Don’t stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
There is a church which is noted for its impressive good deeds. The
buildings are magnificent; great amounts of money are collected for
ministry; the preachers are eloquent. Things look really good on the
outside. The church has a great reputation in the world at large.
But there is a problem here. Inside the church there are those who have
adopted new ideas. What kind of ideas?
All this business of sexual purity is just a holdover from days when people
didn’t know any better. Sex is so beautiful; how could God condemn it?
And, of course, we need to be tolerant of other belief systems. We’re all
God’s children here.
Yes, we’ve disposed of fire and brimstone and now proclaim the gentle Jesus,
who would hardly object to anything, as long as you’re sincere.
Feel like someplace you’ve been? What’s an old Bible teacher to do in a
church like that? Here’s the answer Jesus gives:
Hold on firmly to the truth.
Overcome this evil in your own life.
Keep doing his good works until the end.
That’s it; no heroics, no soaring protest (though I suspect Christ will
appoint someone to that task). Hang on.
For those who hang on, there is a great reward. He tells us here that we
shall rule the nations along with Him. Then, curiously, He tells us we will
be given “the Morning Star.” In Revelation, that phrase means Jesus,
Himself. We shall be given Him.
Thomas Aquinas, the great philosopher and theologian, was praying one day
when he had a vision of God. “You have written well of me, Master Thomas.
What would you have as your reward?” Aquinas gave a classic reply: “Only
Yourself, Lord.” His heart desire was to have Jesus in himself.
How great a reward is this? Aquinas himself tells us. After the vision, he
said of his works, “They remind me of so much straw.” He never wrote
Lord, we cannot know how great that reward will truly be—but you have told
us how to find out.
Bright Morning Star
Here, at the very end of Revelation, Jesus proclaims this to be his words to
the church (the “you” in the Greek is plural). Such a message could not
come from man; it must come from God. In it we are given three titles, or
names, for Christ. These have great meaning; it is worth our time to
examine them in detail.
Root of David
Before David existed, God knew that Jesus would be born of his lineage. He
also created that lineage, for it is God’s protective hand over the ancient
nation of Israel which led to David’s kingdom. We can see this in many
ways; here are three:
We read that Melchizedek, priest of God, met Abraham with bread and wine.
We know from the New Testament that this Melchizedek is (at least) a type of
Christ—blessing the ancestor of David.
Indeed, God’s relationship with Abraham is the founding of the nation. It
shows us the key to Christ: faith.
If Abraham is the ancestor, Moses is the founder of the nation. Remember
the mighty works God did in him.
Offspring of David
Only the one who is fully God could be the true root of David; only one who
is fully man could be his offspring. David too is a type of Christ:
He was a victorious king
He was a man after God’s own heart.
Bright Morning Star
The morning star is the brightest of stars in the sky; it often appears
just before dawn, low on the horizon. Dawn slowly creeps around it.
Daylight comes in our hearts the same way, says Peter; by the Morning
Star. He tells us that by paying attention to God’s word the Morning Star
will dawn in our hearts.
That is true in the way of an illustration. The time is coming when it will
be true in a much more physical sense—at the return of our Lord. A new day
is coming. Even so, Lord Jesus, come!
Lord, we look forward to your coming and your reign. Give us constant
hearts to await your return.
It must be difficult being an angel dealing with human beings. It seems
that every time they show up in bodily presence, we are almost certain to
get things wrong. They must spend their time straightening us out, I
Consider this angel. After much revelation—I will leave the interpretation
to the reader – John (who had known Jesus face to face) is so awed that he
bows down and begins to worship this angel. That’s one typical reaction;
evidently, they are so far above us as to be like some sort of god. Indeed,
Paul tells us that the gods and goddesses worshiped in his time were
demons—which means nothing more than an angel in rebellion against God.
This reaction is often mingled with the other common reaction: panic. The
arrival of an angel in person almost always produces fear as a reaction.
Indeed, this is so strong that often the angel is obliged to conceal his
identity in human guise. John now can see why.
And the angelic reaction? They have to settle the problem quickly. Have
you ever noticed that angels seem to be in a hurry? They have no time for
chit-chat. If you’re afraid, the first words are “Fear not!” And here we
see the reaction to worship: “Don’t do it.”
Even the angels are servants of God. The message is “fear not” because God
is love, and perfect love casts out fear. The message is “do not worship
me” because the higher you are in the kingdom, the more clearly you know
that only God is to be worshiped.
Angels have a purpose. They seem to us to be the messengers of God. What
other purposes they have cannot be told, but when we encounter them, it’s as
a messenger. Angelic visits are rare; when they come, therefore, the
message is important. What does this angel have to say to us?
It is simply this: all the prophecies of the Old Testament and the New
Testament center around one person: Jesus, the Christ. If you know him,
then prophecy makes sense, for he is at the center of it. If you don’t know
him, you will search for truth in prophecy but never find it. The message
has now been given to us, and with the message is the burden: to take the
message to the world. Jesus Christ, beginning and end—coming soon!
Lord, your first advent was in humility befitting the Savior of all. Your
next will befit the King of Kings. Even so, come soon!
I Did Not Understand
Have you ever come to the end of a conversation only to realize that, while
you heard every word, you didn’t understand what was said? You get the
feeling that you should understand, you don’t understand, and you don’t know
why you don’t understand. Which, of course, if you did understand, you
would understand. But you don’t, so you don’t. Understand?
You’re not alone. Here we meet Daniel, one of the great men of the Old
Testament—and he doesn’t understand. Of course, at the time he’s had no
chance to study it, but I suspect that he still didn’t get it after that.
It’s not unusual with God. Often Christ would tell his disciples what was
going to happen, and they didn’t get it. They would even try to correct
him. It was not until the Resurrection that they saw what he meant. Even
then, they wanted to know when God’s kingdom would come—and Christ told them
it was not for them to know.
Despite the fact that we are told explicitly there are some things that even
Jesus did not know, there are those among us who think they have an
absolutely sure hold on prophecy. Most by now have learned to avoid putting
out a date for the return of Christ—since he rather explicitly told us that
no one would know—but pretty much everything else in prophecy is fair game.
The difficulty is this: God tells us (here and at other places) that we
will not understand. He is deliberately keeping some of this secret.
Perhaps one reason for this is to keep us humble.
Of more interest is this: just why do we want to know? The main reason for
most of us is simply curiosity. Humans seem to have an insatiable desire to
figure things out. In itself this is not evil; it only becomes so when we
consider ourselves capable of understanding it as well as God does. That is
not curiosity, that is pride. We are not equal with God.
You might well ask, “Then why did God tell us anything at all? Why not keep
the whole thing secret?” The answer simply is this: you need to know.
You need to know that the forces of history, and its ultimate resolution,
are in his hands. We’ve looked at the answer in the back of the book; we
know how it turns out.
In this, as in many other areas of Christian experience, it is best to be
content with what God gives us. Sometimes wisdom is saying, “I don’t
Lord, in all things may we receive from you and be content. Help us trust
you for all things—including the future.
