He Wounds and He Heals

See now that I, even I am He, and there is no god beside me;  I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.–Dueteronomy 32:39

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Greeetings readers, and thank you for taking a look at my blog.  It has been a while, once again, since I last posted anything.  Thank you for your patience.  I have been getting myself ready and making lots of plans for returning to work in my pastorate at Peace Lutheran here in Rapid City, SD.  It has been almost 6 months since I was placed on medical leave by the elders of my congregation.  I praise God, who kills and makes alive, who wounds, and who also heals.  His own Word bears this out in Deuteronomy chapter 32, our OT reading for Palm Sunday, this weekend.   

It has been a very difficult road.  Pastoral burnout, depression, and situational anxiety, with added grief due to multiple deaths in our extended family, all played a major role in my sinking into “the pit” so to speak.  Most of those things a lot of people do not understand, so you can add that to the mix of what I was constantly dealing with.  But after months and months of not receiving any relief for all of that, God gave me a wonderful gift.  I got placed on medical leave.  This alone did not solve all my problems or fix everything that was wrong.  There was a lot of hard work to be done and several different physicians of differing specialties to consult; medications to be tried out in order to find the right combinations.  There were difficult talks and challenging meetings with officials from the congregation, and officials from the district office.

It seemed like every step of the way I was being challenged on this journey, or my faith being tested in the things I was learning from God in His Word, or confronted with something in therapy, or from some of those other difficult conversations.  I would also say that thankfully, most people were nice and supportive, but there were some who were not and took a much different approach where I and my wellness were concerned.  And it was very hurtful, and injurious to my healing process. Why would God allow these things to happen on top of what I was already dealing with?

Why me?  We often ask that question, don’t we?  In fact, it is usually the first question that comes to mind when things become difficult for us.  And then we must remember that God is the one who kills and makes alive again.  God is the one who wounds and then heals.  He tests our faith to see if we have really learned anything, and moves us toward repentance and further trusting in Him alone, above all things.  The only real question is in whom do we trust when things become so difficult in our lives.

That is what this text from Deuteronomy is really about.  In the beginning of the text is the Lord reminding that He “will vindicate His people and have compassion on His servants.” And He follows this up by mocking those who place their trust in other gods and practice idolatry.  Now idolatry can come in many different forms.  It is always fearing, loving, or trusting in other things above God.  We can fear and love the one true God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit), but still trust in other people, or things, including ourselves.  More likely than not, when things get difficult, we trust in ourselves.  That is what happened in my case, and I ended up trying to give to others from an empty cup so to speak.  What can you give from an empty cup?  Nothing good, I can tell you that!  

The good news for us is this…We DO have a God who vindicates us, and has compassion on His servants.  Though it may be hard for us to understand, we have a God who also kills and makes alive; who wounds and also heals.  We have a God who nobody can take us out of His hands or snatch us away from Him.  “Nothing can separate us from the LOVE of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!”

REMEMBER THAT!   

God’s peace to you as we prepare to meditate on our Lord’s Passion!

Thanks for reading!

DAVE

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2019…Blessed New Year?

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Greetings and salutations in this brand new calendar year!  I have not been actively blogging for some time now dear friends, as I have been on medical leave for pastoral burnout and depression.  Hell of a thing these two ugly monsters.  Not only does one suffer through trying to squeeze those last drops of fuel out of one’s tank, and those last dregs at the bottom of the cup to keep on giving to others (which I found out in therapy does more harm than good); and not only does one try to hide that they are depressed and show up to work, or ministry, (or family) trying to mask the pain that you are really feeling every day to make everything seem like it is nice and normal like ( we wouldn’t want anyone to suspect that we are hurting, exhausted, and depressed, would we?…as if they couldn’t tell anyway)  But there is also the problem of people all around you not understanding things like pastoral burnout and anxiety and depression.  

My point in writing about all this is not, boo hoo, poor me.  If that was the case, I would not have been working so hard to get well these past nearly 3 months now.  I am writing about this, because in my wellness program I have discovered many truths about just how BIG a problem these things are already among church workers, and that the church really doesn’t have much of a clue about how to deal with it.  I have also, in speaking to several certified therapists about the situation, have found that they suspect that the problem is going to get much worse in the future.  Having seen many of the holes in how the church deals with these issues, and experienced them firsthand, I have no doubts that this is going to be true.

