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

Living Happy in 2021

How are you doing as we come to the end of 2020?  Worn out with lockdown fatigue? Maybe you are enjoying a little relief because you made it to the end of the year in one piece. You may be struggling with some depression – or even PTSD – over what has happened to you, your family, or your business since last February.  As we approach the end of 2020 you may be looking toward 2021 with deep anxiety, or outright fear. This last year was not just “another year.”  When we look back, we realize that we are living in a world that is very different than a year ago. It is amazing how quickly things have changed! We are all wrestling with the question, “Is this the new normal?”  Whether it is, or not (“not” is my hope) – I wish all of you a very happy 2021!

            Unfortunately, wishing something does not make it happen – so let’s pair my wish for you with some wisdom from God Himself.  We can find this wisdom in His Word – the Bible. 

            The Old Testament contains different genres, or kinds, of literature.  Some of it is history, other parts contain prophecy.  Parts of it are written in prose, other parts in poetry. There is another genre that is found throughout the Old Testament and is mostly found in the books of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon. These writings are known as “Wisdom Literature.”  Wisdom literature is there to teach us to see the world as it really is.  It helps us to view our daily lives from God’s perspective, not our own.  That is why real wisdom starts with the “fear of the Lord” (Job 28:28; Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7; 9:10; 15:33).

            One of the signs that indicate you are heading into wisdom territory is the word “Blessed.” It is the Hebrew word esher and means “How happy!” It indicates a condition, or a state of being. It is found in expressions like “Blessed is the man,” “Blessed is the nation,” “Blessed is he,” or “Blessed are they” which are usually followed by something that person(s) did, found, or received.  

            So the purpose of this wisdom is to teach us how to live a happy life in this world, as corrupt, depressing, and changeable as it is. Happiness comes from wisdom because wisdom teaches us to live in a way that harmonizes with the way God designed His creation to work.

            We will start with Psalm 1 – the “Gateway Psalm” – that starts us on this path to happiness and work our way through:

  • Psalm 1:1 – Scrutinize – those in the media, your friends, the music you listen to, or even your teachers – who are influencing you.  Are they wicked – living like there is no God?  Are they sinners – disregarding God’s laws? Are they scorners – people who make fun of God, His Word, His ways, or His people? If so, do not let them influence you to walk on the wrong path, to stand in the wrong place, or to sit with them in their mockery.  Challenge them in class. Do not let them harden you to the only source of true wisdom – the Bible. 
  • Psalm 1:2 – Meditate, and ponder God’s Word “day and night” – regularly and consistently.  Don’t “make time” for this activity – build your life around it! Let His Word become your delight (Psalm 112:1.)  Let it keep you on the right track (Psalm 119:1). Let the Word give you a hunger for Him (Psalm 119:2).  Guard His Word – keep it close to your heart at all times (Proverbs 29:18).
  • Psalm 2:12 – Repent (“kiss the son lest He be angry”), and trust the Son.  The word for trust here – hasa – means to flee to for protection in extraordinarily dangerous situations (in this case a coming final judgment.) Repenting and calling on Jesus to save you is the first step to real happiness!
  • Psalm 32:1,2 – Real happiness comes from knowing that your sins are forgiven, that God now sees you as righteous through Christ, and fellowship with Him is restored.  The good news is that the price of that forgiveness has already been paid through the blood of Christ. 
  • Psalm 33:12 – Worship the right God.  Everyone has a god – a controlling influence in their lives.  The question is this: “Is your god the REAL God?” Happy are the people whose God is the LORD (Psalm 144:15). 
  • Psalm 40:4; Psalm 84:5 – Trust in, rely on, the Lord.  This word is mibtah, a different word than hasa.  It means to put your confidence and find your security in Him, as opposed to the proud or the liars.
  • Psalm 41:1; Proverbs 14:21 – Consider (pay attention to, do not ignore, be careful how you treat) the poor because Yahweh will repay you for your kindness to them.
  • Psalm 84:4 – Dwell in God’s house.  His house is a household – a place or status of being in fellowship with Him as well as the others who dwell in His house. Do not neglect your private times with Him or the gathering together of believers!
  • Psalm 84:5 – Maintain a “pilgrim mentality” – let the “ways of pilgrimage” find a home in your heart. This is how the heroes of faith lived (Hebrews 11). Beware of the “nest!” (Matthew 8:20; Luke 9:58).
  • Psalm 84:11,12 – Trust in the Lord for your daily needs.  Bata is the most frequently used word for trust and is different than the other two previously mentioned.  You could say it refers to living in a house that protects us from everyday things such as the elements, while hasa is more like a bomb or hurricane shelter we flee to in times of danger. It talks about a daily abiding in His protection and provision.
  • Psalm 106:3 – Always do what is just and right- in your personal relationships and your business dealings.
  • Psalm 127:5 – Have lots of children!  If you don’t, or can’t, have any kids of your own – the word “children” here could also be more than our natural offspring – they can be people we mentored, or have taken under our wing. Happiness comes from investing yourself in your children and the lives of others –  helping them live right-side-up in an upside-down world!
  • Psalm 112:1; 128:1 – Fear the Lord.  Keep Him always before you. Live as one who will give an account for every word, action, and motive.
  • Psalm 146:5 – Let Him help you! When you need wisdom, call on Him (James 1:5).  He is the God of Jacob.
  • Proverbs 3:13; 8:32; 8:34 – Seek wisdom, cry out for understanding. Proverbs calls it the principal thing. You can read about it in Proverbs (go through the whole book every month – reading a chapter a day.) However, when God gives wisdom, it does not only come through what we read. It comes as we usually does not come in pretty packaging (sometimes pretty rough) – but when you find it, it brings happiness.

