Unanswered Prayers – For Richard Phillips

Garth Brooks wrote a song called “Unanswered Prayers.” For those of you unfamiliar with this song, it talks about how the narrator thanks God for not answering a prayer that he had prayed a long time ago. He was thankful because his life turned out great, even though God didn’t do what the narrator thought best at the time. Often I’ve wondered about this song. How is it good that God doesn’t always answer our prayers? Doesn’t it say in Matthew 7:7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you?” How can it be that God does not give us what we ask?

Then I turned to Proverbs 19:21, which states, “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.” And Proverbs 16:9, (my one of my favorite Bible passages) “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.”

How can it be that I can ask God for something that He will not give to me? Many, many times I wonder, worry, and fret over this fact. “Will God give me what I want?” “Is this what I need?” “How can I get what I think I need with THAT?”

God is all about TRUST! I know that that is a big word for some of us (especially me!), but think about it. Don’t you think that the CREATOR of all things can figure out a plan for us? Sure, I don’t want to accept the fact that I don’t know what’s going on in my existence. Maybe I WANT to be in control. But, I know in my heart (and maybe NOT my head) that God knows what’s going on. He’s got it all under control. That’s the great part about God. He got it all in the palm of His hand. Like the song, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hand.”

The omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent God that we love and believe in has it all together. How great is THAT!? We don’t have to overstress or overwork ourselves, because we know in our hearts that someone GREATER than we will EVER(!) be has it under control. I don’t know about you, but that makes ME sleep soundly at night.

Now, here’s the funny part. Don’t worry! No, this is not a repeat of the advice Bobby McFerran gave us in the 1990’s, or the words of wisdom spoken by animated characters in a Disney movie. This is God, straight-up and true, in Matthew 6:25ff, “Do not worry about you life…” He tells us outright. How wonderful is it that we do not have to overstress about the things of this world? He’s got it under control. Remember this, when you hear the Garth Brooks song. Yes, we may not get what we want, but we have the assurance that someone greater knows exactly what we need, when we need it. Patience is a virtue (Galatians 5:22-23).

Psalm 90:4a “For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by.” God works on His own time.

May He give us the faith to wait for His time, too.

For more help, see Psalm 25, Psalm 23, and Psalm 139 (the Psalm of my late Step-Grandfather, Richard Phillips).

You are Mine

It’s difficult to get to Saturday night, take a look around the house, and have so many things remind you of your sins of the past week.  The promises made and not fulfilled, the thoughts of anger and frustration, the mistakes and the sadness and the guilt.  You count the Commandments you’ve broken and realize that it takes all ten fingers to enumerate them.  Not a single one is left untarnished by the filth of your life.

Right then, in that moment, God sits before you in the judgement seat.  He looks upon your life and points down to you and prepares to cast you into the realms of damnation for all eternity.  A fit and deserved punishment, to say the least.  For how can we stand before God in our evil ways, our sinful flesh, and not be guilty?

And yet, before the Lord strikes you down, Christ steps in front of you and says, “I will take the punishment.”  He turns to you, and shows you His hands and feet, pierced for you.  He takes your hand and places it on His side and says, “See, I have paid for you.”

You then look around your room and see no more sin, no more pain, no more fear.  All that once brought you shame is gone, and now brings you peace in Christ.  You hear Jesus whisper in your ear, “I have held you to My Heart since your baptism.  I have kept you close when you ate and drank at the Supper.  You are saved by the faith you receive in My Word.  You are Mine.”

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” Isaiah 43:1b

Why is Life Always a Struggle?!

Struggle is a hard thing.  A hard and wretched thing that constantly trips us up and pulls us down into the depths of doubt and despair.  The path is slow-going, full of potholes and traffic jams, things that tie us down and pull us backward.  These things make us have to fight and claw our way forward.  It seems a never-ending battle.  The quarrels with family and friends, the lack of emotion or contempt we find in relationships, the misguided or ill-spent time and effort on plans that don’t come to fruition.  The pains, the anger, the sadness, the tears and fears and struggles seem to rise up out of the dust of the earth and pull on our hearts and minds, trying to drag us down into the dust from which our bodies came.   This struggle is not against our own bodies, though, or our hearts.  It is against Satan and his power.  Paul, in Ephesians 6:12, states, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

But where do we find help in this struggle?  The psalmist said, in chapter 121, verse 1, “I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from?”

