Dressed and Ready

Romans 13:12b-14 “So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”

When we get dressed, one thing has to come off before another goes on. Paul first describes the kind of life Christians shed as they strive to live a life of faith. Generally, it involves the “deeds of darkness.” Even our world recognizes certain behavior as so shameful it doesn’t belong in public. Crime takes place under the cover of night. So do many sexual sins.

But Paul is not addressing these words to the world around us. He is addressing them to Christians. He encourages us to behave decently. He knows that we are tempted, like anyone else, to indulge in the sins he lists. He starts with orgies and drunkenness. God does not forbid all use of alcoholic beverages. But Christians who understand this may be tempted to overlook drunkenness, or redefine what it means to be drunk. That leads to abusing Christian liberty. God calls us to wake up, to repent of such behavior as sin, to be prepared for Jesus’ return.

Next Paul warns of sexual immorality and debauchery (the word “orgies” in the previous pair actually comes from a Greek word suggesting abuse of alcohol more than misuse of sex). Many professing Christians no longer accept that sexual activity is limited to heterosexual marriage. Many more have become calloused to watching simulated sex on TV or in movies.  Does the screen somehow make it acceptable? Would we approve if the next door neighbors invited us over to watch?

To these sins the apostle adds dissensions and jealousy. Perhaps those seem like less serious offenses? We can become so accustomed to hurt, angry, or resentful feelings that we may begin to think of these as a normal and ordinary part of life. We don’t expect to be able to get along with everyone. We dismiss our own resentments as the natural result of incompatibilities.

But does that mean this is how it should be? Isn’t this still evidence of sin within us? And doesn’t all sin need to be dealt with in the same way–repentance, confession, and forgiveness? These “deeds of darkness” need to come off, too, if we want to be ready when Christ returns.

In their place, Paul urges us to wear the “armor of light.” This isn’t frilly or fancy clothing. We aren’t dressing up for an elegant party. We are at war. This is not the time to get comfortable. We need the armor our God provides.

Nothing can better protect us than to be wrapped in Christ himself. “Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” How do we clothe ourselves with Jesus Christ? We are putting him on every time we put our faith in his gracious promises. He applies them to us in word or sacrament. “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus,” Paul writes the Galatians. “For all of you who have been baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ.”

And when I am clothed in him, then it is God who works in me both to will and to act according to his good pleasure. Then I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.

God’s promises produce true faith. Faith will produce a true Christian life. Clothed like this, we are dressed and ready when our Lord Jesus returns.

Time to Wake Up!

Romans 13:11-12 “And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.”

You and I are living at an exciting time, if we would only wake up to realize it. Paul is bending over our sleepy souls and shaking our shoulders. Our salvation is near. To understand what Paul means by this, we need to understand that the Bible uses the term salvation in more than one way.

The apostle is not suggesting there was something incomplete about the saving work Jesus did when he came the first time. There is no secret stash of sins somewhere yet to be paid. There are no atoning sacrifices for us to perform. The words of John 3 still stand, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life…” In the life and death of Jesus Christ, our salvation–our rescue from sin and death and hell– has been accomplished. By faith we already hold the deed to our own piece of heavenly real estate.

But it’s no secret that death still pursues us. Every flaw in our health, every pain in our bodies, reminds us that it is just a matter of time. Our lives aren’t models of heavenly perfection. A rich stew of sin simmers and boils just under the surface. We are still waiting for final deliverance from the world in which we now live.

This salvation is coming closer every day. What a night and day difference its arrival will make! Paul reminds us, “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.” Now we live in the night. Sin darkens our vision. So many things we consider real, and important, are passing dreams and fantasies. The institutions we rely on, the enemies with whom we battle, this created world which seems so solid and permanent–all of it will suddenly disappear when Jesus’ coming brings the dawn of a new day.

That day will make everything good and clear. Every trouble will end. God’s ways will be vindicated. Our Christian faith will prove itself the one thing we have of lasting value. The hard days of carrying our heavy burdens will be over. The everlasting holidays will begin. You and I have never experienced a bigger day in our lives.

Since the sky is already reddening in the east, now is the time to wake up and prepare. Paul encourages us to understand the present time. The signs of Jesus’ return are all visible for us to see. Upheaval plagues current events. The gospel is spreading far and near. Paul himself witnessed so much fulfillment of the signs Jesus gave that he believed his return was imminent almost 2000 years ago.

