Advice for Today – Rest in the Lord

Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for him:

fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way,

because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass.

Cease from anger, and forsake wrath:

fret not thyself in any wise to do evil.

For evildoers shall be cut off:

but those that wait upon the LORD, they shall inherit the earth.

Psalm 37: 7-9

In the last few posts we have been gleaning advice from Psalm 37 to help us navigate the treacherous days in which we live.  As mentioned in the first post in this series, the Reese Chronological Bible places this psalm during another treacherous time – the transition of power from  David to Solomon.  There was a lot of palace intrigue, uncertainty, and strife in those days. This psalm was written to teach us and can give sound advice on how to live as Christians during these perilous times. 

In Psalm 37: 1-6 we have already seen we should not fret, but continue to trust in the Lord, do good, and commit our way to the Lord. But what if we do all these things and the evildoers still succeed in their plans? What if things get worse, and not better?  These steps came with promises of being “fed”and our righteousness “breaking forth as the light.” What if these things don’t happen when, or in the way, we think they should? What should we do?

That is where the advice from verses 7-9 comes in.  Here are those verses from the Amplified Bible:

Be still before the LORD; wait patiently for Him and entrust yourself to Him;

Do not fret (whine, agonize) because of him who prospers in his way,

Because of the man who carries out wicked schemes.

Cease from anger  and abandon wrath;

Do not fret; it leads only to evil.

What are we to do ?  Are we to step it up and take to the streets to pillage and burn?  Or should  we to just surrender and let our culture slide into a spiritual and cultural oblivion? Neither.  We are to be still, wait patiently for Him, trusting God to bring about the real change that our society so desperately needs.

The phrase “wait patiently for Him” is literally pregnant with meaning. Isaiah uses the Hebrew word for “patiently” to describe the pain a woman experiences in labor (Isaiah 13:8; 23:4; 26:17; 45:10; 51:2; 54:1; 66:7). It is also the word used to describe the agonizing way Saul died (“sore wounded” 1 Samuel 31:3; 1 Chronicles 10:3), and Esther’s shock and dismay when she heard of Haman’s edict against the Jews (Esther 4:4).  In other words,  this “waiting patiently” is not like waiting for a bus or relaxing like the man in the picture. It can be excruciating, grievous, and frightening. But in it we see hope.  After Saul died, David became king.  When Esther was grieved she fasted, prayed and God delivered the Jews, and after a woman gives birth her horrible pain brings forth a new life and all the joy that comes with it.

During this agonizing wait David reminds us – FRET NOT – stop being angry and to give up wrath, it always leads to more evil. This sounds a lot like Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount:

Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away

Matthew 5:38-42

Why should we act like this? Two reasons: First, because – as Psalm 37: 9,10 tells us –  those that do evil (including us) cannot succeed in the end.  Those who do evil, even to accomplish what they think is good, will be “cut off” – losing whatever influence they had.  Yes, we must prepare, make our voices heard, and take a stand – but we must do it in the right way and for the right reasons.

Second, (also quoted by Jesus on the mount) because the meek – the gentle, the ones who surrender their rights to God, who “rest in the Lord” –  will (eventually) inherit the earth (Psalm 37:11). In other words, we will win. Whatever we lose will be restored, many times over, either here or in the life to come (Matthew 19:27-30; Mark 10:29-31).

It is my fervent prayer evil will not triumph, but if it does for a time we can find sound wisdom in these words spoken from one ancient king to another. 

If you like this post – why not read the others in this series and recommend them to a friend?

Please feel free to comment and leave suggestions for future posts.

Thank-you for reading!

Advice for Today – Commit Your Way unto the Lord

Commit thy way unto the LORD;

trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass.

And he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light,

and thy judgment as the noonday.

Psalm 37: 5,6

“Uncertain, at best” is an understatement when we look at the future these days.  With inflating prices, deflating stocks, as well as wars and rumors of war, there is no way to even guess how the future will turn out. An uncertain future makes it very difficult to chart a feasible course for our lives.  This is why, in addition to “fretting not,” trusting in the Lord, and doing good, this third couplet in Psalm 37 is good advice for today.

What should be the road into your future? Or my future?  This psalm, in verse five, talks about “thy way” – the individual road for your life.  In these days when the evildoers of verses 1 and 2 seem to prosper as they do even more evil, how should I order my life, my finances, or raise my family? Which way is the best road ahead?

Ira Stanphill, a well-known Gospel song composer, wrote a song which fits this couplet in Psalm 37  titled “I Don’t Know About Tomorrow.”  The chorus of the song goes like this:

Many things about tomorrow, I don’t seem to understand

But I know Who holds tomorrow, and I know He holds my hand.

We don’t know what will happen tomorrow, but there is Someone who does.  He not only knows about tomorrow, He holds it. Though it may not seem like it, in all the chaos He is actually working outl His gracious purposes. The best thing is, through Christ, we can know this Someone.  He can “hold our hand” – guiding us and assuring us as we continue on our troublesome trek. All we have to do is to commit, or roll over, the “way” of our future to Him.

This rolling over, or surrender, is a daily – sometimes even an hourly – process. It is not a substitute for sound planning or receiving wise counsel (Proverbs 22:3), but it is the the starting point for them.

