A Verse for Our Times

Psalm 56:3

When I am afraid, I will trust in you (CSB).

People can have many fears at all times. At times, a relatively few people share the same fears. Those who share the same fears probably don’t have the same degree of fear. For example, some people have a tiny fear of heights; in fact, they’re simply cautious as all sane people are. Others are terrorized by heights, almost sure they are going to fall and die. Others might get paralyzed by their fears. Once in my construction days, I had to help a carpenter with forty years’ experience down off a roof, because he became paralyzed with fear. Yes, I, who have a rather healthy respect for heights, had to do this. (My wife and children are no doubt laughing as they read this!) Yet, I had to help him, and after about fifteen minutes, he was able to inch himself over to the ladder, and I held it securely for him, as he came down under his own power. Needless to say, it was the last time we allowed him to go up on a roof.

I don’t know where you are on “the fear spectrum” concerning Covid-19, the latest corona virus. Some people need to gain a healthy respect for it and act circumspectly. Others might be terrorized or paralyzed by fear. Many are in the middle or at some other point on the spectrum. No one can simply tell another person not to fear. We need to confront our fears with truth, and then replace them with faith in God.

David wrote this psalm. He had experienced strong, serious fears nearly his whole life. Many enemies tried to kill him. Yet escapes from possibly fatal encounters did not make him arrogant. Some people have that reaction after a brush with certain death. Arrogance is never wise.

The condition of his heart was complex. He was afraid, yet he trusted at the same time. He did not allow his fear to immobilize his soul. “It is possible, then, for fear and faith to occupy the mind at the same moment. We are strange beings, and our experience in the divine life is stranger still. We are often in a twilight, where darkness and light are both present, and it is hard to tell which predominates. It is a blessed fear that drives us to trust” (Spurgeon, Treasury of David, on this verse).

If you are afraid of what consequences Covid-19 might wreak in our nation and world, you are thinking. But don’t let your fears stop you from an active, growing, vibrant trust in the Lord. At the very moment you feel overwhelmed with fear, remember that God is in our situation. He is not far away and unconcerned. He is sovereign and ruling for the good of all believers in one way or another.

What David does is to encourage himself in the true and living God. If he had put his trust in idols and false gods, his faith would have been futile. But it was not. His faith was in the Lord of the covenant, in Yahweh (56:10-11), in the Great I Am Who I Am. His name, the Lord, is the hope of his people, the brightest star during the darkest night, the refreshing breeze on the hottest day, the one who is able to supply all our needs in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19). Let us not be like the unbelievers in the wilderness. They demanded food from God, but immediately questioned if he could provide (Psalm 78:17-22).

To trust God, you need correct ideas about him. The right beliefs come from his word. Read Isaiah 42-55, Mark 1-8, and the Gospel of John to fill your soul with the truth about our God. Then you must replace your fears with faith in the true and living God, the Almighty, the Ruler, the Sovereign God over all. Where is your heart today? Are you filled with fears? Or are you filled with the Holy Spirit, who makes Christ present in your heart, the same Christ who healed the sick and calmed the troubled seas. If the Lord can do that, he can be with all of us through this pandemic.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:16-19 NIV).

Grace and peace,

Elijah: A Man Like Us (Part One)

1 Kings 19:1-11a

Consider the great contrast between chapters 18 and 19. It is hard to comprehend that they are speaking of the same person. In chapter 18, we read of Elijah standing boldly before hostile false prophets, a wicked king and people that had walked away from the Lord to worship false gods; in chapter 19 he flees from a threat of one woman, Jezebel.

A great victory does not prevent future troubles, whether it was a victory in service to God or a victory over remaining sin. People hope to solve all their problems by triumph in one shining moment. “Let’s win this one victory so we can get on with our lives.” We should never think that sin, the rebellious world and the evil one will surrender so easily. The believer’s life is a constant warfare against sin. Why else would we need the full armor of God?

Let us think about some problems that Elijah faced immediately after seeing God answer his prayers for fire and rain.

Elijah felt the pressure of fear (19:1-3). He looked in the wrong direction. It’s amazing how quickly we can lose the proper spiritual outlook. Peter experienced this while walking on the water with Jesus (Matthew 14). Remember what happened to the ten spies (Numbers 13:33). They had known God’s miraculous provision and victory over two powerful enemies within two years. Yet they did not believe that God was able to give them the land.

Elijah fell into fear, because he did not wait for the Lord’s direction. Contrast 1 Kings 17:2-4, 8-9; 18:1. He had done so well before, but he did not wait for a word from the Lord now. By the way, it’s useless to speculate about “what would have happened if….” Don’t waste your time in empty wishing that you would have done something different. Repent, believe and get on with the good work of serving the living God. In the Chronicles of Narnia, Aslan, the Great Lion, says to one of the children, Lucy, “Child, I do not tell people what would have happened.”