2 Corinthians 5:1-5
Charlie Brown (of Peanuts fame) said it best. Speaking to his psychiatrist
(Lucy, the doctor is in) he complained of not feeling comfortable in his
surroundings. She asked him where he felt uncomfortable. He replied,
It is a good test of Christian growth: just how much at home do you feel on
your home planet. Do you find yourself feeling that this world just doesn’t
have the appeal it did years ago? That there must be more than work and
watering holes and back again?
You’re homesick. Yes, you read it right. You are homesick for your true
home—your eternal home with God. It makes sense; you have many longings in
your life, and all them have something which will satisfy that longing. It
would be strange indeed to have a longing for something that isn’t. The
more you love God, the more this feeling will grow.
The matter is much deeper than that. The world has many answers to the
question, “What happens to me after death?” The materialist says oblivion;
the New Age gurus have a thousand different answers—but only one man has
died and returned by his own power. That man is Jesus of Nazareth. He is
the only one who really knows.
He tells us (here and elsewhere) that the time is coming when the living and
the dead who have called on God’s name will be clothed with the new body—the
eternal model. The matter is beyond our comprehension now, but someday we
will see “face to face.”
Now, if you please, the source this longing is inside you. It is the Holy
Spirit working his will in your life. As you grow in the Spirit, this
longing will grow more intense—as you draw closer to God. You might ask how
you can know that this is true. The answer is given here: the Spirit is
God’s “deposit” - the down payment, if you will, certifying God’s plan for
An old hymn says it best, I think:
Beulah land, I’m longing for you
And some day on thee I’ll stand
There my home shall be eternal
Beulah land, sweet Beulah land
Lord, the world around us grows more wearisome to us. We see little good
and much evil; indeed it seems that evil is in charge. Give us the peace
that comes by knowing what you have planned.
Signs of the Times
If you have a bent for writing, and would like to make your mark in the
world, a fine way in which to do it is by proclaiming that we are living in
the end times—and you can prove it. If you decide that you’re a prophet as
well, you can actually start your own religion and, if you work things
correctly, make quite a profit.
Of course, it is just possible that you might not wish to be taken in by
such a person. On the presumption you would like to guard yourself against
such things, here are some signs of the times for the end. The list is by
no means all-inclusive; but all of these must happen before the return of
While some feel that the U.S. Supreme Court has already begun this, may I
point out the three characteristics given here? The first is oppression.
The second is death. The third is the hatred of all around. Oppression and
hatred may be in the eyes of the beholder, but the second of these (in
America, not the rest of the world) is missing.
Many will stumble. This is
characterized by two things: betrayal and hatred. You can understand the
problem (which the church has had before). The oppression is great; the
temptation is to betray your brothers to the thought police in exchange for
your own hide. Hatred then proceeds naturally.
False prophets. Now these we
have had in abundance, from Mohammed to Joseph Smith. Indeed, many have
been led astray by this.
Iniquity will abound.
This is clear; we live in such a nation. We see the result of those who
are led into believing that any form of sex, no matter how vile, is good.
For this reason, their love for Christ is cold.
But he who endures to the end shall be saved. It is a grand and
comforting thought. When the world is sneering at us for our old fashioned
virtues, and officialdom shuttles us to second class citizenship; when we
are betrayed by our brothers and watch many led astray, the answer is always
the same. God has thrown us the life preserver of His salvation is a storm
sea of doubt, duplicity and despair. Cling on! Hold on until the master
returns and the sea is calm again, and you will be saved. The one who
stilled the tempest that night will soon return in power and glory.
Lord, we do not know the time of your return. Indeed, the season itself is
not clear. But our duty is clear; help us to cling on.
Pay No Attention
One of the classic movies from the golden age of cinema is The Wizard of
Oz. The original story was a parable about the populist free silver
movement; the script writers reworked it into a parable convenient for the
New Deal. It is a very flexible tale; with your kind permission I will use
Consider the man behind the curtain—the real Wizard of Oz. At first he is
impressive. The Pharisees would have envied that opening—that is the type
of control the dead hand of salvation by works loves. Impressive display;
the legend that those “in the seat of Moses” are deeply pious and far more
learned that mere mortals—all these are the trappings which proclaim the
doctrine of works. The similarity does not extend all the way; the wizard
knew he was a humbug. These leaders were wrapped up in their own system.
What do these legalists demand of the ordinary mortal? The broom of the
Wicked Witch of the West, of course. Please note that the broom has
absolutely nothing to do with Dorothy returning to Kansas. He has assigned
the heroes an impossible task. This is familiar; no one can keep the Law
of Moses perfectly—let alone all the additions of the Pharisees. By pomp
and high sounding words, they turn guilt into docile submission. Dorothy
and friends immediately leave for the witch’s palace.
But how things change when the truth is revealed! The wizard can give no
more than recognition that reaches the vanity of three; and for Dorothy he
has no reward—and a very faulty method of transportation. The solution lay
The matter has changed little since the Yellow Brick Road. Indeed, little
since ancient times. We are still in the presence of those who insist on a
long list of rules; the “truly pious” are supposed to be those who keep the
rules. But Christ gives us a greater commandment: love one another. It is
at once harder and easier; harder, for it takes all of our strength to
truly love our brothers; easier, because the list of rules has been reduced
to love for God and our fellow human beings. Christ will look on the heart,
as we cannot (therefore judge not). Who will be there when he comes again”
Dorothy, or the Wizard?
L. Frank Baum didn’t write his story to mean that. But he could have.
Lord, our hearts accuse us by the rules; but you are stronger than our
Who Do You Say He Is?
1 John 2:18-23
“Don’t sweat the small stuff.” We often hear (and repeat) this advice. But
for the Christian, what’s the small stuff? It is easier to see what is
not; John gives it to us here. These are the core beliefs of the faith:
Jesus is the Christ.
He, and no one else, is the promised Holy One of Israel, the fulfillment of
prophecy. As such, he is our atonement, as prophesied. Therefore, he must
have come in the flesh, human like us. He died and was buried, rising again
on the third day.
Jesus is the Son of God,
As such, he is the
example of the perfect human, and our model to imitate. His obedience to
the will of God is perfect—and therefore he shows us what God is like, in
Jesus is the Son of God, fully
Of the same essence, carrying the same authority, his teaching is divine
like none other. When He says He is the way, it must be so.
The unity of the Trinity.
We are not to worship three gods, but one God in three persons.
No doubt my phrasing will displease some, and there will be argument about
this and that. But that is the core of the faith.
The reason it is so important for us to know this is quite simple: we will
be confronted with those from within the church who will deny it. In
sweet tones and oily phrases they will deny the Christ. Note, please, that
we are not speaking of (for example) a Hindu in this context. We are
speaking of someone who calls himself a Christian, may even act in a manner
befitting Christian charity, but if he denies these things, he is an
antichrist. He is one who is lying like his father, the father of lies.
For if you deny the Son, you thereby deny the Father.
“But, but, but …” None of it. This is not some wild-eyed rant of a
fanatic; it is the faith as defined by Christ and his Apostles. It is the
definition of Christianity. If you believe these things and trust in them,
you are a Christian. If you don’t, you aren’t. You are no more a Christian
than I am a railroad engine—no matter how much I whistle.