Sometimes the way He chooses for us is counter-intuitive – not always the most logical or the most popular. I have experienced that a few times with some decisions I had to make.  It made the way forward  a bit more difficult and, frankly, a little frightening but it always turned out well when I chose to go His way. There are a few keys to being sure it is the Lord, and not our own imagination, that is leading us.  First, search God’s word. He will NEVER guide us in a way that contradicts His written word. Second, seek out the counsel of the most godly person you know (and knows you.)  How can we tell if a person is godly?   A godly person is someone who allows God to define how they should live in every area of his or her life. They won’t be perfect but they will be trying to live their life to please Him above all others. Third, make it a matter of serious prayer – and fasting, if that is possible.  Then, allow the peace of God act as kind of an umpire in you heart (Colossians 3:15-17).

‘When we “roll our way” unto the Lord – allowing Him to guide us through this perilous and confusing future we face – we will look back in amazement and see it really was the best way for us.  Others will see it as well and be amazed.  This couplet ends with this promise:

He will make your innocence radiate like the dawn,

and the justice of your cause will shine like the noonday sun.

Psalm 37:6 (NLT)

Advice for Today – Trust in the Lord

Trust in the LORD, and do good;

so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.

Delight thyself also in the LORD;

and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.

Psalm 37:3,4

In my last post we looked at Psalm 37 as a guide to help us, as Christians, to shine in the midst of the mess we call Western culture today.  The first couplet in this wisdom psalm tells us to “Fret not” – to not be jealous of, or enraged at, the evildoers.  Although all they are doing to promote abortion, transgenderism, and racism makes us angry, we cannot allow that anger to cause us to sin or act rashly. They may hate us, but we must love them! 

However there is more the psalmist, David, tells us.  Let’s look at his words in the next two verses (vss. 3,4).

Trust in the Lord. In the psalms there are two Hebrew words that are translated as “trust.”  One is the word hasa (Psalm 5:11; 7:1; 16:1). This refers to a place we would run to shelter ourselves when our lives were in imminent danger – as from an approaching tornado, or someone intent on killing us. 

The word in Psalm 37:3 is the Hebrew word batah which Strong’s Concordance defines as “hasten to for refuge” – but not as hurriedly as hasa.  In other words, the “batah trust” is like our house where we live every day which protects us from the elements like rain, snow and cold.  On the other hand, “hasa trust” is more like a tornado or bomb shelter where we would flee when disaster strikes.  The Lord is to be “where we live everyday” refuge – not just when calamity hits. This type of trust establishes, or fixes, our hearts – like the heart of the God-fearing man in Psalm 112:7.

As inflation mounts, political rancor increases, and “bad times” seem to be rushing down upon us, the Lord will need people through whom He can show His grace and power. Our trust in Him provides a stable platform from which we can look for opportunities to do good for others. As we hold back from “fretting,” trust in Him, and live generously, God assures us here we will be taken care of. 

Delight yourself also in the Lord. These days it is easy to become distracted and distraught. All too often I find myself checking a news app before clicking on my Bible app in the morning!  The enemy of our souls would love to divert our attention from the One who loves us with an everlasting love and squander it on a multitude of things we cannot control. 

That is why it is vital that we intentionally delight ourselves in the Lord. What does it mean to “delight?”  Once again, the Hebrew gives us some insight.  The word translated “delight” is the Hebrew word anag, meaning soft and pliable. It tells us that, in the midst of all the distraction, we must keep so enthralled with Him that our hearts remain soft and pliable in His hands. Our relationship with Him must ALWAYS be our top priority.

You could say that the word “give” in Psalm 37:4 has a double meaning.  As we keep our hearts pliable before the Lord, He shapes them so that His desires become our desires.  As those same desires give rise to fervent prayer, He then grants our petitions. God gives our hearts His desires so He can grant those same desires. 

In these troublesome days – which seem to get more troubled by the hour – it is vital, as Christians, to stick close to these words that David shared during his last days with Solomon.  We need to be sure we trust in the Lord and abide in Him – just as Jesus instructed His disciples in John 15. This stabilizes our lives (see Psalm 125) so we are free to bear fruit by doing good for others during times of crises (doing good also keeps our eyes off of ourselves!) In the midst of all the screaming headlines we must intentionally delight ourselves in the Lord, keeping Him as the emotional focus of our lives and, in that way, allow Him to shape our hearts into hearts like His own. Doing these things will keep us shining bright during the dark times ahead.

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Advice for Today – Fret Not

Tale of Two Cities begins with this very long sentence:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” (Dickens, Charles. A Tale of Two Cities (p. 5). CDED. Kindle Edition.)

In this period of increasing use of potent superlatives it is a kind of perverse comfort that we are not the first to live through a period like we are living through now. Indeed, since Dickens penned these words (1859), our nation and our world has been through the “best and worst” many times over in many different ways.

We are living in one of those “best of times worst of times” periods again.  As the war in Ukraine gets worse, cancel culture rages, gender dysphoria myths proliferate, tribalism increases, and inflation deflates our money, our everyday lives have also become increasingly comfortable because of amazing technological advances.  

