Saturday, March 31, 2018

Holy Saturday...and the King of Surprises

On Holy Saturday, when Christ’s body lay in the tomb, the world thought of Him as just another dead would-be Messiah.

The disciples, grief-stricken, witnesses of Christ’s death, were shattered and afraid, hopeless.

Nobody thought that the One Who had saved others but refused to save Himself was anything but dead and gone.

But God is the King of surprises.

That’s the truth to which disciples who know we can only be saved from sin, death, and darkness by the grace of God through faith in Christ cling on all the Good Fridays and Holy Saturdays of life.

It’s the truth to which all people can cling if, stirred by the Holy Spirit, they dare to believe.

The God we know in Jesus is always and most certainly the King of surprises!

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Friday, March 30, 2018

Good Friday: God's Love for You

"It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, 'Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.' When he had said this, he breathed his last." (Luke 23:44-46, New International Version)
"For when we were still helpless, Christ died for the wicked at the time that God chose. It is a difficult thing for someone to die for a righteous person. It may even be that someone might dare to die for a good person. But God has shown us how much he loves us—it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us!" (Romans 5:6-8, Good News Translation)
Good Friday blessings to all.

Flow, River, Flow

This the journal entry for my quiet time of earlier today. I met God in Psalm 46.

Look: “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.” (Psalm 46:4)

According to
The Lutheran Study Bible, the phrase “the city of God” only appears in the Korah psalms. Psalm 46, as its superscription indicates, is one of these: “To the choirmaster. Of the Sons of Korah. According to Alamonth. A Song.” The phrase, city of God, refers to Jerusalem. While God is omnipresent, He chose to dwell in an intimate way with His people at the temple in Jerusalem, “the city of God.”

But Jerusalem doesn’t have a river, only springs. Clearly, the psalmist is speaking more figuratively when he says this.

I think the takeaway for us today is this: Wherever God dwells and wherever God is welcomed, that place is holy, meaning set apart for God, God’s work, God’s purposes, God’s glory, God’s grace, and is glad.

Listen: In the prologue to John’s Gospel, John says that before anything was created “the Word” existed. Pointing to the Christian’s understanding of God as one Being in three Persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), John says that the Word was God and was with God. The Word was the agent by Whom creation happened. And then, John says: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling [literally, pitched His tent or tabernacled] among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

Jesus came to dwell with any who will welcome Him with trusting faith. “Here I am!” the risen and ascended Jesus says to His Church and to all who will listen. “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” (Revelation 3:20)

Jesus is the River Whose streams make glad those who welcome Him. And our call is to welcome Him with faith each day. He says: “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:17-18)

Jesus spoke of Himself as the River of living water, who could enliven those who, whether they know it or not, are parched and thirsty for God, forgiveness, and new life. (Interestingly, the most common Old Testament Hebrew word for soul is nephesh, literally throat.)

To a woman at a well in the Samaritan village of Sychar, Jesus said, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” (John 410)

To a great festival crowd in Jerusalem, Jesus once said, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” (John 7:37-38)

Revelation 22:1-3, says that in the heavenly city, where God the Father and the Lamb (Jesus) will dwell among their people, there will be a river, issuing from God, bringing life and peace to all who dwell with God.

And, I don’t believe that it’s a stretch to say that this River has made more than a few appearances in our dying world.

When Jesus died on a cross, a Roman soldier sought to confirm His death. And so: “ of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.” (John 19:34) Forming an inclusio within John’s gospel with the first act of Jesus’ public ministry according to John, turning water into wine at the wedding at Cana, we see that John’s entire gospel is informed by means of grace by which God comes to dwell with us in Christ, Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. In Holy Baptism, the living waters, the River--Jesus Himself, God incarnate--comes to live with us.

When we willingly, by faith, allow this River to flow into our lives, refusing to dam it off by our heedlessness toward God, we dwell with God. We live in glad fellowship with God.

This is why daily repentance and renewal is an essential part of the Christian life. Someone told me this past week, “I went through a time when I didn’t go to worship and I never prayed. I don’t know why. But that happened for about three months. I was miserable. But when I came back to God, worshiping every Sunday and praying, including confessing my sins, I was happier.”

That person’s problems didn’t go away. But God made her glad because she had invited this God revealed in Christ to dwell with her, standing with her every day and refreshing her with His grace.

