Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Only Thing We Need To Know

"Today's Devotion" For May 17, 2007

Read: Psalm 23; Revelation 7:9-17


"The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want...Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever." (Psalm 23:1, 6)

One Sunday School teacher gave her fourth graders a challenging task. She asked them to memorize one of the most quoted Scripture of all, Psalm 23. She gave the children a month to learn the Psalm and they attacked it with enthusiasm. One of the little boys, Billy, was really excited about the task, but he just couldn't seem to memorize the Psalm. He practiced and practiced and practiced, but to no avail. He just couldn't remember the Psalm. Then the day came when his Sunday School class was scheduled to recite the Psalm in front of the congregation. Billy was as nervous as could be. When his turn to recite came, he reluctantly stepped up to the microphone and said proudly, "The Lord is my Shepherd, and that's all I need to know!"

If you think about, Billy's simple answer is cute, but it doesn't necessarily meet the needs of many adults. It's too simple. It's too imprecise. It doesn't have enough details. We live in a world where simple answers are suspect and anytime someone says that there's a simple answer to the challenges of life that threaten our safety and comfort, our first tendency is to laugh at them and consider them naive. How can there be any simple answers to rampant crime, failing marriages, broken families, rising violence, and a host of other societal maladies that threaten people's existence and challenge any sense of hope? It's not possible, according to the world's standards, that there is any way to handle such issues spiritually. Little Billy's rendition of Psalm 23's simplicity makes for good story telling, but in reality life isn't that simple. Or is it?

In Scripture, on numerous occasions, God makes it a point to let us know that no matter what challenges we may face, what dangers may touch us, and what fears may bind us, He is always present with us and will protect us, comfort us, and strengthen us so we can overcome those things in life that would harm us. The power of Sin is such that it works diligently and vigorously to lead us to despair in the face of many trials and challenges to our faith and our lives. Yet God, in His infinite wisdom and love, grace and mercy, reaches out His hand to us and lifts us up above the fray and reminds us that He is the One who saves us. As Psalm 23 says so clearly, "even though I walk through the valley of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me" (v.2).

God's final revelation is that our true and only Shepherd is Jesus Christ. He is the Word made flesh (John 1:14) who has come to redeem His people from their sins. He has come into the world for all humanity and His promise is, no matter what happens to those who have faith in Him, that nothing can keep us away from His love and forgiveness which He won for us by His suffering, death, and resurrection. Little Billy's announcement, "The Lord is my Shepherd, and that's all I need to know," is far more profound and meaningful than we might want to admit. Ultimately, because we are in Christ Jesus, it really is that simple - He is all we need to know to live a life of peace, hope, and joy. No matter what dangers we may face, whether as troops in a combat zone, a police officer on crime ridden streets, a firefighter facing an intense blaze, or as a homeless person on the streets of the city, there is hope and comfort offered by God in Jesus Christ who is our Good Shepherd. And that's all we really need to know.

Prayer: Father, I thank You for all the blessings You've given me, especially as I face the dangers and hardships of life which would take away my hope and joy, and fill me with fear and trembling. You have assured me by faith in Jesus as my Lord and Savior from Sin, death, and Satan, that my sins are forgiven and that nothing can take me away from Your love. You comfort me by the power of Your Word and Spirit with the sure and certain hope that there's no danger so great or hardship so intense that can separate me from Your love and forgiveness. Help me, Father, to live my life filled with the simple reality that knowing Jesus as my Good Shepherd leads me to eternal life and gives me the courage of faith to share Your love in Him with others, no matter where they're from or what they've done. Help me to live my life filled with hope and joy for all to see, no matter the circumstances I may face, so that I may be a living witness of what it is to know that Jesus, the Lord, is my Shepherd, and in Him there is no want. In His precious name. Amen.

--Pastor Boeck

Copyright © 2007 by Rev. Richard J. Boeck, Jr. All rights reserved.