This is why “the hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” We wouldn’t need the encouragement if many Christians weren’t spiritually drowsy. Take his warning to heart! Many believers resemble a person nodding off, barely awake, head bobbing as eyes flutter open and closed. Satan sings his spiritual lullaby to soothe us into the sleep of unbelief. He might croon the tune of earthly cares, desires, goals, pleasures, or worries. They all draw our attention from our spiritual needs. Faith begins to slip. The eternal sleep of unbelief follows.

The stress, distraction, and materialism which so surround Christmas can have the same sleepy effect on the soul. “Be careful,” Jesus warned, “or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness, and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.”

Jesus’ return is an occasion that demands we be properly prepared. It’s time to wake up!

Everything We Need

Philippians 4:11-12 “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or want.” 

Few of us have experienced the highs and lows of life to the degree Paul did. He lived in the luxury of Lydia’s home while in Philippi, because she was a wealthy seller of purple, but he experienced the poverty of a prison cell in that same town. He was deeply loved by those who believed the good news, but deeply hated by both Jews and Gentiles who felt threatened by his “new” religion. As an unbeliever, he approved the stoning of Stephen. Later, he experienced stoning himself, for the same cause. But this time his bruised and bloodied body survived the ordeal. God used him as an instrument to bring healing to others, but he himself had to live with his “thorn in the flesh.”

Through it all, Paul could be content. Through all the changes, one thing in Paul’s life remained the same. Every day this former murderer and hater of the world’s Savior got up to live under Jesus’ gracious love. Every day his sins were fully forgiven. Jesus gave his life for him, too. No matter what else they took away from Paul, he still owned heaven and eternal life. Even when he died, he had everything to look forward to. His God never changed.

Such contentment is our challenge at Thanksgiving. Sometimes our lives more or less mirror the troubles Paul faced. To us they may even seem worse. Our rebellious flesh feels like blaming God instead of loving and trusting him. But often our sins of discontent are more subtle than that.

When life is going reasonably well, we may experience a quieter discontent. It comes from comparing what we have with others. Though I have more than I need, my carpet isn’t quite as new and stylish as theirs. My house isn’t quite as roomy. My job doesn’t pay as much or doesn’t offer as many opportunities. My phone has less features, my vehicle is less reliable, my appliances look dated.

When we get the brand-new vehicle, the latest phone, the 4K television that takes up an entire wall, the satisfaction lasts only a little while. Soon the spell wears off. This last thing, too, was a false hope for any kind of genuine fulfillment. Lasting contentment is never found in things.

That’s not to say we should be ungrateful for the many luxuries God has given us. This week we celebrate Thanksgiving after all. But we, too, need to be reminded that the secret to being content can only be found where the apostle Paul found it. Only Jesus truly fills the emptiness. As Paul said in the previous chapter, “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 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ.”

The love we know in Christ’s forgiveness, the perfect righteousness he gives to us as a gift–these bring us heaven. These make us somebody. These satisfy our heart’s hunger and give us peace.

And when we have Jesus, then we can also be confident that “he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” Thankful Christians have every reason to be content this Thanksgiving. In Jesus Christ they know that God gives them all they need in every situation.

The Father’s Thankful Children

(This Thanksgiving Day Message is being posted to coincide with the holiday instead of Friday, when the week’s third post usually appears. It is also available on video at: https://youtu.be/VTQLnOHgkvA)

Matthew 5:43-45 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

Children often try to find ways around doing what their parents ask of them. Children of the Heavenly Father are no exception. As far back as Moses the Lord had commanded in Leviticus 19:18, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself.”

For as long as the commandment had been around, people had been trying to find their way out of it. Some of the rabbis made a subtle shift in emphasis to change the meaning. Instead of love your neighbor (the emphasis God had always intended), they made it love your neighbor. Then they started to raise questions about who exactly qualified as a neighbor. Before long, people concluded that it was acceptable to do what comes naturally: hate your enemy.

Does that seem shocking to you, that people would twist God’s word so? At Thanksgiving most people will gather with family or friends. In more than a few of those gatherings this year, people will be absent because of some grudge. Some present will avoid each other because the relationships are strained. We often hear that the political positions that have so divided our nation lead family members to cut each other out of their lives. If it is not members of our own family we resent, perhaps it is the politicians, the activists, the media pundits, the rally-goers, that make us upset. Maybe we would never say so out loud, but deep down inside we would like to shift the emphasis from “love” to “neighbor,” and then ask, “Just who IS my neighbor?”