Even in his failure, the Lord was working for his prophet’s preservation. Elijah failed to see what God was doing for him at the very time he fell into fear. Why didn’t Jezebel slay Elijah immediately? Why did she wait? The Bible teaches us confidence in the living God who controls everything. The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will (Proverbs 21:1). The Lord can protect when everything seems hopeless.

Elijah felt the pressure of fatigue (19:4-6). We must be aware of the effect of our bodies upon our souls. A human is a functional unity of the spiritual and the physical. Jesus told his disciples that they needed to rest (Mark 6:30-32). Not only does the body affect the soul, but the soul can also affect the body. Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones (Proverbs 16:24 NIV; cf. 17:22). This physical fatigue influenced Elijah to pray foolishly (19:4). It is grace that some of our prayers are answered “no”, because we can ask for some foolish things. I do not think that Elijah really wanted to die. If he did, he could have stayed where he was and Jezebel would have been happy to cooperate. God wisely and lovingly supplied what tired Elijah really needed then. He gave him sleep (Psalm 103:13-14), and he gave him food.

We must apply this knowledge to ourselves. Some cases of spiritual depression have physical roots. If your soul is down in the dumps, you may be ill or mistreating your body. You may need to see a medical doctor. Make sure you have proper rest. Choose wisely when you read your Bible. This can involve hard choices for busy moms. Some people function quite well at night and they can profit from Bible reading late at night. You may not be that way. You may be a morning or an afternoon type of person. Know yourself. The axiomatic wisdom of Jack Sprat. Know the rest you need before you go to church services. Get to bed earlier on Saturday night.

Grace and peace, David

The Struggles of the Believer (Part Two)

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise—in God I trust and am not afraid. What can mere mortals do to me? (Psalm 56:3-4 NIV)

The first struggle of the believer we will consider is the struggle of faith with fear. What should you do when you are afraid? Do not be mistaken. You will have to struggle with fear. You are not yet in eternal glory. One of the issues that causes tension or a pull between opposites is what is called “the now” and “the not yet”. We are now richly blessed with all spiritual blessings (Ephesians 1:3), but since the Lord has not yet returned, we must wait in faith for the full realization of all blessings. For example, we continue to struggle with suffering (Ephesians 3:13), unity (Ephesians 4:3), communication issues (Ephesians 4:25-29), etc.

In this struggle, we must replace fear with faith in God. Fear can cripple us as we seek to walk with the Lord. However, the time of fear is the opportunity to exercise faith.

We need a godly view of fear, and by godly, I mean more than saying, “We should not fear.” Fear by itself is an emotion given by God for human preservation. Fear motivates us to seek protection from what may harm us. For example, we ought to fear God. Jesus said, “I say to you, my friends, don’t fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more. But I will show you the one to fear: Fear him who has authority to throw people into hell after death. Yes, I say to you, this is the one to fear! (Luke 12:4-5 CSB; cf. 1 Peter 2:17) We ought to fear God, because he is holy and almighty. But since he is also loving and gracious, we sinners may find refuge in Christ that God has provided. Fear is a problem when it hinders us from drawing near to God or from serving God and others in love. Consider again what Christ says in Luke 12.

The way to confront fear is to replace it with faith. When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. It is a mistake to assume that you can simply stop being afraid. Someone who merely quits being afraid is an unemployed worrier, who will fear again when another problem arises. “Faith is seen here as a deliberate act, in defiance of one’s emotional state” (Kidner). In other words, when fears starts to control, you choose to trust. You think on the overwhelming greatness of the Lord God. You realize that God is leading you through the present situation so that you may turn from your insufficiency to his all-sufficiency.

The replacement for fear is not merely faith, but faith in the living God. The whole phrase is crucial. When I am afraid, I put my trust in you (my emphasis). We should avoid saying trite phrases like “You just need to believe!” Biblical faith requires the proper object, who is the true and living God. And God must be approached through the Lord Jesus Christ. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father (Ephesians 2:18 ESV). David is not suggesting that faith by itself will deliver. The Bible never tells us to have faith in our faith. Instead, David instructs us to trust in God. Our faith must have an object that is worthy of trust. And God is worthy! “Only God is the object of Biblical faith… This simple truth can be an immeasurable help in the Christian life. Faith is not blind. It is not an ambiguous trust in some abstract entity. It is not a leap in the dark. God is the object of faith” (Matthews, Growth in Grace, p. 117).

Observe this in the life of Paul the apostle, as he neared the end of his earthly journey. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen (2 Timothy 4:18 NIV). He turned to the Lord in the midst of evil attacks. His confidence was in God, not in pleasant circumstances.

Grace and peace, David

God, Jonah, and the City (Part Four)

Jonah 1:5-10

And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land” (Jonah 1:9 ESV).