Whew! Fifteen items – that is quite a list.  There is a lot more that can be said about every one of these Scriptures but I will leave that up to you.  As you go through 2021, take some time to look these Scriptures up. Memorize them.  Study them in their context and do a word study.  Whatever you do, do it with the goal of making them guiding principles for your life.  If you do, I am sure – regardless of how this new year shapes up – you will be living happy in 2021. 

Advent

When I was a teenager, I was an acolyte (altar boy) in the Episcopal Church. One Sunday during Advent it was my duty to stand next to the priest with a burning taper to light a candle on our Advent Wreath.  While waiting nervously for my “cue” to light the candle, I sighed deeply to relieve the tension. 

            I was shocked when my sigh blew out the taper!

            After relighting the taper and hurrying back to the wreath, I lit the candle for my now increasingly uncomfortable audience, and the rest of the service went on without incident.  

            This Sunday will be the final Sunday in the 2020 Advent season – now far removed from my teenage Advent disaster. “Advent” comes from an old English word meaning an “approach” or “arrival” and is used to denote the four Sundays anticipating Christmas. It serves as a way of focusing our awareness on the Christ of Christmas.  It also provides a mental picture of the fervent hope held by the ancient people of Israel for the coming of the Messiah.

            After a millennium and a half of almost non-stop national enslavement under the Egyptians, hostile neighbors, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Hellenists, and then – the Romans – anticipation for the advent of the Messiah was at a fever pitch in Israel by the time Jesus was born.  Instead of things getting better – they were getting worse – and Rome’s jackboot was only pressing down harder and harder.  It seemed as if their hope was going to be, like the taper in my Advent adventure, snuffed out. 

            But God knew what He was doing and, as Paul tells us in Galatians 4:4 – 5, Christ was born in the “fullness of time.” In other words. He came at just the right time, in the right way (born of a woman, under the law), for the right purpose (to redeem those under the law through His cross).  I am sure, if a vote had been taken, Israel would have voted for an earlier time, a more aggressive way (a military leader), and a different purpose (the overthrow of the tyranny of the Romans.) 

            But there was no vote and, although some tried, nobody could stop Him.  

            But that was only the first advent of Christ. There is another advent approaching. Like the first, he will arrive just in time (Ephesians 1: 7-10).  Also, His coming will be totally unexpected – like a thief in the night (Matthew 24:44.) 