The psalmist in Psalm 46 acknowledges the violence and insanity of the world in which he lived. (It’s not too different from our world.) The nations, he said, were in an uproar. But in the midst of it all, the River who dwelt with Him, God, told him, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10)

God told him, “Be still! I’m God!”

With that assurance, he could say, “The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” (Psalm 46:11)

God still is God! And He can be our refuge and fortress!

Respond: God, when I’m tempted to feel intimidated by the world or by my own fearfulness or by the fearful people who effectively deny that You dwell among Your people or who want to steal the joy I have in You, help me to remember that You are my fortress, my refuge, my strength, a very present help in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1, 11).

And when I’m inclined to roam off on my own, chasing some wild hare rather than following You, call me back. Help me to be still and let You fill me with hope and gladness.

And when I’ve become parched from living for myself and to myself, when I’ve forgotten that day to surrender to You, to seek forgiveness for my sins in the name of Jesus, to read Your Word, or to honor You as God, all while being stupidly mystified that things just aren’t right, call me back to You. Bellow at me, using other people, circumstances, and, most of all, Your Word and sacraments, to call me back to the River of life, to Jesus. Scream at me, God. as insistently as whistles, bagpipes, and trombones until, thick-header, thick-hearted, and sinful though I am, I hear Your insistent knock and welcome Your Son and His lordship and leadership over my life again...and again. And I can live in your peace, I can be still and revel in the assurance that not only are You God, but through Jesus, You are my God.

In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen 

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Maundy Thursday: Filled with Meaning and Mystery

[This was shared tonight during Maundy Thursday with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Mark 14:12-26
Maundy Thursday is a day heavy with meaning and mystery.

But on this Maundy Thursday, we consider the most meaningful and mysterious thing about this day. I want to talk with you about the is-ness of this day.

Tonight, you see, we do more than remember Christ, His death, and His resurrection. He will be with us. He will relive the crucifixion and resurrection in us. And He will welcome us to the heavenly banquet He eternally shares with all who believe in Him. The gospel writer Mark tells us about this meaningful and mysterious meal you and I are about to have once again.

First, some background. The Old Testament shows us that the central saving event of Israel’s history was God’s deliverance of His people, Israel, the Hebrews, from their slavery in Egypt.

This event was not just celebrated by the Jews. It was reiterated, re-lived, re-experienced in the Passover festival each year.

In the Passover, Jews don’t just go back to the events the day celebrates, they participate in the first Passover all over again. There is a present-tense is-ness in the Passover.

Above all, as you know, Passover is annually re-lived in the Seder meal.

It was while commemorating the Passover meal with the twelve apostles that Jesus chose to institute the most meaningful and mysterious meal there is, the most meaningful and mysterious thing about Maundy Thursday.

In this meal, which Jesus first shared with the twelve on the night before He would be crucified, four days before God the Father would raise Him from the dead, Jesus anticipates and gives us the means to regularly relive the central saving event not just of Israel’s history, but of world history.

That central event, of course, is Jesus’ death and resurrection.

In this meal, Jesus makes us not spectators of what He does for the sinners of the world.

He doesn’t hand us a souvenir of His death and resurrection.

In Holy Communion, Jesus makes us part of what He has done and is doing.

He gives us the forgiveness of sins He bled to buy for us on the cross.

He gives us the new life that He gains when, as the perfect sinless lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world, the Father raises Jesus from the dead.

Receiving Holy Communion for believers is a bit like this: While we’re watching a favorite movie, a character in the film turns to us and invites us to become part of the story, to come up onto the screen and to have a full share in the pains and the joys that they’re experiencing, to partake of their happy ending.

As we trust the words Jesus spoke on Maundy Thursday over the bread and wine, we receive His body and blood and become part of His story.

We go through the cross.

We rise from the tomb.

We reign with Jesus in the heavenlies.

The new life that only Jesus can give is taken into our very bodies.

Our focus tonight then, is on just the last few verses of our gospel lesson, beginning at verse 22: “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take it; this is my body.’”

These words would have been as strange to the apostles as they are today for people with no connection to God are apt to find them. “I’m giving myself to you and I’m giving myself for you,” Jesus is saying. “This is my body, sacrificed for you.”

Jesus asks us to take Him, the crucified and risen One, into ourselves, so that we become one with Him.

I can’t explain how this works. The sacrament of Holy Communion is a mystery. I only have Jesus’ word for it that when His words of institution--”This is my body”--meet the bread, the bread becomes not just bread, but also Jesus’ body. The same is true when He says in verse 24: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” The wine is more than just wine; it’s also Christ’s blood.