As Christians, how do we “shine” during this dark period?  Psalm 37 is a wisdom psalm written by David in his old age to impart wisdom to his son, Solomon (v. 25).  The Reese Chronological Bible places it’s writing at a time just before David’s death (1 Kings 2: 1-9). It is an acrostic made up of couplets starting with each one of the Hebrew letters.

In this time “when the wrong seems oft so strong” Psalm 37 seems exceptionally relevant. The first couplet (vs. 1,2) goes like this: 

Fret not thyself because of evildoers,

neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity.

For they shall soon be cut down like the grass,

and wither as the green herb.

This first couplet tells us to “Fret not” because of evildoers. What does it mean to “fret?” First, according to Strong’s Concordance, the Hebrew word used here means “to grow warm, or to “blaze up with anger.”  As I look at the arrogance of those who are trying to replace the truth with their own narratives in our national conversation, anger is an emotion I wrestle with. I get really upset when someone lies to me – not just because it is a lie, but also because it tells me they think I am stupid enough to believe it. 

Not only are there people lying to advance their power, they are also making every effort to hide the truth.  The latest attempt is the “Disinformation Governance Board” that DHS Secretary Mayorkas revealed in a House Judiciary Board meeting. There is, no doubt, penty of misinformation out there but lies die quickly on their own in the free marketplace of ideas. A “Governance Board” would only protect the lies coming from the government. 

“Fret” could also mean to be jealous or envious of the evildoers.  What are “evildoers?”  They are people who refuse to acknowledge God, His Word, or His ways in their lives (Psalm 10:4). It is interesting how those who care nothing for God and His ways will often prosper in this world while those who fear Him often struggle.  We should not be admiring, or holding up for adoration, men and women who become rich through their ungodliness. 

The solution to fretting is a change of perspective.  Verse two tells us the end of those who do evil – they shall soon be cut down like the grass and wither like the green herb.  They may look invincible but will not last long. Their influence will eventually fade away, like grass that has been cut down and withered.  The truth, as it is spoken and lived by those who know their God, will eventually win out.  

This knowledge should also help us to have compassion on those who are seeking to deceive others because they themselves are deceived. It helps us see them as Jesus saw the multitudes – as sheep with no shepherd, tired, and fainting with spiritual hunger (self-imposed but still real).

In all of our efforts to stand up for what is right, in our speech, our social media posts and in our day to day attitudes, let’s watch our hearts so we “fret not” in these “worst of times.” It is vital that we check our anger, guard our hearts from fretting, and adopt the perspective of Psalm 37:2. 

Facing the Creeping Tyranny

As a follower of Christ, I find the present state of affairs – in this country, in Canada, in Ukraine, even the whole world – to be very disturbing.  The creeping tyranny and political instability everywhere is unsettling. Especially alarming is the increasing hostility of the elites of the world toward godliness, or anyone who holds anything close to a Christian worldview.

            This is why I find Psalm 11 so refreshing. It was written by David – probably after he found out that Saul was trying to hunt him down.  The psalm is refreshing for two reasons – it sheds light on the source of my present perspective and it offers a better paradigm. 

            The psalm starts with a declaration – “In the Lord put I my trust.” This is the basic thing every believer needs to do when faced with a creeping soft tyranny.  Do this and all will be well with your soul.

            But the tyrant is not happy with that statement.  He is disturbed by your faith in anyone beside himself.  He is unsettled by your lack of fear of him.  He is alarmed when you calmly hold to your convictions.  So he tries to scare you. Tyranny can only rule through fear – so it speaks to your soul to terrorize your psyche:

“Flee as a bird to your mountain

For lo, the wicked bend their bow,

They make ready their arrow upon the string,

That they may privily shoot at the upright in heart.

If the foundations be destroyed,

What can the righteous do?”

Psalm 11: 2,3

            This is where we are today. People are being cancelled. Peaceful protesters are being trampled by horses and having their bank accounts seized.   Good and honest people are losing their jobs and being branded as racist or, if they are a person of color, an Uncle Tom. Worst of all – the foundation of our country – the Constitution, along with its Bill of Rights – is under constant assault.  It is brazenly ignored by those in power. When we see these things it is easy to be afraid. After all, if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?

            But right in the middle of the psalm (verse 4) we see the answer to that fear:

The LORD is in his holy temple,

the LORD’s throne is in heaven:

his eyes behold,

his eyelids try, the children of men.

            This is the keystone verse of this psalm.  No matter what the tyrants say or do; no matter how powerful they think they are; no matter how much power they think they have – the Lord is still in his holy temple. His throne, His authority, is still in heaven – far, far above theirs and way outside of their reach.  He can’t be overthrown, impeached, or cancelled. Best of all, He sees everything that is going on.  He is intently watching, testing, and ruling over “the children of men.”

            What can the righteous do? They must continue to trust Him as He puts them through this test because that is what this is – a test.  He tests the righteous to purify them through fiery trials.  It gets hot, but we need to remember that He always controls the heat. 

            What about those arrows they have made ready on their strings? Verse 5 gives us the answer:

Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone,

and an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup.