Our Sovereign Lord wants his people to reach out to the lost with the good news of salvation in Jesus the Messiah. He wants us to do this in love, compassion, and kindness. It is his way of bringing glory to his name and sharing his overflowing glory with his creatures. It is his mission, and it is the mission of us his people, regardless of our being engaged in it or not. The Lord Jesus tells us to make learners of him, to baptize (immerse) learners of him, and to teach learners of him to obey everything that he has commanded. He will always be with us in this mission (Matthew 28:19-20).

The difficult problem is that most professed learners of Jesus are not involved in the mission. Though we sincerely appreciate everything that people do in local gatherings of learners (a.k.a. local “churches”), doing tasks during a morning gathering is not making disciples and it is not a substitute for that. Certainly, in small groups we can work together in the mission, but too many substitute physical chores for involvement with people that need to know the Lord. As we read this section of Jonah, there is a miserable contrast between Jonah and his shipmates.

Jonah fell asleep during the storm; the others were filled with fear (1:5). I can understand their fear out on the sea, though I haven’t experienced it. I’m the first to put on a life vest, whether it’s a ride in a motorboat on a lake or a paddle boat on a shallow pond! I can’t relate to how Jonah could stay asleep in a violent storm. (Please don’t tell me he wanted to die. Chapter four disproves that thesis, even if he used the words.) Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh. Got it. But where was his love for his shipmates? He was unconcerned about them.

Jonah’s shipmates prayed, and he did not (1:5-6). Most people pray and/or seek someone to pray for them when they or their loved ones are in danger. During years as a pastor, people constantly asked me to pray for them. (I think some thought that I had a special line open to heaven that they lacked.) They cried out to false gods; Jonah failed to pray to the true and living God. The prayerlessness of professing learners of Jesus Christ is appalling. It out to make us sick and angry. Plan a church dinner and you will probably fill the room; plan a church prayer meeting, and you can probably count those who show up on your fingers. Lack of interest in prayer and praying together is a sign of spiritual coldness.

Jonah knew who he was, and they searched for answers (1:7-10). His shipmates felt the utter terror of a great storm at sea, but they didn’t know why it had come. People like to know reasons for their problems, for we suppose that knowledge will give us the key to fix them. People also like to blame someone for the problem they are in. That usually doesn’t fix anything, but it lets us vent our anger at someone. Those men chose to cast lots to discover the culprit. God’s hand controlled the outcome of the lots. So then, there was nothing Jonah could do but own up to his blameworthiness. But how he did that leaves you shaking your head. He answered them, “I’m a Hebrew. I worship the Lord, the God of the heavens, who made the sea and the dry land” (Jonah 1:9 CSB). How could he say this with a straight face? He had told them that he was running away from the Lord, and then he claimed to worship the Lord. This was a strange worshiper! He dared to take to the sea, which was always a risky endeavor in ancient times, when he was running away from the Maker of the sea? His shipmates would have thought this incredible, if they had not been in mortal danger. Jonah knew who he was and the power of the Lord, but it didn’t do him enough good to lead him to obey the Lord of all.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the Lord has commanded us to make learners of Christ. Yet are we trying to run away from our responsibility? Let’s lose all the supposed reasons and outright excuses for failing to fish for people (Mark 1:17). Let’s humble ourselves before the Lord, ask for forgiveness, and then head in the direction of fulfilling the commission that Jesus has given us.

Grace and peace, David

He Will Be Great

dscn0446Luke 1:29-33

But she was deeply troubled by this statement, wondering what kind of greeting this could be. Then the angel told her: Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Now listen: You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end (HCSB).

Mary was afraid. She was afraid because of the sudden appearance of one of God’s angels to her and greatly troubled at his message. We easily picture Mary confident and serene after the birth of Jesus. It is difficult for us to see Mary, the very young woman, in an unexpected meeting with a mighty angel from the spiritual realm that we humans cannot presently see. If we think about why she was troubled by his greeting, we might be more perplexed, since it was a greeting of joy and hope. Perhaps, it was because Mary was a very humble person, not looking or longing for greatness. In an instant, God had boldly entered her life, and it would never be the same. That would bring a modest young woman many troubled thoughts.

Observe how Gabriel spoke to calm her. He repeated the truth that God had shown favor to her. This was good news, not something to trouble her. Many a pastor has experienced how tender hearts are troubled about things that ought to make them rejoice. We seem to have a way of imagining difficulties for ourselves. A calm repetition of the truth is the best remedy. We need time to process God’s words to us.

Gabriel moved on with the message God had sent him to deliver. Now listen. He directed Mary to pay attention to God’s word to her. God’s people are to be self-controlled, in charge of our hearts, ready to listen to what the Lord tells us. When you open your Bible, whether privately, with your family, or in public worship, are you prepared to listen? Banish lesser thoughts, rise above your troubles, and listen. To listen is one of the hardest things to do in our time, because we have heard much advertising and stories presented in high-tech bright, flashing array. It is very difficult to listen attentively to God’s word. Mary needed to listen, and so do we.

