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Deeper Than the Deepest Ocean

July 23, 2018

His love endures forever.” (Psalm 136:1-9)

It was late August 1987, a few days after I had given birth to our third child, Michael, when I looked out the window of my room and saw a beautiful rainbow.  Southern California doesn’t get much rain during the winter, and a summer shower is even more rare. I was reminded that day of God’s promise to send rainbows as a testament to his love and faithfulness: “When I send clouds over the earth, the rainbow will be seen in the clouds, and I will remember my promise to you and to every being, that never again will the floods come and destroy all life. For I will see the rainbow in the cloud and remember my eternal promise to every living being on the earth” (Genesis 9: 14-17, Living Bible). God’s love for us is much like a parent’s love for his or her child. Scripture tells us that our heavenly Father has adopted us into his family.

God’s love for us is apparent from the first pages of Scripture to the last, as demonstrated in this week’s Scripture texts.[1] The texts remind me of the words to the Petula Clark song “My Love” substituting “God’s” for “my”: “God’s love is deeper than the deepest ocean, wider than the sky; God’s love is brighter than the brightest star that shines every night above; and there is nothing in this world that can ever change God’s love for me.” God’s love endures forever.

We never need to worry that God’s love will run dry, or that his kindness and mercy will stop—the psalmist confirms to us that no matter what “His love endures forever.” (Psalm 136: 1-9). There is nothing we can do or say to turn off the spigot of God’s love. It flows freely like a great moving river. It flows abundantly. He never turns his back on us. His love endures forever.

Jesus’ love for his disciples and the people he encountered was evident. They flocked to him. He was winsome and loving. He shepherded them. He cared for them and about them. He healed them: “And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed” (Mark 6: 56). He loved them. He helped them. He healed them. His love endures forever.

Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus that it was his prayer that “Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge” (Ephesians 3: 17-19a). His love for us is deeper than the deepest ocean, higher than the highest mountain, wider than the sky, and it shines brighter than the brightest stars.

Human love helps us understand God’s love for us, but it is the tip of the iceberg compared to God’s love for us. There is no beginning or end to God’s love. He is always with us. He always has our best interests at heart. He wants only the best for us. He suffers when we suffer. He laughs with us and he cries with us. He feels our pain and our sorrow. He touches us in our anxiety. God’s love is a bottomless well of living water that surrounds us, comforts us, embraces us, heals us, and provides for us.  Lower your bucket into the well of living water of God’s love for you.  Someone said that the Bible is God’s valentine to us. His love for us is expressed in the pages of Scripture. You will be strengthened and refreshed when you drink daily of the living water in Scripture where God expresses his love for you.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for next Sunday are Genesis 9: 8-17; Psalm 136: 1-9; Ephesians 3: 14-21; Mark 6: 45-56.

Lacking Nothing

July 16, 2018

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.” (Psalm 23: 1)

This week’s Scripture texts[1] reminded me of a book by Dallas Willard, Life Without Lack,[2] based on the Twenty-Third Psalm. The premise of the book is that the Twenty-Third Psalm describes the life that anyone can have who chooses God to be his or her shepherd. When God is your shepherd, you will lack nothing. While no one—including David–has a problem free life, when you turn to God as your shepherd, he will see you through your anxieties, fears, and difficulties. A life without lack means a life with God. It is the life described by David in that psalm and elsewhere throughout Scripture.

David describes a shepherd who takes care of all of the needs of his flock. He takes them to green pastures where there is plenty to eat. He leads them to rivers and streams where they can drink their fill of fresh, life-sustaining water. He guides them safely through difficult terrain and protects and comforts them. He prepares a feast for them in a place where they may live forever: “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right path for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23).

Jesus is our good shepherd. He died for our sins, was resurrected, and set off a revolution. The world has never been the same since. Jesus was the “righteous Branch” described by Jeremiah, as “a King who will reign wisely . . . This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Savior” (Excerpts, Jeremiah 23: 5-6).   Jeremiah contrasted the corrupt leaders of the day –“shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture” in verse one– to the Messiah, the Righteous Savior who was to come. The Messiah would be the perfect shepherd, who would take care of all of the needs of his flock.