Jesus makes the answer to that question clear. “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” What did God mean by “Love your neighbor?” He meant love everybody, even those people whom you might consider enemies. He is referring to people who hound us and harass us. They go out of their way to make our lives miserable.

Love them. That means more than conjuring up some saccharine sweet emotions for them. Go out of your way to do something kind. When they say something nasty behind your back, at the least bite your tongue. Find something kind to say about them.

And when you have done your kindnesses, don’t be surprised if they don’t turn around and smother you in hugs and kisses. When Jesus fed the five thousand, didn’t most of that crowd reject him as their Savior (John 6:66)? When Jesus healed the ear of the high priest’s servant Malchus, didn’t he still help the others arrest Jesus? Remember, they are your enemies.

Perhaps you are wondering just how all of this is connected to Thanksgiving Day. That becomes clearer as Jesus points to our Father’s example. “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

Jesus calls us “sons of your Father in heaven,” and that is what we are. But we weren’t always his children. We still don’t deserve to be called his own. Our lack of love for our enemies is rebellion against God. We act like his enemies. We should be disinherited. We should be thrown out of the family.

That’s not what God does. He still calls us sons (in Bible terms, that applies to women as well as to men). His love for us led him to respond to our rebellion by sacrificing his own Son for our sins. He does this not with a grudge. It comes from the sincerest desire that his love would work a miracle in our hearts, and turn us from fear to faith in him as our kind and loving Father.

We are sons and daughters of our Father in heaven, not because we were born that way, or deserve such a distinction, but because our Father graciously adopted us into his family. Since we know that God so loves us, can our hearts be unmoved by such grace? Won’t we want to imitate him, “who causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous”?

His pattern for us to follow is certainly evident in that he so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son. But day by day he continues to set a pattern for us to follow in the love he extends to all people. He provides for their needs whether they are evil or good, whether righteous or unrighteous.

In my own neighborhood, on my own street, I know of a family who certainly won’t be visiting church Thanksgiving Day. Their views on certain moral issues might make you bristle. Without wishing to sound self-righteous, I would have to say that they are anything but godly.

And yet they will gather for a feast with their family, and I would venture to guess that the table which the Lord has set before them is as fine or finer than that which he has placed before me.

Why would he do such a thing? Only because he is our loving and merciful Father in heaven. Only so that he might extend their time of grace, so that their hearts might yet be touched by the gospel, so that if that time should come, they will have all the more reason to thank and praise him for being their kind Father, and making them his dear children.

Someone, somewhere, has said, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” We don’t thank God to flatter him. We sincerely appreciate his goodness. There may be no sincerer way in which we can do that than by imitating his love– the pattern which our heavenly Father has set. Then we will be living like our Father’s thankful children.

He Must Reign

1 Corinthians 15:24-25 “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.”

Do you remember what Jesus told the Twelve when he gave them the great commission? “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” Do you remember how Paul described Jesus’ place in heaven in Ephesians chapter 1? God “raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church…”

Do you ever think about what it means for you when you confess in the Apostle’s Creed on Sunday: “and sits at the right hand of God the Father”? We Lutherans aren’t waiting for Jesus to come and set up his kingdom here on earth. We know it is already here. We have been made a part of it by faith, and Jesus already reigns as our king.

Paul wants you to have the comfort and know the power of realizing that Jesus already reigns. We sometimes wring our hands about the divisions in our nation, the fracturing of our families, the moral rot taking over our culture. I will admit that these problems can be worrisome. We sometimes deplore the conditions in our own church–the lack of zeal, the personal squabbles, the never ending distractions that keep us from our real work of sharing Jesus with each other and our community.

Paul assures that Jesus reigns, and that he will continue to reign until he has put every enemy under his feet. Jesus will destroy every dominion, authority and power. Those are terms the Bible uses for the demonic spiritual powers. They are the real enemies, the power behind everything we see in our world which opposes what is Christian and godly. They make our work hard and our lives painful.

But at this point in history we are still the Church Militant, and fighting a war is never easy. None of this changes the fact that our King lives and reigns. Even now he is fighting for us, and he will continue to fight for us until he has defeated every enemy.