But why? Why does Jesus want us to take His life into ours?

Let me suggest one of several partial, imperfect, human explanations: The ancient Jewish rabbis in the intertestamental period picked up on the prophecy of Isaiah and Ezekiel that once the Messiah had completed His work in the world, He would invite the faithful to a great banquet.

The rabbis said that the menu would include the leviathan. The leviathan represented the darkness of a life separated from God. This was the very separation into which Jesus entered when He cried from the cross, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46; Psalm 22:1)

Conquered and eaten leviathan represented the final conquest of God over evil. Jesus subtly alludes to these teachings when, after His resurrection, He invites the apostles to enjoy the broiled fish (what my mentor, the New Testament scholar Bruce Schein called “miniature leviathans”) He had prepared for them.

When we receive Jesus’ body and blood then, we not only ingest His life, we also physically receive a share in His conquest of sin and death.

Paul says that when Jesus died on the cross “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus, bearing our sins, when lifted up on the cross, became like the bronze serpent Moses lifted on a pole in the wilderness to bring healing to God’s people (Numbers 21:4-9; John 3:14-21). So, in Holy Communion, Christ, as we trust in Him, graciously gives us a share in His conquest of evil.

With all that’s happening in Holy Communion, who can blame the apostles for being mystified on that first Maundy Thursday? Nobody can fully understand it.

But I have good news for you: We don’t need to fully understand it. We simply have to believe what Christ promises in this sacrament.

“This is my body.” “This is my blood.” Jesus gives us His body and His blood whenever we receive the sacrament. Jesus gives us His whole self when we gather at His table. Just as He gave His whole self on the cross on Good Friday. And it is this same whole self that rose again.

Listen: Every time we receive the sacrament, we live again Christ’s death and resurrection. We live it with Him. It happens to us and in us again. And we become beneficiaries again of what Christ has done for those who believe His words over the bread and wine, of God’s forgiveness and life with God.

Paul writes in Romans 10:9: “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Similarly, if we trust Jesus in telling us that the bread is His body and the wine is His blood, we have all that the meal brings. Christ lives in us.

So tonight as we prepare to remember Christ’s death and resurrection this weekend, let us once more be re-membered to Christ. Let us relive in our bodies, minds, and souls, the passion and resurrection that Christ has won for all who believe and so, be empowered by God again today and tomorrow, to live, to die, and to rise again with Christ. Amen

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

He's the God of All Creation...Let Your Praises for Him Thunder!

This is my journal entry from my quiet time with God today. I read Psalm 47.

“God reigns over the nations; God is seated on his holy throne...the kings of the earth belong to God…” (Psalm 47:8, 9b)

I love this psalm! It calls for the unrestrained, selfless worship of God. Believers are called to clap, shout with joy, sing praises, sound trumpets, and exalt in God’s greatness and goodness as they worship God.

Of course, God cares more that we worship Him “in the Spirit and truth” (John 4:24) than He does about the ways we worship Him.

Our worship, however we worship, should call attention to God and not to us. That’s true of worship in liturgical settings as well as of modern “praise and worship” services.

But the psalm makes clear that our worship should be entirely free in giving God glory, praise, and honor. We should be free of self-consciousness when we worship God. That’s the how of worship, according to the psalmist.

In the verses cited above, the psalmist also tells us why we are to worship God. The God Who has definitively revealed Himself in Christ, Who first revealed to the people of Israel, isn’t some humanly-created deity worshiped by Jews and Christians. This is the “God [Who] reigns over the nations...the kings of the earth belong to [this] God.”

The God of Israel revealed to the world in Jesus isn’t some small, two-bit idol: He is the living, infinitely creative, passionately loving Maker and King of everything!

This one true God, available and accessible to all through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ (Mark 1:15; John 3:16-18; Acts 2:38; Acts 4:12), is the God of all people, whether they know it or recognize it or not.

When I was a Sunday Schooler coloring in the lines of Joseph’s coat of many colors, He was God of everything.

When, for a decade-plus, I turned away from God and called myself an atheist, He was still of God everything.

When, in response to His grace in Christ and the claim the Holy Spirit made on me as an infant in my Baptism, I turned back to Him to live, He was still of God everything.

When the world is going crazy, steeped in evil, sin, and fear, God is still the God of everything and everyone.