Mark writes in the gospel text that Jesus planned to take his disciples to a quiet place to rest: “So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things” (Mark 6: 32-34).   The Good Shepherd’s compassion trumped his own fatigue. He saw to the needs of his flock before his own. He took care of all of their needs. He nurtured them spiritually, and then fed the five thousand. He instructed his disciples to give them something to eat, and turned five loaves of bread and two fish into enough bread and fish to feed five thousand men (actually about 15,000 people with their wives and children): “Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish” (Mark 6: 41-43).   When Jesus is your shepherd he is all you need. You will lack nothing.

When you are separated from the Shepherd, he will find you. Paul writes “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2: 13). No matter where you are, the Shepherd will find you. A couple of years ago I described a painting by James Tissot called The Good Shepherd, in which the artist depicts a shepherd emerging from an outcropping of boulders with a lamb around his neck, that he had just rescued from the rugged terrain. I like this painting because it reminds me that every time I wander off, Jesus, my shepherd, will come and get me and bring me back to safety. No matter how deep the water I find myself in, or how rocky the terrain, he will come for me. He will never abandon me. (See “The Good Shepherd,” https://dianereagan.com/2016/04/15/the-good-shepherd/)

Have you experienced a time in your life when you didn’t know if you could pay your bills that month or wondered how you could cover an unexpected expense, when just in your moment of need an old debt was repaid to you, or unexpected income was received to cover your expenses? Have you been so filled with fear or anxiety for the future that you had nowhere to turn but to the Good Shepherd, and he came through for you?   Have you been through a dark valley where you could not find your way out, but the Shepherd was with you and brought you to a place of safety? Have you been in so much physical or mental pain or anguish that you were desperate for any relief, and finally received relief?   The Good Shepherd will not abandon you. He will be with you throughout your life if you make room for him and keep the lines of communication open.

God reminds us that even in the midst of pain and anguish you will be comforted and experience the joys that are yours through Jesus Christ: “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for next Sunday are Jeremiah 23: 1-6; Psalm 23; Ephesians 2: 11-22; Mark 6: 30-44.

[2] Dallas Willard (edited by Larry Burtoft and Rebecca Willard Heatley) Life Without Lack (2108), Nelson Books. The book is based on a series taught by Willard in 1991.

Our Forever Home

July 9, 2018

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” (Ephesians 1:3-4 NIV).

Public and private animal shelters advertise that the animals in their temporary care are looking for “forever homes.”  The dogs and cats in their care want a home where they will be taken care of for the rest of their lives. Each animal is looking for a home where it will be welcomed and cherished throughout its life–a forever home. In such a home, the animal will be loved and blessed by the family for years to come. But the animal can’t choose the person who will adopt it. The person who adopts the animal chooses the animal; the animal cannot do anything to make the adoption happen. The animal must be chosen.

In the same way that a person chooses to adopt a stray dog or cat, Paul emphasizes that God “chose us;” we have done nothing to deserve the gift of salvation.  It is all God.  It is God who welcomes us into our forever home.  And like a person who makes plans in advance to adopt an animal, God planned out his adoption for us in advance: “Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!)” (Ephesians 1: 5, The Message).

Paul wrote his epistle to the church at Ephesus in modern day Turkey around 60 AD. This center of trade on the Aegean Sea had been the headquarters of his ministry for about three years. In what seems like an endless paragraph in the first chapter (verses 3-14), Paul lists God’s blessings on his people over the ages.[1] These blessings, that include our adoption into the family of God, continue through eternity—our forever home. In fact, God blessed his people before he created the world: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight” (Ephesians 1:3-4 NIV). In these verses Paul points out that God’s plan for our salvation was in place even before he created the world and that it will continue for eternity (“in the heavenly realms” v. 3).

And in case we missed it, he reminds us that Jesus Christ redeemed us and forgives us “through his blood” (verse 7). Referring to “Jesus’ blood” was first-century shorthand for the fact that Christ died for our sins.   His death on the cross was the price he paid to redeem us—to obtain our freedom from sin. Paul tells us that Jesus did these things for us because of “God’s grace that he lavished on us”(verses 7-8). It is by God’s grace–not through our own efforts–that God gave us the gift of salvation.

