Equations

I grew up around math aficionados – a father and brother who were engineers, a sister who was trained as an accountant (also married to a scientist), and my late wife – who was a nurse and was very good with numbers. I was the misfit.  I could add, multiply, divide and subtract easily, but when it came to equations – it was hopeless.  I was so bad that, when my kids hit middle and high school, they begged me not to help them with their math homework!  

            It might be said that life is full of equations.  Not just the algebra, geometry, and calculus that help us understand, and interact with, the physical world – but also the complicated equations we need to work on in the more intangible parts of our lives.  Relationships, family, politics, business, work, entertainment – and a multitude of other areas – all have “equations” that present themselves to us on a daily basis.  They are multi-faceted and require careful steps. Rarely are they simple, and it is very easy to get distracted.   

            How we try to solve these equations reveals who we are. Are we simple, or cunning? Honest or dishonest?   Most importantly – are we godly or ungodly?

            What does it mean to be godly? I think the word has been sometimes defined as “pious.” For a clearer definition, let’s look at the opposite – how the Bible defines “ungodly” (rasa – Hebrew and translated as “ungodly” eight times in the Old Testament.)

The wicked [rasa – Hebrew], through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God:

God is not in all his thoughts [plans].

Psalm 10:4 (KJV) – brackets mine

            An ungodly person may look like he respects God while, at the same time, not include Him in making his plans (i.e. solving his “equations” – 2 Timothy 3:5).  He may confess there is a God, but behaves like He does not exist. He does not factor in God’s Word as he lives his daily life. 

A godly man, on the other hand is the opposite. Whatever “equation” of life he faces, God is factored in. Actually He is more than just factored in – His way, His Word, and His providence define the equations of a godly person’s life.  In Psalm 119 :133 – A godly man invites God to establish his steps in His Word.  You could even say that all of Psalm 119 – with its emphasis on God’s Word, statutes, law, commandments, and ways – describes a godly person’s attitude to all of the daily “equations” of life.  A godly man or woman will not be perfect – but when they fail God – they will feel it quickly and deeply.  Getting things right with God and others – and correcting that “equation” – will become a top priority (2 Corinthians 7:8-12.) 

This is why Psalm 1 tells us not to follow the counsel of the ungodly (rasa) but instead delight ourselves in God’s law, and meditate on it day and night.  If we do, we will be like a tree that has been transplanted to a nourishing spot by a river (Psalm 1:1-3).  If we don’t, we become like the chaff – driven away with the wind – good for nothing but the fire.

Living godly in an ungodly world sounds daunting, but the grace of God through Christ is more than able to help us. If we allow Him to, His grace trains us to be godly – just like a parent trains their child.

For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world;Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.

1 Thessalonians 2:8-12 (KJV)

            Also, the Bible tells us that, through our relationship with the resurrected Christ, God has given to us everything that we need to live our life by God’s “equations:”

Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

1 Peter 1:2 – 4 (KJV)

            By His divine power God has given us “[absolutely] everything necessary for [a dynamic spiritual] life and godliness” and “His precious and magnificent promises [of inexpressible value]” (AMP).  It is His divine power that makes it possible for us to share in His divine nature – the way He feels and acts.  This power working in us, through His word, helps us work out those equations in our fallen natures until we take on – more and more – His image in every area of our lives.  This is what godliness is all about. 

More Scriptures on godliness to explore: Psalm 4:2,3; 32:5,6; 2 Corinthians 1:12-14; 7:8-12; 1 Timothy 2:1-4; 2:8-11; 3:16; 4: 6-11; 6:1-4; 6:6 – 11; 2 Timothy 3: 1-5; 10-12; Titus 1:1-4; 2 Peter 1:2-9; 2 Peter 3:10-13

Abundantly Available

To the chief Musician for the sons of Korah, A Song upon Alamoth.

God is our refuge and strength,

a very present help in trouble.

Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed,

and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;

Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled,

though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah.

Psalm 46:1-3 (KJV)

Background: 2 Samuel 8:1- 18; 1 Chronicles 18:1-17

            This is a psalm attributed to the “Sons of Korah” and, in the Reese chronological Bible, it is placed after David secures the kingdom of Israel and re-possesses the land promised to Abraham. The nation of Israel, having just won these victories over surrounding enemies and secured their land, took this pause in their nation’s history to stand back and see their God for who He was – “a very present help in time of trouble.” That same phrase could be translated as an “abundantly available help” in times of distress.