            This is a colorful illustration of the truth that, no matter how unjust the tyranny or how powerful the weapons, it will not succeed in the end. Justice will prevail because the Lord, the Almighty still sits on His throne.  Because He sits on His throne He can deal with the throne-sitters down here.

            How do we face the creeping tyranny? We begin by trusting, taking our refuge, in the Lord. We continue by not believing the lie that the tyrant can do what he wants without consequences from God.  Our trust in Him gives us the boldness to continue to speak and live by the truth and refuse to live by the tyrant’s lies. 

Verse seven, the final verse of the psalm, reminds us that the Lord is righteous and He is constantly monitoring our situation. Jesus tells us that He sees the sparrows that fall and keeps a close count on the hairs of our heads. His grace will be sufficient to carry us through the test.  Trust Him, make Him your refuge. 

Overcoming Overwhelmed

Background: 2 Samuel 5:1-5; 1 Chronicles 11: 1-3

Deeper background: 2 Samuel 1-4; 1 Chronicles 10: 8-14

For thou hast been a shelter for me,

and a strong tower from the enemy.

I will abide in thy tabernacle for ever:

I will trust in the covert of thy wings. Selah.

For thou, O God, hast heard my vows:

thou hast given me the heritage of those that fear thy name.

Psalm 61: 3-5

It had been a long and bloody two years.

Saul and Jonathan had perished in a battle with the Philistines. After travelling all night, the valiant men of Jabesh removed their headless bodies from the wall of Bethshan, burnt them, buried their bones under a tree, and then spent seven days fasting – mourning their deaths.

After he heard the news in Ziklag, David also fasted and mourned for Saul, Jonathan, and the nation of Israel until the evening.  At God’s direction, he went to Hebron where he was anointed king of Judah.  He sent a letter commending the valiant men of Jabesh for their bravery and invited them to join him in Judah.

But Abner, the captain of Saul’s hosts, had other plans and anointed Ishbosheth – the son of Saul – king over “all Israel.” After this, Abner and some of the servants of Ishbosheth met Joab, David’s general, with some of David’s servant, at a pool in Gibeon. Abner suggested that they let the young men “play.”  Joab agreed and soon a battle ensued in which Abner murdered Asahel, the brother of Joab.  

The children of Benjamin (Saul’s tribe), after losing the most men in the fight, asked for a cease-fire. The battle ceased, and Abner and Joab returned to their respective corners. Although that battle was over, a “long war” persisted between the house of David and the house of Saul.  During that time, the house of David grew stronger while Saul’s line weakened. 

The relationship between Abner and his king, Ishbosheth, deteriorated to the point that Abner decided to defect to David and bring all of Israel with him. Abner sealed the deal with David over a huge feast and started home to prepare for the transfer of power.  After Abner left, Joab returned from a battle and was furious that David had allowed Abner to leave.  Without telling David, Joab called Abner back to Hebron and murdered him to avenge his brother Asahel. 

David then declared another period of mourning, this time for Abner – fasting, lamenting, and weeping loudly at his grave. Ishbosheth lost courage after hearing of Abner’s death and was eventually murdered by two of his servants. After decapitating the would-be king, the servants brought his head to David, expecting a reward. They were swiftly executed and their maimed bodies were hung over the pool at Hebron. 

After this bloody and traumatic two-year transition, all of Israel came to Hebron to anoint David as king, and this is where this lament poem, Psalm 61, is placed. Gloom hung over the coronation. David was now king, but the many innocent lives lost in the process grieved him deeply.

As was his habit – David cried unto the Lord.  The word for “cry” in the first verse (rina – Hebrew) is different than most other places of the psalms.  It does not mean “to accost” or “call out” to someone for help but rather to make a shrill sound or shout.  It most likely was a cry or a scream of anguish –mourning over all the needless bloodshed. 

David was also praying here.  The second “cry” we see in verse two is a cry for help and he was crying “from the ends of the earth.” – it was a sorrowful cry from a very lonely place.  He wanted God to listen, pay attention, and understand what he was going through.

Leadership can be a very lonely place.  Rarely will everyone agree with your decisions.  Some may oppose you. Others may actively work to undermine you.  From what David just went through, he understood that some may even be ready to kill him if they felt it would be to their advantage.  “Palace intrigue” can be a factor in some leadership positions and requires wisdom and courage to deal with it correctly.  Add the stress of leading a troubled nation to knowing that your decisions – as well as your leadership style – will affect people for years and even generations, and you have the perfect recipe for emotional distress.

David said he was crying out because his heart was overwhelmed.  His emotions were feeble and weak.  Although he had just become the king, he was enveloped in a gloom that he could not shake, so he asked the Lord to transport him to the rock that would put him safely above his despondency.  He needed a stable and safe place where he could see clearly.  The gloom was keeping him emotionally chained to what he just went through with Saul as well as the “tit for tat” that had persisted even after Saul’s death. David knew he had to get above it, and live above it, or it would infect his own soul and style of leadership. 

He cried to the Lord because he knew the Lord would do it.  The Lord could give him the “boost” he needed to reach a higher elevation where he could see past the dark circumstances that were plaguing him. David knew God had been his shelter and strong tower, and could continue to keep him safe – emotionally, physically, and spiritually. 