But that’s not all. There are more blessings.  God offers salvation to everyone.  The Holy Spirit is the down payment on our eternal salvation: “Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance . . . ” (verses 13b-14a). The blessings that we receive now are merely a foretaste of the blessings we will enjoy forever in God’s presence.

We are strays without a home, wandering from place to place until we find our rest in Christ. Christ offers us a forever home. When you become a member of the family of God, you are inducted into an eternal family of endless blessings. The psalmist declares: “I will listen to what God the Lord says; he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants . . . Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other . . . The Lord will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest” (Excerpts Psalm 85: 8-12). Our God is a God of endless blessings. He is a God who chose us to be adopted into his family before we were born. We were given a forever home. It is a home that we can enjoy during our time on earth, and beyond.

Turn to Christ today to admit your wrongs and your total inability to find rest and peace without him. When you turn to him, he will open his arms and bring you into the family of God—your forever home. When you find your rest in Christ, you will begin to receive a stream of endless blessings that will last forever.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for next Sunday are Amos 7:7-15; Psalm 85: 1-13; Ephesians 1: 3-14; Mark 6:14-29.

Power Made Perfect in Weakness

July 2, 2018

’My grace is sufficient for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

I still remember these words of a sermon I heard many years ago: “I got problems.   You got problems. All God’s children got problems. The good news is that we are candidates for a miracle! No problem, no miracle!” The Bible is replete with stories of people who suffered from various illnesses and afflictions who were healed. But Paul explains that no matter how faithful we may be, God doesn’t always give us the means to be healed or to solve our problems. God often uses our weaknesses to bring us closer to him and to give us the strength that we need to soldier through [See Power Up, https://dianereagan.com/2018/06/18/power-up/%5D.

We don’t feel lucky when we’re chronically ill or are beset with problems. But Paul told us to boast about our troubles. That’s what he told the church in Corinth: “Therefore, in order to keep me from being conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12: 7-9).

Some Biblical scholars surmise that Paul’s malady was a chronic eye disease caused by the blinding light he encountered on his journey to Damascus when Jesus confronted him after the resurrection.  He consulted with Dr. Luke in 50 A.D. in Troas, and Dr. Luke traveled with him for the remaining 18 years of Paul’s life—in part, as his personal physician. Paul thought that he knew God’s purpose in not removing his problem: to prevent him from becoming conceited due to the visions and revelations he received from God. Paul’s experience teaches us that even when God doesn’t heal a chronic illness or give us the means to solve a problem, he gives the faithful the means to cope with the problem. God led Paul to Dr. Luke who traveled with him and enabled him to continue to spread the gospel.

God uses ordinary, imperfect human beings like you and me to accomplish his purposes. He used Ezekiel to bring his word to the Israelites, and told him not to worry about whether he succeeds: “Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says.’ And whether they listen or fail to listen—for they are a rebellious people—they will know that a prophet has been among them” (Ezekiel 2: 4-5). God uses ordinary people for his purposes. Don’t worry about whether you have 3 followers or 3 million followers. If you are doing God’s work, he will take care of the numbers.  He will use your strengths and your weaknesses for his purposes.  Someone said that God uses cracked pots.  We are all broken at some level—and Jesus will use our suffering and brokenness for his glory.  All God’s children got problems.

When Jesus sent his disciples out on their first preaching assignments, he counseled them not to worry about rejection: “Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them” (Mark 6:9-11).  Jesus knew from experience that even a wholly human and wholly divine person such as himself would not have a 100% success rate. Jesus was rejected in his own hometown (Mark 6: 1-3).  Jesus was falsely accused and mocked. He suffered disappointment, rejection, despair, pain, humiliation, and other failures—and he knew that his disciples would suffer as well.  He wanted to prepare them and us for life’s inevitable difficulties.  All God’s children got problems.

Psalm 123 encourages us to look to God in our suffering and failures: ”Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy on us, for we have endured no end of contempt” (Psalm 123: 3).  God in his never-ending mercy and compassion will sit with us in our pain and will help get us through it.