There is only one question: “Who do you say I am?” There is only one
answer: “Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Lord, the wolves are ever among your sheep. Keep us mindful of exactly who
Five Easy Lessons
You might notice that this Psalm has twenty-two verses to it. This might
mean nothing to you, but to the man of David’s time it meant something. The
Hebrew alphabet has twenty-two letters. Each verse of this Psalm begins
with its corresponding letter; the Psalm is an acrostic. This is an aid to
memorizing the Psalm—you already know the first letter of each verse.
The Psalm is Hebrew poetry. Unlike English poetry, which may rhyme in
sound, Hebrew poetry rhymes in thought. As in, “The Lord is my shepherd, I
shall not want.” The second phrase is an echo in thought of the first.
This too is an aid to memorization.
So we would expect that each verse is its own lesson. Here are the first
God is always to be praised.
Please note that this is to be done audibly—not just inside our heads.
Those around us should know the one we love. And note, please, he tells us
to do this “always.” It’s a fine habit to form.
Do your boasting “in the Lord.”
It is the joy of the humble (the literal meaning). Why? God alone is the
protector of the humble and afflicted of this world. Those who have a good
credit rating may not see this, but those who live from meal to meal know
his mercy and care.
Praise is not a solo exercise.
It is to be done by the church assembled. That is why we have songs of
praise in our worship services. His praise unites us. Even when we are
divided over many things, the praise of God can unite his children, for it
is one thing that never changes, for God never changes.
We should praise God for his
Please note, this is not deliverance by providence. It is deliverance for
one who sought it from God. See also this: it is deliverance not just from
physical circumstance but from our fears.
The humble look to him with joy.
In our time we look down upon the poor—as they look up to the Lord. When
they do, the shame we think is theirs for poverty vanishes, and is replaced
by the joy of the Lord.
Five easy lessons—still true today.
Lord, we do not praise you as you deserve. Teach us again the joy of your
Among the wonderful revelations of modern psychology one that stood out as a
prime specimen of psychobabble was this: the reason the big kid bullies the
other kids is that he has low self esteem. If we can lift his self esteem,
he will surely become a nice boy.
The stupidity of this is veiled in psychological journals, but eventually
someone ran a long study and showed—it simply is not so. In fact, raising a
bully’s self-esteem simply makes him a bigger bully. Of course, the
educational establishment could not accept that. We’re still raising their
self-esteem levels, a task similar to pouring gasoline on a fire—it singes
the person pouring and does no good, either.
You know the type I mean: the jock, spawned on the locker room floor,
always bragging and laughing at everyone. Surrounded by sycophants, he’s
the coach’s dream. And everyone else’s nightmare.
David knew this kind. He was a rather short fellow, and the youngest of
eight brothers. This Psalm is written about one particular jock named Doeg,
but the application is general. You can recognize who we’re talking about:
Boasting—have you ever noticed these people can’t shut up? But you’ll never
hear a word of kindness from them; they have to boast of the evil they’ve
done. They’re proud of it. These are the men who will beat someone
bloody—and laugh about it.
Deceit—recall well; aren’t these the ones who prefer deceit? Ask them a
question and their eyes light up—they’re going to fool you and make you look
stupid. And laugh. Of course, it was all “just a joke.”
Destruction—whatever this reptile uses for brains, they are first used to
ruin someone else. They laugh when someone else is ruined.
In the instance to which this Psalm refers, the jock caused the death of all
but one member of a priestly family. But priests aren’t jocks, so they
don’t count, right?
But there is a God. While he is patient in waiting for repentance, swift to
forgive, not wishing any to perish, he has plans for this man. As he
dispensed destruction, so shall it be dispensed to him.
Lord, in all these things teach us your way—to leave vengeance alone, for it
is yours. And your hand is mightier than ours.
Of all the stories in the Old Testament, this is the most unlikely. Oh
sure, Jonah’s fish was a little unusual—but a talking jackass? Hollywood
used the same gimmick—as comedy. It seems to be used here for something a
little more serious—but if you see this as Charlie Chaplin style comedy, you
might just understand it a little more.
Let’s start—as Joe Friday used to say—with the facts, just the facts. To
begin with, God tells Balaam to go with these guys the next day—just keep
his mouth shut until God gives him the words. Sounds OK so far? Guess
what? God is still mad at him for wanting to go in the first place. The
schlemiel spills the soup; the schlimazel is the guy he spills it on—and
Now, God is trying to “send the boy a message.” But the wires are down, and
the boy is not receiving. It is just not his day. Your first clue is
this: the donkey talks.
The donkey talks???? Donkeys don’t talk. But then again, fish don’t
swallow prophets either.
What’s really funny is this: Balaam answers—the donkey. Right. You and I
would look around for the Candid Camera crew, but Balaam is going with the
flow. The donkey talks? Fine, says Balaam, but he isn’t going to win the
Well, not so fast. The donkey not only talks, it’s clear he has the high
ground in this discussion. Think about it: the donkey hasn’t ever done
this before, right? So obviously something must be different, right?
Right! About this point God opens Balaam’s eyes—for a double take. Once he
sees this angel, the matter becomes very serious.
Have you ever had God do that to you? One of those days where you charge
down the path you think you should be going, and it seems like every little
thing goes wrong? You go to the Lord in prayer, and what do you get? A
cream pie in the face.
Maybe that’s because he loves you. You’re going the wrong way; he knows it
but he loves you. So he hits you with the cream pie to say, “think about
this.” Comedy and tragedy are the same art. But comedy tastes better.
We need so much to know that God is moving in our lives. Take your
tragedies and your comedies to Him—and listen. He may be keeping you from
turning your comedy to tragedy.
Lord, help us to see your gentle signs of trouble before we run into the
For those of us who are complete klutzes with things mechanical, there is a
saving grace. The hardware stores carry tools not only for those happily
coordinated fellows who can build a house with just a hammer and nails, but
also for those of us who have trouble hitting the nail with the hammer it
took so long to find.
Did you know there are offset pliers specifically designed to hold the nail
while you whack at it with the hammer? There are thousands of such tools.
The secret is this: you must know what tool to use for what job.
My wife (being the coordinated sort) has a different view. If she needs to
stir paint, and there’s a screwdriver handy (just used for opening the paint
can) , then use it! She has learned to do this when I am out of town. I
hold that a screwdriver is to be used for—gasp—driving screws.
It’s a pretty good rule to remember. If you want to know how something is
to be used, you need to know for what it was designed. The same principle
applies to the Christian. God has given you the physical body for his
purposes; he does not give tools to those who cannot use them. So then,
what does God intend you to do with that body of yours?
Paul gives us three things which will serve as a starting point:
Obedience. It is not
sufficient to simply think about obedience. Obedience, by its very nature,
must be done in the physical body. So we are to be obedient; obedient to
Teaching. Paul makes it clear
that this is not specific rules and regulations so much as the “form of
teaching.” In short, you are to know the principles of Christian conduct
and apply them in the body.
