaching 100,000. 

   These experiences of suffering are, of course, not new. Such suffering goes on all around us. The global scope and near simultaneous experience of this situation, however, is unique.

   Whenever we endure suffering we need others to love and care for us; a network of good and strong relationships around us. We also need categories to think about our experiences; to help us process and sort through what’s going on. How are we to think about all this? And what’s a Christian way of understanding our suffering? The following are some reflections on this topic. And we start with –

Some basics

   Yes, the world is broken. It doesn’t function the way God originally intended and so there are things like sickness, plague and death. It’s broken because of human sin. Passages like Genesis 3 and Romans 5:12 highlight the connection between sin, suffering and death. And sin doesn’t just affect us as individuals. It impacts everything including social structures and, in our case, the creation itself.

   In Romans 8:20-22 Paul says, “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” Not just people suffer, even the creation is groaning under the effects of sin and is eagerly waiting for God’s salvation.

   As Christians we have hope. And that’s because suffering is not a necessary part of God’s creation. When God’s kingdom comes to earth all things will be made new (Matthew 19:28). There will be a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21:1; 2 Peter 3:13). This is when “God will wipe away every tear from (our) eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore.” (Revelation 21:4. Also Isaiah 25:6-8). We look forward to this in hope.

   But until that time, we live in the tension of the “already” and “not yet.” Jesus teaches us that the kingdom of God has begun with his coming (Matthew 12:28; Luke 17:20-21). But it’s not all the way here yet. That won’t happen until he returns.

   So we exist in an in-between time. We live in the “already” of the kingdom where God has begun to make things right. This was evidenced in Jesus’ ministry of healing, nature miracles and exorcisms. And is still evidenced today when God answers prayer to heal and help those who suffer.

   But we also live in the “not yet” of the kingdom. As Paul says to Christians in 1 Corinthians 10:13, we still go through the same testing and trials that are “common to everyone” (NRSV). That’s because Jesus hasn’t returned. The resurrection and complete redemption of our bodies has not yet happened. And Satan is still alive and active. So we still experience the realities of sin, suffering and death. Although these realities have been decisively defeated through Jesus, we will not experience the fullness of this victory until the final day.

   In the meantime, we have –

Questions upon questions

   We turn to these now. 1. Should I assume I’m suffering because of my personal choices? You know, “Is God judging me for something I’ve done?” The answer is, “No, you should not assume this.” This is not to say that there can’t be a connection. God can specifically cause suffering in relation to our choices to sin. For instance in Acts 5:1-11 God immediately judged Ananias and Sapphira for lying to the Holy Spirit. (See also 1 Corinthians 11:29-32).

   But the idea that every time I suffer it’s because God is punishing me for something I’ve done is just not the way the world works in its brokenness. Scripture makes this clear. The wicked prosper (Psalm 73:3-5) and the righteous suffer. Job suffered, but not because of sin (Job 1:8). And Jesus suffered, but was sinless. This shows us that there is no one-to-one connection between a person’s sin and consequences in this world. So short of God making a connection clear to us, we should not assume that our suffering means God is specifically judging us.

2. Is it God’s will for the world to suffer through this pandemic? As I said, God does sometimes directly intervene to judge sin in this world. So is that what’s going on? Well, since it’s happening, we can say for sure that God has allowed it. God is the sovereign creator and overseer of all things. But that God allows something doesn’t mean that God specifically caused it. Not everything that happens in the world is an expression of God’s preferred will (Acts 7:51; Ezekiel 18:31-32; Isaiah 63:10; Luke 7:30).

   So like with question #1, short of God telling us this is God’s own work, perhaps through trusted messengers, we should not assume that God is causing this pandemic. We’re simply experiencing, yet again, the current brokenness of the creation.

3. Why did God make the world in such a way that we could mess things up so badly? If human sin causes such pain and suffering, why did God take such a risk? Simply put, God wants us to freely choose to love and serve him. God doesn’t want robots as servants. God wants people, made in God’s image, who will be his partners in his plans for the creation. And this can’t happen without allowing the possibility of our choosing to hate and rebel against him, which we have done. The possibility of love, even in human relationships, involves the risk of suffering.

4. Is all the suffering worth it? According to Scripture, it will be. That’s because our suffering is temporary, but our blessings will be much greater and eternal. As 1 Corinthians 2:9 says, “. . . no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.” Paul, a man who knew about suffering, said, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18. Also 2 Corinthians 4:17)

   This doesn’t take away the pain of our current suffering, but it does give us comfort and encouragement.