What did Mary need to hear?

  • She needed to listen to her part in the story of God’s glory. She, though a virgin, would conceive and give birth to a son. Mary grasped that part of the message right away, as her follow-up question shows (Luke 1:34). To have God with her would not mean that she would become a mighty leader, but a mother. God would have to enable that outcome. She would also name her son, but she must give him the name that God had chosen: Jesus, the Lord is salvation.
  • She needed to hear the identity of her son. He would not simply be “the son of Mary”, though that would be true. He would also be the Son of the Most High. It took Jesus three years of careful teaching to explain this to the apostles; therefore, it is very unlikely that Mary grasped its significance right away. Here is the mystery of the incarnate Christ. He is truly God and truly human at the same time. Let us worship when we cannot understand.
  • She needed to listen to the destiny of her Son. And the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end. Jesus was destined to sit on David’s throne. A prophecy made to David over a thousand years before Mary was about to happen. The promised King of God’s people was about to arrive. A reading of the Four Gospels will show that Jesus talked about the kingdom, which was God’s kingdom and his kingdom, throughout his earthly ministry. He would receive the throne by a grant from the Sovereign Lord himself. God’s word had not failed, though the people had been kingless for nearly six hundred years.

Today, we look for the second coming of the King. This Christmas, as you look at lights, sing songs, open presents, and enjoy your family and friends, remember to fix your thoughts on King Jesus. We are celebrating the birthday of the King, and we must bow in worship before him.

Grace and peace, David

The Desire to Worship and Praise

dscn35162 Chronicles 20:18-19

Then Jehoshaphat bowed with his face to the ground, and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell down before the Lord to worship Him. Then the Levites from the sons of the Kohathites and the Korahites stood up to praise the Lord God of Israel shouting with a loud voice. (HCSB)

In our previous articles about clashing desires from the life of Jehoshaphat, we saw the Lord God answer Jehoshaphat’s prayer for help when confronted by a serious problem. God answered by the Holy Spirit coming upon a man in the crowd to give God’s message to the king and his people. God acts in our lives by the Spirit and the Word. By the Word, the Lord told them how he would rescue them. By the Spirit, the Lord enabled them to believe and act on the Word.

What we want to think about next is that the combination of the Spirit and the Word is the spring from which the desire to worship and praise flows. Before the people heard the word by the Spirit, they were filled with fear. A vast army was coming to destroy them! They should have been afraid! But they did the right thing when afraid. When I am afraid, I will trust in You (Psalm 56:3 HCSB). The people sought the Lord in their fears, and he promised to help them. And so, convinced of God’s promise, they began to worship. You must realize that at the time they started to worship, the vast army was still out there and headed their way! Their worship began because of their faith in the promise of God. Now may the God of hope also give us grace to listen to his message to us.

Jehoshaphat led the people in worship. In general, when we see people worshiping the Lord in the Scriptures, it is out of a posture of humility before him. People kneel or bow down or fall prostrate before the Lord of glory. This posture recognizes the Creator’s greatness, holiness, power and authority by those created by him. The Lord had taught them his significance and worthiness by many acts of power throughout their history. They responded to this word based on redemption themes with confession of his greatness.

For this reason, Jehoshaphat and all the people of Judah gathered bowed down before the Lord. Now, what are you really thinking at this point? “Oh, isn’t this a charming story about people of long ago? People used to do such things, you know. But aren’t we sophisticated, affluent people rather above such actions. Primitive people in third world nations might bow down, but us? You can’t be serious!” What do we know in our experience about humbling ourselves before the Lord? When was the last time you were on your knees before him? Has there ever been such a time? Let me encourage you to get down on your knees when you pray in family worship. Sharon and I do.

The Levites led in praise. In general, when we read of people praising the Lord in the Scriptures, they praise with a posture of exaltation and celebration before him. People stand, lift up their hands, lift up their voices, and exalt the Lord’s glory. It is the recognition of the Savior by those saved by the Savior’s love, compassion, goodness, and redeeming works. The Lord had promised to rescue them and to be with them. They responded by lifting up his name with a very loud voice.

For this reason, Levites of two different groups led the people in celebration of promised deliverance. Now, what are you really thinking at this point? “Oh, isn’t this a charming story about people of long ago? People used to do such things, you know. But aren’t we sophisticated, affluent people rather above such actions. Primitive people in third world nations or ‘wild Pentecostals’ might praise the Lord with a very loud voice, but us? You can’t be serious!”