Entrusted. Unlike the
screwdriver, this teaching has been entrusted to you. You have a
responsibility to carry through with it. So your obedience is not the blind
obedience of the machine, but the instructed obedience of the human mind and
So it is that you will make sure that sin does not reign in your life.
Consider it well: Christ has freed you from the iron shackles of the Law
not to do as your body craves, but as your spirit knows is right and
loving. Once a slave, you are now a craftsman of God.
Lord, teach us to conduct ourselves in the body as the living examples of
what your redemption can do.
One must give the devil his due: often, sin is hard work. Isaiah pictures
it here as that of a man hauling an ox-cart along with ropes. The devil
uses this to his advantage; the wicked then think of themselves as hard
working. It’s a tough job, closing the bar .
It’s a graphic picture here. We see that then, as now, the wicked are in
charge. They control the press; the television; and thus the attitudes of
the common man. But the sneer is still the same: “Where is this God? I
thought you said he was righteous!” Then comes the belly laugh of all the
drunkards around the table.
They are masters of the great reversal. You can tell how evil the times are
by how the wicked justify themselves. Slavery in America was at first a
“necessary evil.” By the time of the Civil War, it had become (in the minds
of many) much more necessary, and a positive good, both for slave and free.
The reversal is not new.
Indeed, we see it in our own time:
Homosexual behavior, for thousands of years a sin, is now a virtue;
homosexuals, after all, don’t overpopulate the planet.
Adultery is no longer a sin; it is now “enhancing your sexual experience.”
Marital fidelity—particularly for men—is now viewed as a sign of a lack of
cool. A faithful husband is a dork; if his wife isn’t faithful, it’s
obviously his fault.
More amazing than these: the young women of our culture—including many who
think themselves Christians—think that the best place to meet Prince
Charming is in the bar. Once in the bar, the ultimate social gaffe is to go
home alone. (Ladies, one thought: Prince Charming doesn’t cruise the
bars). Alcoholic romance is usually short-lived.
Bribery? Financial fraud? The papers are full of this; regretted for the
foolish stockholders who didn’t sell when the time was right. Pity for the
convicted; they weren’t clever enough to cover their tracks. Envy too;
they got rich from someone else’s money.
All this depends upon getting away with it. The Christian looks at such and
asks, “what can I do?” Simply this: you are still in charge of what God
has given you. Use it in accord with his commands. The day is coming when
God will close his books on the human race; the sneers will go into shock.
Keep the faith.
Lord, we have so little patience, and the power of the worldly seems so
great. Give us strength to endure for you.
Those who are best acquainted with me are quite aware of the fact that I am
the world’s greatest dental coward. None is more convinced of this fact
than my dentist. He tells me that in all his years of practice, he has seen
only one other patient with anything like this. The matter is simply this:
ordinary anesthetics have almost no effect on me. It’s hereditary—to the
point that my father had five root canals done completely without
You can imagine, then, the terror that strikes when (at a routine cleaning)
he announces that there is a cavity to fill. I embossed my fingerprints on
the arms of his dental chair. But then he announced that the cavity was on
a tooth where I had a root canal; the nerves were dead. He wouldn’t even
get the needle out.
Expectations. How they determine our attitude! The word cavity strikes
terror with the expectation of pain; then the relief. It helps to know
what you’re really in for.
So it is surprising when Christians come up with a frantic attitude for the
suffering that will come in every Christian’s life. It’s not like it’s
unexpected; over and over the Scripture tells us that the righteous will
suffer. Christ, the only perfect man to walk the planet, certainly had his
share of it. It doesn’t matter what you do. If it isn’t the mosquitoes,
it’s the frostbite.
But take heart, Christian. God is faithful. He will not allow you to
suffer beyond what you can bear—though you might not agree with that during
the suffering. He still rules. Often he uses the suffering we receive as
the forging hammer to shape an instrument for his purposes. We feel it as
suffering, and ask “Why me?” He sees it as preparing his child for
service—service which he will honor and reward.
It is that way with Jesus. God caused him to suffer for our sake. The
Scripture tells us that he was obedient even to the point of death, even the
shame of a criminal’s execution on the cross. But as a result, God has
given him the name above all names, at which every knee will bow.
Ultimately, it will be that way with us. God is not random; he is not
uncaring; he loves us. He also has his purposes for us. Some days it seems
that this can’t be; we don’t see his love, we don’t see his care; we don’t
know his purposes. But when deliverance comes, as it will, we see him. His
deliverance gives us sight.
Lord, you never told us that we would see it; nor understand it—but we know
it is true: your way is perfect.
A Heart of Wisdom
Those who grew up in California will know the “drop drill.” School children
are taught this from the earliest days. It is simply so that if an
earthquake strikes, the child will seek cover under something structurally
sound. Note please that such a shelter must be strong; holding your hands
over your head is of no use.
A shelter must be strong. For the Christian, God is the shelter to run
to—and He is very strong. His nature is eternal; indeed, His name is “I
Am.” The author of this Psalm, Moses, had plenty of opportunity to see the
power of God. No doubt he imagined it had limits—at first. But at the end
of his life he could look back and make the awed comparison: man, compared
to God, is so much burning grass. His power ultimately is beyond our
imaginings—but we can see the works of his hands, and know how much greater
he is than we can be.
But that power is not like that of the earthquake. The earthquake damage
can be prevented by strong structure; it can be remedied with construction
again. God is far beyond that. If he ordains that a man die, there is
nothing which can be done to prevent it.
Why, then, would God do this? Moses—who had seen just how rebellious man
can be—explains it simply: sin. Sin first and foremost is an offense
against Almighty God, and He will not be shy about repaying the offender.
The righteous God is angry with the wicked, and sweeps them away.
Of course, it often occurs to us to remark, “But not soon enough for me.”
Remember that He does not want anyone to perish; his will is that all would
be saved. But if a man is to be saved, something needs to be done about
sin. Of course, the power to do that work was provided by Christ at the
Cross. We, however, have a role to play in this. We must claim that
sacrifice and rely on it.
Moses gives us good advice here: teach us to number our days.
Number our days—so that we don’t repent “later” when it’s too late.
Number our days—so that we may gain a heart of wisdom, and so redeem the
time we have left.
God knows the number of your days. You don’t. Be wise, and do not delay
Lord, we so often act as if we would have all time to turn our attention to
you. Teach us to turn to you at all times.
There is a curious notion among Christians today about the work of prayer.
We have become so accustomed to the gentle Jesus, walking at our side, that
we forget the awesome God. In time, we begin to feel our good works entitle
us to favorable treatment by God. It’s not like we’re counting celestial
brownie points; it’s just that God owes us a favor or two.
Don’t believe a word of it. You have access to God only through the
sacrifice of Christ on the Cross—entirely his work. So when you frame your
appeal to the Almighty One, on what basis can you possibly justify such a
It is not your righteousness. But there is one thing to which the saints of
God have appealed for generations. We are but dust to Him, but his
character endures forever. We may appeal to God on the basis of Who He Is.