And, still, no one will be able to stop Him.

            Unlike the first advent – He will come as the “Son of Man,” the King of Israel – in the clouds of heaven with great glory (Matthew 24:30,31; Mark 13:24-31).  The Bible tells us that every eye will see Him – and most will not be happy about it (Revelation 1:7).  His purpose in coming will also be different – He will not come this time to serve, but to rule. He will not come to die – but to raise the dead.

            There are a lot of details in Scripture on what this will look like. There is also a lot of disagreement on how it will all work out.  But one thing we of which we all can be sure: there will be a second advent of Jesus, the Messiah.

            As Christians in the West, we are living under a tyranny that is growing day by day.  Its scope is widening and threatens to overwhelm us.  It a soft tyranny, full of soft platitudes more persuasive than the jackboot, that promise “safety” and “equality” while requiring a lop-sided form of “tolerance.”  

The 1st century Christians, living under the threat of hungry lions and burning stakes, found their strength in the hope of the second advent of Christ. As Christians in the 21st century, living under the threat of being “cancelled,” fired, or shunned, we can find strength in the same.  However, like my advent mishap many years ago, that hope can be snuffed out under the heavy breath of our modern culture. Through our mobile devices, the constant barrage of media, and the increasing pressure of a political false “science” from every corner, it is very easy to lose sight of this vital truth. The apostle Peter’s command to the Christians scattered throughout the “heathen” (read: “secular”) world shows us a path for today:

Wherefore girding up the loins of your mind, be sober and set your hope perfectly on the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as children of obedience, not fashioning yourselves according to your former lusts in the time of your ignorance: but like as he who called you is holy, be ye yourselves also holy in all manner of living; because it is written, Ye shall be holy; for I am holy.

1 Peter 1:13-16 (ESV)

This does not mean that we need to live as a hermit on a mountain, but as foreigners in a hostile culture. We must put a tight rein on our minds because our minds are the gateway to our hearts, and how we feed our hearts will determine how brightly that blessed hope will burn in these dark times. Remember, man shall not live by bread alone – but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4; Luke 4:4).  We must center our lives on reading, digesting, really believing, and living out His Word now, more than ever before. 

As we finish this crazy year of 2020 with the Advent season, and look toward 2021 don’t let your blessed hope be snuffed out – there is another Advent coming!

The Purpose of Blessing

God be merciful unto us, and bless us;

and cause his face to shine upon us; Selah.

That thy way may be known upon earth,

thy saving health among all nations.

Let the people praise thee, O God;

let all the people praise thee.

Psalm 67:1 – 3

Background: Daniel 5,7; 2 Chronicles 36

It had been almost 70 years of exile in Babylon and Daniel had just received another vision.  His first vision had been of a giant statue made of various metals – each speaking of different Gentile kingdoms that follow each other in world domination.  The head was gold – symbolizing the Babylonian kingdom, the shoulders and torso were silver – denoting the Medes and Persians, the waist was bronze  – speaking of the Hellenists, headed by Alexander the Great, and the legs were of iron – hinting of the iron hand of the Roman empire.  Holding it all up were two feet made of a mixture of iron and clay, pointing to the alliance that would produce the final Gentile world kingdom – that of the Antichrist.  At the end of the vision, a stone, that represents the coming kingdom of Christ, came and crushed the feet as well as the rest of the statue. 

This vision was like the one in chapter two of Daniel but from a different viewpoint.  The vision of Daniel, chapter seven, were of four fierce beasts coming out of the Mediterranean Sea – not a beautiful statue.  The first beast was a lion that had eagle’s wings. The wings were eventually plucked and the lion stood up like a man and was given a man’s heart – a picture of Nebuchadnezzar’s humbling experience.  The next beast was a bear with three ribs in its mouth and was raised up on one side and a voice was heard inviting it to eat much flesh speaking of the ravenous nature of the Medes and Persians.  The third was a leopard with four heads and four wings like a bird and symbolizes the Hellenistic empire under Alexander the Great that was divided among his top four generals after his early death. 