It has been said by a colleague, “If you had cancer, the people would be doing everything they could to get you well.”  I would add to that from my own experience, “And not question you, your illness, or your treatment plan, or how long you might be out, or think that you are just faking all of this to get some extra time off, or whatever they are thinking.

But I am also not simply writing this to rant about the problems I have experienced during this medical leave.  I am writing because I am very thankful for all of the people, family, friends, colleagues, parishioners, and especially my doctor and therapist, who have been so wonderful and supportive to me.  

So many people have never experienced burnout, or anxiety, or depression in their lives and don’t really know what that is like.  And yet so many more are suffering from one or more of these things as I write this.  Perhaps they are scared.  Perhaps they are alone.  Perhaps they are thinking that if anyone finds out they have so much to lose.  

If anyone out there is experiencing any of these things right now and are scared and feel like you are alone in dealing with it.  I assure you that you are not.  There is plenty of help out there, and support for you.  But many around you may not know that you need the help, or may be unsure what to do to help you.

For those of you who want to help, you can start by simply being supportive.  LISTEN!  That goes a long way.  I was not listened to when I was crying out for help! Prayers definitely help.  A smile or word of encouragement helps lift a person and bring them some light in an otherwise often dark day.  Being angry and frustrated with them because you do not understand these things they are going through does NOT help them at all.

I would encourage you also, if you are suffering these things to seek guidance and counseling from professionals who are both certified and skilled at dealing with these things.  

If you are hurting even deeper, or considering suicide, please contact the

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Call 1-800-273-8255  Or text the Crisis Text Line at:

Text CONNECT to 741741 in the United States.

A live, trained Crisis Counselor receives the text and lets you know that they are here to listen.

Crisis Text Line is free, 24/7 support for those in crisis, connecting people in crisis to trained Crisis Counselors.  Our first priority is helping people move from a hot moment to a cool calm, guiding you to create a plan to stay safe and healthy. YOU = our priority.

 

Happy New Year!  Please be kind and compassionate to one another in 2019 and always!  God’s blessings and love to you all!  I will be writing more now that I am in a better place physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually!  Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

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Strong and Courageous

 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. —Joshua 1:9

I have just started studying the book of Joshua, and something really struck me about those words, “STRONG AND COURAGEOUS“.  Of course, it kind of jumps off the page at you, when the Lord Himself uses that phrase 3x in just 9 verses trying to ready Joshua, son of Nun, for delivering the people of Israel the rest of the way to take their inheritance of the promised land.  It was to be no easy task, but God wanted Him, and all of them as well, to remember that He was always with them wherever they go.  And for Joshua, as a leader, to be “strong and courageous,” and to remember that God would not “leave or foresake” him.  He also commands Joshua not to “be frightened or dismayed.

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It got me to thinking about those times in my own life when I have lost confidence or been frightened or dismayed.  If I am being honest, it usually has been when I took my eyes off of the Savior, when I have forgotten His promise to always be with me, when I have tried to make it all about myself and what “I” have to do.  But it is not at all about me or what I have to do.  Rather it is about the Lord’s Word, and His promises, and what HE is doing in and through this life that He has given to me.

As His disciple, following Him means not taking my eyes off of Him, not turning away from Him or the path that He has given to me, and fearing the Lord above all things, including and especially the things (and people) of this world.  This doesn’t mean that I am “afraid” of the Lord, but have a healthy and faithful respect for who the Lord is and what He has done and continues to do in the lives of His people.

It was God’s delight to choose Joshua to lead Israel after Moses’ death.  And in doing so, He had certain things for Joshua to be aware of and to do in order to be a good and faithful leader for God’s people.  First of all to be strong and courageous.  But part of doing that was also doing what God had commanded, “not turning to the left, or to the right” of it.  And keeping these commands, God said would give Joshua success.

It is God’s Word that I am always drawn back to when I lack courage, or confidence to do the things that He has called me to do.  And His Word reminds me that He is always with me wherever I go and whatever I am doing in His kingdom, no matter how difficult or challenging, no matter how frightened or dismayed I may become.  It reminds me that I can be strong and courageous because of who I am in Christ Jesus, who was strong and courageous all the way to the cross for me, and for you.