Do you doubt it? Jesus kingdom is still advancing. Until twenty-five years ago my church body never had much of a mission presence in India. Then one day we received an invitation from literally tens of thousands of people: “Won’t you come and teach us God’s word? Won’t you come and share Jesus with our people?” The communist government of Vietnam has allowed our church to build a school and serve over a hundred thousand Christians in that country. Christianity is growing in Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. Our numbers may be declining, but there are signs of a stronger church in the United States, too.  

Do you see what’s going on? Our King, who is alive, and well, and reigning in heaven, is among us even now. He is holding the evil dominions, the authorities, and the powers at bay. His reign is destroying our enemies. His presence, and his power, are making a difference in our lives now, even as we wait for his return.

In Christ All Will Be Made Alive

1 Corinthians 15:20-23 “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.”

Death came through a man. In Adam all die. From Adam we have all been infected with a sinful nature. Not one of us escapes the death it brings. Even the best still die. In the last fifty years, perhaps no one has been more recognized for her selflessness than Mother Theresa. But where is she now? She is dead.

Teenagers may think they are indestructible. Death does not seem very real to them. But school shootings have clearly demonstrated that even teenagers are not bullet proof. The COVID 19 virus may threaten the elderly and those whose health is compromised more than others. But people of all ages have lost their lives in the pandemic.

Sometimes even babies die, confirming that, if “the wages of sin is death,” then it must be the sinful core we all inherited from Adam that comes under God’s judgment. Death doesn’t always wait for some visible breaking of God’s commandments. In Adam, all die.

That’s not a pleasant thing to think about, but Paul wants us to consider the implications seriously. I am half way through my fifties. In Psalm 90 Moses says that man’s days are 70 years, or 80 if he has the strength. Average life expectancies in our time reveal things haven’t changed much since 1400 B.C. That means that my life is approaching the three quarters mark. Every funeral I attend, every trip to the doctor, reminds me that I need more than a dead hero showing me how to behave better. I need a Savior from sin and death!

I need the Savior and King Paul is describing here. “The resurrection of the dead comes also through a man…in Christ all will be made alive.” Our greatest need has never been for someone to come and make our world a nicer place in which to stay. We need someone to save us from it. Jesus’ resurrection is proof that he has done just that!

When Jesus died on the cross, he faced the wrath of God for our sins that justly belonged to us. His body absorbed all the punishment we deserved. That made death something of a hollow shell. It still may hurt. It still may frighten us to go through it. But the terror of God’s punishment, and the power of death to hold us, has been taken away.

Paul describes it this way in Romans 4. “He was delivered over to death for our sins…” Because we had sins, Jesus had to die for us. “…and was raised to life for our justification.” Because Jesus had earned a not guilty verdict from God for each one of us, death no longer serves as punishment, and God raised him to life.

Consider the implications for our future. Paul paints us a picture using the the Old Testament firstfruits offerings: “…so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.” We aren’t an agricultural people anymore. When we bring our offerings to the Lord, they tend to be in the form of paper notes backed by the government. In Old Testament times, God required his people to bring him the very first part of the harvest. The grain or fruit was taken to the temple and offered to the Lord for his use. These “firstfruits” weren’t the whole harvest. The name indicates that there was much more to come.

In the Lord’s harvest of bodies and souls brought back from the dead, Jesus is the firstfruits. Our King lives! But Jesus isn’t the whole harvest. Again, the name indicates that there are great fields of those who will rise and be gathered to God when Jesus comes again in glory.

You, dear believing child of God, are a part of that harvest. So are the people you loved who have fallen asleep in faith. As surely as you have stood at their graves, they are going to come out of those graves on the last day when Jesus calls them. In Christ, all will be made alive!

We Will Serve the Lord

Joshua 24:19-22 “Joshua said to the people, ‘You are not able to serve the Lord. He is a holy God; He is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make and end of you, after he has been good to you.’ But the people said to Joshua, ‘No! We will serve the Lord.’ Then Joshua said, ‘You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the Lord.’”

Pleasing God is a simple thing, but it is not an easy thing. If we want to please the Lord, his one command, really, is, “love.” Follow this one principle in all you practice, let love drive all you do, and the Lord will be pleased.

Simple, but not easy. In fact, Joshua says, “Impossible.” God is holy. He is pleased with nothing short of absolute perfection. God is jealous. When love which we should direct to him is directed to other gods, when first place in our hearts is given to the very gifts with which he has blessed us, he will not tolerate it.