            There is an important truth here.  Times of trouble are times we want to avoid.  We do not want to drift into times of want, danger, or sickness. Yet this psalm implies that God is very, if not more, available during these times than the easy times.  This is because that times of distress open up opportunities to know God in ways we could not know Him otherwise. The apostle James approaches this idea from a different angle:

Consider it nothing but joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you fall into various trials. Be assured that the testing of your faith [through experience] produces endurance [leading to spiritual maturity, and inner peace]. And let endurance have its perfect result and do a thorough work, so that you may be perfect and completely developed [in your faith], lacking in nothing.

James 1:2-4 (AMP)

            If we were to assign a color to any of our trials we would probably pick drab, dark, and ugly colors. But James chose an unusual word (“various” – poikilos – Greek) to describe them. Vine’s Expository Dictionary defines this word as meaning “party-colored.” Our trials are not colored dark brown, olive green, battleship gray, or even disgusting “Milk of Magnesia” pink – but rather the cheery colors of bright red, shining yellow, and vibrant green!  They are times of beauty, not ugliness.

Let me explain. We can only see colors because they only reflect a certain wavelength on the spectrum of pure light.  John tells us that God is light – containing no darkness at all (1 John 1:5).  When we are hit with one of these many-colored trials, they give us an opportunity to see a “wavelength” of God’s “spectrum,” a side of His character or an aspect of His power, that we would not have experienced before.  In this way they help us grow in grace and the knowledge of Him!

            “Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.” During our time as missionaries, we went through several earthquakes – some quite serious and deadly.  The most frightening thing about an earthquake is that there is no place to hide or to escape it.  Everything starts moving, you feel like you are standing on jiggling, swaying, jello. All you can do is try to avoid a building crushing you.  One time, a huge earthquake hit an hour or two after a national pastor and I had just passed through a mountain pass on a bus.  The mountains literally moved! Several landslides occurred on that pass pushing some buses off the mountain and isolating those who survived for weeks.  They are something to be feared unless you have an “abundantly available help”!

            The psalm goes on to describe another terrifying sight. “Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.”  Though I never witnessed or experienced a tsunami (videos of them are scary enough) we did witness the outer edges of a storm surge.  There is something terrifying about the sea when it is whipped up and reaches out beyond its borders with such power that it washes away everything in its path.  

            Most people don’t have to face earthquakes, tsunamis, or floods – but there are other kinds of disasters that can terrify us just as much. Uncertain times, civil unrest, family problems, explosive politics, and financial uncertainty can send us reeling with fear or crush us with despair. When this Psalm was written, Israel had just captured Jerusalem and subdued the enemies that had threatened to destroy them for generations.  As they looked back they recognized they had won for only one reason – the Lord was their shelter (for protection) and strength (force to defend themselves).

            If He was their refuge and strength in all they went through – He can be yours as well.  If He made Himself “abundantly available” to them in their distress – He will do the same for you. Take some time to pause at this Selah in Psalm 46 and consider what aspect of His character God is trying to show you through the “color” of the trials you are passing through now. It may be a dramatic color like fire engine red, or a subtler pastel blue.  Whatever the distress or tight space you are going through, remember this – He is allowing you to go through that experience for the purpose of knowing Him better.  There are aspects of His power, His person, and His love that can only be seen through that “color” of trial you are going through now.  Remember – He is abundantly available to you to accomplish His perfect purposes in your life. Count it all joy!

My Father’s World

One of my favorite songs is one made famous by Louis Armstrong – “What a Wonderful World.” Among other things, it speaks of trees of green, red roses, skies of blue, clouds of white, the bright blessed day, and the dark sacred night.  Although the song does not credit God outright for these blessings, it magnifies what theologians call “common grace” – the grace that God bestows on every man woman and child in this world whether just or unjust (Matthew 5:45).  It is the grace that supplies beauty, pleasure, and life to every person on earth whether they love God, hate Him, or even deny that He exists.  

We hear of this same grace in the hymn (another favorite), “This is My Father’s World,” written toward the end of the 19th century by Maltbie Davenport Babcock – a minister from Lockport, New York.  Living close to the beauty of Niagara Falls and Lake Ontario, he would often take walks with his wife to “go out and see the Father’s world.”  Like the song made famous by Mr. Armstrong, it talks about rocks and trees, skies and seas, the songs of birds, and the morning’s light. He declares that all of what some call “nature” is really “Creation” and it spoke to him everywhere of God’s power, wisdom, and mercy.