So he made a commitment in the Selah in verse four – right in the middle of the Psalm.  He made two decisions that were the key to receiving God’s help.  First – “I will abide in thy tabernacle forever.” It was a commitment to keeping his relationship with God and His people his main priority.  It is so easy to let our relationship with God through Christ slip during times of gloom and stress or let “church politics” push us away from God.  David’s first commitment was to stay in fellowship with God and His people through the whole ordeal of establishing his kingdom – even if it meant losing his position as king.

 Second – David committed himself to seeking protection from the political turmoil by hiding under the “wings” of God.  He would still have Joab and his mighty men protecting him, but David knew, ultimately, his safety would come from the Lord.  Like a chick would trust his mother protecting him under her wings from predators – so David would seek the same protection from God. 

 Pause at this Selah for a while and consider what David was going through.  Although he mourned Saul’s death, there must have also been a sense of relief that he did not have to run any more.  Then, suddenly, he finds that the bloodshed, politics, and intrigue were still going on – and his man, Joab, was party to some of it!  He must have thought, “When is this all going to end?” 

 Like David, are you going through a gloom that seems to have no end? It is overwhelming. It is exhausting. Just when you seem to be past it – it returns.  Maybe it is part of a leadership position – as a pastor, a manager, a father, or a single mom.  Maybe it is a chronic illness or another lingering malady. God hears and understands your cries of anguish and, though you may not sense it, He actually “pricks up His ears” when you sincerely turn to Him in prayer. When you cry to the Lord from that lonely place, He is ready to transport you to your high place – the rock that is higher than you.  The rock that will elevate you above the gloom.  The gloom may still be there – but you will be above its effects. You will be able to see beyond it. You will be able to see clearly and make wise decisions. You only need to do two things – through Christ, be sure your relationship with God is right and keep that relationship with Him and His people as your first priority and highest commitment.  Then, when the pressure piles on, flee to Him for protection.  Take refuge in the shelter of His wings. 

Cry out to Him to help you overcome when you are being overwhelmed

Another Christian Essential

In my last post, I wrote about “The Necessary Thing” – making time to seek God every day.  It keeps our hearts in the right place – which is vital because our hearts are the fount from which all of all of our attitudes, motivations, words, actions, and even our body language, flows. 

         We need to remember that our time with the Lord is foundation of our daily walk with God. But it is only the foundation – not the whole structure. We also need to learn to obey.  James, the extremely pragmatic brother of Jesus, wrote in his letter: 

So get rid of all uncleanness and all that remains of wickedness, and with a humble spirit receive the word [of God] which is implanted [actually rooted in your heart], which is able to save your souls. But prove yourselves doers of the word [actively and continually obeying God’s precepts], and not merely listeners [who hear the word but fail to internalize its meaning], deluding yourselves [by unsound reasoning contrary to the truth]. For if anyone only listens to the word without obeying it, he is like a man who looks very carefully at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he immediately forgets what he looked like. But he who looks carefully into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and faithfully abides by it, not having become a [careless] listener who forgets but an active doer [who obeys], he will be blessed and favored by God in what he does [in his life of obedience].

James 1:21 – 25 (AMP)

         Putting aside the things that are unclean, and taking the time to engraft God’s word into our soul lays the foundation for a life of obedience to God. 

         What does “obedience” mean? First, it means living in accordance with God’s moral law as revealed in the Scriptures. The ceremonial laws of Old Testament worship (the sacrifices, feasts, fasts, etc.) were fulfilled in Christ and the civil laws (hygienic practices, penalties for crimes, etc.) were specifically for the nation of Israel (although they provide useful insights for living today).  However, the moral law – the Ten Commandments and all the other laws that flow from them – which are amplified and clarified in the teachings of Jesus and the apostles – should still rule and reign in our “moral universe” as Christians. 

         We are saved entirely by God’s grace, not by the law, but His grace does not exempt us from applying His precepts to our lives (Matthew 5:17-20).  In fact, the opposite is true!  God’s grace enables and motivatesus to obey God’s precepts, not just outwardly, but from a heart of love (John 14:15-17; Philippians 2:12,13). 

         But obedience also goes farther than following God’s moral law.  It also means following Him. God has a plan for each one of our lives.  Actually, God has saved us, by His grace, for the purpose of doing specific good works that He has already chosen for us to do (Ephesians 2:8-10). 

It is an amazing and humbling thought to realize that, before the foundation of the world, God chose to bring us into being – and save us– to perform the good works that He had already prepared!

However, these good works may not look like a path to personal fulfillment or self-actualization.  In fact, they may appear to be the opposite. They may first materialize as a kind of death to our dreams and aspirations – maybe even a yawning black hole. 

In other words, they may look like a cross.

Jesus alludes to this shortly before He went to His cross:

Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour.

John 12: 24 – 26

         The road to the works God has for us is a kind of death.  A seed has to die before it can bring forth fruit and it is the same with us. Romans 8:13-15 tells us that all who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God. Being led by His Spirit is not always a pleasant experience.  Luke tells us that the Spirit led, or drove, Jesus into the wilderness where He was personally tempted by the devil for forty days. That was not a pleasant experience, but it was a necessary one if Jesus was to fulfill His mission.