The fourth beast was a hideous beast that was “dreadful and terrible.” It was very strong and had iron teeth.  With those teeth it devoured and destroyed kingdoms, and stamped down what was left.  What really distinguished it from the other were the its ten horns and that three of the original ten broke off and were replaced by a little horn with a mouth that spoke great things.

At the end of the vision – instead of a stone there was a man – the “Ancient of Days” who makes a glorious appearance with a million personages waiting for His command.  The hideous beast was slain and given to the flame, the other three beasts had their dominion taken away although they were allowed to live for a “season and a time.” Then the Son of Man came with the clouds of heaven and was given an everlasting dominion, glory, and a kingdom that will not be destroyed, that all peoples and nations should serve him.

It is at this point that Edward Reese places this Psalm in his Chronological Bible. It is directed to the overseer of the musicians and was to be played on the neginoth  – a stringed instrument (it could also mean a taunting song (Job 30:9.) Like the other songs of uncertain origin in this group, it could have been written by David but not attributed to him.  Whoever did write it, the psalm does seem to fit here as its scope (“all nations,” “all the people of the earth,” “all the ends of the earth”) fits the universal vision of the future that Daniel gives to us in chapter seven of his book. 

The psalm begins with a cry for blessing. Israel and the Jewish people were blessed, have been blessed through the years, and will continue to be blessed by God per His promise to Abraham. They have also suffered much over that same time. This psalm is placed at the end of 70 years of suffering, as captives of the Babylonians, because of their idolatry.  

Israel had been a blessed nation, but they forgot the purpose of that blessing.  Verse one asks God to be bend down and help them, to bless them, and for his face – his attention and care – to shine upon them. This was an echo of the benediction that God commanded Aaron and his sons to pronounce upon the newborn nation of Israel in Numbers 6:24 – 27. The problem was they eventually forgot the reason for that blessing. They might have even thought the blessing came because it they were better than other nations, or more righteous.  

Seventy years of captivity could have awakened them to the purpose of that blessing.  The psalmist who penned this song certainly understood it – “that Your way may be known upon earth and Your salvation (Yeshua is the word used here) among the nations.” God’s whole purpose in blessing the nation of Israel was to show the whole world His way, to let them know His provision of salvation so all people could praise Him.

At this Selah, pause for a moment and consider why God has blessed you. God blesses His people – the Jewish people because they are descendants of Abraham and the Gentile Christians because they are “grafted in” to that same “olive tree” (Romans 11:13-36.) God also blesses whole nations to the degree that they bless His people and walk in His ways (Genesis 12: 1-3). The reason He blesses us is seen in the verse before our Selah.  First, so that you can show the wisdom of His ways in your everyday life.  This was the purpose of Israel’s existence – that they would keep the statutes and laws they were given and, in that way, the nations around would see the fruits of obedience and recognize Israel as a wise nation (Deuteronomy 4:5-8). As Christians there should always be something different about the way we conduct ourselves.  Are you using His blessings to help you order your life in the way Jesus taught us?  When you do, even if it goes against our nature (which it does most of the time) it opens the door for God to work in ways that all around can see. 

Another reason for God’s blessing is so that His “saving health” – Jesus – cold be known among all nations.  When God blesses us, He blesses us with resources – energy (health), finances, talents, and time. Some of us may be wealthier in one than the others.  But they are all given to us to invest.  Jesus makes this point in a parable that He shares with His disciples because, as they neared Jerusalem, they thought the kingdom of God was soon to appear (Luke 19:12-27).  In this parable, a nobleman was going off to a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return.  Before he did, he gave each of his 10 servants a mina and told them, “Trade with this until I come back.” The nobleman was hated by many people there (Luke 19:14) and knew, that if servants would trade wisely and diligently, his influence and authority in that area would increase greatly. While he was gone most of his servants traded wisely – but there was one who wrapped up his mina and buried it in the ground.  When the master returned he rewarded those who used the money wisely and punished the one who hid it in the ground.