He will have the last word over this universe. His words of grace will save those who trust in Him from sin and death, futility and darkness, injustice and wrath.

It is this God Who sets us free from self-consciousness, freed knowing that whatever judgments the world may make about us as we surrender our lives and wills to God, we always belong to God. So, we can praise and honor Him with our whole beings!

It’s this same God Who then calls us to join His mission of reaching out with His good news, the gospel that all who repent and believe, have life with God. The Lord of all nations has given His baptized, believing people a great commission. We are to let the people of all nations, including the people in our own families and our circles of acquaintance and friends, that the God of all nations sent His Son to die and to rise for the people of all nations, so that people from every nation who trust in Him will live.

My prayer: You are the big God of all creation, Lord. Forgive me for treating You like an afterthought, an also-ran, a secret I keep to myself lest people think that I’m weird. I AM weird: holy, set apart. Holy and set apart not because I’m “all that,” but because You’re “all that.” You set me and all baptized believers apart to lift You up for all the world to see, know, and worship.

You’re the omnipotent, omniscient Creator and King of the universe; yet You care enough about all You have created to have taken on human flesh (John 1:14), suffered and died for our sins (Romans 5:8), and now offer new and everlasting life, a life that starts right now, to all who trust in Christ.

You’re big, God. But You’re not so big as to ever leave or forsake Your people. You are with us always, even to the close of this old universe’s age. Because of that, set me free of my inhibitions. Today, help me to be unable to restrain myself from praising You or from commending the hope that I have in Christ to others (1 Peter 3:15).

Lord, I praise You, glorify You, honor You, love You because You loved me and the rest of the human race first!

Make my life today a living offering of praise to You!

In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen!

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Monday, March 26, 2018

The Tomb Was Empty!

The T-shirt you see in this picture, which I wore yesterday with my clerical collar, says: “Spoiler Alert: The Tomb Was Empty...Luke 24:24”

When my colleague, Pastor Jody Becker, posted pics of shirts with this saying printed on them, I hurried to Amazon and ordered one.

During this Holy Week, we remember that Jesus suffered, died, AND rose again to atone for our sins and to open eternity with God to all who believe in Him! (Thanks to Living Water disciple Dave B. for snapping the picture between yesterday's worship services.)

By the way, I invite you to read Luke 24:24 and consider this: The first people to whom the Easter message was first entrusted and the first ones to preach the Easter good news were women.

Jesus is always turning the way this fallen world does things upside down. That’s because life in His kingdom is unconstrained by this world's sins and evil ways. He is the way to a life with God that lets all of us—female or male, Jew or Gentile, slave or free—become everything God intends for us to be, children of God made over in the image of Christ through faith in Christ.

Be sure to celebrate all the special days of Holy Week this week!

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Palm Sunday: A Different Kind of King

[This was shared yesterday during Palm Sunday worship services with the people and guests of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

John 12:12-19
Palm Sunday isn’t an altogether happy day. While Sundays are always good days to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, there also is in Palm Sunday a foreshadowing of the suffering Jesus will undergo and die on a cross in the week that follows.

As Jesus prepares to enter Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the religious leaders are hatching a plot to kill Jesus. The event that finally convinced them that Jesus had to die came when Jesus brought His friend, Lazarus, back from the dead. (Never mind that it would seem to be foolish to think that Someone with the power to raise a man from the dead would stay dead even if you killed Him.)

The religious leaders plotting Jesus’ demise had no idea that they were playing into the plan of God for Jesus. They were clueless about the the fact that, Jesus, “the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world” was going to the holy city with the express intention, according to God’s plan, of sacrificing Himself on the cross in order to save the world from its sin and from eternal separation from God.

Ultimately, it would be neither Jewish leaders nor crowds nor the Romans who would take Jesus’ life, although their sins and ours made His cross necessary. As Jesus once said, foreshadowing both Good Friday and Easter Sunday, “I lay down my life--only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again..." (John 10:17-18)

And so, at the time appointed by God the Father and not because of the wounds inflicted on Him by the world, Jesus would say from the cross: “‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ When he had said this, he breathed his last.” (Luke 23:46)

In our lives, we often think that we’re in control or must be. But, whether we perceive it or not, God is still in control.

We may endure tragedies and heartbreaks, as well as loves and loved ones lost, but God is bound, eventually and eternally, to bring His good out of bad. God will use Good Fridays to bring Easters for those who place their hope in Jesus Christ alone!