Look at the list here. Does it not bear a great resemblance to the list we
know as the fruit of the Spirit? There’s a reason for this: as we let the
Spirit lead us, our lives become closer in character to the character of
God. It is to that character that we appeal:
Compassionate and gracious. God takes pity upon his children, seeking
eagerly to forgive them. Indeed, for those who love him and call on his
name, he is gracious in forgiving—not harsh.
Slow to anger. He does not strike the sinner immediately, but gives him
space and time to repent.
Abounding in love and faithfulness. Not just love itself, for God is love;
but also faithfulness. What he promises, he will do.
Upon this character you can make your appeal, confident that He never
changes. But we must also see the plea itself, for in this plea the
Psalmist acknowledges God:
Turn to me—be my comfort in time of distress.
Have mercy on me—I am a sinner, asking of righteousness.
Give me strength, for mine is passing away.
Save me from the situation I’m in
And one last: give a sign of your pure goodness, so that those who are evil
may see it—and be ashamed.
Lord, so often our prayers sound like orders in a restaurant, when they
should be pleas for mercy. Teach us to pray.
1 Corinthians 2:9-16
One of the finest of navigational aids, if you need to know where you’re
going, is a backwards glance.
Perhaps you are like me; looking back I see a man who didn’t know where he
was going. I never got there, either. The Lord had other plans. But in
looking back we can see God’s wisdom for the rest of the journey. Just how
does a man gain spiritual discernment? How do you find out what God wants
of you? What does it take to see the way and set the course? Consider
Purity of heart.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. It is simple
enough; there are no moral compromises with God. If we are to be in his
presence, there can be none with us, either.
Love of God. “If you love me,”
said Jesus, “you will obey my commandments.” So if you would be a man of
spiritual discernment, love God. You will find that obedience comes
naturally, and your spiritual sight greatly sharpened.
One thing you will quickly note: you cannot love Him and hate your
brothers. But if you love God and his children, He will quickly open your
The Holy Spirit. Paul gives
us the pinnacle of spiritual discernment. As the Holy Spirit grows stronger
in you, your discernment grows with Him. The explanation is rather simple
Who can look inside the heart of a man? Only the man, himself. But “the
man, himself” is simply the spirit of the man. We still speak of people
being “mean spirited”; team spirit is prized; and we always want people to
“get in the spirit of things.”
But we have the Holy Spirit—the spirit of God. Therefore, to the extent we
have the Holy Spirit, we can discern the things of God.
Which means, of course, that as we grow in the Spirit, we grow in
discernment. The things of God become clearer.
There is an interesting comparison here. Paul is alluding to a verse in
Isaiah. He speaks of those who love God; Isaiah spoke of those who wait
for God. Perhaps there is some use to maturing patiently after all.
Lord, let your Spirit grow within us. As we grow older let our hearts grow
stronger by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Sometimes the best way to know where you’re going is to look back over where
Jesus, in describing the hypocrites here, uses the phrase “false prophets.”
It harkens back to the days of Elijah, when the king of Israel kept a whole
stable full of the prophets of Baal and Ashtoreth. Feasting at the king’s
table, living at his expense, you can imagine how well pleased he was with
their prophecies—until that little incident on Mt. Carmel.
Interestingly, Jesus does not here command us to punish them, but to know
who they are. The issue is not their hypocrisy but our alertness. We are
the sheep, which means we had best keep a watch for the wolves. His test is
simple: look at their results. For example, do they produce dissension
wherever they go?
We might well ask: what if they have counterfeit good works? It is not for
nothing that our Lord tells us the way is narrow. And will they walk the
narrow way, without Him to guide them?
So beware of them—but do not persecute them. God wants all to be saved.
And—you can see it from their words on Judgment Day—it’s likely they don’t
know who they are themselves. They will be surprised. Perhaps the “we”
they refer to is a bold and active church in which they have been content.
Sitting at the back of the church, they say “Praise the Lord” and “Amen” to
her great works. Prophecy? Miracles? Hear the echo of Paul, “… and have
not love, I am nothing.” Love is the great fruit of the true relationship
with Christ. If you love Him, you will obey his commandments. The great
commandment is to love God … and your neighbor as yourself.
Note, please, that Jesus uses the metaphor of building a house to describe
those who will live, and those who will fall. A house is not built in a
day, but takes time. Those who in this life build their house on the solid
rock of Jesus need not fear the storms of this life nor the flood on
Judgment Day. Those who do not will be pained here and surprised then.
The frightening part of all this is that the ones caught in this will not
know themselves. There is the secret: know yourself. Examine yourself,
you works, your faith, your prayers, your dreams. Is Jesus first in your
life? First things, first.
Lord, we know you are coming again. Teach us to build patiently for that
day, so that we may stand firm.
Pity, if you will, the poor translator. From Greek and Hebrew he must
render the inspired word of God; but Greek and Hebrew (like most other
languages) do not render themselves word for word into English.
Consider the example, if you will, of the word here translated “humble.” We
are told that Moses exceeded all others in this virtue. So it must be very
desirable for the servant of God to be humble. But what does it mean?
Various other translators have rendered it “meek” or “quietly humble” or
“gentle.” It is no longer a virtue in our society, but a fault. Arrogance
is now the desired state of mind.
But Moses is in good company. Two more examples will fill our list. The
first is Jesus, also said to be meek—and his burden light. Then Paul, whom
we know as a firebrand in his letters, was evidently quite humble in
person. This is distinguished company. But why were the first Christians
so enamored of this virtue, now so despised?
Perhaps it might be that they had their eyes on the prize. They valued
God’s wisdom much more than that of man. What does God think of this?
We are, of course, told that the meek shall inherit the earth. This must be
at the Second Coming, as there is no trend like that in real estate today.
He crowns the humble with salvation. If you know yourself and know God,
won’t you be humble before him?
We are told that a “gentle and quiet spirit” is precious to God.
Apparently, then, God loves those who are humble. Not just in the world to
come, but even now. Humility has its strengths even in our time; we are
told that the understanding do deeds in gentleness and wisdom. If you have
such as friends, cherish them.
How is this so?
Humility starts with an honest self-assessment. Know yourself; you will
see God more clearly.
As our three examples show, you must love your flock—and be willing to
sacrifice yourself for them.
If you do, you will know the power of God.
Lord, deliver us from our pride, and lead us in the paths of the meek. We
long to be precious in your sight.
1 Peter 5:5-7
Humility is seldom preached these days. There may be many reasons for this,
but I suspect that one main reason is this: the preacher knows he would be
wasting his breath. It is a pity. So, if you please, could we examine some
of the reasons that those of us in the pews just can’t handle humility?
We think it hypocritical.
Fair enough; we know we are not truly humble. But—doesn’t it seem obvious?
- this is a skill that improves with practice. We are all told to do it.
We are to put it on ourselves, like a belt. Practice, they say, makes
perfect. Or at least as perfect as we can be.
We will be humble—with exceptions.