Such rebellion and sin is not hard to find. Sometimes it comes right on the heels of God’s goodness. Israel heard God’s voice at Sinai. They received his assurance that he was making them his very own people. Yet just a month later they were worshiping the golden calf. The Lord delivered them from Balak, king of Moab, in the wilderness. Then they turned around and worshiped the Moabite god and committed adultery with the Moabite women. Israel grumbled and complained against the Lord every time the journey became a little difficult. They forgot to seek the Lord in faith and ask for his help. Their weakness was easy to see.

Remember ours? Our Old Adams are always rebels. Even at our best we live on the precipice, ready to start down the slippery slope toward unbelief. It may not begin with outright apostasy. It begins more subtly with first place in our hearts going to something other than our Lord. Our secret idol could be anything–treasure, family, prestige, some noble earthly cause. That may proceed to a quiet preference for personal ease and comfort over a life lived in actively loving and giving to others. Or perhaps faith dims after working hard and fighting the good fight for years and years. Finally, we feel like we have been wandering in the wilderness too long, and losing too many battles. “I’ve had it! I’m not going to fight this any longer.” We slowly lose our love for the word. The gospel becomes boring. We have no more heart for sharing the good news with the unbelieving of this generation…or our own children in the next.

Would the Lord really refuse to forgive, as Joshua claims? He does so when people remain hardened in their unbelief. He did with so many of the Israelites who died in the wilderness. They insisted on remaining God’s enemies. Joshua explains, “If you forsake the Lord, and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you, and will make an end of you, after he has been good to you.”

Where did that leave these people? Where does that leave us? There is only one conclusion to which this leads. When we have considered what brought us this far, choose God’s service. “But the people said to Joshua, “No! We will serve the Lord.”

Perhaps you notice that the emphasis in the words “serve the Lord” is not so much on our doing. It is on the Lord we serve. This is foremost a statement of faith. The people were expressing their faith in the true God, in contrast to all the false gods that surrounded them. They knew they could not make it without him. They trusted that the God who saves his people, and the God who keeps his people, would continue to save them and keep them, even when it meant saving them from themselves.

So Joshua concludes, “You are witnesses against yourselves, that you have chosen to serve the Lord.” Could Joshua’s words possibly be right? Did they choose this? Don’t we all learn from the Small Catechism, “I believe that I cannot by own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, nor come to him.” Isn’t faith the work of the Holy Spirit in us?

So it is. But Joshua wasn’t talking to unbelievers. He was speaking to believing children of God, people whose bodies had become the temple of the Holy Spirit. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, who had changed their hearts and made them his home, they chose to serve the Lord who had been so good to them.

Today, let us answer Joshua’s challenge in the same way. Remembering God’s goodness, the forgiveness and the freedom he has given us in Christ, let’s choose to serve the Lord. Remembering our weakness and sin, this God, who has brought us this far, will always be our only hope.

Remember

Joshua 24:17-18 “It was the Lord our God himself who brought us and our forefathers up out of Egypt, from the land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. And the Lord drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land.”

Israel’s aged hero Joshua, now over 100 years old, had asked the entire nation to gather together one last time before he died. What did Joshua wish to say to them? He reminded them of God’s goodness and faithfulness. As he wrote a few chapters earlier, “Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.” He warned them about their rebellion and sin. He hoped to turn their thoughts and their hearts to the Lord one last time before he died.

The people remembered God’s goodness in his salvation. The Lord had set them free from slavery in Egypt. He had rescued them from the Pharaoh’s plans to destroy them as a people. He had preserved the special promises he gave to them through their forefathers.

And the Lord hadn’t done this in some quiet corner, secretly working where no one could see. He did it all with great signs and wonders. There were the ten plagues. There was the parting of the Red Sea. It was clear to all the world that this people Israel was the apple of his eye and the treasure of his heart. God’s salvation had brought them this far.

Of course, all of this prefigures and foreshadows an even greater deliverance the Lord has given us in his Son. Think of all the slaveries from which we have been set free because of Jesus’ death and resurrection! We have been freed from guilt. God no longer holds us responsible for our sins. We have been liberated from death. We will never be separated from God’s love, for on the day our heartbeats stop, our souls will be joined even closer to him in heaven. Someday that body will rise to live again. We have been released from the power of sin. Our bodies are now the temples of the Holy Spirit. By his power we are free and able to serve. Sin shall not be your master, for you are not under law but under grace.