All of this looms in the background as Jesus and His disciples enter Jerusalem at the beginning of our gospel lesson.

Please go to it, John 12:12-19. Verses 12-13: “The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival [the festival is Passover] heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, ‘Hosanna!’ [meaning Save or rescue us, Savior] ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ‘Blessed is the king of Israel!’”

The words and the palm branches used to welcome Jesus help us to see that the people see Jesus as a king who would use military might to save them from the oppression of the Romans. Their welcome of Jesus echoes the welcome given to a Jewish priest who had led an armed revolt against foreign conquerors who had prohibited Jews from worshiping at the temple in Jerusalem back in 167 BC. These events are celebrated in the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.

The Maccabean regime that came to power when the Jews through their foreign overlords out didn’t last long. No kingdom built on human force, human blood, or human logic can ever last. But the crowds who welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem forgot that lesson from their own history and were ready to take up arms to make Jesus their king.

Jesus is the King: the Messiah, Lord of heaven and earth. But He doesn’t conquer by force of arms or by using a democratic vote. Jesus' power isn't derived from any form of human power or manipulation. As Jesus told the Roman governor Pilate after He was arrested: “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

Contrary to the dead-end thinking of this dying world, Jesus conquers by a servant love that compelled Him to die for us. And the enemies He conquers are the common enemies that live in every human soul: sin, death, darkness.

Jesus refuses to be our king on our terms.

We can’t come to Jesus and say, “Jesus, we’ll follow You if You do so and so.”

Nor can we say, “Jesus, we know that You believe in our preferred political philosophy. So, bless what we've already decided to do.”

We can’t approach him like the man profiled on 60 Minutes years ago, who ran a house of ill-repute in Las Vegas and told God that if God let him make a certain amount of money with his business, he would get out of it.

If we are to come to the God we know in Jesus, it will be on His terms or on no terms at all.

Jesus becomes our Lord when we daily yield control over our whole lives to Him, allowing Him to crucify our sinful selves so that our new selves, remade in Christ’s image, can rise.

We will never be fully remade in Christ’s image before our earthly lives come to an end; but Jesus’ disciples are those who willingly let Christ call them to repentance, trust, and renewal each and every day!

Verses 14 to 16: “Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written: ‘Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.’ At first his disciples didn’t understand all of this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.”

Jesus isn’t shy about claiming His kingship or His deity. He says, for example, “The Father and I are one.” (John 10:30)

But more than anything He says, what Jesus did on the first Palm Sunday also tells us about Who He is. For one thing, as prophesied by Zechariah, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey (Zechariah 9:9). This was a sure sign that He is the Messiah-King long promised to God’s people and to the people of the world.

But, as John tells us, not even Jesus’ closest disciples, the apostles, understood what was happening on the first Palm Sunday.

We shouldn't be too hard on them though. Today, I often find Jesus' ways and will difficult to understand. There have been times in my years of following Jesus when it has seemed to me that Jesus has blocked from my life the very things that I thought would bring me happiness, instead doing those things for me that will bring me life. Only in heaven will we fully understand Jesus and His mysterious ways.

But anyone, Christian or not, who tries to understand Jesus apart from His death and resurrection or apart from Jesus’ call to follow Him because He is the only way to life with God--if they try to see Jesus only as a great teacher or a kind man, or only as a religious leader, they will miss out on all that Jesus wants to give to us.

Verses 17-18: “Now the crowd that was with [Jesus] when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him.”

By much of the crowd who had seen what happened, Jesus’ raising Lazarus from the dead was an interesting display of power. It proved Jesus had power that others didn't possess. The crowds hailed Jesus as king because of a sign, not because of what the sign pointed to, but because of how they thought that they could manipulate Jesus for their own purposes. Within days, many of these same people would demand Jesus’ execution.

People can turn on God on a dime.

A woman I knew years ago became bitter with God because, after her mother, in her late eighties, had suffered a long train of illnesses in the final few years of her life, had died. “I’m mad at God for taking my mom from me,” she said. I tried tactfully to ask the woman if she would like it if her mother, a believer now free from suffering and in the presence of God, would be brought back to this earthly life by God just to make her happy. I was unable to get my question across to her. But it’s questions like these we need to ask ourselves when we feel that God has disappointed us. We think in the short term; God has an eternal perspective.