5. Can God bring good out of our suffering? Scripture talks about this quite a lot (James 1:3-4, Romans 5:3-5; Hebrews 12:10-11). For instance, Joseph was sold into slavery and was also put in jail. But God used his suffering for good. As Joseph said to his brothers, “do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life” (Genesis 45:5). Also, Paul’s life was in danger due to persecution, but God used this experience to teach him to “rely not on himself but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9).

   Although it was not God’s will that we choose sin and thus suffer, God can nevertheless accomplish his plan by using our suffering for his own ends. As Paul says in Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” God can redeem and transform our pain and suffering to bring good into our lives and into the lives of others.

   This also doesn’t take away the pain of our suffering, but it encourages us to endure and to keep moving forward.

6. Can we show how God brings good out of every example of suffering (question #5) and that it will be worth it (question #4)? No, we cannot. We say this all by faith. We are simply not in a position to know how God orchestrates everything and why God allows things like pandemics.

   This, in part, is what the book of Job teaches us about suffering. It never tells us why Job suffered. It simply teaches us that God is in control and that what he does is beyond human understanding. As the Lord says to Job in Job 38:4, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you know so much.” We will not understand why and how God does all that God does, at least in this life. And so we have to trust God in all this. We have to trust that the God we know to be just and merciful is doing what is right and good.

7. Where is God when we suffer? God is with us in our suffering. It doesn’t always feel like this is so. It can seem like God is absent. As the psalmist says in Psalm 10:1, “Why, O Lord, do you stand afar off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?”

   Yet we are taught that God is with us. As the Lord says in Isaiah 43:2, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.” God is with us to watch over us, to encourage us, to comfort us and to strengthen us.

   And not only this, God has come to be with us through his Son. He sent him to this earth, whose name is Immanuel or “God with us” (Matthew 1:23). God did not stand far off and aloof from us. Jesus suffered with us and for us in his life and in his death on the cross. God knows first-hand what we’re going through.

   God has not left us alone. He is with us as we experience the pain of suffering. And he suffers with us, until that day when all things will be made new.

   A final thought –

We can have joy even while we suffer

   Even though we will continue to suffer in various ways, Christians can experience victory in the midst of it. Paul says in Romans 8:35-37, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

   A part of this victory is the experience of joy even while we suffer. We can have joy because God is working in us. As James 1:2 says, “count it all joy.” God is working in us that we may be “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (v. 4. Also Romans 5:3-5). We can also have joy because, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:17, “this slight, momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” We can “rejoice and be glad, for (our) reward is great in heaven” (Matthew 5:12). There is a new world coming and we have a part in it.

   We can have joy because, even though we cannot always understand our suffering or explain it, by faith we know that God is working in our lives and we know that God’s promises are true.

William Higgins

April 9, 2020

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Each of us, I think if we’re honest, have things we fear. I know for myself I really dread needles – things like getting shots, having blood drawn and IV’s. I understand it’s all in my head, but you know what? It’s still difficult for me.

I was looking at some lists of people’s greatest fears online and here are some of the most common: Fear of heights, fear of public speaking, fear of spiders and fear of snakes. Given what’s going on in the world right now, we can add to the list fear in relation to the coronavirus: health concerns for ourselves and those we love, stress over changes to our life patterns and certainly financial worries.

I’m talking about fear today, because fear’s the opposite of faith. I suppose if you’re thinking of faith as our set of beliefs then doubt can be seen as the opposite of faith. But with regard to the core of faith, which is trust in God, fear is indeed the opposite of faith.

Remember what Jesus said to the disciples after he calmed the sea? They thought they were about to die, but he said, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” – Mark 4:40. You can see how he counters fear vs. faith. And instead of fear Jesus calls us to faith; to trust in God. And to that end let me share with you today seven reasons why you can always trust God no matter what your circumstances are or what your fears may be.

1. We can trust God because God knows our situation.

God is not far off, distant and unaware. God truly knows what’s going on in our lives. As the psalmist says in Psalm 139, “you know when I sit down and when I rise up . . . Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether” – vs 2, 4

And Jesus tells us that “The hairs of our head are all numbered” – Matthew 10:30, which is pretty amazing! He also teaches us – “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” – Matthew 6:6.

God knows what’s going on in your life and he knows your concerns and fears.

2. We can trust God because God cares for us.

It’s not that he knows what’s going on but is neutral about our situation. God loves us deeply and wants what’s best for us.

Jesus tells us in Luke 12:24, “Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!”

We know this is God’s heart because he has shown us his heart of love for us on the cross. As Paul says if God “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” – Romans 8:32

God loves you deeply and will take care of you.