The mina is the Gospel.  Christ has committed this Gospel to every believer to “trade with” until He returns.  His blessing of whatever resources (energy, finances, time, or talents) He has given you is to be used to promote His authority and influence through the Gospel. Of course, those blessings are given to sustain and bless you and your family (that, in itself, is a testimony to others of God’s mercy) but His blessing is always abundant – above and beyond what we needand that is for a reason. That “abundance” may be one or two extra dollars, or may be a free hour during the week. If so, how are you investing them? I know a pastor’s widow who is 93 years old, still ambulatory, active, happy, and very alert. Before her marriage she barnstormed the Penn-York area as an evangelist. During her 60 years as a pastor’s wife she worked tirelessly, expending what seemed to be endless time, energy and finances for the Gospel.  After her husband died she has held countless garage sales and would give all the proceeds to missions. She gave what little she had – so God gave her more – then she used that as well.  By the way, her pastor-husband lived the same way and together they made a huge impact in our area for the Gospel. 

God blesses us for a reason.  As we understand that, and act accordingly, He blesses us more.  Sometimes those blessings do not look like blessings – but more like opportunities to invest time and energy to help someone else and bring glory to Him in the process.

Being Made Whole

Thanksgiving is a day that we set aside to give thanks.  What does it mean to give thanks? First of all, it means that we give thanks to someone – a person. We do not give thanks to the air, or just to make ourselves feel good.  Sometimes we thank a pet or a service animal who, although they may not understand our language, has a way of perceiving that gratitude. However, most of the time, we give thanks to a person, whose acts helped us in some way.  A habit of thanking neighbors, friends, parents, grand-parents, service members, first-responders, and others for their help, generosity, love, and/or concern is a noble act.  It reflects humility, a knowledge that we need others to survive and thrive.  It is the recognition of the sacrifices others chose to make on our behalf. Giving thanks to others also helps us because, by acknowledging these acts of others, we are lifted out of the bubble of “me” and into the freedom of “us.”

         But Thanksgiving Day goes farther than thanking those around us for their kindness. In the middle of the Civil War, on October 3, 1863, Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving an official national holiday set on the last Thursday in November.  The purpose was made clear in the proclamation:

I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

ˆ        Mr. Lincoln established Thanksgiving to be a time to thank and praise Person , in the midst of a horrible war – God Himself – for the deliverance He had given and the blessings He had bestowed. This thanksgiving was also to be accompanied with national remorse and repentance for the perverseness and disobedience of slavery that brought on the bloody civil war.  It was also to be a time of fervent prayer to God to heal the wounds of the nation. 

         In Luke 17:11-19 we read of ten men who were lepers. When they saw Jesus they all cried out for healing.  Jesus told them to go show themselves to the priest (for examination).  On the way, they were cleansed – the leprosy was gone! One of them turned back, ran back to Jesus, fell at His feet – giving him thanks.  After asking where the other nine were, Jesus’ told the leper to get up and go on his way because his faith had made him whole.

         Having the faith to stop, return, and give thanks literally made him whole. What was the difference between being cleansed and being made whole?  I am not sure, but perhaps the other nine only received a healing of the disease. Their sores dried up, the scabs disappeared, but the damage that was left – the missing noses, fingers, or ears – was not repaired. The tenth leper, however, was made whole.  This could mean that the all the damage done to his body by that terrible disease was healed because of the faith that caused him to stop and give thanks. 

         Giving thanks to God is a fruit of faith.  It recognizes Him for who He is.  Stopping to give thanks brings healing to our souls and makes them whole.  Psalm 23 tells us that the Lord, our Shepherd, restores – or resets – our souls. That work goes faster and deeper when we are thankful, even in the midst of difficult situations. It is a simple, but often neglected truth – giving thanks makes us whole.