         So, stay in the Word.  Journal the insights God gives you, and apply them to your life. As you do, you will find God giving you light to your path and a lamp for your feet. Seek godly counsel on how best to fulfill what God has led you to do. It may lead to some hard decisions, but God will give you abundant grace as you obey Him.

The Necessary Thing

Many years ago, when I first started following the the Lord, a friend excitedly shared some advice that changed the course of my life.  That moment was so pivotal, I still remember, vividly, where we were at the time. He had been struggling spiritually and had found a secret that helped him, and he wanted to share it with me. 

         What was it?

         It was making time to meet with the Lord every day for at least an hour. 

         Let’s break that down. First, it is about making time. This was not just an hour that happened to be idle.   Instead, it was about intentionally carving out an hour in the beginning of my day, every day, for the purpose of doing nothing but seeking Him.  It was an intentional act of either going to bed a little earlier or missing some sleep so I could put this important activity first. 

Putting first things first is good advice – but we need to first recognize what the “first things” are.  There is a story in Luke 10: 38-42 about two sisters, named Mary and Martha. Jesus visited them and, as it always was with Jesus, there was a crowd with Him!  With little advance notice and Door Dash being a couple of millennia away – there was a lot of work that had to be done. While Martha was scurrying around trying to get everything ready, Mary was sitting at Jesus’s feet calmly listening to His words.  Martha was upset and asked Jesus to tell Mary to help her.  Jesus responded this way:

Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.  (Luke 10:41b-42)

         There will always be more things that need to be done, but there is only one thing that is really needed – to stop and prick up our ears to what the Master is teaching us.  This is what is meant by “making time.”

         That brings us to our second point – what does that mean to “meet with the Lord?” All too often, we approach our devotions as a time to keep up with our Bible reading and say our prayers. Although this is good, it is only setting the stage for what God wants to do. If we are not careful, our devotions can become just another box to check as we sail through our busy schedules.

We meet the Lord in His word, the Bible.  The Scriptures are not just words on pieces of paper.  They are alive and powerful.  Their words are sharp and two-edged.  They can instantaneously cut through all the other “stuff” in our lives and pierce into the innermost part of our being (Hebrews 4: 11 – 13).  The Scriptures are likened to bread (that nourishes), a hammer (that breaks) and a fire (that consumes and cleanses) because of the effect they can have on our psyches (Matthew 4:4; Luke 4:4; Jeremiah 23:29).  The Word of God is the sword that the Holy Spirit uses to do His transforming work in our lives and the lives of those we meet (Ephesians 6: 17).  This is why the Word should occupy the central place in the day of every follower of Jesus.  

The great thing is that the Lord has also provided a Comforter – the Holy Spirit who comes alongside of us as we read the Word.  He is the One who “unfolds” God’s word and brings light to our understanding (Psalm 119:130).  The Holy Spirit is He who “speaks” Scripture to us as we read and creates faith in our hearts (Romans 10:17).  His work is to teach us “all things” and to bring us into “all truth,” (John 14:28; 16:13; 1 John 2:26,27). 

This is why it is important to meditate on His word.  What does that mean? It means to “turn” the portions of Scripture we hear, read, or study around in our mind – like a diamond under a light.  It also means to “ruminate” on the Word.  Just as a cow will eat grass and later bring it up to chew on it again and again, it is best practice to make time to memorize verses, sections, or even whole books of the Bible that we can “bring them up” into our minds as we go about our day. Praying Scripture (especially the Psalms) back to the Lord is another way of doing meditating on His Word.

All this is done for one reason – to give the Holy Spirit the time He needs to engraft God’s word into our hearts (James 1:21-25).

In his book, Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret, Dr. Howard Taylor tells the story of someone traveling through China with the great missionary.  After a busy day, they retired to their beds for the night.  During the night, Taylor’s companion was awakened by a light coming from behind the curtain where the missionary was supposed to be sleeping.  As he got up to investigate, he saw Mr. Taylor on his knees, in front of an open Bible, praying the psalms.

This was his spiritual secret – and it can be yours as well.  I like to carve out my hour in the morning so I can orient myself for the day, but evening may be a better time for you. The important thing is:  it MUST be carved out. 

My encounter with my friend was a long time ago and I have never regretted an hour I have carved out since.  God has met me there many times with refreshment, correction, and wisdom for the most important decisions of my life. Every good thing I have in my life today can be traced back to those special hours with Him. I shudder to think of what I would have missed if I had not taken my friend’s advice.

What Happened at the Empty Tomb?

In a previous post (6/18/2021), we explored what happened at the tomb – or, to say it better, while the body of Jesus was still in the tomb. As we already know, it did not stay there very long.  Let’s take a fresh look at the story of the empty tomb. 

         Shortly before dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene, “the other Mary,” Joanna, Salome, and some other women returned to the tomb.  They came with the sweet spices they had prepared to finish the embalming process that had been started by Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea three days before. As they travelled, they were discussing how they were going to move the large stone that had closed the tomb.