PRAYER:  Heavenly Father, we thank You for these words of encouragement that You gave to Your servant Joshua.  We thank You for Your promise to always be with us.  Give us strength and courage as we live and work each day in Your kingdom, and keep us grounded in Your Holy Word to do what You have commanded and not stray from it, or take our eyes off the Savior, so that we may bring glory to Your Holy Name.  AMEN.

Trusting in the Lord

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.                                                                                                                                          —Proverbs 3:5-6

It’s a funny thing that we who acknowledge and confess that the Lord is OUR Lord would have such great difficulty TRUSTING in the Lord above ALL things.  Yet we really seem to struggle with this.

In fact, I will go out on a limb and say that of the three aspects of the meaning of the first commandment, fear, love, and trust; we probably as Christians struggle with the TRUST one the most. (Though to be honest and fair, we struggle with all 3).

We are kind of like the youngest son in the original Parenthood movie (the one with Steve Martin).  The youngest son gets himself into all kinds of trouble, and the patriarch of the family keeps bailing him out.  Finally, the patriarch tells his son that enough is enough, and says, “This is the last time“, and proceeds to give him the plan this time around.  Only the stubborn, stiff-necked, prideful son isn’t having any of it.  He says, “That sounds like a good plan, but I was thinking we’d do it this way instead, and if that doesn’t work out, then we’ll put the dad plan into effect.

Now there are a few things wrong with my example of course, and keeping in mind that it does NOT represent our relationship with God; the attitude of our hearts when it comes to trusting in God and His Word is much the same.  We can be stubborn, and stiff-necked, and prideful.  And we quite often want to do things our own way, be in charge, have control.  And if that doesn’t work out, then we will turn to God.

When will we learn that God is in charge and He has a better plan for us than anything at all we can concoct for our lives?  And so we meander on the twisted roads we have made for ourselves straying further and further off the straight and narrow path.  We refuse to acknowledge God’s goodness and provision, His direction, His reproof, His instruction, and even His Son.

The Lord’s plans are better than yours!  His Word is good!  His understanding of all things is superior to yours in every way!  And He alone can straighten out your path for you again and again, so long as you stop getting in the way by trusting only in yourself.

PRAYER:  Holy Lord, we thank and praise You for your goodness in our lives.  We especially thank You for Your Son Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth, and The Life.  We ask Your forgiveness for the times we desire to go our own way and trust in ourselves, or in things of this world instead of You and Your Holy Word.  Straighten our paths as only You can do, by helping us to trust in and lean on You alone!  In Jesus’ Holy nameAMEN.

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According to the Word of God

How can a young man keep his way pure?
    By guarding it according to your word.–Psalm 119:9

There are times or seasons in our lives when we become a little bit “lost” in our way.  Whether it comes from bad habits, getting out of good habits, just plain laziness, or a series of unfortunate events that leave us confused, or perhaps tragedies that we have experienced have left us wondering Why?

I’m sure that most of us have experienced some if not all of these things in our lives.  But when we have, how do we respond to these times/seasons in our lives?  There are lots of ways that people tend to respond.  Some good, some not so good, and some are downright destructive.  The “bad” and “destructive” things we do, can often lead to having a void in our lives, or at least the feeling like “something is missing.

Often, people try to fill such a “void” with things that will never, ever fill it at all.  Some might spend all kinds of money on more things, but end up never being satisfied at all with what they have been blessed with.  As wise Solomon found out, that is all vanity.  It also breaks several commandments of God, including the 9th and 10th, which speak to us about contentment with what God has blessed us with already, instead of coveting what we do not have.  Others may start drinking to drown their sorrows, or doing drugs to “feel better”, or getting involved in sexually destructive behavior.  All of these can lead to addictions that destroy lives, our own and perhaps others.

People also seem to have much difficulty struggling to learn the difference between want and need.  In the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed we learn in the meaning of the First Article that our gracious and loving Heavenly Father provides “all that we NEED to support this body and life.”  Put that together with the explanation of the First Commandment, that we “should fear, love, and TRUST in God above ALL things,” and we may then be able to see where we often go wrong in our thinking, our lack of trust, and becoming those of “little faith“, as Jesus often said to His own disciples.