 Unlike “What a Wonderful World,” this hymn, so bright with the beauties of God’s creation, ends with an acknowledgment of the darkness that can dim the glory of its message in our lives:

This is my Father’s world:
O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the Ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world:
Why should my heart be sad?
The Lord is King: let the heavens ring!
God reigns; let earth be glad!

This verse has struck a chord in my heart over the past four months.  As I see the evils of recent movements that seek to erase the influence of God’s laws from our society increasing in strength, I have wondered if there is any hope for those of us who seek to stand with what is just and true.  

The good news is that there is hope! The people who hold the economic and political power in our world are only there by God’s permission and for His purposes.  Since this is true, we can rest on the fact that they will answer to Him about how they use or abuse that power.

Even so, this does not mean that we will escape the consequences of their bad decisions.  We may, or may not, suffer from their oppression. Of one thing we can be sure, God intends to show them – through you and me – the same grace that He has shown to us.

In the first paragraph of this post I referenced Matthew 5:45. Let’s look, for a moment, at the context of that verse:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:43-48 (ESV)

 This does not mean that we should not defend ourselves or our families.  It also does not mean that we should give up lawful political speech or action against laws and practices that are evil or unjust. We should still be praying against the things the “mob” are trying to foist upon us while, at the same time, praying for the well-being of that same “mob.” We should not return hatred for their animosity toward us.  We should be looking for opportunities to do good for any of our relatives and acquaintances who “cancel” us or treat us wrongly.  Although they speak evil of us and to us – we should speak kindly to them and about them – even while arguing against their agendas. Resting in the truth that this is “My Father’s World” frees us from fear or the desire for vengeance. Truly believing that God “is the ruler yet” enables us to treat our enemies with the same grace that God has shown to us. 

 There is a saying – “You may be the only Bible somebody reads.” Our Father has shown His grace to the world – the just and the unjust – through His creation.  He commands us to do the same.  God speaks to men through His wonderful world, but He wants to sing through you. Loving our enemies gives Him that chance.

Waking Up

Sleep is a necessary thing and Scripture speaks positively about it at times (Psalm 127:2), but mostly negatively (Proverbs 6:9,10) because it can keep us from duties about which we should be busy. It can become an easy alternative to the unpleasant things in life.

Two things happen when we sleep.  First, we are dulled to what is really going on around us.  We become unaware of present dangers while we slumber. Thieves can come or enemies may approach while we sleep. 

We also dream while we sleep.  At the same time we are unaware of the real world, we enter a world that is not real, constructed only by our minds.  It often is a crazy world, but sometimes very pleasant. It may be a world where we are able to do things we can’t do in real life – like fly through the air, or swim underwater for hours at a time without taking a breath. 

Spiritual sleep has both of these qualities.  Slumber, as a metaphor, represents a dullness to the danger of the battle in which we are involved, as well as the needs of the harvest in which we are to labor.  The noise of the battle rouses us once in a while and we grumble, rollover, and go back to sleep – not realizing the inroads our enemy is making into our society, our families, and our lives.  Our spiritual alarm clock goes off to alert us to the work that needs to be done, and we hit the snooze button, again, again, and again. 

And we do all of this while thinking that we are amazing super-Christians because we show up to church every Sunday, only doing what others expect of us, and believe we are accomplishing great things for God.  It is easy to live in this spiritual dream-world.

The Corinthian church had many problems, but they thought they were doing pretty good (1 Corinthians 4:8-13). Division was rampant and rank immorality was accepted. They had fallen into a deep sleep and Paul wrote an epistle to wake them up. This stupor was not due to fatigue, but a kind of spiritual drunkenness.  It was an “after-Thanksgiving dinner” stupor – born more of over-indulgence than overwork.

Paul tied up all of his rebukes to the Corinthians in the 15th chapter of that epistle. In that chapter he reminded them of a fact that makes the Gospel the Gospel – the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.

A false doctrine had arisen among the Corinthians that a general resurrection of the dead was never going to happen.  Paul corrected them, saying the resurrected Christ was the “first fruits” – to be followed by those who believed in Him.  He said if there was no resurrection then our faith is in vain, and the suffering we go through because of our faith is also in vain. He wrote: 

If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die.

Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners. Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.

1 Corinthians 15: 32 – 34 (KJV)

If there is no resurrection – there is no judgment.  Death would be the end – so we might as well as live it up now. 

That is why Paul pauses in the middle of his defense of the resurrection and commands the Corinthians to rouse themselves and live their lives with the resurrection in sight.  The ESV puts verse 34 this way:

Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.

Paul lived this way himself.  In another letter, he shared the goal of his life with the Philippians:

For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.

Philippians 3: 8b – 12 (ESV)

I remember a dream I had a long time ago.  I dreamt I had heard the trumpet of God and was rising to meet Christ in the air. I was very happy, but my happiness soon turned to a kind of nervousness.  I realized I was going to soon come face to face with Christ Himself.  Even though I knew I was redeemed by His blood and was going to heaven, the thought of having my life and my works evaluated by Him – one on one and face to face – was sobering, to say the least. 

That is exactly what Paul was telling the Corinthians – “Sober up, don’t let the pleasure-drunk society in which you are living lull you to sleep – Remember there is a resurrection coming!”

This is why the increasing hostility of Western culture to Christianity is a blessing in disguise.  The Church always thrives when confronted with adversaries because it wakes us up. Earthly enemies rouse us to the spiritual war that has been raging around us and opens our eyes again to the whitened harvest. Best of all, we begin to see ourselves as we should be – pilgrims stretching ourselves toward the high calling of God in Christ Jesus – the resurrection to come. 

Welcome to the Re-Model !

When I noticed that I was getting a lot of people stopping by on “Musings” but not going any farther than the “About” page – I decided to look at my site on my computer, my tablet, and my phone. It was then I realized that all you have been seeing is a picture of Jesus sitting on a rock talking to His disciples. That is fine (I loved the picture) but the menu icon at the bottom of the picture only had an “About” link on it! It might not have been obvious to new visitors that you needed to scroll down to see the posts – so I made some changes. On the other hand, they may have seen who the blogger was and decided not to go any farther. If that’s the case, I guess I can’t blame them.

I hope you like the changes and I also hope you like the posts! They are here to encourage you as you seek to follow Jesus in the 21st century. If you like the posts, please click the “Follow” button (it is found on the lower right of your screen) to be notified of future posts, and also share your favorite posts on social media.

A Hero’s Tale

Legend tells us that, when Claudius II was emperor of Rome, he was looking for a way to improve and enlarge his army. He felt that unmarried men made better soldiers than those with wives and families. That is why he outlawed marriage for young men – his crop of potential soldiers.

There was a problem, however. There was a young church leader who did not agree with the emperor’s judgment. He thought it was unjust. This young man defied Claudius’ decree and continued to perform marriages in secret for young lovers. When that young man’s courageous actions were eventually discovered, he was arrested and put to death. That young man’s name was Valentine – and it is in his honor that we celebrate Valentine’s Day.

This legend is one of several that surrounds the life and death of Valentine. When it comes to a figure like this who lived so long ago, and about whom so little was recorded, it is hard to sort out fact from fiction. There are, however, several themes in the stories that are consistent – he loved God, he loved people, he was placed in prison for his obedience to God, and he was martyred for his testimony.

Today we, like Valentine, are living in a time when men are coming up with “better ideas” than what God commands – especially in the area of gender identity, love, and marriage. The enacting of transgender bathroom decrees and the legalizing of gay “marriage” are just two items in a long list of the “Emperor’s New Ideas” that have come along in the last decade or so. The problem is – these ideas do not just stay in the legal books. They are not content to collect dust in the law library. They seep out into our workplaces, communities, and schools. They end up redefining who we are, what a family is, and what love is all about.  They criminalize the truth. 

Valentine was a man who knew what was true. He was willing to stand for what was true, even if he stood alone. He stood against the prevailing worldview that truth was whatever the emperor said it was. We know little about his upbringing, but we know that he knew Christ. His mind had been renewed by God’s word. As a result, he saw the world as God saw it.

In these days of societal “gender dysphoria,” when a person could lose his job or be “cancelled” for using the politically incorrect pronoun, it is important to be like Valentine and see the world like God sees it.  The book of Genesis tells us:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

Genesis 1:27

            Gender is a fact of Divine creation not a product of human invention.  Although we live in a society where gender is seen to be malleable, it really is not – and it is a cruel joke to pretend that it is. We are who God has made us to be. Better yet, He is more than willing to bestow the grace, through Christ, to fully be that person. 