         That question was answered by a great earthquake that happened shortly before they reached the sepulcher. When they arrived, they saw the stone was already rolled away and the Roman soldiers – sent by Pilate to guard the tomb – had fainted and were trembling on the ground in shock.  The reason for their fear was clear.  They had witnessed what few had witnessed and survived – the arrival of the angel of the Lord.  With his face like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow, he had just descended from heaven to roll the stone away from the tomb. 

         When the women arrived, the mighty angel was sitting on the rolled-back stone, waiting for them and keeping an eye on the Roman guards. He assured the women not to be afraid.  He knew who they were looking for. He had even rolled the stone away to show them where Jesus was not. The angel announced, “He is not here, just as He said,” and then he, like a good host, invited the women (perhaps with a knowing grin on that stern, brilliant face) to “Come and see where He was laid.” 

John’s gospel tells us that, at this time, Mary ran back to tell the disciples that the body of Jesus was gone. When Peter and John heard this, they ran to the tomb, with Mary following.  When they got there the two men entered and found it empty.  John did not record that they saw any angels.  Peter and John returned to where they were staying, probably quite puzzled. After Peter and John left, the women entered the empty tomb together.

They soon saw the tomb was not completely empty. Oh, the body of Jesus was not there, but there were two other “men” with shining garments standing in the tomb (Mark speaks of possibly a third, sitting on the right side with a white garment). At that sight, the women fell to their knees, faces to the ground, asking them where they had taken Jesus’ body. The men answered with another question, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?  He is not here, but is risen!” “Do you remember what He said to you while He was still in Galilee – that He had to be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified, and rise again on the third day?”

         Then Mary, the “other Mary,” Salome, Joanna, and the other women remembered what Jesus had told them many times before.  The angels commanded them to go quickly and tell the disciples, and Peter, that He had risen from the dead. They also told the women that Jesus had gone ahead to Galilee and will see them there. To emphasize the importance of the message, the angel said “I have told you.”

         As the women turned to leave, they met another man who they thought was the gardener.  He asked Mary Magdalene, “Why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?”  Mary, still distressed and confused answered, “Sir, if you have taken Him away, please tell me where you have laid Him and I will take Him away” and turned to leave.

“Mary” was all the gardener said.  It was the way He said her name that gave Him away. 

“Rabboni!” she gasped as she turned in amazement.  She reached out to embrace Him, but Jesus pulled back and explained that the embrace was not possible yet because He had not yet ascended to His Father.  He then repeated what the angels had said – not to be afraid, to tell the disciples to go to Galilee, they will see Him there.  When the other women saw Him, they fell at his feet and worshipped Him. 

That’s all the women needed to hear.  They ran to tell the disciples – with minds thoroughly confused but also with hearts gushing with joy. The disciples did not believe them and dismissed the news as an incredible story from some hysterical women.  Later, He did meet them at Galilee and, during the 40 days before He ascended, He met many disciples in many places – even up to 500 at a time (1 Corinthians 15:3-8).

That is what happened at the empty tomb about 2,000 years ago. But what does that mean for us today?

It is a fulfillment of a promise made to the fathers of the Jewish people (Acts 13:30-38; Psalm 2:7; 16:9-11).  David wrote in Psalm 16 that God would not allow His Holy One to see corruption. When Paul was in a synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia, he told his hearers that this Scripture could not have applied to David because David eventually died, and his corpse eventually decomposed.  On the other hand, Christ – the Holy One – also died but His body never decomposed, because He rose from the dead on the third day. 

Christ’s resurrection assures us that our sins are really forgiven (Acts 13:30-38; 1 Corinthians 15:16-19). Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest would enter alone into the Holy of Holies – the innermost sanctum of the Tabernacle and later in history, the Temple. He carried with him the blood of the sin offering for the nation. When he came out alive, Israel knew the sin offering was accepted.   Paul alluded to this when he told the Corinthians, “If Christ is not risen from the dead, your faith is useless and you are still in your sins.” 

His resurrection makes it possible for us to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4, 9-11). When we are baptized, it is a public announcement that we have been born again.  When we go down into the water we are, in a figure, burying the old life with Christ.  When we come up – just as Christ was raised up to the glory of the Father –   it should be the beginning of a new walk in accordance with the new life His Spirit has birthed within us.  This is the same Spirit, by the way,  that also raised Christ from the dead (Romans 8: 11).

His resurrection assures us that Christ will be the One who will righteously judge the world at the end of time (Acts 17:30-31).  Paul had the ear of the philosophers on Mars’ Hill until he got to the subject of the resurrection.  He had told them that they should repent because God has already appointed a day when He will judge the world righteously by Christ – and he knew that was true because God had raised Him from the dead.  

We can only be ready for that judgment by believing in our heart that God has raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 4:23-25; 10:9).  In his letter, Paul told the Romans that as Abraham believed God and God reckoned him as righteous, the same was true for them if they would believe on him who raised Jesus from the dead.  When Jesus died on the cross, He won the forgiveness of our sin.  When He arose from the dead he won our justification – a clean bill of moral health in the sight of a perfect and holy God. This is why Paul told the Romans later in the letter that if we confess the Lord Jesus with our mouth and believe in our hearts that God had raised him from the dead, we shall be saved.