         I believe that Lincoln’s proclamation of Thanksgiving did much toward ending the Civil War and making our nation whole because many of our citizens were people of faith. Unfortunately, today, many Americans do not believe there is a Person to thank – just a superstition to debunk. It is left to us who believe, and know our God, to join with our loved ones to thank Him this Thanksgiving and to, as the proclamation invites, “fervently implore the intervention of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it. . . .” In other words, to make it whole again as well. 

Measuring Our Days

Lord, make me to know mine end,

and the measure of my days, what it is;

that I may know how frail I am.

Behold, thou hast made my days as an handbreadth;

and mine age is as nothing before thee:

verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity. Selah.

Psalm 39:4,5

This was a Psalm for public worship.     It was written and sent “To the Chief Musician – even to Jeduthan.” Jeduthan was a Levite of the family of Merari and the chief of one of the three choirs of the temple whose descendants also formed one of the perpetual temple    choirs.  Reese, in His Chronological Bible, places it among the 6 Psalms he associates with David’s sin with Bath-Sheba.  It is a Lament that deals with the brevity of life which could have been prompted by the death of David and Bath-Sheba’s newborn son. 

         In Psalm 23, David talks about how the Lord was with him as he walked through the valley of the shadow of death. This “shadow” can refer to a close call, a life-threatening situation, or even a terminal illness. But this valley does not have to be the valley of the shadow of our death.  It could be the death or impending death of someone very dear to us. 

         Walking through this valley is what one could call a “depressing blessing.” None of us choose to enter there but our Shepherd will take us through it because we need that walk. One reason we need it is because of what David was speaking here – to begin to grasp the reality our own life’s end before we get there.

         In 2009 I was diagnosed with a malignant GIST tumor in my stomach.  I had a third of my stomach removed and ended up spending ten days in the Oncology floor of a hospital. Although weak and in a lot of pain my life was not in danger (I called it a “nasty spat” with cancer – not a battle), and I was recovering well. However, the people around me were not.  I could hear the suffering in nearby rooms and a depressing pall of death seemed to pervade the floor. I had always known I was going to die someday, but it was during that time I really felt the gloom of that valley for the first time.  I felt I had crept up to the edge of a very deep chasm, peered over and immediately shrunk back.  I knew I was ready, by the grace of God, to go to heaven – but I was not sure if I was ready for the process of getting there.  God let me know my “end” and it changed the way I looked at a lot of things.

God gives us the water of our our lives in manageable “drips” called “days”.     My hospital stay reminded me that my days were measured.  It is important to note that, in this psalm, David asked God to know the measure of his days – not his weeks, months, years, or decades.  That is because if we manage our each of day well, the longer periods will fall into line.  Moses prayed a similar prayer in Psalm 90. When confronted with the eternity of God, and the shortness of man’s life on earth, he cries out – “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” 

         Days well managed for God build up to become a legacy – a testimony for those who come after us. David was one of only four people in the Bible who passed into eternity with the epithet – “full of days.” The other three were Isaac, Job, and Jehoiada (the priest who raised and mentored King Joash.) The term “full of days” could mean “satiated with days.” I tend to think it could also mean they died having lived lives of “days which were satiated” – full of knowing and following God’s will for each 24 hour “drip.” They valued and numbered each of their days and that motivated them to get wisdom above everything else (Proverbs 4:7). 

         A key element in gaining wisdom is the understanding that David was asking for – a knowledge of his frailty and smallness as well as God’s power and greatness. In the Selah verse (v. 5) David tells the Lord that his days were only as wide as a hand and counted as nothing before His eternity.  As the king of Israel, David realized that even with all of his accomplishments, status and riches his life was really nothing more than an empty shell or a dry husk. 

         It is true that God loves us and we are of infinite worth to Him. But until we get to the point of abhorring ourselves and like Isaiah “come undone” of our pride and “accomplishments” there is not much He can do for us.  It is good to pause like this Selah asks us to and, like David, ask God to help you know “the measure of your days.”  Remembering that our days will end and we will step into eternity is a solemn, not a morbid, exercise.  It should motivate us to fill up every “hand-breadth” size day with activities that will have effects that will stretch far beyond the edges of time.  Besides the obvious activities of prayer and Bible reading they could include things like a timely text message to a friend in need, an attempt to reconcile with someone you offended, or an offering to missionary.  The list could be endless. Measuring your days is a tremendous motivator to pursue Him with everything within you.