Over the years I have had the privilege of knowing people like co-workers, and even a college roommate, who were members of the LGBTQ community (and a couple of ones who left that lifestyle.) They were smart, hard-working people who deserved the same respect and rights as anyone else – but it did not mean that I had to approve of their lifestyle, or accept it as normal. The problem today is the “Empire,” as in the time of Valentine, is trying to force a new normal upon us. There is a constant and subtle pressure to believe what is not true.

Millions of valentines are produced around Valentine’s Day. They are made out of candy, lace and acres of red paper. Real valentines – men and women like Valentine of old – are produced through the work of God’s Spirit, though His Word, in their hearts. We need to be sure we are those people. If things keep going the way they are going, our country is going to need all the Valentines it can get.

Id-Ra-Ha-Je

My title may seem like a silly combination of letters, but it was actually the name of a day camp where I served as a counsellor many years ago. The letters stand for the title of a famous hymn written by Rhea Miller and put to music by George Beverly Shea entitled I’d Rather Have Jesus.  This song was the camp song at Camp Id-Ra-Ha-Je – sung every morning at flag raising after the buses arrived at camp for the day. 

            Here are the words in two of the verses and the chorus:

I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold; 
I’d rather be His than have riches untold; 
I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands. 
I’d rather be led by His nail pierced hand

Chorus:
Than to be the king of a vast domain 
Or be held in sin’s dread sway. 
I’d rather have Jesus than anything 
This world affords today.

I’d rather have Jesus than men’s applause; 
I’d rather be faithful to His dear cause;
I’d rather have Jesus than worldwide fame. 
I’d rather be true to His holy name [Chorus]

            There is a popular game called “Would You Rather?” which presents players, one at a time, with a set of – let’s say unusual – choices. The player chooses one of two possibilities and the rest of the players guess which one they chose.  The winner of the game is the one who guesses the other players’ choices the best.

Like that game, our lives as Christians are also made up of a series of choices – “Would I rather _______ or ______?”  Unlike the game, however, these choices are serious because they determine the course of our lives and our relationship with God.  The problem today is the choices are becoming costlier. In the past, in America, most of us did not have to choose between Jesus or a career – we could have both!  We could follow Jesus without breaking any laws. We could speak Biblical truth about what is right and wrong without fear of losing our freedom, or even a friend.  Ever since those camp days, this song has been meaningful to me – but it has taken on greater significance lately as I seek to navigate a culture increasingly hostile to Christianity. 

Unlike the experiences of Christians in the past, these choices are not between life or the death.  These choices are subtler and quieter and therefore more dangerous.  They may be choices between security or poverty, pleasantness and unpleasantness, being well thought of or becoming “deplorable.”  Most of us will probably not be tried by an angry magistrate, but rather in the court of a public opinion that has been skewed against God and His Word. The price we pay will be paid by arguments around the dinner table, losing friends on Facebook, being demoted or fired from our job, or being banned from Twitter.

Jesus makes it clear what we are to do when confronted with this choice (Mark 8:33-38; Luke 9: 23 – 26) – forget any self-interest (deny our self), embrace the reproach (take up our cross), and follow Him (continue to live, think and speak as He taught us).  There are times that will come when the choice will be clear – “Would I really rather have Jesus than men’s applause, or not?”

There is a third verse to this song and it gives us the reason we should “rather have Jesus” at these times.  When you make that choice for Him, in little choices or in great, this is what happens: 

He’s fairer than lilies of rarest bloom; 
He’s sweeter than honey from out the comb; 
He’s all that my hungering spirit needs. 
I’d rather have Jesus and let Him lead [Chorus]

            You will grow in the knowledge of His beauty and sweetness! He will fill the empty holes the world leaves and you will have the joy of following Him.  Hard times may be ahead, but those times can also be sweet when we enter into the adventure of knowing Him in the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His suffering!

Sacred or Valuable?

Is there a difference between being valuable and being sacred? Cars are valuable but they are not sacred (at least to most people). Diamonds and gold are prized because of the way they hold their value – but they are not sacred.