If you are suffering from a chronic and debilitating illness or difficult problem, look to Jesus. If you are broken in body, spirit, or soul due to cancer, depression, or other illness, turn to Jesus. If you are lonely, jobless, or dejected, call on Jesus. If God has not healed you or shown you a solution to your problem—try turning it around like Paul did. Consider it a badge of honor that God cares so much for you that he will give you the grace, strength, and power to carry your burden.   Seek all of the medical and other assistance available to resolve the illness or other problem, but don’t forget to turn it over to Jesus.   He promised to give you the strength to bear it and he will carry you through it.  Our pastor used this phrase a few months ago: “A set-back may be a set-up for a step forward.”   Step forward with the Spirit by your side.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

God’s Providence

June 25, 2018

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose”(Romans 8: 28).

Providence is not only the name of the capital of Rhode Island, but it is also the name of 24 other American cities and countless schools and ships. Other places around the world bear the name Providence, as well as medical centers, health insurance companies, films, television shows, restaurants, and even an investment company. The word providence comes from the Latin word, providentia –meaning to see in advance [from pro (ahead) and videre (to see)] or to provide for. Many of the places and entities named Providence refer to God’s providence—trusting that God has provided and will continue to provide.

We will celebrate Independence Day next week remembering the day in our history on July 4, 1776, when delegates to the Continental Congress, trusting in the providence of God, voted to declare America’s independence from Great Britain, stating “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our Sacred Honor” (emphasis added).

The Scripture texts for next Sunday all speak of the importance of trusting in God’s providence. [1] It is a theme that crosses boundaries of time and distance.  God’s providence does not just refer to his ability to see into the future, but to his absolute authority and sovereignty.   Nothing occurs by chance.  “Chance” does not exist; it merely describes a mathematical probability. God not only created the universe, but he continues to sustain it.  We can trust in God’s providence to continue to provide for us.

The prophet Jeremiah told us that God will help us when we turn to him; he is ever faithful: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness . . . The Lord is good to those who hope in him” (Lamentations 3: 22-25). Thomas Chisholm’s great hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness” is based on Lamentations 3:22-23.[2] Due to ill health and other circumstances, he never made much money, but wrote of God’s “wonderful displays of His providing care” in his life. Just as God, through Jeremiah, promised to care for his children, so Chisholm declared 2500 years later that God, in his providence, cared for him throughout his life. God’s providence is a theme that crosses boundaries of time and distance.

Similarly, David, conceding the threats and insecurities rampant in our lives, sang of God’s great providence in delivering him: “I will exalt you, O Lord, for you lifted me out of the depths . . . I called to you for help, and you healed me . . . you spared me from going down into the pit . . . weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” (Excerpts, Psalm 30: 1-5).

Just as God hears our pleas and delivers us today– in his perfect timing and as it fits into his plan for our lives—Jesus, in his great compassion, responded to requests to heal and to make whole those who were suffering. Jesus was on his way to heal the daughter of Jairus, the synagogue leader, when a woman touched his robe. The great faith and confidence in Jesus’ healing powers brought the woman (who had been bleeding for 12 years) to him. When she touched the hem of his garment she was healed: “Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering” (Mark 5: 29). When Jesus noticed the woman, he said: “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering” (Mark 5: 34).  Her faith was the key to her healing. God is good and he responds to those who turn to him in faith.

After healing the woman Jesus proceeded to Jairus’ house to heal his daughter even after he was told that it was too late because the child had died. But Jesus insisted on seeing her, saying, “’The child is not dead but asleep . . .he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha koum!’ (which means ‘Little girl, I say to you, get up’). Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old)” (Mark 5: 39-42).

God’s providence is the subject of the eighth chapter of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians.  He refers to the 40 years following the exodus when God provided food in the form of manna to the Israelites in the desert.  Even though God told them to gather only enough manna for one day, some people took more to keep for the next day.  Their hoarding backfired; the manna became spoiled and riddled with maggots.  He tells the Corinthians that they should use now what they have to help others and not hoard their wealth; God will provide: “At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: ‘The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little’” (2 Corinthians 8: 15; Exodus 16: 18). He was telling the Corinthians to give of their abundance to help the needy church in Jerusalem and God will provide for tomorrow.

When you celebrate our country’s independence next week, remember that God’s providence is a theme that crosses the boundaries of time and distance.  Have the faith in divine providence that infused our founding fathers. God will respond to you when you turn to him in faith. Depend on his providence to see you through life’s vicissitudes. Have faith that he always has your best interests at heart and will work all things in your life for good: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8: 28).