Live by the Truth!

Several years ago, while working for a company in Texas, I met a middle-aged Russian woman who was on-loan to our office to conduct some training.  She was beautiful, happy, outgoing and easy to work with.  During some down time, while several of us were sitting around, I asked her what is was like in 1989 when the Soviet Union collapsed. 

         Her bright face quickly saddened and she said, “I was a teenager at the time and I suddenly realized we all had been living a lie.” Her answer surprised me – instead of the happiness of being free from Communist tyranny – there was the grief of realizing everything she had been taught by her government, and had believed, was a lie.  People had been imprisoned and killed by lies.  Their society was ruled by lies. She had been living by lies.

         That is one reason my interest was piqued when I heard of a book by Rod Dreher titled Live Not by Lies – A Manual for Christian Dissidents (Penguin Publishing.) Mr. Dreher is a conservative blogger and serves as a Senior Editor of the “The American Conservative.”  He has also authored three other books – The Little Way of Ruthie Leming (about his late sister), How Dante Can Save Your Life (about his love for the poet), and The Benedict Option (a call to Christians to divorce themselves from the secular mainstream of America.)  The timing of this, his most current book – being so close to an election that could have dire consequences for freedom in our country – caught my interest.  As Christians, where should we stand should our government go completely in with the socialist agenda?  If, on the other hand, we are able to keep ourselves from being sucked into tyranny this time, how should we live in a culture that is steeped in false narratives that continue to pull us that direction? This book provides answers which are both disturbing and encouraging. 

         The title of the book is a quote by the Soviet dissident Alexandr Solzhenitsyn from his final message to the Russian people before his forced exile from Russia entitled “Live Not by Lies!” In that piece he challenged the idea that the socialist, or communist, system was so powerful that ordinary people could not challenge it.  Mr. Dreher sums up the rest of Solzhenitsyn’s essay:

The foundation of totalitarianism is an ideology of lies. The system depends on its existence on a people’s fear of challenging the lies. Said the writer, “Our way must be: Never knowingly support lies!” You may not have the strength to stand up in public and say what you really believe, but you can at least refuse to affirm what you do not believe.  You may not be able to overthrow totalitarianism, but you can find within yourself and within your community the means to live in the dignity of truth. If we must live under the dictatorship of lies, the writer said, then our response must be: “Let their rule hold not through me!” (page xiv)

         The book is divided into two parts. The first (the most disturbing) is “Understanding Soft Totalitarianism.” In these four chapters Dreher introduces us to the creeping totalitarianism in our country through the eyes of those who lived through it in the Soviet Bloc.  These stories revolve around a Jesuit priest named Tomislav Kolakovic (to whom the book is dedicated.) He was a Croatian priest who fled to Czechoslovakia from the Nazis.  As the war came to an end, the Nazi threat diminished and the Soviet threat increased. Kolakovic knew what was coming and started to prepare his congregants for the inevitable. He soon gained a following and they adopted a motto – “See, Judge, Act.”  Be awake to the realities around you, seriously discern the meaning of those realities in the light of the truth of Christianity, and then act to resist the evil.  His strategy worked – although the Slovak Christians were the most persecuted in the Soviet Bloc, the Catholic Church thrived in its resistance.

         Dreher goes on to say that the survivors of Soviet totalitarianism are the Kolakovics of today – warning us of a coming totalitarianism – a “soft” totalitarianism that seeks to control all aspects of our lives. He describes this soft totalitarianism in this way:

This totalitarianism is therapeutic. It masks its hatred of dissenters from its utopian ideology in the guise of helping and healing. (page 7)

         The author goes on to say, like all totalitarianism, this brand seeks to displace all prior institutions and traditions and bring everyone under the control of its own ideology. The most disturbing thing about this section is the way the Mr. Dreher introduces us, throughout this section, to the words of former dissidents and Soviet citizens – now living in, or observing, the West – warning us that “this was the way it started with us.” 