What do we know in our experience about celebrating before the Lord? When was the last time you lifted your hands before him? Has there ever been such a time? Let’s clear our hearts of excuses. I think our real difficulty is whether or not we actually believe that the Lord is God. David, what are you saying? Well, I happened to watch parts of a couple baseball games this week, and I saw people doing worship and praise, similar to the way the people of Judah did in this story. The fans would get bent over with worry when their team was losing or in danger of losing, but when their team was winning or had won, they broke out into exuberant praise. It was very impressive, but it was only for a baseball team made up of mere humans. Yes, people in very sophisticated worldly cultures get very involved physically… when they want to, and we won’t even mention how people all over the world get very physically involved in whatever kind of “football” they’re watching.

Let us think about honoring God. I think there are times we must humble ourselves before the Lord, overcome by his greatness. And I think there are other times we must stand and lift up our hands in praise, overcome by his goodness. At this point, I want to clarify what I am saying. Yes, I am talking about what we do with our bodies, our outer persons. But also, and in a deeper way, I am talking about what we do with our hearts, our inner persons. Do you humble your heart before the Lord? Do you exalt in your heart to the Lord? Are you responding appropriately to the truth about the Lord our God?

Let’s go deeper. Is there a clash of desires in your heart to respond to God like he shows you in the Bible as opposed to responding to God in your own self-pleasing way? Are you telling yourself, “I must seem sophisticated, I must be reserved and dignified, I must not appear zealous or enthusiastic?” Or are you telling yourself, “I must worship and praise God according to the way he reveals himself in his Holy Word?”

Grace and peace, David

The Promise of God’s Presence

img_08952 Chronicles 20:15b-17

In a fast-paced society with ever-broadening technological advances, it is easy to be overcome by the flux. We can crave to hear about something that is “new”. This desire is not a byproduct of the information age, but comes from the human heart in our insatiable desire to know. Luke commented in Acts that this was the condition of the Athenians. Now all the Athenians and the foreigners residing there spent their time on nothing else but telling or hearing something new (17:21 HCSB). And so, we desire new phrases and ideas, and so disclose our pitiful condition.

However, the Spirit of God repeats redemption themes to build God’s kind of world and life view into us.  In our text from 2 Chronicles, notice how the Spirit repeats words that he had previously used to form God’s story into his people in the past. God’s people need to be renewed and reformed by basic ideas that speak about our relationship with God. Ponder the ideas that the Holy Spirit used.

  • Do not be afraid or discouraged: This idea points them back to when the Lord was about to lead them into the Promised Land. The task ahead was huge and daunting. How could it be done? For this reason, the Spirit imbedded this idea into their outlook (Deuteronomy 1:21; 3:2, 22; 31:6; Joshua 1:6-9). We need this very much to overcome our paralyzing fears. We need to look at our resources (God and the gospel) more than the obstacles in our way (hatred, idolatry, greed, violence, arrogance and prejudice). If you suppose that your problems are unsolvable, you need to listen to what God says. Don’t be afraid or discouraged! In the darkest situations, God can work for your eternal joy. He can bring sweet out of what is bitter. Remember the story of the waters of Marah (Exodus 15:22-25).
  • The battle is the Lord’s: This idea points them back to David’s great victory over Goliath, when defeat seemed certain (1 Samuel 17:47). Everyone was afraid to act, yet the Lord brought about a great victory through unlikely means. In Bunyan’s masterpiece, The Pilgrim’s Progress, consider Christian’s stay in the church, where they showed him many unusual ways that the Lord had given victory to his people.
  • The Lord will be with you: This idea comes from God’s covenant with Abraham (Genesis 15:1). The Lord repeated this concept many times: Isaac (Genesis 26:3), Jacob (Genesis 28:15), Joseph (Genesis 39:2, 21, 23), and to the people about to enter the land (Deuteronomy 2:7; Joshua 1:5). It is repeated to us by the Lord Jesus, in order to encourage us on our mission (Matthew 28:20). The Lord uses it during reassure his servants during the most discouraging times (Acts 18:9-10). Always remember that the Lord is on mission with us. If you’re not certain that God is with you, then listen to the good news. In Jesus Christ, God offers to enter an agreement with you that will change your life. If you will turn from your empty way of life and trust in Christ who died and rose to life, he will change your heart, be your God, give you knowledge of him, which involves eternal life, and forgive your sins (Hebrews 8:10-12). Now is an excellent time to believe in the Lord Jesus and receive these gifts.

Through the prophet, the Spirit of God announced the battle plan (20:16-17a). They needed to believe and obey in order to see God at work. God expects the same from us today. God sent them out. This is a picture of where we need to be to see God at work in the world. Here’s a hint: you usually won’t see him at work in the safety of your home. Jesus has sent you out into the world.