That’s why I like the verse above from Psalm 119.  Verse 9 is one I like to use each year when I am choosing Confirmation Verses, because it has often been a reminder to me of the importance of being in God’s Word, of studying that Word, of learning what His Word has to say to me about so many things, and of relying on that Word in good times as well as in our difficult seasons of life.

I am going through a difficult season of life right now, and I found myself returning to this wonderful verse today.  It spoke to me today, and reminded me just how important it is for me also to be in God’s Word daily.  To read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest it.

So I encourage you to read  the passage that it  comes from.  It is the Psalm in this Lectionary week for the upcoming Sunday.  The full passage is Psalm 119:9-16.  ENJOY!

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And I also encourage you to be in God’s Word regularly.

 

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, we thank You for providing all things needed for our bodies and lives in this world.  Help us to never take for granted what You graciously supply us with, nor covet those things that we do not have out of greed or selfish desire.  Lead us ever into Your Holy Word, that it may be a lamp to our feet and a light for our path, always.  In Jesus name, who is the Word made flesh.  AMEN.

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“Deserved”

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We are about to come to a close in our study of the book of Jonah in our Thursday morning Bible Study at the church where I serve as pastor.  Tomorrow we will embark on chapter 4 of this short narrative that is choc full of both Law and Gospel, pointing out both our own sinfulness and God’s grace and mercy towards us.

To say the least, it has been an eye opener, both for the students of the Word in class, and for this teacher of the Word in leading them.  As their teacher, I always enjoy when we can dig deeper into the Word than they have ever been, and point out little aspects of God’s Word that they have not considered, or connections here and there that had been unrealized.  Better still is when I can see the light bulb go on as we are talking about something in class, as they make a connection on their own.

Jonah has been a challenge.  The “hero” and I use that term loosely for the namesake of this book in the canon of Scripture, is one who continually disappoints.  The one who we learned about in Sunday School, who got swallowed by a “whale” (big fish) as we were taught–and not much more than that usually–when you really look at the rest of the narrative, Jonah doesn’t come off the page looking very good at all, or “smelling” that good I’m sure either.  In fact, the pagan sailors on the ship Jonah takes to run from God’s directive to His prophet, come off looking better than Jonah.  So too do the Ninevites, the evil ones against whom God wants Jonah to prophesy.  Even the animals in Nineveh come out of this whole thing as better off than God’s prophet.

And why is this?  It all has to do with the word “deserve.”  We have what I would consider a sickness when it comes to this word.  Let’s call it “Deserve Disease”.  And it manifests itself in different ways.  In Jonah’s case, he did not think that the Ninevites deserved to hear God’s Word of judgment against their evil, lest they have an opportunity to repent and receive grace from God.  His judgmental attitude causes him to flee from God (as if that is possible), and from God’s command to Him to arise, and go, and speak the Word to Nineveh.

When we read this account, it is easy to fall into the trap of judging Jonah–pointing our own high and mighty digits of doom in his direction, until we think on it a bit more and realize that we are just like him.  Oh how we love to sit in judgment of others, or smear them on social media, or decide for God who deserves His grace and who does not.  Where Jonah comes off the pages of Scripture looking bad, and smelling bad and leaving a bad taste in our mouth, isn’t it because we can too easily see ourselves in him?

It sure is a good thing that we do not get what we deserve.  And aye, there’s the rub!  We say it all the time on Sunday mornings when we do corporate confession in worship.  “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”  We are all in the same boat so to speak, in that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  And so what we truly deserve, we also speak that– “We justly deserve Your present and eternal punishment.”  But do we really believe that about ourselves?

Jonah is far from the shining star in this narrative.  In fact, Jonah’s sinfulness is what jumps off the page, as he is persistent in his judgment of others, stubborn in his disobedience to God and His will, selfish with God’s grace, mercy, and love, and in the end pouts as God’s will is accomplished and Jonah’s selfish and self-centered will is defeated.   And truthfully, we often don’t come off looking, sounding, or “smelling” much better than Jonah.