         The second half of the book – “How to Live in Truth” – is encouraging.  It lays out specific principles and practices that were followed by Christians of all stripes that helped them live by the truth while under Soviet totalitarianism. Dreher does a manful job of research to enable us see these practices lived out before our eyes through the lives of real Christians who lived under a hard totalitarianism. The author groups these practices and principles into six groups:

  • Value nothing more than truth.
  • Cultivate cultural memory.
  • Families are resistance cells.
  • Religion: the bedrock of resistance.
  • Standing in solidarity.
  • The gift of suffering.

When I was a boy, I used to look through the training manuals my father was allowed to keep after serving as a soldier in World War II. They were concise and practical. They were designed to help him survive, fight, and win in a very hostile environment – a war.  As a Christians living in America we are also called to survive, fight, and win in a war that is both spiritual and cultural. Rod Dreher has helped increase our chances of surviving and winning this war through this manual – I highly recommend it.  

What is a Birthday?

While celebrating a birthday recently I began to wonder, “What is a birthday?” “What purpose does it serve in my life?” Beyond all the obvious reasons for celebrating, such as affirming our love for the birthday person, giving friends and family a reason to get together to celebrate, and (of course) the cake and ice cream, why should we stop and take the time to observe the passing of another year in our lives?

            We do it to maintain perspective – and we do that by looking in three directions.

            A birthday is a time to look back.  It is a time to pause and remember how far we have come. It is a time to remember our parents, our childhood, and our upbringing.  If you are like me, it is also time to remember bringing up your own family, your children’s childhood, the wonderful woman who was your wife, the loving mother of your children, and who is now gone. It is a time to remember the privilege of giving of yourself to your work and the great people with whom you worked. And, in it all, it is a time to see God’s hand – His blessing – in both the good and the bad, the happy and the sad, the easy and the hard, the therapeutic and the traumatic – and thanking Him for every minute of it.

            A birthday is a time to look forward.  The race that is still ahead – where will it take me?  What do I need to do to run it?  Am I doing what I need to do to run it?  The fight I still need to fight – where is it?  How do I fight it? How do I get and stay in shape to fight it? Unfortunately (but, in truth, it really is fortunate) our vision in this direction is much more limited than our look to the past.  Instead of the decades of experience, all we may see ahead are days of uncertainty, even fear. They do not need to be so. Bolstered by our look to the past, all we need to see looking forward is the next step.  God has seen us through thus far and He will continue to do so. We just need to stick close to His side.

            A birthday is a time to look up.  There have been many who have gone before us and have left a testimony of God’s faithfulness.  There are so many of them, the writer of Hebrews calls them a “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12 :1-6).  A cloud is made up of millions of droplets of water – so a “great cloud” of witnesses represents a HUGE number of real, flesh and blood people who have walked this walk of faith through this fallen world before us. Hebrews also tells us (in chapter 11) that they all left us a testimony of God’s faithfulness before leaving this world – but without receiving the promise, sometimes after horrible suffering. Why is this? It is because their faith looked beyond time to eternity. Their faith could see what those without faith could not see – God’s eternal purposes. Eternity is what gave their life meaning and caused them to make a difference in the world. And that was all that really mattered.

            That is why Hebrews tells us we can run whatever is left of our race with endurance by looking up – to the One who began our faith, and the One who will finish it – Jesus. He was able to endure the agony of the cross and regarded the shame of the cross as a small price to pay for the joy of providing redemption to “whosoever will.” Our lives can also have a redemptive effect on those we know (and the joy that goes with it) as we keep our eyes on all He did for us and what He wants us to do for others. 

If, on your birthdays, you look back with deep regret, or look forward with dread, take some time today to look up to the One who gave Himself for you. Trust Him to save you from your sin.  Stay close to Him and let Him lead you on the path He has planned. 

Trust me, there is nothing better.