            Value is associated with usefulness.  A car is valuable to its owner because it can get him to work, outings, church, and other places.  Diamonds and gold are valuable because they can be sold and the money can be traded for goods and services. Value is highly subjective.  An item that is valuable (or useful) to me may not be as valuable (useful) to you.  It is also very fluid over time.  When you were two you could not part with your teddy bear without sobs and tears. You probably don’t even know where it is now. 

 But when something is sacred it exists in a completely different realm. Sanctity is a quality that transcends the material universe and is rooted in the divine.  Dictionary.com defines sacred as “devoted or dedicated to a deity or to some religious purpose; consecrated.”

 When something is sacred, it is sacred because it belongs to God. It is His property and should be treated as such. 

On January 22, 1973 the Supreme Court legalized abortion in all 50 states.  Eleven years later President Reagan designated the same date as National Sanctity of Human Life Day. After that, every Republican President has made a similar proclamation for January 22nd, or the Sunday near it. Interestingly, every Democrat President since then has refused to sign a similar proclamation.

 Why should we believe that human life is sacred? There are a lot of reasons – but Psalm 8 sums them up in a nutshell.

 First of all, human life is sacred because there is a God.  Psalm 8 is book-ended by these two verses:

O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!

who hast set thy glory above the heavens. . . .

O LORD our Lord,how excellent is thy name in all the earth!

Psalm 8:1,9

He is not a “force,” or a (little g) god, but an almighty, all-powerful, omniscient, omnipresent, holy, and personal God. If He did not exist, then nothing would be sacred.  Refusing to believe in God does not make Him disappear.  He is there whether we choose to acknowledge Him or not.  Our unbelief does not affect Him.

Refusing to believe in Him, however, will affect us.  A brief review of history shows us that, although many lives have been unjustly snuffed out “in the name of God,” many, many more have been slaughtered by governments who deny His existence.  If someone does not believe there is a God, then humanity is just a fortunate cosmic accident that must be managed as efficiently as possible.  

On what principle will this management rest?  The principle of value.  A life could be deemed valuable if he or she did not stand in the way of what the “collective” (a convenient term for the opinion of those in power) wanted to do. However, if that person chose to resist, hinder, and/or oppose said government – the value of that life would rapidly decline.

            Human life is also sacred because it is noticed by God.  In Psalm 8: 3-4, the psalmist tells the Lord:

When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;

What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him

  God is omniscient – He knows everything that has happened, is happening, and will happen in every cubic nanometer of the entire universe. Yet, with all that knowledge he still “marks” every human life that has ever been conceived. He is “mindful” of each one of us. Every one of us have the special undivided attention of this all-knowing God.  Not only does He notice us – but He also “visits” us.  He cares for us, oversees our affairs.  He is especially concerned for the most vulnerable.  The poor, the fatherless, the alien, and the widows are all of special interest to Him (Exodus 21:14; 22:13; Deuteronomy 10:18; 24:17,19,20,21; 27:19)

            Because this is true, whenever the blood of an innocent person is shed by another – God takes special attention.  This is why God, not man, instituted capital punishment for murder (Genesis 9:4-6).  When innocent blood is shed, it cries out to God – demanding justice (Genesis 4:9-10). In Psalm 9:12 we are told that God “maketh inquisition”, or avenges, the shed blood of the humble and oppressed.  Who is more innocent, vulnerable or helpless than a baby in the womb?  Would not God do His best to avenge the person, or nation, that makes this possible – or, even worse, legitimizes and promotes it?

            Third, we see that mankind is a special creation of God – separate from, and even placed over, the animals. Psalm 8:5-8 tells us: 

For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.

Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet:

All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.

 The creation story tells us that God created the universe by the word of His mouth.  Even the animal kingdom was brought out of the earth simply by His speech (Genesis 1:1-25). The process was different for man, however. Man was hand-made by God into His own image (Genesis 1: 26 – 30; 2:7).  He then fashioned woman out of Adam’s rib – once again, by hand.

  This is another reason life is sacred – every life, although not “hand-made” like Adam and Eve, is a special creation by God at conception – created in His image (Psalm 139:13-18).  This means, even though we can understand things about God through all His creation (Psalm 19; Romans 1: 18-23), His image can only be seen through human life. When innocent blood is shed, His image is defiled, and all of His creation suffers damage.  

