One of the wedding presents we received was an old hymn board. You know the boards that hung on the wall in the front of the church and each row had room for removable numbers so you could tell people where in the hymnal to find the songs to be sung on any given Sunday. Instead of hymn numbers, we put wedding pictures...some of our favorites. Some days I stop to just look at the pictures. The nieces and nephews were young then, the youngest just 18 months. He just got engaged at Thanksgiving at age 26 or 27. Twenty-five years have passed since those pictures were taken. They have been interesting, challenging, fun, difficult and God filled years.
When I look back, I can see God's handprints all over our lives, not just Barb’s and mine but the whole family. I can see God at work in the lives of former coworkers, former students and parishioners. When we read scripture, we can see God at work all over their lives as well. Even when things are bad, awful, challenging, God is at work. He was at work when Joseph was in prison...Paul as well. He was at work when the Israelites entered the promised land in victory and when they left for exile in defeat. God was at work in Mary's life and Joseph's too. Early in Jesus ministry Jesus brothers thought he was a candidate for a rubber room. He was crazy and they didn't understand or believe. But His brother James headed up the church In Jerusalem, dying for his service to Jesus.
We have had an interesting, challenging, difficult, sometimes fun and God filled year this year as well. We are not being persecuted for worshiping the Lord. We didn't get to worship live and in person for a couple of months but we still got to worship. The division in our political world here in the USA has been challenging and bothersome, but we still live in a country where we are free to vote. Hundreds of thousands of people have been affected by hurricanes and fires this year. It has been hot but we are free from weather damage so far this year. This list could go on for quite a while but you get the point. God has been busy in our lives.
Some of us have found a renewed faith this year and how cool and exciting is that?! Some of us have found ourselves in the refiner's fire. Others of us have been pruned. God is in the midst of that as well, stretching us to draw us closer and to move us closer to being like Jesus. Our experiences this year are not really much different that God's people of 500 years ago, 1,000 years ago or 3,000 years ago. Because God is continually at work in our lives, even when we don't notice. Sometimes He does have to knock us upside the head to get our attention but that too is done out of His love for us.
Look at these words from Exodus. “And He said, my presence will go with you and I will give you rest.” Rest here means not a nap in the afternoon but peace from fighting. Moses is encouraged by God here because God has promised to always be with them. Whether it is Israelites wandering in the wilderness or us today, knowing God is with us is priceless. Because it is in Him and Him alone that we can truly find rest. God goes with us every single step of the way.
We read in Matthew 18:20, ”For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I Am among them.” This is not a license or excuse to not join in on corporate worship. This doesn't mean just because there are two or three people on the golf course or the lake or sitting on the back patio drinking coffee and reading the paper, we are good to go on a Sunday morning. What Jesus is really saying is they when we gather together to worship, He is there as well.
These words are very familiar to many of us. ”Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me; your rod and staff they comfort me.” Many of us have been here at least once in our lives, walking through experiences that were dark, scary or threatening. But the psalmist is sure, and we can be as well, that no matter where we go, no matter what we find ourselves doing, be it good, bad or ugly...God will walk with us.
This journey is about believing, not feeling. God's Word is truth and if He has promised to never leave us or forsake us, He will keep that promise. Jesus promised to be among the gathered believers. He will keep that promise. There is great comfort and joy to be found hanging out in His presence. He has invited us to come to Him when we feel overwhelmed, broken, afraid, indecisive, or angry. He means it. When we go to Him, we will find rest for our souls and peace within. He promised!
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W