The Lord is with Us!
Photography by Don Blais
JANUARY 24, 2021
This time last year candidates were campaigning for the primary elections and the Coronavirus had yet to make a significant impact in the United States. As the year 2020 progressed it was marked with chaos, turmoil, and uncertainty in many forms. As we enter this new year, the elections are over, and we have a number of new leaders in political offices but It is too early to know just how our leaders in Washington will/or will not work together. The COVID vaccines are being distributed and people in our area are beginning to receive the shots but I have heard estimates ranging from June until late next fall until enough people have been vaccinated so that we can get back to what was normal just a year ago. It is too soon to know for sure. Does the dysfunction in Washington, the continuation of COVID, and other things that are happening feel like obstacles, preventing life from being what you would like it to be?
Where do you look for hope for the future? For me, my hope comes primarily from looking to the Lord daily. In Matthew 6:9-13 when Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them to pray, his prayer included, “Give us today our daily bread.” With that I am certain he meant more than just praying for food to eat. I believe he meant for us to look to God for everything we need: spiritually, emotionally, physically, and materially, and to depend on God every day. Perhaps our greatest need during this time of uncertainties is the need for the spiritual strength, faith, and hope that only come from a relationship with the Lord.
Psalm 143 is one of many passages of scripture which provides sound practical advice as we move into 2021. Verse 8 says, “Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you.” How do you begin your mornings? Do you start by affirming your trust in the Lord? Do you read in your Bible or spiritual devotionals that you have found helpful? Do you look for things that bring you word of God’s unfailing love? Then what do you do after that? Verse 8 continues, “Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.”Do you earnestly and quietly listen for the Holy Spirit to show you which way you should go each day? Verse 10 contains another very good suggestion. What do you think would happen if you sincerely asked God to teach you to do his will? That request presupposes that you acknowledge God as the Lord of your life. If you do, the later part of verse 10 promises that his Spirit will lead you on paths free of obstacles that could block your way.
Psalm 62:1-2 and 5-6 contains a significant statement of faith. My advice is that you seek to make it a true statement for yourself. It says, “My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.
Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.” Starting each day seeking the Lord, listening for his voice and following his lead is a very helpful way of turning those verses into a reality in your life.
King David was a human being like us and had his flaws but he had also developed a great faith by trusting the Lord. In 2 Samuel 22:29-37 he describes his relationship with the Lord this way. “You are my lamp, O Lord; the Lord turns my darkness into light. With your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall.
“As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the Lord is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him. For who is God besides the Lord? And who is the Rock except our God? It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to stand on the heights. He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You give me your shield of victory; you stoop down to make me great. You broaden the path beneath me, so that my ankles do not turn.” How would you like some light in your darkness? How would you like to feel shielded from some of the things that you find unsettling? How would you like to have greater strength to face the challenges of life? How would you like to have the path through this year become smooth so you need not be afraid of stumbling? David did not find those answers in himself or in other people. David found the answer in God and you can too!
Over the past few months, a question I have heard discussed among my Christian friends a number of times is, given the state of our country and the world, is it possible that Jesus is coming again soon? In 2016 Dr. David Jeremiah wrote a book about that question entitled Is This the End? He admitted that he didn’t know if that time is close or not but he wrote that much of what he was seeing certainly seemed to fit Biblical prophesies concerning the end times. However, he also quoted Matthew 24:36 where Jesus said, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
In 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3 Paul dealt with that same question nearly 2,000 years ago. He wrote, “Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.”
There are many who say that since that prophesy hasn’t been fulfilled in all these years we don’t need to worry about it. Others don’t believe in God and put their trust in human beings to overcome our obstacles and provide hope and a future for us. Both those views are predicting a future of “peace and safety”.
I for one am not so sure. I choose to take Paul’s words seriously where he said in verses 4-6 “But you, brothers [and sisters], are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons [and daughters] of the light and sons [and daughters] of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled.” Jesus is the light and we need to be following him.
In verses 8-9 Paul wrote, “But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” With faith and love protecting our hearts, and by that he meant our emotions, we can live more at peace regardless of the storms around us. And when we keep our minds focused on the Lord; the assurance of salvation will protect our thoughts from anxiety and fear.
So then, how should we live? Jesus gave us this suggestion in John 6:27-29. “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food the endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval. Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
What does it mean to say that believing in Jesus is the work God requires of us? Jesus’ answer is at least two sided. First, he said in John 6:47 “I tell you the truth, he who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life.” Everyone who believes in him has eternal life for him or herself. But there is more. It isn’t just about getting salvation for yourself. We collectively are the body of Christ as Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:23 and 5:30. Paul also wrote in Ephesians 2:19-22 “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” Doing the work of God by believing in Jesus is how people see the reality of God on earth in us; both individually and collectively.
You might well ask how believing in Jesus is going to change the world? There are many stories about how faith in God, religious institutions, and symbols of faith are being challenged. A few years ago, I gave a sermon with the same title as my sermon today, Obstacle Illusions. My point then and my point today is that many of the obstacles we see concerning living a life of faith and being an agent of change in today’s world are really only illusions. God is the creator of the universe and he is greater than all obstacles. The only hope for humanity now and for eternity is trusting in him. He is not an illusion! Amen!