Even though we are told to submit to one another, we seem to have a problem
with it. The husband might argue that his wife should submit to him. But
he must submit to her (after all, your body is hers) as well. The nature of
the submission is different, but no one is exempt. Not even Jesus, who by
obedience was made perfect for his task. A husband, therefore, may heed his
wife’s correction—it is for his own benefit. Indeed, even the best of us
are wrong sometimes; even the worst of us are right occasionally. Let
truth and wisdom prevail in gentleness.
Surely God knows that I’m better than…
The Devil’s own sin! Pride is so corrosive. But consider:
You’re better? That’s God’s gift to you, not yours to Him.
Suppose you are better. Should you not set an example?
Remember: God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. Which would
How could I be humble in this dog-eat-dog world?
Of all excuses, this is the most bitter. Somehow, we know we have to be the
biggest shark in the tank. Up or out! Survival of the fittest! Are you
nothing more than a big fish with sharp teeth and a small brain? Have you
not been taught to “cast your cares on him, for He cares for you”? Is his
arm so short he cannot make a way for you? Or is it perhaps that you crave
the recognition of being on the varsity? Please, consider the “lilies of
the field.” God has both the strength and will to care for you—if you will
cast your cares on Him.
Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.
Lord, we love too little, we trust too little, we are worried about many
things. Help us to embrace the one thing which is good.
The Proud Mocker
True humor is but one of two things: a sudden perception of absurdity, or a
sudden perception that the truth is also the absurd. Modern humor works by
a new paradigm: you assume something is absurd—and sneer at it. If you
continue this long enough, you will find (as our world has) that
righteousness is very funny.
The method takes in many people. Most of us want to be “in.” So this
technique plays on our fear of being alone. “Alone” - the saddest word in
the English language. Do you see the subtlety of the temptation?
Of course, the Christian can always say, “God is with me.” But most of us
are like the little boy going through his first thunderstorm; Mom told him
to pray, and God would be there. “Yes, Mother, but I really need God with
skin on.” This is one reason why we are to commune with each other; you
could be that God with skin on.
We take the things of God lightly and the things of this world seriously.
Indeed, the question of “what’s important?” now has none but worldly
answers. Sex is important; get as much as often as you can. We sneer at
the chaste; but tell me—what would your wife think about your lover? Would
she just laugh it off? There is a great test of wisdom in this. A wise
man, when rebuked for his sins and errors, is grateful for the friend who
warned him. A fool simply insults those who would correct him.
God’s point of view
Let us begin by knowing that Jesus had an excellent sense of humor. It’s
been neatly hidden in King James English, but it’s there. (Take another
look at Him calming the sea.) But we must also remember that his ways are
not our ways; he is far above us. In his wisdom he has given to us the
Word, so that we might know Him and enjoy Him forever. It’s not that he’s a
killjoy; it’s just that he has gone to great trouble to reconcile us to
himself—and that is neither trivial nor absurd.
That being said, how many of us are quite capable of partying on Saturday
night, complete with mockery, and then sitting piously in church on Sunday?
There’s a word for this: hypocrisy. You condemn it when you see it in
others; have you looked in the mirror lately? God will measure you on
judgment day, using your own yardstick. Hypocrisy—even unintended—He will
Lord, teach us to examine ourselves so that we can see who we really are—in
the light you give.
The Lowly, The Despised, The Nothings
1 Corinthians 12:28-29
Dwight Eisenhower remarked that every time he met with Russian generals just
after World War II, the first question they would ask would be, “How did you
arrange supply for so rapid an advance?” The Russians expended millions of
lives on the Eastern front; the Americans lost a little more than a
quarter-million on all fronts. Those generals understood the difference.
Amateurs study tactics and strategy; professionals study logistics.
Eisenhower knew quite well how it was done, but we can forgive him for
thinking the Russians wouldn’t believe him. In another context he said
this: “...four other pieces of equipment that most senior officers came to
regard as among the most vital to our success in Africa and Europe were the
bulldozer, the jeep, the 2½-ton truck, and the C-47 airplane. Curiously,
none of these is designed for combat.”
Victory—especially swift victory—rests in the hands of God. In this
instance their incarnation was in four civilian products. This is God’s
way; he chooses his instruments carefully.
He chooses the lowly things. The “deuce-and-half” as GIs know it, is no
He chooses the despised. Pilots will tell you that the “gooney bird” wasn’t
admired as newer planes. But they did the job.
He chooses the things that “are not.” Bantam Motors was almost bankrupt
when they got their first order for a few jeeps.
Why does God do this—with jeeps or people? There are two reasons:
First, it is to show you the power of God without unveiling it. If the
great of this world defeat the great of this world, that’s what we
expected. But if the lowly defeat the great, we notice. It is his purpose
that we notice Him.
Second, it is to check the arrogant. Have you ever prayed, “Lead us not
into temptation?” By his use of the lowly and despised, he keeps us from
the temptation of pride.
God often lets an arrogant man run in his pride—until the inevitable fall.
The proud mocker cannot be saved, but the humble—even the recently
humbled—will turn to Him.
Lord, lead us not into temptation. In fact, lead us away from it—let us be
the lowly tools of a mighty God.
Manners That Matter
As all of us have grown up accustomed to the idea of making appointments by
the clock—often down to the minute—it is difficult for us to picture what is
going on here. We must remember that at this time such a banquet was a
great occasion. If you slaughter a cow in a culture without refrigeration,
you’re going to need a lot of guests to help you eat it before the meat
spoils. It was the custom then to tell the guests the date of the feast,
but not the time. (No watches, no use anyway). So the guests did not
arrive all at once, but as they dribbled in. Of course, if you sat too
close to the head table, there was always the chance you’d be asked to make
room. This society had a distinct class structure.
Now, of course, we would appoint a time. The invention of the clock was the
original mistake; the chronological deprived (always late) came after this
as a matter of course.
But just as in those days, we still have the matter of protocol and the
orderly seating of the guests. Some years ago I went to the wedding of a
young lady who is super-organized. Evidently there was quite a bit of
conflict among the guests, for this lady made elaborate arrangements to see
that all were seated properly. The tables were numbered—and arranged
randomly throughout the hall. The tables were round so that, like King
Arthur and his knights, all might feel to be of appropriate status. Now
think how difficult this would be in a society without clocks!
In its time Jesus’ advice would have been shrewd. Today, we see that a bold
arrogance is now prized. Push to the front of the line! Be obnoxious so
that you will get more! Then brag about it to your friends! If this
describes you, your mother didn’t raise you right.
God’s way is different. Please note this: good manners are usually virtue
in a visible form. The day will come when you will be invited to Christ’s
wedding feast. The crowd will be immense. If you wish to be honored by the
host, you must know the host well, and what things he honors. This he has
made clear to you: it is the imitation of Christ. Christ has the name
above all names. How did he earn that? By being the Suffering Servant who
took upon himself the burden of all the sin in the world. It is his
humility and service which make him great.
The Day is coming. Mind your manners.
Lord, we long to be known as great in the kingdom—and the only way to that
is by the road of humility, service and suffering.
Ambulance, or Hearse
The first symptom of a heart attack, gentlemen, is denial. You start
telling yourself that this can’t be a heart attack. It’s an ulcer, you ate
too much Mexican food—that’s what you tell yourself. We just don’t want our
lives interrupted by a trip to the hospital.