Friday, May 18, 2007

God Is Our Sure Refuge In The Face Of Fear

"Today's Devotion" For May 16, 2007

Read: Isaiah 43:1-13; Psalm 46


"God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though the waves roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging." (Psalm 46:1-3)

How fearful a place is the world? Over the past weekend I read a newspaper article about a father in the central city who is doing his best to love his children and take care of them. One of the things he has done to keep them safe is to arrange the furniture in their living room so that it can form a barrier of protection in case of stray bullets shattering the silence of their home. On Monday of this week, with that story fresh in the minds of the newspaper's readers, another story was published that seemly reflects the futility of the father's attempts at safety for his children. It seems that another child, four-year old Jasmine, was killed in a drive-by shooting by a stray bullet that entered her family's living room and struck her dead.

Our world isn't a safe place. Everywhere we look violence and destruction seems to abound. We're engaged in a global "war on terror," that seems to have no boundaries and many manifestations. Terror is not only perpetrated by disgruntled rebels, religious fanatics, or political dissidents. Terror rears its ugly head when a small child is killed in a drive by shooting as collateral damage. Terror takes control when a family loses its freedom to take a walk down the street on a summer's evening to enjoy the warmth and grow their family's bonds. Terror takes control when a child brings a bullet to his school principal that he claims to have found at school and the police are called in. Terror takes control when a mentally ill student goes off the deep end and commits mayhem and murder on a university campus. The news of the day seems intricately intertwined with a sense of futility and fear that is gripping the nation and the world.

It's into such an atmosphere that God comes to humanity and says, "Pay attention to Me. I love you so much that I've sent my One and Only Son into the flesh to redeem you from slavery to Sin and the fear that it engenders in your hearts and lives." The Psalmist reminds us that the God who has created the universe and who specifically and specially created humanity in His image and likeness is "our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble." We're not left alone to face our fears, confront terror, and stand against evil. God's promise to Israel as they faced their enemies - those who sought to destroy them - was that they were His people. Even though they faced the powers of darkness and Sin which sought to destroy them through their enemies, God assured them that He would be with them. That same promise and assurance is ours as well, through faith in Jesus Christ.

One of the tools I use to ramp up my courage or that of others when faced with a fearful and daunting situation is to ask myself and others, "What's the worst thing that anyone can do to me? Take away my birthday?" Many times, people will look at me as if I were crazy (if you ask my wife and kids they would probably say I am:>)). Yet the reality of living a life of faith in Christ, trusting in the power and promises of God, is that if my life were taken - my birthday disappears if you will - I have the hope and assurance that I will be with God forever in heaven. In that confidence and hope we can, by faith, take heart and have the courage to face down any fear, confront any terror, and overcome any evil. God's love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness in Christ is the only message of hope and peace that can change the hearts of those who do evil and promote terror and fear. It's the only message that can take the fear from fear-filled hearts and replace it with hope, peace, joy, and thanksgiving. Only Jesus can change what is ailing our world, our nation, and our communities. Only God's love in Christ can change the hearts of those who would seek to destroy. In the meantime, we also take heart because our God is truly our refuge and strength in the face of any and all fear and terror and Christ is the hope of the world.

Prayer: Father, as I look around me I see death and destruction, evil and danger seemingly everywhere. The news of the day seems to say there's no place that's safe from danger and fear in the world. Even the security of my home can be breached by those who might seek to do harm to me or my family. I'm frustrated at the news accounts of little children being murdered in their homes by unthinking and uncaring people who don't care about or love anyone other than themselves. I'm both angry and fearful; angry at such people and our seeming inability to stem the tide of such destructive behavior, and fearful of stepping forward and having my voice heard and having violence visited directly upon me or those I love. It's fear that immobilizes me all too often from speaking Your truth and working for the welfare of others. Forgive me, Father, for being so self-centered and fearful that I fail to see the opportunities You give me to make a difference as Your witness and servant. Strengthen my faith by the power of Your Word and Spirit, that I may step forth boldly with the truth of Your Word and its power to change people's lives. Remind me that You are my refuge and strength in every trouble. Give me the courage to take the risks necessary to touch the lives of those who seek to harm others with Your love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness in Jesus, so that hearing they might be changed into instruments of Your peace. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen.

--Pastor Boeck

Copyright © 2007 by Rev. Richard J. Boeck, Jr. All rights reserved.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Better Than Ripley's "Believe It Or Not!"