Even when we can’t see the end of the tunnel—when we can’t see a possible solution or the end of our problems—God can.  He will use your pain, sorrow, and despair in his perfect timing to further his plan.  He is the master chess player who can see a million moves ahead. He knows how it will all fit together.  And if you believe and have faith, he will use you and your experiences.  Even if you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, know that God can see the light because God is light.  Let his light infuse you with hope. Know that you are not alone in your suffering and despair.  He is with you, and he will stay by your side until the end—wherever you are.  He will light your way.  Have faith.  He can see ahead, and will steer you in the right direction.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for Sunday, July 1st are Lamentations 3:22-33; Psalm 30; 2 Corinthians 8:1-9; 13-15; Mark 5: 21-43.

[2] Lyrics from Chisholm’s 1925 hymn: “Great Is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father! There is no shadow of turning with Thee; Though changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not, As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be. Refrain: Great Is Thy faithfulness, Great Is Thy faithfulness, Morning by morning new mercies I see; All I have needed Thy hand hath provided. Great is Thy Faithfulness, Lord unto me!”

Power Up

June 18, 2018

He got up, rebuked he wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. . . they were terrified and asked each other, Who is this? Even the wind and waves obey him!’” Mark 4:41.

Our culture loves super heroes—men and women with supernatural powers—Superman, Batman and Batgirl, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Wonder Woman, Power Rangers—the list goes on and on.

Next Sunday’s Scripture texts[1] describe the power of a real and eternal Super Power—God. In addition to his many other attributes, God is present everywhere, he knows everything, and he is all-powerful. Our texts describe the application of God’s power through the ages as well as his power as expressed through Jesus and now living in the Spirit within us. But in addition to describing our powerful God, the texts give us some insight into how we can tap into that power.

No super powers existing on earth or in our imaginations can compare or even come close to God’s real power. God reminds Job of that when he asks him: “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? . . . Have you given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place? . . . Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? “ (Job 38:4, 12, 18).   We can see God’s power around us in all of creation and are reminded that God is there for each of us. [See my prior blog on this subject, Power Player of All Time: https://dianereagan.com/2016/04/01/power-player-of-all-time/.]

Jesus Christ came to earth fully equipped with divine power.  But his displays of power were not for self-aggrandizement. He wasn’t seeking to promote himself or to procure favors or wealth. He used his powers to help the poor, the sick, and the disenfranchised. In this week’s gospel text, he calmed the storm and the waters to ease the fears of his disciples: “He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm . . . they were terrified and asked each other, Who is this? Even the wind and waves obey him!’” Mark 4:41.

Paul speaks of all of the hardships that he and others endured in their quest to spread the good news to far-flung places of the earth. He describes the beatings, imprisonments, hard work, sleepless nights, and hunger they endured to spread the good news. He writes that it was the Holy Spirit and the power of God that kept them going: “In purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God, with weapons of righteousness . . . dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything” (2 Corinthians 6:6-10).

You can tap into God’s power through prayer.  E. M. Bounds taught “More prayer, more power; less prayer, less power; no prayer, no power.” Many years ago one of my former pastors, Stephen Lien, quoted his mother, Orena Lien, who taught him a similar proverb: “No prayer, no power; little prayer, little power; much prayer, much power.” The psalmist itemizes the times that the Lord rescued the Israelites from sure death and destruction, and offers this bit of advice: “Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 124: 8). Power up.

James tells us that prayer is both powerful and effective: “Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them . . . And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” James 5: 13-17. Power up.

These texts show us God’s power at work around us in his creation. Paul describes all of the hardships he endured by tapping into the power of God. The Holy Spirit was with him, helping him all of the way.   Isn’t it time that you tapped into God’s power? When you wake up during the night and can’t go back to sleep, be grateful that God has given you a special time to spend with him.  Call out to him from the depths of your soul, and ask him to heal you, to restore you, to comfort you, to guide you, to counsel you, to stay with you. When you are commuting to and from school or work, use that time to talk to God—to praise him, to confess your mistakes, to unload your concerns, to ask for guidance and help.  Call upon the Lord earnestly from your heart in prayer and he will empower you.