  • March – God had full intelligence of the location of the enemy army. “Here is where to find them; just punch this address in your GPS.” Shortly after this, God would do the same for Elisha (2 Kings 6:8ff).
  • Take positions – Get to the places where they would want to fight; find the best locations that offer a tactical advantage over their army. If you have visited Gettysburg, you have seen the high ground the Union army occupied on Little Round Top.
  • Stand firm and see – Surprise! They would not need to fight. The Lord was going to handle this by himself in some unspecified way. Too often we depend on our own insights, plans, gimmicks, strategies, and abilities. The Lord wants us to trust and obey. Do we know the missional “battle plan” (Matthew 28:18-20)? Then go and make disciples with the gospel (Romans 1:16-17).
  • Do not be afraid or discouraged – Go out to face them tomorrow. Yes, the Lord repeats the core of his message to them! “But that vast army is out there!” Yes, it is, and the way they would see it overcome was to do what the Lord told them. This is also true for us.

What are your deepest fears right now? Take a moment and write them down on paper. Next, look at what you’ve written. Now ask yourself, “Am I ready to trust God with my fears? Will I trust him, even if things do not work out as I’d like? Will I believe that nothing is too hard for the Lord (Genesis 18:14)?” In the presence of God, face your fears and trust in the Lord with all your heart.

Grace and peace, David

The Clash of Fear and Faith

img_39492 Chronicles 20:1-13

One October day, Sharon and I went for a short drive in response to an email. Hopefully, that sounds a little mysterious and I intend to leave it that way. We did not put our trip on Facebook, since we very, very rarely put anything personal on Facebook. Anyway, as we rode along, we came across a sign for one of those “haunted walks”. What is it about this time of year that puts people into the mood for what is creepy and scary? I have only to mention chainsaw massacres, Freddy Krueger, and Chuckie to remind you of people’s passion for not simple fear, but horror. As Stephen King said, “I like to scare people, and people like to be scared.”

When we think of fear and worry, four facts are plain: (Ed Welch, Running Scared, p. 13)

  • Fear and worry run deep in us all.
  • Fear and worry have meaning. They say something.
  • Fear and worry say that the world is dangerous.
  • Fear and worry reveal us. They reveal the things we love and value.

What we have in the next incident from the life of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, is a clash of fear and faith, in him and his people. After a short time of relative calm, everyone is in fear for their lives, their families, and their possessions. Would they survive? The world is never a pleasant place for people whose lives are threatened. But there is another fear. Would God, their covenant Lord, help them? Would he step in to rescue them? Fear and faith clash. Perhaps they are presently clashing in you, as you see a world in turmoil, that is not safe any longer, as we had long assumed. This chapter in Second Chronicles is for people in perilous times.

It began with a sudden, unexpected disturbance (20:1-4). The kingdom of Judah was threatened with invasion from the east (20:1-2). We must remember the setting of the recent religious turmoil that the southern kingdom of Judah experienced. Through Jehoshaphat’s unholy alliance with Ahab, the worship of false gods like Baal was growing in influence on Judah. Jehoshaphat tried to counter this, as we have seen in 19:4-11. But as events will show, his efforts were only partly successful. Plus, because of his alliance with Ahab, God had announced discipline upon Jehoshaphat (19:2). Now, the stroke is about to fall.

The enemy was a large coalition of peoples, headed by the descendants of Lot, the Moabites and the Ammonites, with the descendants of Esau, the Edomites, also joined, along with other people groups. It is called “a vast army”. Though Jehoshaphat had considerable military power, it was clear to all that this fight was beyond their ability.

I write the following to prevent discouragement to everyone. We should never imagine that our reformation of ideas and actions acts as a preservative from problems, especially when we deserve discipline from the Lord (Hebrews 12:4-11). There is not any “I’ll quickly clean up my act and God must protect me” strategy presented in the Word. God is much more concerned that we become like Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29) than that we have a problem-free life. Difficulties are opportunities for God to develop repentance toward God and faith in Christ in our lives.

Fear took hold of Jehoshaphat (20:3). Fear can be either good or sinful. The right kind of fear can prompt us to right actions. A friend of mine told me a story about a man who ran a red light, and one of those traffic cameras snapped a picture of his license plate. The police mailed him a copy of the photo and a ticket for running the light. Then man, thinking himself clever, decided to make a photocopy of the money needed to pay the fine and send it to the police. They responded by sending him a photocopy of handcuffs. He quickly responded by paying the fine. My friends, that was a wise use of fear. So how did Jehoshaphat use his fear?

He resolved or “set his face” (ESV) to seek the Lord. I think that we expect the life of faith to be easy. You know, we pray some half-hearted prayer, sing our favorite song with a little enthusiasm, enter into a discussion at a Bible study with some degree of alertness and perhaps even read (gasp) a whole chapter (gasp) in our Bible. And then we expect revival to break out across the land. Can we leave Fantasyland, please? Matthew Henry commented on this verse. “Those that would seek the Lord so as to find him, and to find favor with him, must set themselves to seek him, must do it with fixedness of thought, with sincerity of intention, and with the utmost vigor and resolution to continue seeking him.”