That answer is direct and true in the next verse: “My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”  God is our Hope in struggle, our Strength in trial and tribulation.  David, when he was delivered from his struggles with Saul, sang these words, as a reminder to us of our comfort in distress: “The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation.  He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior – from violent men you save me.” (2 Samuel 22:2-3)  How true do those words ring, especially in our own times of pain and suffering?  It is that comfort in our struggle that allows us to go on, free from the burden of hopelessness and fear.

And still we know that these struggles have a purpose and plan, even though we cannot see it.  “We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3b-4)

So, do not wallow in the pain of struggles, do not become downtrodden in tribulation.  Instead, hold your head high and look to heaven, to our Strength and Shield, our Hope and Comfort, our Joy and Peace.  God’s Power will overcome even the lowliest of days and the darkest of nights in our lives.  Cling to your faith in Christ and the promises of the Gospel.  The struggle is just part of the ride.  But it doesn’t last.  Love does

For comfort and strength, also see:  Ephesians 6:10-18 (The Armor of God), Psalm 27 and 31, 1 Corinthians 13:8a, Luke 9:57-62 (The road is not easy).

Joy Cometh in the Morning

Peace and joy to you from God, our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who has seen fit for us to wake this morning and breathe a deep breath, and go about the wonderful business of our day.  How joyous it is that we may move about on this glorious creation, which is awesome and inspiring.

Now, I know that many of you are wondering if I am feeling okay.  You probably think that I’m a little out of it, being late July, with all of the heat of mid-summer baking the brain, the drudgery of another work week finally completed, and the dull existence that we all travel though each day.  Or so it seems.

Instead, I would like to take this opportunity to tell you all to stop, for one moment, whatever you are doing, and listen.  Maybe you hear the noise of a busy office space, the rustling of a computer lab, or the shuffling of your roommate or spouse around the room.  Or maybe you have it as lucky as I do, with my wife and son asleep, and the room being quiet, except for the whirring of the computer and the soft breathing of a sleeping loved one at 1 AM.

But, nonetheless, stop and listen.  Listen to your own breathing, your heartbeat, the gentleness of life around you.  Is not our God great and amazing for giving us this gift of life?!  Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again: Rejoice!”

YES!!!!  Rejoice, be glad, sing if you want.  Take a moment, not more than two minutes of your day (which I think we all can spare), and truly think of something that the Lord has given you.  Your answer cannot be: “At least it isn’t Monday….”  NO!!!  Instead, think about your family, friends, health, life, and the love with which God blesses us.  Say a prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord.

Life will get you down.  There is no question about that.  Sin will drag and claw at you.  It will prowl around you like a roaring lion looking for something to devour (1 Peter 5:8).  But instead of following it aimlessly down the spiral, fight, punch, and kick as it tries to depress and degrade you and tear you limb from limb.  Remember John 3:16 and the message it has.  Relish the Words of your Baptism, which brings you to new life in Christ and the joy of eternal salvation.  Enthrall yourself in the glory of God.  Take a few moments every day and ponder the wonder of the life God has given you through faith in Christ Jesus.

Even though we do live the troubles of Psalm 54, 55, and 56, we must remember that God watches over us, and will take care of us.  And because of this knowledge, we must turn to Psalm 66, and “Shout with joy to God!”

Every once in a while, stop and remember the wonderful, glorious, awesome, amazing, and inspiring life that we have.  God wants us to enjoy it as loving children enjoy any gift a father gives them.  Don’t forget to be happy!!!

Rejoice (!) in the following:  Romans 5, Ephesians 1:15-2:10, Psalms 117, 118, 23, 9, Luke 1:46-55 (The Magnificat), Luke 1:68-75.

Out of Darkness, Into His Marvelous Light

Dear Christian Friends,

Have you ever had that murky, ugly feeling inside, where you know that you’ve done a few things that weren’t right? You know, when you’ve said something behind the back of someone, been mean to a friend, or just been hurtful, mean, or cruel to yourself?

I can say with a heavy heart that I’ve done all these things and more. I’ve doubted God, been angry with friends, lied to my family (they can usually tell though), and just been a bad person. It sucks, and as Paul says in Romans 7:15, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate to do do.” How depressing is that? Even Paul was a bad guy.

DC Talk says in their song, “In the Light”:  “What’s going on inside of me? I despise my own behavior.” We do not understand what’s happening to us. We hate what we do. And yet, we cannot stop it.

So, many of us walk through life with that heavy feeling that we cannot make up for the bad things that we do. What follows then? We are a sinful, horrible people who do these things. What next?

Matthew 11:28, “‘Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.'” The words of Jesus Himself come to us as a comfort and strength in our times of trouble. He is there for us, for He has taken away our sins, and we are made sinless in God’s sight. We are washed in His blood and made white as snow.