3. We can trust God because God is able to care for us.

God is all-powerful. God is almighty. As the Lord said through the prophet Jeremiah, “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?” – Jeremiah 32:27. And our Lord Jesus tells us that “All things are possible with God.” – Mark 10:27.

There’s no lack on God’s end. There’s no limitation. God is able to take care of you.

4. We can also trust God because God has a plan for us and for this world.

Yes, God allows us to choose and there is much evil in the world. And yes, the world is broken right now, waiting to be made new when Jesus returns (Romans 8:20-21; Matthew 19:28).

But things are not out of control. Even when things seem crazy God is overseeing and active to work to make sure that in the midst of the craziness his plan comes to pass.

As the Lord says through the prophet Isaiah, “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.’” – Isaiah 46:9-10

And this is what God says about his people, “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11

God has a plan for you and as you trust in him and walk in his ways God will bring it to pass.

Next, and this is where things get interesting –

5. We can trust God because even if God allows us to go through our greatest fear, God will go with us.

You might be thinking, “Wait a second, isn’t God supposed to deliver me from my greatest fears?” And the answer is “Not always.” Sometimes, but not always. But when God allows us to go through what we fear most what God will do is go through the trial with us.

God says, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you . . .. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” – Isaiah 43:1-3

And as God goes with us God will help us in the midst of our trial and even work to bring good to us out of the experience. Paul says this in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (NIV)

Even if God allows us to die in our trial “we are more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37) – for our death is transformed by God into the means of our entrance into God’s presence, and eventually our resurrection to life eternal.

6. We can also trust God because faithfulness is a defining characteristic of who God is.

God describes himself in Exodus 34:6 in this way, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness . . .”

This is who God is. And God doesn’t change! Which is why Lamentations 3:22-23 says, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

 What I’m saying is that God is trustworthy. You can trust him in all circumstances and situations.

And then finally –

7. We can trust God because God has a track record of being trustworthy.

 We see this in the Scriptures.

  • God kept his promise to Abraham for a son
  • God delivered the people of Israel from Egypt
  • God gave them the land of Canaan
  • God brought them back to the land after 70 years of exile
  • And God sent his promised Messiah, our Lord Jesus.

We also know about God’s history of faithfulness from hearing the testimony of others today and how God has worked in their lives. And if we have walked with the Lord for any amount of time we know this from stories from our own lives.

This is why Psalm 9:10 says, “those who know your name (or you could say, your reputation) put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.”

God has a track record that demonstrates that God is worthy of your trust.


So for these seven reasons, we can say with the writer of Psalm 46:1-3, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.” Even when everything is falling apart around us God helps us, so we don’t need to be afraid.

We can also make the words of Psalm 56:3-4 our words, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.”


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We’re finishing up our series on the Lord’s prayer this morning. As we saw when the disciple asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he taught them the Lord’s prayer (Luke 11:2). And we have also now sought to learn how to pray by learning the Lord’s prayer.

Let me begin today by asking, “How often should we pray the Lord’s prayer?” Or, “How often do you think Jesus intended us to pray it?” Ever thought about this? One way to answer this is to ask: How often do you need forgiveness? Or, how often do you want to be spared difficult times of testing? Or even more specifically,  how often do you need daily bread? Hint – “daily.” The answer for all these questions is every day. Now we could leave it here and have an early morning of it.

But I want to set this question against the background out of which the Lord’s prayer comes, which is the practice of –

Daily prayers

This was an ancient Jewish pattern of devotion to God. Daily prayers are set times of prayer in the morning and evening. Here are some examples of this in Scripture –

  • Psalm 22:2 – “O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.”
  • Psalm 88:1-2 – “O Lord, God of my salvation; I cry out day and night before you. Let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry!”

These times of prayer coincided with the routine of the Temple sacrifices. The Temple was, after all, the house of prayer (Isaiah 56:7, Mark 11:17), and prayers were offered up with the sacrifices. And, indeed, the prayers themselves were also seen as sacrifices to God or as a part of the sacrifice. Here are some examples:

  • Morning sacrifice: Psalm 5:3 – “O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch.”
  • Evening sacrifice: Psalm 141:2 – “Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!”

So prayers are being offered at the times of sacrifice in the morning and evening. It may well be true that the temple routine is the root of this practice of set times of prayer in the morning and evening.

There is also a threefold pattern in Scripture with an afternoon time of prayer added on. Here are a couple of examples –

  • Psalm 55:16-17 – “But I call to God, and the Lord will save me. Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and he hears my voice.”
  • Daniel 6:10 – “Daniel . . . got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God.”