There was still more to the goodness of God Israel remembered. “He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. And the Lord drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land.” The word protected might better be translated “kept.” God’s keeping of Israel through the wilderness certainly included protection, but it involved so much more. He fed them with bread from heaven. Six days a week manna simply appeared on the ground to collect. For forty years their clothes and shoes did not wear out. When they entered the promised land, the walls of Jericho simply fell over for them. As long as they trusted in him, the Lord gave them victory. He saw to it that they had everything they needed.

Can we fully appreciate how much more of God’s goodness we experience today when he meets our daily needs? Sometimes we long for the good old days, but the good old days were not always better. My high school English teacher always reminded us to be thankful for the way the Lord blesses us now. He remembered the “good old days” as a time during WW II when he couldn’t find a store that had a men’s dress shirt for sale. Those were times when churches held many more funerals for children than they do today. If you visit an older cemetery, check the dates on the tombstones. I think that you will find he was right.

Then look at the food and clothing choices we enjoy. When Joshua’s people went to their closets, they didn’t have to spend time deciding what to wear. They took the only thing available. Most of our own great-grandparents probably didn’t have the privilege of agonizing over what to wear for an occasion.

Look at the medicines which lengthen our lives. Look at the relative peace our nation has enjoyed. When we consider God’s providence, and his protection, the evidence of his goodness is undeniable. The crisis of the moment can blind us to the good things we have enjoyed, and still enjoy. Take a moment to pause, and to remember.

The Good Shepherd’s Health Plan

Ezekiel 34: 13b-16 “I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. I will search of the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd my flock with justice.”

God certainly gives his people daily bread. This was not his primary concern here. The leaders of Israel, the priests and kings who served as shepherds, had failed to feed them spiritually. That is why the people had strayed away to other gods. The pastures and grazing land on which the Lord intended to feed his people were the pastures of his word.

What a fitting picture for God’s word it is! God’s word, especially his message of love and forgiveness, is like food. Eat too little, or don’t eat a balanced diet, and faith may become weak and sick. Stop eating God’s word altogether, and faith will inevitably starve to death. We can no more stop hearing God’s word once we have learned it than we can stop eating once we have had a meal.

Why stop eating when our King has provided such a tasty feast! “Rich pastures and good grazing land” is what he promises. Beautiful expressions of love and concern are what we find when we actually open his word and taste it. We might even call the Bible an extended love letter. It is written strait from God’s heart to yours. It is filled with passionate promises and personal appeals to feed your faith and make it grow. Our Good Shepherd provides for his people by feeding them.

After feeding us, he gives us a place where we can lie down and rest. “I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Lord.” Israel never enjoyed great security on earth again when they returned from exile. It wasn’t long before Alexander the Great overran their country. Then the Romans came. By 70 AD Jerusalem was destroyed, and the Jews were again scattered around the world.

But the Lord never wants us to find our security in this world. If we did, that would teach us rest our hearts here. That would teach us to forget about our true home and true security in heaven. For now, he gives us a place where we can lie down and rest our weary spirits, our aching consciences. It is the same place he feeds us–the promises of his word.

All of this contributes to his program to restore our spiritual health. “I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak…” Life often deals a blow to the faith of God’s people. Some pet sin gets the better of us. We feel as though God failed in his promise not to let us be tempted beyond what we are able to bear. Or we doubt whether the Lord would ever want us back again. We feel unworthy even to ask for forgiveness.

We are exposed to the infighting, the meanness, the petty grudges or quarrels between people working inside the Kingdom of God, those trying to build his Church. We wonder how God could possibly let such things go on.

The Lord promises to supply all we need, yet at times we have to do without something that, no matter how we look at it, seems to be something that we genuinely needed. In these and many other ways our spirits can be wounded, our faith weakened. We need someone to come and stop the bleeding, bandage the wounds, and nurse us back to spiritual health.

The Lord does. His forgiveness eases and finally erases the pain of our sins. His overwhelming faithfulness to his promises gives us patience when we can’t understand what he is doing at the moment. He brings us medicine for the soul in his book of love and faithfulness and the words of Good News it proclaims. He restores our spiritual health. It is how our Good Shepherd tends his flock and makes them spiritually strong.