Our prayer can be taken directly from Psalm 51:10-12, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presense or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”

That is so powerful! We are forgiven and blessed by God, as horrible as we may think our deeds. He still loves us, and will watch over us. Romans 6:11, “Count yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

Remember, as DC Talk says, “All I want is to be in the Light.” And we are, in the love of Jesus Christ.

Read also: Psalm 51, Eph. 2:11-22, Matt. 11:25-30, Romans 6, and 1 Peter 2:9.

Gospel of the Week – July 17th

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 – The Parable of the Weeds

It’s about patience, plain and simple.  Learning to wait for God’s time while here on earth, even among the weeds (those of the evil one).  They will live among those of the Lord, unable to be told apart.  But the Lord will, at the end of days, separate the weeds from the wheat, and the weeds will be burned in the fire for all eternity.  Yes, that’s right, it’s hell.  And those of the Lord will be gathered together afterwards.  It’s pretty straightforward, but important to recognize the warning in the text.  Satan has sown evil ones among the children of God, be wary of those who may seem like the good, but do not bear fruit.  However, be not quick to judge.  That is the purview of Christ.  He will be the judge of the weeds, who will be bound together and burned in the fire.  It is not our concern to find the weeds.  Instead, we are to grow and prepare for the harvest.  The Lutheran Study Bible notation for v. 24-30 is informative.  Also, read 2 Peter 3:8-15.  It gives great insight into the patience of the Lord.

And, as always, there’s Pastor Fisk’s Greek Tuesday for the Gospel lesson of the week.

Waiting for God…Oh?

Here is an email I wrote many years ago to some friends of mine as a devotion.  It’s amazing to look back on it now and realize that God works in His own ways at his own times (some of those times may not be here, yet, either).  You may also notice that the beginning of the email is the title of this blog (I’ll save that story for another time).

Dear Christian Friends,

There are many things that I want in this world. A loving, caring, beautiful family that I can take care of. A fulfilling, uplifting job as a pastor in the Lord’s church. World peace. Things like that. And I want them NOW. As you can tell, I, like many of us, have a problem with being impatient. I swear that God seriously doesn’t have a watch that works. And it’s not that I don’t get what I need when I need it. Matthew 6:25ff is very true. God does provide. It’s just that God has a way of giving me what I need when I have my eyes set on something else I want.

Well, I’ve come to a realization. I’m not ready for what I need when I want it, usually. Oh sure, when I need a home, a friend, or a turkey sandwich on wheat, God’s always got one ready. But the things I think I WANT, that “I can’t live without,” or the things that I need to have soon, I am not ready for.

I want to be a husband and a loving father. Yet, time and again, I fail to realize that I need to spend the time I have preparing to fulfill a job that the Lord wants me to do down the road (1 Peter 1:13). My time is best spent, right now, working on preparing myself to serve Him in love and faithfulness, waiting patiently for the good things that He has in store for me. Romans 8:25, “But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”

Let me give you an example from my own life. I want, and I mean really want, a female companion to share my life with. But, I realize, that God knows that I am not ready to share my life with someone; I am not ready to commit to a lasting relationship, because He has things that I must do and skills I must learn. I am not ready to tackle the problems and stress of marriage. I mean, I’m not ready to tackle the problems and stress of a Monday morning yet. How can I possibly be ready for marriage? But, I know that God and I will work together to see fit that I have the tool and knowledge to deal with sharing EVERYTHING with another human being. My purpose right now is to live a God-centered life, to make Him and His plan my number one concern, to take care of my problems, struggles, and stumbling blocks, before I can move into new responsibilities. The good things will come, that I am sure of. Romans 8:28, “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.”

Even later in life, I have a job to do. God wants me to spread His love to the nations (Matthew 28:19-20). He wants me to love Him and my family and friends and brothers and sisters in Christ. I need to make sure that my mind is not cluttered with overzealous plans and desires when my one focus should be on Him. Now, I’m not saying that you can’t think about what you would like in this world, but what I am saying is make sure that what you want doesn’t get in the way of the Lord and your devotion to Him.

Remember, make God and His plan for you your focus right now. Let Him be your guide, and He will help you, love you, and give you all that you need. He has given gifts to you to use in this life, and you need to remember to learn them so that you can use them when He fulfills your wants and needs.

Jeremiah 29:11-13, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all of your heart.'”

See also Proverbs 19:21, Psalm 37, Romans 8 (one of the greatest chapters in the Bible), Philippians 2:12-18, 2 Timothy 2:14-26