He proclaimed a fast for all Judah. Fasting is a believer’s voluntary abstinence from food for spiritual purposes. Fasting shows that you are desperate for God’s help. Fasting is not commanded in the new covenant, but allowed to express dedication to the Lord. Anyone with a disease like diabetes must consult their physician before fasting, and then only with the greatest caution. I had a diabetic friend who killed himself by not acting wisely in this matter. In our over-consuming culture, there might be different ways we can fast, such as by giving up desserts in order to pray, or perhaps by giving up movies, TV, the internet, or shopping, in order to pray.

The people joined together to seek help from the Lord. We read of the same thing happening in Acts four when persecution started against the early Christians. The Lord is pleased when his people join together to seek his help. We should not suppose that we are pulling one over on God by suddenly becoming spiritually focused. That is not the point at all. No, the Lord works through such events to pull his people together unto him.

The Lord saved me during the mini-revival of the early 1970s. One thing I can remember of those days was the united prayer sessions. Believers came together, calling on the name of the Lord for blessing. And he did! My friends, we live in prayerless times, and so we should not be surprised that we lack the experience of the presence and power of God. In all our local gatherings of believers, we need to pray more. How much time does your church devote to prayer in its services? If you attend a typical church, I can safely estimate that the total time for prayer is less than five minutes, and that those prayers are perfunctory. Do you pray in your Bible studies or small groups? Do not waste your life complaining and fretting. The Lord wants us to pray.

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened (Matthew 7:7-8 ESV).

Grace and peace, David

Following a Bad Example

IMG_3122Genesis 26:7-11

The Lord provides his followers or learners with much instruction in his word. All of us need the teaching of God’s word in our daily walk with the Lord. The Spirit of God uses the teaching of the word to develop Christ-likeness in us. At times he uses the commands and exhortations of the word. At others he uses wisdom teaching (like in the Proverbs). He also uses the “big picture story” to provide clarity to our thinking and to help us understand life. The Holy Spirit directs us with good and bad examples that provide patterns that we should follow or avoid.

Isaac did not have the Scriptures, and so he lacked these forms of instruction. He had the traditions of what God had revealed to Adam, Enoch, Noah, and his own father Abraham. He also had the clear instruction that we considered in our previous article. However, that is the sum of what he had from God to direct his way of life. (The conscience is not a guide. It merely accuses or excuses according to what a person thinks is right or wrong. Compare Romans 2:15.)

We need to remember these things as we consider the reading for today. What did Isaac know? He knew God’s promise that the Lord would be with him and would bless the nations of the world through his offspring. This was a tremendous promise to Isaac. God intended that Isaac build his world and life view in conformity with this word from God. He had every reason to be very confident in every situation of his life. He could expect God to act for his good (cf. Romans 8:28). Yet Isaac was human and sinful like all of us. He did not trust God to protect Rebekah, his children, and himself, in what appeared to be a dangerous situation.

Isaac became afraid when the men of the area, ruled by the Philistines, asked about Rebekah. He knew that she was beautiful; in fact, she was very beautiful (24:16). Let us pause the story for a moment. God had given marriage between one man and one woman as a gift to all people. This was long before the teachings of the Bible about sexual morality and marriage. People across the world have honored marriage throughout human history, and have respected in some manner the relationship that a husband and wife have to each other; namely, that it is wrong to violate the marriage covenant between a man and a woman. Certainly, people have committed adultery through ages, and that is always sinful. Although people commit adultery, they know it is wrong, even if they might be unable to give a biblical explanation for its sinfulness. For this reason, Isaac’s thoughts went in another direction: “If they know that this beautiful woman Rebekah is married to me, they will kill me so that they can take her.” Violence as well as sexual immorality is part of mankind’s sinful story. Now, let’s resume the account.

Isaac came up with a plan, which was the same plan that his father Abraham had twice used when he and Sarah went to Egypt and when they returned to Canaan (cf. Genesis 12:1-20; 20:1-20). It was a wrong plan. Regardless of the fact that the Lord had twice rescued Abraham and Sarah from evil consequences, Isaac had no right to follow his father’s poor example. We all need to act godly and boldly to break “generational sin patterns”. Isaac told people that Rebekah was his sister, instead of his wife. This was a sin against God, his wife, and the Philistines. He lied before God and to the Philistines, he disrespected his wife and failed to protect her chastity, and acted in fear rather than in faith.