You might ask, “How would you know?” Because from late afternoon until
early the next morning, I invented every possible excuse (and some
impossible ones, too.) Finally, I called the front desk at the hotel and
had them call the paramedics. They treated the immediate pain. An
angiogram showed a blockage; an angioplasty followed swiftly. It was
extremely inconvenient. I lost a solid month in bed. On the whole it
seemed the better option.
Two responses, two outcomes. Imagine our Pharisee going to the doctor’s
office today. He has severe chest pain, but he’s not about to admit it. He
tells the doctor just how strong he is; how he exercises every day. He
even takes two vitamin tablets each day. Don’t you suppose the doctor will
interrupt and ask, “Then why are you here?” The Pharisee was telling God
how righteous he was. It was a waste of time—and it annoyed God.
But our tax collector is acting like I did. He’s come to the conclusion
that he needs help—he cannot handle the situation on his own. Everyone who
could hear him would hear the list of symptoms. Everyone would hear his
plea for help. Help is just what he would get, just as I did.
That’s what we have in this passage: one man telling God how great he
feels, the other listing his symptoms. The Great Physician responds as he
promised: if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us.
If we tell him how wonderful we are, letting him know just how indebted he
is to us for our righteousness, he will take us at our word. If we say we
don’t need any help, we won’t get any.
It’s a curious thing. The ambulance is big and boxy—but powered to go very
fast. It is the very essence of urgency; our laws even order the traffic
out of its way. The hearse is much more elegant looking, but it seems
designed for a much slower ride. Have you ever seen a funeral procession in
a hurry? Your choice: ambulance or hearse. One of the two can bring you
back. Pick well.
Lord, we act like we have all the time we need to deal with our sins—yet we
don’t even have tomorrow. Teach us to number our days, and to call upon
Your Name early and often.
Servants in Authority
Let’s suppose that you are driving down a broad street, with lots of
traffic. You’re in the fast lane, perhaps just a touch over the speed
limit, when some muscle man comes up behind you in a red truck. He begins
to honk his horn at you, he flashes his lights and waves his arms to signal
that he wants you to pull over and let him by. Do you?
Believe it or not, most of us do. If, of course, the red truck in question
is a fire engine. And if that fire engine pulls in at the pizza place and
picks up a few pizzas? There’s going to be an angry letter written, right?
There is our basic reaction to authority. When the one in authority uses
that authority in line with his responsibility, we approve and submit
accordingly. It is a blessing to have the paramedics available at any time
you need them. But if some fireman tried to tell us we should move over for
him in his car, just because he’s a fireman, we’d laugh. We expect those in
authority to behave with proper humility, as befits those who are public
servants. When they behave properly, they are a blessiug.
So it is within the church. Authority is never given so that we might show
off in pomp and ceremony. It is given so that we might bear one another’s
burdens. We expect it to be exercised in the correct way; the divine
style, if you will—the style used by the Servant King.
If you see that responsibility (in the church) determines authority, then
you will see that no one is to “lord it over” someone else. Jesus, the one
whose responsibility was our salvation, is given all authority. He is the
only source of legitimate authority; thus, we are told that he sanctions the
government so that we might live in peace. More than that, Jesus serves as
the model for all who serve in authority. The Servant King shows us how to
So, if you’ve been given a task to do in the church, you may safely assume
you have the authority that goes with it. Accept it, just as you would
accept any other tool, for such it is. Babies in the nursery? He who holds
the diaper pins had best know how to use them; sticking the kid because he
stinks to much is not considered a blessing. A Bible teacher for adults?
Do not be an uncertain trumpet, nor think too highly of yourself. Rather,
be a blessing to those you serve, and let your Lord deal with the reward.
Lord, it is given to us to serve, just as you came to serve. Keep us
mindful of your authority—and your example.
Justice, Faithfulness and Mercy
If there is any truly important difference between our time and that of
David the Psalmist, it is not in our technology. It is in our view of God.
David saw him with the eyes of one who had great experience with trial and
tribulation. Seven years in the wilderness with Saul after his head taught
him something. That something is simply this: God is worthy to be praised.
He is worthy to be praised for his justice
We may think of this in three ways:
There is civil justice, wherein God hates those who move an ancient boundary
There is criminal justice, by which God will not allow the wicked to go
There is national justice—when a nation turns from God, he gives them over
to the fruits of their sins (sound familiar?)
He is worthy to be praised for his faithfulness
Here is consistency at the divine level. Those who turn to evil have no
right to take God’s name claiming his blessing. These are those who blame
God for not getting them out of the trouble brought on by their own sin. As
we would discipline an unruly small child, so God will discipline those who
feel entitled to his protection despite their sin.
Those who honor Him know that they can trust Him completely. Those
who give lip service wonder what happened.
Those who call on his name find him ever ready to be their fortress—if they
do indeed depend upon his Name.
He is worth to be praised for his mercy
His mercies are new every morning. How shall we see his mercy?
He warns the nations of their sins, giving them a time to repent.
He listens to the cries of the needy, and sees to their needs.
He is the hope of the poor and the homeless.
The Day is coming when we shall see this face to face. Are you ready to
Lord, we praise you for your justice; we praise you for your faithfulness,
and we praise you for your mercy, on which we depend.
God is Sufficient
A consistent theme runs through the earlier Psalms, particularly those by
David. In the pictures of the day, he portrays God as his refuge, a strong
tower, a fortress. But see how this claim is made: if I trust in
you, you will not fail me. You are faithful.
Faithfulness is indeed an attribute of God, but the self-sufficient will
never see it. His faithfulness may be appealed to—but only in the context
of knowing that my own self-sufficiency will fail.
It is in this context that we must read his condemnation of other gods. The
gods created by man have one common characteristic. They can be
manipulated. If you offer just the right sacrifices (and more of them than
your enemy does) then you will succeed.
Do you not see the flaw in this? Whether an idol, our bank account, our
influence with the authorities, we count on our ability to manipulate
influences, friends and foes to give us triumph. But if that god can be so
manipulated, then that god can let you down—without warning. These are gods
in our own image—so they are schemers too.
The one who acknowledges God the Faithful knows better than this. Even in
the matters of inheritance, planned before I was born, I can say with David
that the boundary lines look very pleasant to me. The things I have been
given suit me very well, as a farmer might be content with inheriting bottom
This crescendos into the praise of God. David teaches us three things for
which God is to be praised:
Praise him for his counsel.
We are often taught to memorize the Scriptures, so that his counsel will be
near us no matter the circumstance. How often his wisdom has kept me from
Praise him for the courage he
When the night is dark and cold, when all other comfort has disappeared, he
is with me, and my heart takes in courage like my lungs take in air.
Praise him for the confidence he
It may not be a matter of courage; just a matter of confidence. If I rely
on my own character I will soon retreat, I cannot be sure of victory. But
if he commands it, he will supply the confidence to do it too.
Even in death he will care for me; the resurrection is sure. This is
prophetic—but not just of Christ. Our turn is coming too.