"Today's Devotion" For May 15, 2007

Read: Exodus 14:1-31; I Corinthians 1:18-31


"For the message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." (I Corinthians 1:18)

One Sunday afternoon not long ago, nine-year-old Joey was asked by his mother to share his Sunday school lesson from that morning. "Well, Mom," Joey replied, "Our teacher told us about how God had sent Moses behind enemy lines on a rescue mission to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. When he got to the Red Sea, he had his army build a pontoon bridge upon which all the people escaped safely. Then he radioed headquarters for reinforcements. Bombers were sent to blow up the bridge and all the Israelites were saved." Joey's mother was flabbergasted at this account. "Now, Joey," she responded, "is that really what your teacher taught you?" Joey responded, "Well, no, Mom. But if I told it the way my teacher told it, you'd never believe it!"

Little Joey's not alone, is he? A whole lot of people simply laugh at the "incongruity" of the Biblical accounts of God's actions on behalf of human beings. People are always trying to "fix" the Biblical accounts so they make more sense and fit into a schema more attuned to human thought and understanding. For centuries there have been those who have sought to discount the story of salvation in Scripture. There are those who purport to be able to tell what is truly God's truth and what isn't. Many have rejected the Bible out of hand simply because it doesn't conform to their personal schema of the secular and sacred. And many organizations, groups, and individuals (for instance "The Jesus Seminar") continue to work hard to discredit the truth and power of the Scriptures because they have their own opinions about what is holy, sacred, and God's will (usually based on how their desire to have God act in keeping with their personal preferences of what is good, moral, and right).

Lest we get too smug and self-important, there isn't one of us - even among God's redeemed children - who isn't guilty of trying to stuff God in a box of our choosing. Like little Joey, we are often overwhelmed by the incredible power of God and His total love for humanity. How often haven't we found it hard to believe that we don't have to do anything to receive God's forgiveness - that He took care of that for us in Christ Jesus? Throughout the Old Testament, we see the hand of God working to redeem His people, saving them not only from those who sought to destroy them, but also promising the ultimate redemption from Sin, death, and Satan in the Savior to come. The Children of Israel experienced that power so many times, not just in their deliverance from Pharaoh as they left their slavery in Egypt, but also numerous times throughout their history when their enemies sought to drive them from the face of the earth. And all too often, even though they had seen and heard God's deliverance, His power and promises were just too good to be believed.

That's the way it is with the power of the Cross of Jesus Christ. It seems just plain foolish to think that a god, much less "The One True God," would stoop so low and care so much for His lowly creatures on earth - human beings - that He would sacrifice His only-begotten Son on the Cross as payment for the sins of the world. The story of the Cross of Christ, the Plan of God's salvation through the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus as payment in full for the sins of the world, taking upon Himself the full wrath of God in our place, has been probed and prodded, edited and abridged, time and time again to somehow make it more believable.

It's hard for human beings to believe that what God says is true - salvation is found in no one else than Jesus Christ and the Cross, an instrument for the cruel and inhuman punishment of evildoers and lawbreakers, is the instrument of redemption for the world. It's a story of God's power used in our behalf that would be even too unbelievable for "Ripley's Believe It Or Not." But, praise be to God, it is true. We are saved by faith in Christ. God's almighty power is found to be at work even in the lowly and intellectually unsound act of Christ's sacrifice on the Cross. It may be unbelievable to many, but it is God's power for salvation to all who believe.

Prayer: Father, I'm so often faced with the incredulity of a world that just can't seem to understand nor believe that salvation from Sin, death, and Satan isn't just necessary, but impossible to accomplish on our own. I have to admit that my own sinful condition, when left unchecked by Your forgiveness and love, leads me into the same unbelieving trap as everyone else. I, too, find it hard to believe that there's nothing I can do to save myself and earn Your forgiveness and eternal life. Just like little Joey, I find it hard to understand or believe many things You tell me in Your Word. And, like the world around me, I want to reduce everything in Your Word to human logic so I can wrap my mind around it, rather than take You at Your Word and, by the power of Your Word and Spirit, believe Your promises in Jesus. Forgive me, Father, for such foolishness and strengthen my faith so that I may be a willing and living witness to the "folly of the Cross." Give me the strength of faith and purpose to share Jesus with others so they, too, might believe the "folly of the Cross," and be saved unto eternal life. In Christ's precious name I pray. Amen.

--Pastor Boeck

Copyright © 2007 by Rev. Richard J. Boeck, Jr. All rights reserved.