At first, Isaac’s plan seemed to “work”. Sinful plans can seem to work. Wicked people can prosper in their ungodly ways. But God’s word warns us that they do not “work” forever (Psalm 73:15-20). Isaac thought he could pull of his deception while having secret getaways with his wife. But one night the Philistine king discovered Isaac and Rebekah having a rather amorous rendezvous.  He came to the quick and correct conclusion that they were married.

The Philistine ruler confronted Isaac with the deception and demanded an explanation. Isaac did the right thing and told him. To his surprise, Abimelech protected Isaac and Rebekah. Isaac discovered he had nothing to fear, and that his deception of the Philistines was needless.

Let us learn from Isaac’s mistake of following bad examples, including those we have “inherited” from our parents. Our Lord expects us to follow him, and not be blind followers of parents, or friends for that matter. The word of God is the standard for the Christian’s behavior and not what others appear to get away with doing. If others have set you an evil example of anger or lying or gossip, by God’s grace in Christ, you can walk in new ways of righteousness. May the Lord help all of us to avoid bad examples!

Grace and peace, David

A Promise Forsaken (Part Two)

DSCN32041 Kings 12:25-33

After Solomon died, his son Rehoboam became king, but he acted foolishly. He followed the advice of his young friends and rejected the counsel of older men who understood the mood of the people for change. Jeroboam led the revolt of the people against Rehoboam, and as God had determined, he became the king of the ten northern tribes of Israel. Rehoboam was left with two tribes, Judah and Benjamin, and he wanted to start a civil war to regain the other ten, but the Lord ordered him not to do that (12:1-24). This meant that Jeroboam could set up his kingdom in peace.

He had a good opportunity, and his first steps were necessary and wise. Though the Lord had restrained the aggressiveness of Rehoboam, Jeroboam had to act wisely to protect his people from a hostile neighbor. He fortified two cities and made one of them his capital. The Lord expects his people to act prudently in a troubled world. However, prudence can too easily cross the line to fear. This is the outward occasion for Jeroboam’s turn from the Lord God.

To understand Jeroboam’s fear, consider the covenantal context in which they lived. God had made Jeroboam king over the majority of the old covenant people of God. Having a king outside of the line of David did not terminate that covenant relationship. The men were still obligated to journey to Jerusalem three times of year for God’s appointed festivals. The worship of God took place in Jerusalem, where every sacrifice was to be made. The temple made by Solomon was extremely impressive, which would affect everyone who attended worship there. With that in mind, listen to what the Holy Spirit tells us in God’s Word.

Jeroboam thought to himself, “The kingdom will now likely revert to the house of David. If these people go up to offer sacrifices at the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem, they will again give their allegiance to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah. They will kill me and return to King Rehoboam” (12:26-27 NIV)

His fears came from his own thoughts, and they were filled with fear rather than faith in the living God. The Lord had promised Jeroboam an enduring dynasty. In a short time, he feared the loss of both his kingdom and his own life. How ready we all are to trust our own fears rather than the promises of God! The Lord’s promises are used by the Spirit to build hope; unbelief fuels distress and despair.

His fears impelled him to seek advice, but he clearly did not seek the Lord’s counsel. Jeroboam invented a new religion! Notice how he accomplished that evil.

  • He made two golden calves (12:28a). Idolatry was direct disobedience against the Lord and his covenant law (Exodus 20:4-7). Idolatry is the “evil exchange” that people make when they turn their backs on the Lord (Romans 1:21-23).
  • He appealed to the people’s love of ease (12:28b). He posed as their benefactor, who was troubled that they had to take such a difficult trip to Jerusalem. He built shrines in many places to make worship “easier” (12:31a)
  • He referred to the Scriptures, though in a twisted way (12:28c). His words about the two golden calves he made are almost an exact quote from Exodus 32:8. Please understand that the quotation of a few Bible verses does not mean that the teacher is telling the truth. Jeroboam intended them to pursue evil. He put the golden calves at the two extreme ends of his kingdom: Dan in the north and Bethel in south (12:29-30).
  • He made people priests that were not from the tribe of Levi (12:31). God had restricted the priesthood to the tribe of Levi, and Israel had suffered greatly in the wilderness when they had rebelled against God’s will in this matter (cf. Numbers 16-17).
  • He instituted a new religious festival as an alternative to what the Lord had ordered (12:32-33). The purpose was to deflect the people from the longtime worship of the Lord. And it was easier: they didn’t have to go three times a year, but only once!
  • He set an evil example (12:33). Jeroboam practiced the evil imaginations of his heart. He showed people that they could do his new religion and “get away with doing it”.

In all this, we are not told of any objection made by his people. They readily bought into their new king’s new religion. By all this, Jeroboam strengthened their desire to forsake the Lord. And he abandoned the promise that God had made to him.

We need to ask ourselves, “Am I on a course of my own fears and the love of personal ease? Are we determined to follow the Lord Jesus? Read Mark 8:34 for his way.

Grace and peace, David