Power up.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for next Sunday are Job 38: 1-11; Psalm 124; 2 Corinthians 6: 1-13; Mark 4: 35-41.

Fill Your Chest With Faith, Hope, and Love

June 11, 2018

The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green proclaiming ,’The Lord is upright; he is my Rock.” Psalm 92: 12-15

When I was growing up it was common for a teenage girl or young woman to have a hope chest made of cedar. Family friends and relatives would give her items to set up housekeeping upon her marriage. Cedar chests were used because they were sturdy and repelled insects. The hope chest represented the hope of love, marriage to a faithful husband, and dreams of setting up a household with lovely things. When I was a teenager, I spent a summer afternoon with a cousin who carefully removed each item from her hope chest and explained who had given it to her. She had a growing set of bone china, blankets, linens, and other household items.

I was reminded of cedar hope chests in meditating on Psalm 92:12-14: “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God.

Like a hope chest, the Scripture lessons for next Sunday speak of faith, hope, and love.[1] We can all be chests filled with hope, faith, and love when we depend on Jesus. Paul confirmed the importance of these three pillars in our walk with God: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” 1 Corinthians 13:13.

Faith

Cedar trees, like palm trees, are tall trees. They grow up to 120’ high and can be up to 30’ wide in circumference. They stand strong in the mountain winds, and are prized for their strong wood. Cedar wood has been used since ancient times for shipbuilding and other construction projects. When our faith is like a cedar of Lebanon, it is strong and sturdy and will not waiver in the winds of circumstance. Like the cedar and the palm, our faith will be tall and long-lived—it will “bear fruit in old age and stay fresh and green” (Psalm 92: 14). Paul tells us: ”Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5: 6-7).   During our lifetimes we have faith not because we have seen Jesus in the flesh, but because we know that he suffered, died, and was resurrected for our sins. We know that these things are true, even though we haven’t seen Jesus in the flesh.

Jesus explains how the kingdom of God grows in the world, just as our individual faith grows over time: “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade” Mark 4: 30-32).   Christianity started out with Jesus and a small band of disciples, but grew into a global community of believers. Likewise, our faith begins as a small seed and continues to grow as we delve deeper and deeper into the Word, and as we reach out to God and to others who help us nurture our faith.

Hope

Only God can bring us true hope. Using a cedar sprig as a metaphor for the Messiah, Ezekiel brings hope to the people. He explains how God will plant a tender shoot– the Messiah–which will grow into a strong kingdom and will shelter many: “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a cedar and plant it; I will break off a tender sprig from its topmost shoots and plant it on a high and lofty mountain. On the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it; it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches . . . I the Lord have spoken, and I will do it” (Ezekiel 17: 22-23, 24b). God kept his promise and sent his Son who died for our sins. His death planted the seed for what would rise up to become a great kingdom.

Love

Paul tells us that of the three–faith, hope, and love–the greatest of these is love. It was the Father’s love that sent Jesus to us, and Jesus’ love for us that made him willingly go to the cross for us: “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Corinthians 5: 14-15). All that we do should be motivated by Christ’s great love for us. The Message translation of verse 14 is “His love has the first and last word in everything we do.” Love covers many transgressions.  When we are filled with the love of Christ, there is no room in our souls for long-standing anger, resentment, or bitterness.  When love washes over us, our blood pressure drops, and we rest in God’s loving arms.  We are peaceful and at rest.

The Scripture texts this week invite us to fill ourselves with faith as tall and strong as a cedar, hope that our faith will continue to grow from its tender shoots to a long-lasting faith, and the love from above to fill every cell of our bodies.  God’s Spirit inhabits the body of every believer and leads and guides us along the way.  It is the Spirit living within us who prays for us when we are too weak, anxious, broken, or otherwise impaired to pray for ourselves.  The Spirit feels our groaning, aching, and despairing self. Our tears fall on the Spirit who intercedes on our behalf.  When we cannot pray for ourselves, the Spirit is there for us.  Fill your chest with faith, hope, and the love of God, and he will stand with you–as strong and as unmovable as a cedar tree.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for next Sunday are Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15; Ezekiel 17: 22-24; 2 Corinthians 5: 6-10, 14-17; Mark 4:26-34.