Father, in the dark hours of our souls, give us counsel, give us courage,
give us confidence. Onward, Christian soldiers!
What Makes a King Great
Your attention is invited (as they say in the Army) to the 35th verse of
this Psalm of David. The Psalm itself is magnificent poetry, an abomination
to Biblical literalists. Buried within it is the secret of personal
greatness in the kingdom of God. David, you will recall, was the runt of
the litter. When Samuel came to anoint a king, David’s father was so sure
it wasn’t David that he was the one left to look after the sheep. In this
exultant poem of praise (and work of prophecy as well) we find that one
little verse. The word used in the last phrase is a difficult one to
translate. It is profitable to us to listen to the shades of meaning:
translated “stooped down” or “lowliness”, it tells us of a God who is
willing, indeed eager, to intervene in the affairs of man—on behalf of those
who love him. He is awesome in power, great in his magnificence who rides
on every storm—and also comes down to my level.
Mercy. It is not our
righteousness that impels God; it is his mercy, ever new. If He treated us
just as we deserve no one could stand.
Help. In this word there
is both a cry and an answer; those who cry out to the Living God will
receive his help.
Gentleness. One translation has
it as “caress me with your gentle ways.” As a strong athlete might cradle
his infant son, so God takes us into his arms to gently caress the creature
he made to love Him.
Power. We forget that this
is the awesome God, whose works dwarf anything that man has done. He who
spoke and the worlds began—this God will bring his power to bear on behalf
of those who give him love and obedience.
We often think this a negative, but the discipline of the Lord is a sure
sign of his love. We discipline our children, for their own good. How much
more will God discipline us in the right way?
Which is the correct translation? Or is this one of those Hebrew words
which is so complex in itself that, like a diamond held up to the light of a
fire, it sparkles always—but with differing colors on each turn? His power
is revealed in our weakness.
Lord, the diamond of your caring love is flawless, as is your holy Word.
Teach us to treasure them.
Whom Shall I Fear?
Sometimes the human species exhibits the strangest of fears. The spider is
a small creature of little brain, but many recoil at the sight of one. The
average snake is considered helpful about the garden, eliminating various
pests; they are slow, and simple precautions are effective against the rare
poisonous ones. The reaction you see in many people is to treat them as the
worst of predators.
We are not distant from the days when it was a daily experience to face the
deadliest predator on the planet—man. In David’s time tribes went to war
every spring; raiding and pillaging were considered the normal functions of
the king and the army. So the threat was real. But David’s question is,
“Whom shall I fear?” How can he be so confident? He knows, of long
experience, who is sovereign. He shows us God in three ways:
He is my light. David’s
message is clear. God will be your light—if you will look and see. The
heart tells us to seek the Lord. It is a fact: in the darkness, it’s a lot
easier to find a lighthouse than a cave. But when you find Him, be
prepared: His light is not just there to make you feel good. It is like
that lighthouse: there to guide you. If you are willing to say, “Teach me
your ways,” His lessons are rich and fruitful.
He is my salvation.
Most of us understand this in New Testament terms: he is our salvation
because of what He did at Calvary. David teaches us that the God of all
creation cares for his children in this world too. Note the way God works:
“my enemies will stumble.” Not that I will defeat them, and risk the
swelling pride—no, He will cause them to stumble. This teaches us his
awesome power—and the dangers of do it yourself salvation. “Do not reject
me,” cries David. It is not for our merit, but by His love and
righteousness we are saved.
He is my stronghold.
We remember from Psalm 23 that we “shall dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.” If you read it apart you might see this as reward; but David
knows better. God “will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle.” Our
strength is not sufficient; His weakness is greater than all our strength.
Wait for the Lord; He will not fail you if you will turn to Him.
Lord, how often we run ahead of you, risking immortal danger, when you will
keep us safe forever in your shelter.
Tough times: your world is crumbling around you; more than anything else
you fear the shame and disgrace of being a failure. Does it look like
you’re the butt of the joke? The bad example?
In you, O LORD, I have taken refuge;
let me never be put to shame;
deliver me in your righteousness
Feels like the walls are closing in? Like someone was just waiting for you
to make one, tiny mistake, and then the trap closed? Are you looking at the
bars on the cage, panicked about getting out?
Free me from the trap that is set for me,
for you are my refuge.
your hands I commit my spirit;
redeem me, O LORD, the God of truth.
Are you afflicted? Your body betraying you in sickness, turning you into a
weakling? Your mind telling you that the end must come soon? The anguish
of your soul growing, feeding upon itself as each day is worse than the
I will be glad and rejoice in your love,
for you saw my affliction
and knew the anguish of my soul.
Do you feel that you can’t go on? Your strength is fading like a sunset,
you are frail, night is coming—and your enemies close in for the kill?
But I trust in you, O LORD;
I say, "You are my God."
times are in your hands;
deliver me from my enemies
and from those who pursue me.
Feeling like even God has rejected you?
In my alarm I said,
cut off from your sight!"
Yet you heard my cry for mercy
when I called to you for help.
Three thousand years ago David knew it all. He was a man after God’s
heart; out of all trouble, death threats, wars and rebellions God rescued
him every time. Trust in Him.
Love the LORD, all his saints!
The LORD preserves the faithful,
the proud he pays back in full.
The Word of God
There can be no doubt about this passage: it refers to the Living Word, Jesus,
the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Isaiah portrays it here. We are
familiar with the fact that the Word “will not return unto Me void” as the King
James had it. See in this slightly expanded selection how this occurs.
The Great Bridge
A long suspension bridge is a beautiful sight. But will you note, please, that
the bridge has a tall tower on each side, each tower anchored deep in the
earth. For the bridge to be strong, it must have a strong tower on both sides.
The Word of God is the bridge between mankind and heaven. This bridge could not
be built by man—but like the rain and snow, the Word came down from heaven. He
made the return trip possible.
Even to this day, the bridge stands—and the written Word of God shows us the
Bread of Life
A farmer will tell you that if there is no water, there is no crop. The seed in
the ground dies without water. The water comes down from heaven, the grain
grows—and man makes bread. Like the rain, the Bread of Life comes down from
heaven. Moses saw the manna from heaven, a picture of the Bread of Life come
down from heaven—the Word of God. And like ordinary bread, like the manna of
the Israelites, this Bread gives us life. It is the nourishment we need;
ultimately we die if we lack it.
The sovereign Triumph of God
He is God, there is no other. He has told us about his Word and its place in
his plan: the Gospel will be preached to all nations and then—in God’s good
time, I know not when, only He does—will come the time of the end. Flowers have
been on this planet for millions of years; grass– who knows how long? But they
will fade away and become ancient memories, and the Word of the Lord will still
Isaiah tells us here the results. His word will accomplish his purpose, and
when it does, We will be blessed with true peace; our steps will be taken in
joy. Indeed, the joy is so indescribable to us that Isaiah can only picture it
as the hills bursting into song. Then we shall see the real Triumphal Entry.
Lord, the year ends, as time must also end. Let us go out in joy, lead us in
peace. May we see you face to face—soon.