In the midst of the Palm Sunday joys and celebrations, our gospel lesson ends on an ominous note: “So the Pharisees said to one another, ‘See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!’”

The Pharisees see Jesus as a threat who had to be killed. And, in truth, Jesus is a threat to us whenever the things valued by this world--security, wealth, health, family, country, reputation, happiness--become more important to us than welcoming King Jesus to rule over our lives.

None of the things valued in this world can bring us what only Jesus can bring us: peace with God, the presence of God with us through all the times of this life, and life with God now and in eternity.

The call of Palm Sunday is to surrender to Jesus and to keep surrendering to Jesus every day, letting Him forgive us our sins, letting Him guard us from separation from God, and letting Him give us life everlasting.

I look forward to being with you on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday and Easter Sunday, so that, once again, we can celebrate Jesus, not as the king we want when sin has its way with us, but as the King we need when we let Him reign over us.

As we immerse ourselves deeply into the story of Christ's death and resurrection this Holy Week and remember that Christ did all of this for you and me and every other sinner in the world, God can incite us to sing the old Lenten hymn with a deeper sense of awe, gratitude, and faith: "Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble." Amen

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Never Alone

This is the journal of my quiet time encounter with God in His Word today. I spent time in Psalm 42, two verses of which especially caught my attention.

Look: “I say to God, my rock: Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?...Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” (Psalm 42:9,11)

The psalmist recalls being among the crowds who went to the temple in Jerusalem for festivals, where he would join in the worship of God and offer sacrifices to Him.

But those happy times are, at this point, only memories. The psalmist is suffering oppression, unable to go to Jerusalem to praise God. The psalmist asks God why God has forgotten him.

Whether it’s through the dry spiritual patches that come to every believer or in those times when people are, in whatever ways, making our lives miserable, the honest question of the psalmist in verse 9 comes to the mind of every Christian. We may not be bold enough or honest enough to speak the question. But we all sometimes wonder, “God, why have you forgotten me?”

Jesus Himself asked this question when, at the very hour at which Psalm 22 would have been read in the temple, He cried out to God the Father from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1; Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34)

Even when we know intellectually that the God fully revealed in Jesus Christ never abandons us, there are times when we feel abandoned and alone. It would be a lie to not admit that to our heavenly Father. When we honestly admit our "issues" to God, issues like sins, fears, temptations, or the suspicion that God has abandoned us, that the God can help us. Owning our feelings of abandonment with God is as an honest prayer and a permission slip to God to intervene, assuring us that we aren’t alone!

As the psalmist continues to pray, to remember God’s past deeds of goodness to them, and, I assume, to consider God’s Word, he ends up in verse 11, talking not to God, but to himself. (I think of the line from the Bob Dylan song, “You’re gonna make me give myself a good talkin’ to.”) The psalmist asks, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?”

You know God, the psalmist was telling himself. You know that God always triumphs over the enemies of our soul: sin, death, and darkness. Given God’s track record of faithfulness and love, you know that nothing can separate His people from God. So, why are you so glum? Even if you die, God will not let you go.

We know that God won’t let an earthly death be the last word over the lives of those who trust in Him. God in the flesh, God the Son, Jesus, tells Martha, grieving over the death of her brother Lazarus, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26)

As he finishes his prayer, the psalmist, having come again into the presence of the living God in whom he believes, reminds himself of a truth that belongs to all who today know and follow the God of Israel disclosed to the whole world in the crucified and risen Jesus: “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God”!

Listen: In those times when I feel bleak, dry, or doubtful, I need to come into God’s presence again. Even when I don’t feel it's true, God is real and God is there, even when I’m conscious of walking through the valley of the shadow of death. Even when I feel far from God, His cross, His empty tomb, and His Word, not to mention all of the blessings, grace, and answered prayers I can look back on, show me that He is never far from those who call on Him. Facts are facts. God is never far from me. Never!

Respond: Lord, help me to place all my hope in You alone as I lift up my prayers to You today. Even when I can’t see how You will orchestrate things for my good, the good of my family and friends, the good of Your Church, or the good of Your creation, help me to trust that You have not forgotten us. You haven’t forgotten your promises. And remind me that because Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead, You have already successfully accomplished everything needed to create an eternal fellowship with those who believe in Christ. Because of Jesus and my faith in Him, I know, with the psalmist, that I will again praise You, my God and my salvation. Help me to remember and live all of this today. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]