How many opportunities has God lost to use the lives of His image-bearers – to do things like heal incurable diseases, alleviate hunger, and depose tyrants – because their lives were ended before birth?

 One last thing – because man is a special creation of God in His image – only man can fully and intelligently worship Him. Psalm 8:2 tells us:

Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.

 It is interesting that, at the beginning of the psalm about the sanctity of human life, we see a reference – not to kings, mighty, or wealthy men – but to “babes and sucklings (newborns).”  It is out of the mouths of the smallest and most vulnerable that this strength is established.  What strength is this?  We see it when Jesus answered the Pharisees by quoting the Greek version of this verse in Matthew 21:16: 

And said unto him, Hearest thou what these say? And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?

Matthew 21:16

  It is the strength of worship.  It is the force that comes into a culture when God is magnified, made large, through the mouths and the lives of a worshipping people, even if they are the smallest among us. It is the power that can silence the work of the enemy of our souls – Satan and his demons – in our society.  

 Human life is sacred because there is a personal and almighty God. It is sacred because He “marks,” or monitors, every child that is conceived.  Human life is also sacred because we are created in the image of God and can project His strength – His reality – to an unbelieving world as we yield our lives to back to Him in worship.

Only 39 Years

While subbing for a teacher in a school a week or so ago, we watched a video about Martin Luther King Junior. It went over his life, his hardships during the civil rights movement, and his accomplishments.  The narrator of the movie said he was 39 years old when he was assassinated. 

            Only 39 years old?  That stunned me.  I had always thought of Dr. King of being an older man – at least in his fifties – when he died.  I was 15 years old when it happened – so he was more than twice my age at the time. That probably skewed my perspective.  Another reason I misjudged his age was the impact he had on our nation, and the world, in such a short life. 

He had an effect on me as well.  It was about a year after his assassination that I started a search for God (not realizing the He was really drawing me to Him). Dr. King’s book – Strength to Love – was one of the first books I read and it deeply affected me. 

 I looked up some biographical facts published about him on nobelprize.com (see it here) and learned a lot more about the background of this great man.  

Dr. King graduated from high school at 15, received a B.A. degree from Morehouse College in 1948 and then attended Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania.  There he was elected president of a predominantly white senior class.  He was awarded his B.D. in 1951 from Crozer and also won a fellowship which he used to enroll at Boston University where he eventually earned his doctorate in 1955 (and met his wife – Coretta). 

That same year he led the 382-day bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama which led to a Supreme Court decision declaring segregation on buses as unconstitutional. He was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957 (at the age of 28).  In his eleven years in that position, he travelled over six million miles and spoke over twenty-five hundred times.  While doing that, he wrote five books and many articles.  He led a massive protest in Birmingham, Alabama which caught the attention of the entire world and inspired his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”  Under his influence, the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed and signed into law.

Over his years in the civil rights movement, he was arrested more than twenty-five times, and assaulted at least four times. He led a march on Washington to push for civil rights legislation – where he gave his most famous speech – “I have a Dream.” At the age of thirty-five, he was the youngest man to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.  After receiving it, he donated the $54,123.00 of prize money to further the civil rights movement. 

Only 39 years.  It still amazes me that any one person could accomplish that much, and make that much of a positive difference in the world, in so short a time.  I have not, and don’t presently, know of anyone who could.

On November 16th I posted a piece called “Measuring Our Days.” In it, I mentioned how four people in the Bible – Isaac, Job, David, and Jehoiada – died with the epitaph that they were “full of days.”  Dr. King was an example of a modern man who could have the same epitaph.  It was being “full of days” that made him such an effective leader and an example worthy to follow.

Psalm 44: The Power of Story

We have heard with our ears, O God, our fathers have told us,

what work thou didst in their days, in the times of old.

How thou didst drive out the heathen with thy hand, and plantedst them; 

how thou didst afflict the people, and cast them out.. . .

For I will not trust in my bow, neither shall my sword save me.

But thou hast saved us from our enemies, and hast put them to shame that hated us.

In God we boast all the day long, and praise thy name for ever. Selah.

But thou hast cast off, and put us to shame; and goest not forth with our armies.

Thou makest us to turn back from the enemy: and they which hate us spoil for themselves..

