Calamity and Peace

One of the most intriguing names for God in the Old Testament is used in Judges chapter 6.  Upon realizing that he had just been visited by the angel of the Lord, Gideon pronounced the name of “Jehovah Shalom.”  (He literally thought he was about to die because he came face to face with the “presence of the Lord”).  The name Gideon crafted on that memorable occasion literally means “The LORD is peace.”  As he was about to die (as he reasoned) the Lord gave him the promise of peace, SHALOM.   

Who doesn’t want more peace in their lives?  Whether it’s peace in dying or peace in living.

The name “Jehovah Shalom” is even more exciting when seen in context; i.e. the book of Judges and the calling of Gideon in particular.  I like to think of the book of Judges as the “spiritual roller coaster ride” of the Old Testament.  Its storyline highlights the ups and downs of the dizzying cycle of sin, chastisement, repentance, and revival in the nation of Israel.   This 6th chapter begins by telling us that the “people did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” and as a result suffered the calamity of oppression and fear at the hands of the marauding Midianites.    

The 6th chapter includes the appearance of the “angel of the Lord” who calls Gideon to “save Israel” in response to their calling out to God in desperation.  This story unequivocally reminds us that when we mess up, He shows up.   He desires to give us peace even after we have done what is wrong.   It’s a “peace that passes understanding” because it comes from a God “whose ways are not our ways.”   It’s grace, all the way.  When we are caught in the loop of our sin, He extends the grace of forgiveness and restoration.  When Gideon realized that truth about God, he built an altar to the Lord and called it “Jehovah Shalom”. 

The bridge event in this exchange between Gideon and the “angel of the Lord” was when the doubting judge asked the Lord for a sign that would bolster his confidence.  The sign came as a result of Gideon offering the angel a sacrificial meal that was subsequently consumed by fire.  In this miraculous sign, God was preparing the world for another event that would answer all our deep longings for hope and peace.   

The Cross is God’s forever sign of peace.

Our greatest calamity is not the coronavirus, as disruptive as it has been.  Our greatest calamity arises out of the spiritual death that is lodged in our hearts.  Our greatest oppression is not political or biological, it’s spiritual.  Death and oppression threaten us today as much as Midian oppressed and threatened ancient Israel.  Yet God offers us peace as much as He did Gideon and the sinning Israelites.  His offer of peace comes through the sign of the cross. 

He came in the first century, not as an angel, but as a baby named ‘Immanuel’, “God with us”.  Jesus Christ arrived on this planet to give us THE sign that would lead us out of death and its oppressive ways.  His sacrificial death and victorious resurrection is the only sign we will ever need to live in hope, peace, and eternal life. 

Church family!  When fear and anxiety start to disrupt your confidence in the Lord, cling evermore confidently to the Cross.  Come to Jesus and keep coming to Jesus.  He is the Prince of Peace who gave us THE only sign we ever need to live in the “green pastures and quiet waters” of His Presence. 

Shalom for another week,
Pastor Deric

Boundaries, Battles & Blessings – during the pandemic tribulation

We need to be wise in the battles we fight AND in knowing the right time to fight them.  For instance, there are numerous actions taken by both governments and individuals that raise the eyebrow of the average person.  Decisions that seem to be adding to the stress that many feel.  But given the state of mind that most people have to manage during this pandemic, the wisest choice seems to be avoiding unnecessary conflict, whenever possible.  As the old saying goes, “time will tell”.  We will all be judged in the passing of time as to the soundness of our actions.  Even a legitimate gripe needs to be shelved during a crisis so that we can give ourselves to the work that is most important.
And the most important work, in my view, is keeping faith strong during this time of tribulation.  I think we need to stay attentive to caring for our families and each other.  I know that you’ve all heard a flight attendant explain the safety procedures in case of a mid-air emergency.  One instruction always strikes me as counterintuitive.  In case of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, an oxygen mask will drop down in front of you.  PUT YOURS ON FIRST before assisting the person next to you.  The logic is sound.  If you are not able to breathe yourself, you most likely will NOT be able to help those around you.  
TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF so that you can properly help those around you.  Do the things that Christians know to do in order to “breathe”.  Pray, confess, meditate on Scripture, sing songs of worship, and share your hope freely (while practicing physical distancing of course!!). 
One of the ways that April and I are trying to practice wise boundaries is to limit the amount of exposure we get to the news in a 24-hour period.  We are making sure that we are listening to good music, getting daily exercise, READING good books, including the BIBLE, to name of few of our daily habits.  That’s not to say that I am always doing the right things.  I’ve had to be told on several occasions that even pastoral care has its boundaries. 
Set limits that you know will keep you mentally and spiritually healthy.  And don’t forget to see the blessings that God faithfully gives His children even in the midst of great pain.  It’s been observed by numerous theologians and historians that the church of Jesus Christ in western civilization for 1500 years has never not met for Easter or missed months of worship and ministry, even in times of war and plague far more devastating than COVID-19.  On the other hand, we live in a time when we have been able to “see” each other virtually.  (I’m in no way implying that online “church” is actually fulfilling the commandment of Scripture).  I’m just pointing out a blessing in the midst of a curse.  With family in Orlando, Houston, and Ontario I’m very thankful that we can meet regularly online.  It’s nowhere near the same as a family dinner but it has helped ease the separation anxiety.  Find your blessing and give God thanks.  Do it right now.  Stop, name a blessing and then thank Him who is the giver of all good gifts. 
One of my immeasurable blessings is YOU.  I’m pumped to be serving you during this pandemic.  And I look forward by faith to serving you in the aftermath of this crisis.  And I plan to do so by setting boundaries, fighting the right battles, and by counting my blessings. 
Stay strong in the Lord, church family!  We’ll get through this together. 
Pastor Deric