         Everything in the “What Happened?” series is just that – events that have really happened. We can read the eye-witness testimonies of these occurrences in a document whose authenticity has been repeatedly, relentlessly, and rigorously verified – by both friends (intentionally) and foes (unintentionally) – over two millennia.  We know that document today as the New Testament.  If you haven’t already – find a good version in a language you can understand and read it for yourself.

         The main point is, everything that did happen – happened for you!  Jesus was born for you. Jesus died for you, He was buried for you and, He rose again on the third day – all done to reconcile you to God.  The next move lies with you. Will everything that Jesus did just remain on the pages of the Bible or will they become a reality in your life?  The choice is yours.

To explore further: Matthew 27: 57 – 61; Mark 15:42-47; Luke 23: 50-56; John 19: 38 – 42

Winning the Match

I have had my struggles with God over the years. Actually, as I think about it – these tiffs were really His struggles with me. By nature, I am stubborn and fearful. I don’t like stepping into new situations, or putting my reputation and plans at risk. The problem is – the Lord seems to delight in putting us into those situations. That is why I find the story of Jacob at Peniel so engaging.

Jacob had sailed through a lot of rough water after he cheated Esau out of his birthright. Isaac had to command Jacob to flee to Pandanaram (a region of Syria) to escape his brother’s anger. It was there he met Laban, his uncle, who deceived the deceiver into working seven years to marry Leah (his older daughter) when Jacob thought he was marrying his younger daughter, Rachel. After Jacob complained, the shrewd Laban informed Jacob he had to work another seven years to marry her.

Once married to Rachel, Jacob hatched a scheme to cheat Laban out of the wages he should have paid him. Jacob soon became much wealthier than Laban with large flocks of sheep and goats, servants, camels and donkeys. Because Laban and his sons were furious at losing much of their fortune to Jacob, he had to flee again, this time back to his father, Isaac.

Laban and his band soon caught up with them on the way and would have done them some serious harm except for God’s intervention. Jacob and Laban exchanged some angry words, but all ended well, with the two parties setting up some stones as a boundary neither one would maliciously cross. Both groups had a meal together and, on the next day, Laban blessed his daughters, kissed them and their children, and returned home with his men.

“And Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him” (Genesis 32:1). The Bible does not exactly say why they met him – just that they did. What we do know is this meeting must have changed Jacob. He stopped running from Esau and sent a message asking for a meeting. Jacob’s servants quickly returned with the news that Esau was coming to meet him with 400 men.

Jacob was terrified. After dividing his band into two groups for protection, he prayed to Yahweh for the first time since Bethel, many years before. He acknowledged his unworthiness and begged God to deliver him and his family from the hand of his angry brother. Jacob also “reminded” God (actually he was reminding himself) of His promise to bless him and his descendants.

Jacob then divided up his livestock in to several herds and put each into the care of some servants. He instructed the servants to drive each individual herd over the river Jabbok, leaving a space between each group. Leah, Rachael, and his children crossed the river also, bringing up the rear of the procession.

“And Jacob was left alone” (Genesis 32:24). Jacob was left in a lonely place. It was night. He no longer had his possessions. His family was not around. He wasn’t even sure if they were safe. All he knew was he was where God wanted him to be.

Then the “man” came. I have heard it often preached that Jacob wrestled with the man. It was the other way around at the start – the man (actually an angel – Hosea 12:4) wrestled with Jacob. The angel initiated the encounter. He had Jacob where He wanted him and they wrestled until dawn. Eventually, the angel realized he could not overcome Jacob’s strong will so the angel put Jacob’s hip out of joint.

Then the fight changed. Up to that point, it was Jacob who was trying to get away. After the hip incident, it was the angel. The angel had been wrestling with Jacob – now Jacob was wrestling with the angel. The angel had to ask (or command?) Jacob to let him go. Jacob’s response?

“I will not let thee go except you bless me.”

The Lord finally heard what He needed to hear from Jacob. The man who had spent his life running – from Esau, from Laban, and from Him– could no longer run any more. The self-sufficient cheat became the beggar.

So who won the fight?

Jacob did. The angel changed Jacob’s name from Jacob (“Supplanter”) to Israel (“God Prevails”.) The angel told Jacob “As a prince thou hast power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.”

How did he win?

Jacob won by surrendering. He prevailed by yielding. He overcame by submitting. He gained power with God by deeply and truly realizing his need.

It is the same with us. While we may not be deceivers running from an angry brother or a furious uncle, the same God has a plan for each of us. That plan is a part of God’s master plan for the world. Our part in His plan will not be as pivotal in history as Jacob’s, but it will be pivotal for somebody, or a group of somebodies, somewhere.

As with Jacob, God’s plan for you will face resistance and, like Jacob, the fiercest resistance may come from you.

And that’s when God sends His “angel” who will not let you go until you win by yielding to His will instead of yours. Unlike Jacob, however, we can walk away from the fight by avoiding prayer, neglecting the Word, or staying away from church – trying to “plug our ears” to God’s call. Please remember – that “angel” can still land some disabling blows to your plans, your psyche, your will, or even your body to bring you back into the match. He loves you (and those He has planned for you to reach) too much to let the match end before you win by letting Him win in your life.

For more details read: (Genesis 27:1 – 32:32)