As always, the title of Almighty, and King of Creation belongs to God.  Throughout the book of Jonah, God’s grace prevails, for those who are repentant and willing to receive it from Him.  The sailors, the evil people of Nineveh, even the animals in that great city.  All of them are repentant, and all of them receive God’s grace.  Because God cares about, He loves, ALL of His creation.  And though all of His creation has been corrupted by sin, and though all human beings sin against Him, He has grace upon grace to give to us.  God also exercises great patience with us in our stubbornness and disobedience to Him.  This is another truth about God that is evident in the book of Jonah.  How patient and loving, and merciful God is toward His reluctant servant.  God shows the same love and mercy and patience towards us.

The truth is that God “desires for ALL to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.”  We who have the gift of faith in Jesus Christ are tasked, (not unlike Jonah) of         GO-ing and TELL-ing those who do not know.  Are we going to judge, or decide for God, who we think doesn’t DESERVE to hear it?  Will we be reluctant disciples of Christ?

We have such a wonderful opportunity to share a wonderful message of repentance and forgiveness in Jesus for all who want to hear and respond to that message, to reflect that light into the darkness that our sin brings into this world.  And while God is indeed very patient with us, there is an urgency for us to proclaim Christ, as we do not know when He will return.

I encourage you  (as I am encouraged to and in need of doing) to repent of your sinfulness, in particular–those of us who are Christians– our disease of deserve, and be thankful that instead of getting what we deserve (eternal damnation), that God gave us Jesus instead, who died for us on the cross.  That the One who did not sin, became sin for us and took all of our sin and guilt and shame to the cross; took the judgment that we deserve there on that Good, that very Good Friday.

And now, know that because of that obedience that Jesus showed to the Father, in suffering and dying in your place, that Jesus’ willingness to be obedient unto death, even death on a cross, in your place, means that you get what you do not deserve.  You freely receive God’s grace and mercy, and love….because of Jesus.  Praise be to the Creator of all things, the Redeemer of all lost and condemned creatures, and the Sanctifier of all who believe!

Waiting on the Lord

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Psalm 27:13-14

I believe that I shall look[f] upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!
14 Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the 
Lord!

 

The Autumnal Equinox was on Saturday, the 22nd of September.  This marks for us the official beginning of the season of Fall/Autumn for us who dwell in North America.  Depending on where you live, the weather may or may not have fit the season.  One thing is certain as I look around the Black Hills of SoDak…Fall is upon us.  Even as I write this there is a chill in the air (and a pot of chili bubbling in the crock pot!).  There have been little autumn rain showers, and the skies are gray and overcast.  The trees are beginning to turn with a smattering of wonderful yellows, reds, and orange fiery reminders that summer is over with, and winter is fast approaching. 

            This is a season I have a love/hate relationship with.  It has always been my favorite season, and yet there are aspects of it that I despise.  I love the colors.  Green is fine when spring is in full bloom, and I am always glad to see a bunch of green after many months of brown in the LONG winters we sometimes have here.  But I prefer the explosion of colors that Autumn brings.  I have also, for some nostalgic reason I guess, loved the smell of Autumn.  The smell of the decaying leaves that fall on the ground.

            There is a tension in this season.  A life and death tension.  A tension that reminds us that there is an end to all things.  It is not unlike the tension the Christian feels in our lives, in our very being…every day!  St Paul writes in Romans 7 of this tension within himself (and each of us who are believers in Christ).  Our sinfulness must be put to death, and through repentance we are able with the help of God to do just that, and turn back to Him, waiting for His salvation to be fully ours.

            We know that the Lord is doing something in our lives…HAS done something…WILL do something.  A change is coming, is already here, has already happened.  You see, just as we know that winter will soon come, and in a manner of speaking, death happens as the leaves die and fall and decay, we also know that in this season of waiting there is new life just around the corner.  In the springtime, there will be new life.

            So it is for believers in Jesus.  Jesus, the Son of God, who fulfilled all things, died for you on the cross, and was resurrected, that we may all have life in His name.  Even now we can experience new life in Him, as we wait for the Lord, which I know is not so easy to do sometimes…and we are not always so patient.

            But no matter what tensions you might be experiencing in your lives, what “season” of life you might be experiencing right now, the Lord is always your Light and your Salvation…and the Stronghold of your life.  Wait on Him, and seek His grace and love and mercy where He has promised to be found…In His Holy Word!

            A blessed season of Autumn to you, as you wait on the Lord!