This afternoon time of prayer, when it was observed, was usually shorter. (See also Psalm 119:164)

The actual times of prayer are as follows:

  • Morning prayers – 9:00 AM (the 3rd hour)
  • Noon prayers – 12:00 PM (the 6th hour)
  • Evening prayers – 3:00 PM (the 9th hour)

There was some flexibility here as to morning and evening prayers. It was more casual, perhaps, outside of Jerusalem and the Temple routine. It was more like early morning and sunset, perhaps related to the work schedules of the common person (see Jesus’ practice below).

Now let’s look at –

Jesus and daily prayers

We see this pattern of daily prayers in Jesus’ teaching on prayer. Luke 18:1 says, “And Jesus told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” In Luke 18:7 this means praying “day and night” – a reference to daily prayers.

We also see daily prayers in Jesus’ example of praying, for instance –

  • He practiced early morning prayers, as we see in Mark 1:35 – “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.”
  • He also practiced later evening prayers, as we see in Matthew 14:23 – “And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.” (It was already evening before the feeding of the 5,000 began – 14:15, so this is even later in the evening.)

Let me also share this, because it’s interesting, and it ties in with Jesus’ example. These times of prayer are connected to the cross:

  • During morning prayers (3rd hour) – Jesus was crucified
  • During afternoon prayers (6th hour) – there was darkness
  • During evening prayers (9th hour) – Jesus died

But not only this, in Luke there is a prayer connected to each one:

  • At the time of morning prayers – Jesus prayed, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” – Luke 23:34
  • At the time of evening prayers – Jesus prayed, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” – Luke 23:46

So Jesus observes daily prayers, in shortened form, on the cross.

 And then at the time of afternoon prayers – the thief prays to Jesus – Luke 23:42. He prayed, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Now, let’s look at –

The apostle Peter and daily prayers

Just going through the book of Act in order, three examples:

  • Morning prayers in Acts 2:15 – Peter and the rest were in the upper room in morning prayers when the Spirit fell at Pentecost.
  • Evening prayers in Acts 3:1 – Peter and John were on their way to evening prayers in the Temple when they healed the paralyzed man.
  • Afternoon prayers in Acts 10:9 – Peter was observing afternoon prayers when he received the vision of the acceptance of the Gentiles.

Peter and the early Christians in the book of Acts observed daily prayers.

And then we have –

The apostle Paul and daily prayers

Paul practiced daily prayers. For example:

  • In 1 Thessalonians 3:10 he said, “we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you.”
  • In 2 Timothy 1:3 he said, “I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day

Also, with regard to teaching Paul’s calls to constant prayer should be seen against the background of daily prayers.

  • Colossians 4:2 – “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving”
  • Romans 12:12 – “Be constant in prayer” that is, be constant in your prayers every day.
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:17 – “pray without ceasing” which is to say, don’t cease to say your daily prayers. I don’t think that this is a call to a figurative kind of prayer – ‘to be in a spirit of prayer.’ It’s a call to real prayer at set times during the day.

Bringing this home, let’s look at –

The Lord’s prayer as a daily prayer

Daily prayers are the context of the giving of the Lord’s prayer. In Luke 11:2 Jesus said “when you pray . . .” pray the Lord’s prayer. In this Jewish context this could only be taken as a reference to daily prayers. The background here is that John the Baptist had taught his disciples a set prayer for their daily prayers and now Jesus is saying when you say your daily prayers, say this prayer. That is, during your set times of prayer offer up these five petitions of the prayer of Jesus.

This was understood in the early church, even among Gentiles. In The Didache, a book written for Gentile Christians instructing them how to be Christians, parts of which may be from the late first century, teaches us to pray the Lord’s prayer three times each day (chapter 8).

Disciplined praying

 So we’ve answered our question. How often should we pray the Lord’s prayer? Once, twice, or maybe even three times a day.

We’re not talking about some dead routine or lifeless ritual here. We’re talking about discipline in our prayers. And it’s certainly possible to be both disciplined with set times for prayer and Spirit led, as Jesus and the apostles model for us. After all, who knew more about the Spirit than they? And they observed the discipline of daily prayers.

Now, of course, this doesn’t exclude spontaneous prayer at any time during the day and night, but our focus today is planned times of disciplined prayer.

If you already have a good pattern, I want to encourage you in it and to work in the Lord’s prayer in a way that’s meaningful to you. If you don’t have a disciplined pattern of prayer, I encourage you to try daily prayers with the Lord’s prayer as a focus, remembering that it only takes a minute or two to pray it.

However you want to do it, let’s remember Paul words in Romans 12:12 – “Be constant in prayer.” And that’s the message for today. Be disciplined in your daily devotion to God and utilize the prayer that Jesus gave us for this purpose.

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