Psalm 44: 1-2; 6-10

Stories are very important.  I love hearing stories from “ordinary” people’s about their lives and have come to the conclusion that no one is really “ordinary!” I really enjoy reading biographies of those whose lives have influenced others.  Histories are also stories. They are stories about nations and people groups.  They not only chronicle events, but also the worldviews (and the movements they spawned) that moved that history along.  History records the evidence of God’s hand working in the life of a nation.

Psalm 44 was written by the “Sons of Korah,” who were a guild of singers who were put in charge of the service of song by King David after the Ark of the Covenant was returned to Jerusalem.  Edward Reese, in his Chronological Bible, places most of the “Sons of Korah” psalms during the time of David and Solomon, before the divided kingdom, but he placed Psalm 44 during the time of the Babylonian exile.  This is a lament written for a nation within a nation.  

Whether it was written by the singers in David’s time or during the exile itself, it probably was a source of comfort to God’s people during the time of this captivity. It can also be a source of comfort for us when we go through hard times.

A sound history is essential to a nation’s identity. That is why God gave the Jews the Feast of Passover (and the other feasts as well).  Passover was, and still is, a time every year for families to gather and re-enact the story of that last night in Egypt. For thousands of years, fathers have re-told the story to their families about the work God did for them in the “times of old” (Psalm 44:1).  As they did, they reminded their descendants how it was not their strength or their sword – but God’s right hand and His arm that brought them out of that bondage (Psalm 44:3). 

What did these stories do for them? Psalm 44:4 tells us that it led them to submit to Elohim as their king.  His will would direct their way and His commandments would be the ethos by which they would live their lives. Verses 5 and 6 said the stories encouraged them to face their foes with confidence. In the Selah verse (v. 8) – it led them to boast about God all day long and praise His name forever.

On the other side of that Selah, however, was the reality they were presently facing.  “You have thrown us away and shamed us!” “You don’t go with our armies!” Instead of fighting they were fleeing – leaving the enemy to take whatever he wanted. God was giving them away like sheep to be slaughtered – and it seemed He did not even care. They were despised and their name had become a taunt word. They were confused and ashamed while they were being blamed by others as the source of their problems.  In the midst of it all, they had no answers for their neighbors as they blasphemed the name of the One who called them. 

But the story held them. The story of God’s promise, their deliverance from Egypt, and possessing the land that God gave them caused them to cry in verse 17:

All this is come upon us; yet have we not forgotten thee,

neither have we dealt falsely in thy covenant.

Yes, the nation, as a whole had dealt falsely with God – that was why they were in that mess. But there was a subset of individuals (sometimes called a “remnant”) who really believed the story, and it was able to hold them when it seemed like everything was going wrong.

We are currently in a time of great instability in our nation and the world.  The Covid virus has emboldened many of our leaders to unlawfully restrict our freedoms.  To make things worse, we are besieged by false stories. Our ever-present media is telling us that the truth is a lie and that lies are the truth.  It looks like people who flaunt God’s laws and despise His people are in charge, at least for a while.  Individuals and companies are being de-platformed for telling stories that powerful people do not like.  There may soon be a time when we must suffer in some way for living by God’s Word.

But we can still remember the story. In times of distress retell it to your spouse, your children, your neighbors, and others. It is even more important that you retell it to yourself first.

What story? The story of the Old Testament that defines what is right and what is wrong. Relate to your children your personal Exodus from sin and the many times God proved faithful in your times of need.  Retell the times He defended you and helped you defeat the habits that tormented you.  Review the history of our country and the principles on which it was founded with your children and grandchildren.

The power of story is why Jesus gave us the Lord’s Supper – to remember the story of which the mighty Exodus was only a foreshadow.  It is a story to remind us that through His death He destroyed (rendered unemployed) him who had the power of death  – the Devil (Hebrews 2:14). 

Stories are important.  Stories from the Bible and the experiences of those who followed Christ before us are all important stories to tell.  Take time to pause at this Selah to consider the stories in God’s word of His protection and deliverance – especially if you feel trapped or bound by a culture that is increasingly hostile to what you believe. Tell it to yourself again and again.  It will hold you and help you grow. 

Or maybe, for you, the story of the cross has only been just that – a story, a fairy-tale, a myth.  You must make it your story to reap its benefits.  Repent and believe – they are the simplest but also the hardest things to do.  But that is how the greatest story of all can re-write yours.  

Background: Psalm 44; 2 Kings 25:1-30; 2 Chronicles 36:1-21; Jeremiah 52:1-34