Refuge


One of the themes in the book of Psalms, especially those psalms written by King David, is refuge. The “sweet singer of Israel” often wrote of things he knew well—“The LORD is my shepherd,” for example, from a man who spent his youth tending sheep. After a meteoric rise to prominence as a result of his victory over Goliath, David experienced an equally sharp decline in favor. Although he did nothing wrong, although King Saul was simply motivated by jealousy, David found himself on the run—for his life.

He had no one he could trust, so he looked to hide out in a part of the country that was nearly uninhabitable. It was called a wilderness for a reason. So, far to the south of the center of power where the king resided, where David once sat at his table, the fugitive now lived in caves and wherever else he could go—often on the run just to stay one step ahead of King Saul and his army.

David knew about not having refuge, and finding refuge. So no wonder he wrote a lot about the subject in his psalms. One of the psalms that addresses the subject most thoroughly is Psalm 91. There’s no “signature” telling us that David wrote this particular portion of Scripture, but regardless, it is consistent with what a man on the run, what someone facing trouble, would know to write.

Unsurprisingly, the psalmist, whoever he was, wrote that God is the ultimate refuge, the One who provides a “safe space.” Here’s a sample:

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress,
My God, in whom I trust!” (vv 1-2)

Interestingly, the psalmist is rather expansive when he describes what God can shelter someone from, but he includes pestilence—“fatal epidemic disease”—in some of his earliest thoughts:

For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper
And from the deadly pestilence. (v 3)

A few verses later he adds

You will not be afraid of the terror by night,
Or of the arrow that flies by day;
Of the pestilence that stalks in darkness (5-6a)

I think it’s significant that God’s refuge not only provides safety but also freedom from fear.

In a few verses the psalm takes on a prophetic, Messianic meaning—to the point that Satan actually quoted from it when he was tempting Jesus. These verses may sound familiar:

For He will give His angels charge concerning you,
To guard you in all your ways.
They will bear you up in their hands,
That you do not strike your foot against a stone. (vv 11-12)

The debate, then, is this: are the promises of refuge only promises to the Messiah? Can the everyday Christian turn to God as his refuge?

I don’t think that’s a question that’s too hard to answer, since this passage is not the only one that talks about taking refuge in God.

In fact, the book of Psalms is not the only place where we learn about taking refuge in God. One of my most favorite verses is in one of the minor prophets (not “minor” because of their importance, but identified so today by Biblical scholars because of their length). This one is found in the book of Nahum.

Ironically, the book starts off with anything but a tone of refuge. Rather, it describes God’s righteous anger, as in this verse:

The LORD is slow to anger and great in power,
And the LORD will by no means leave the guilty unpunished. (1:3a)

The passage reaches a climax in verse 6:

Who can stand before His indignation?
Who can endure the burning of His anger?
His wrath is poured out like fire
And the rocks are broken up by Him.

And then the shocking, surprising, unexpected twist:

The LORD is good,
A stronghold in the day of trouble,
And He knows those who take refuge in Him. (v 7)

So yes, God’s wrath being poured out like fire? That’s from the LORD who is good. But more so, this is the same good God who is a stronghold in the day of trouble, including the pestilence mentioned in Psalm 91. As if that was not enough, God knows those who take refuge in Him. Not in government or medical progress or the “human spirit” or anything else so many rely on today. God can use all those things if He chooses, but He is the One, the only One who is a refuge in the day of trouble, no matter what kind of trouble. No matter what source stirs up that trouble.

Like the plagues of Egypt, God can bring judgment, but in the same way He protected Israel from the consequences of those plagues, those who take refuge in Him today will be protected, too.

I say “in the same way,” but the truth is, taking refuge in God is not a way to insure we won’t contract the Coronavirus. I have heard of Christians who have fallen ill and some who have died. But the thing about refuge in God is that it’s win-win. We are in the same place Paul was when he said, “To me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” We can live in God’s protection, or we can die and gain a more complete relationship with Christ, free from the dark glass we look through today.

There is no bad result from taking refuge in God. One way or the other, we are free from the fear of the terror by day or the pestilence by night. Why? Because we know God is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, and He knows those who take refuge in Him.

Published in: on April 7, 2020 at 5:02 pm  Comments (3)  
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Thus Says the Lord


I’m not sure this should be a blog post. More like a quick Facebook update or even a Tweet. So I’ll give you some background.

Some time ago I picked one verse from each book of the Bible to learn. Some were easy, like Joshua 1:8 and Jeremiah 29:11. But when I came to the minor prophet of Haggai, I struggled. As Chuck Swindoll put it in his overview of the book, “Haggai had an important message for the Jews who had recently returned from exile.” In other words, the book seems highly specialized, directed to a certain people, at a specific time, for a limited purpose.

You see, the message Haggai delivered was that the exiled Jews who returned to their homeland in order to rebuild the temple, needed to get busy and do what they had come to do.

In all the book, the only line that seemed to me not to point directly to rebuilding the temple was this: “Thus says the Lord, ‘Consider your ways.’ ” (1:7)

As it happens, it’s a perfect verse of warning. From Swindoll again:

The Jews who emigrated from Babylon to their original homeland of Judah faced intense opposition, both external and internal. Ezra 4:1–5 records the external resistance to the project of rebuilding the temple. The enemies of Judah first attempted to infiltrate the ranks of the builders, and when that didn’t work, they resorted to scare tactics. Haggai, on the other hand, focused on the internal opposition they faced, namely from their own sin. The Jews had thoughtlessly placed their own interests before the Lord’s interests, looking after their own safety and security without giving consideration to the status of the Lord’s house.

Looking after their own safety and security without giving consideration . . .

I watched a video today with the unfortunate title that asked the question if the US is running out of food. The answer is no, but the hoarder demands are greater than the usual, predictable buying patterns of the populace, so those responsible for the supply, the distribution, and the sale, are simply having a hard time keeping up.

I’ve maintained for two weeks now that things will soon calm down. I mean, hoarders can’t add more to their piles of hoarding, can they? Maybe so.

In that same video, the producers said we are not a nation in want of food. Our problem is that we waste food. The stat was 30-40% of food purchased ends up in the landfills. That’s kind of horrific.

When I saw that stat, I did wonder how much of the food that people had bought in a frantic panic, will end up being tossed. I mean, as the video pointed out, we aren’t eating more than we were, and we don’t have a smaller supply of food then we have had. So we have people buying food they don’t need and may not eat.

I think the verse in Haggai is appropriate: “Thus says the Lord, ‘Consider your ways.’ ”

Of course, there are other ways we should consider: our Wall Street greed, our Hollywood excess, our angry political battles, our attitude toward all human life, our moral and ethical standards, our unfair treatment of people who aren’t like we are. These are not specialty issues that some members of society have while the others can self-righteously point and judge.

No, we all need to consider our ways. How did Pastor Swindoll word it? “The Jews had thoughtlessly placed their own interests before the Lord’s interests.” Have Christians thoughtlessly placed our own interests before the Lord’s interests? If so, we need to consider our ways.

Published in: on March 30, 2020 at 4:51 pm  Comments (6)  
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Jonah And Racism


I know. The title of this article is supposed to be “Jonah and the Whale,” right? I mean, that’s what everyone know about Jonah. But I’ve recently heard a couple different pastors on the radio, and to a man they cut to the heart of the story.

Jonah is not about some miraculous rescue from the sea, though that’s a part of the story. It’s not even about a disobedient prophet who finally, when given a second chance, repented and relented and did what God told him to do. Though that also is part of the story.

The real issue for the prophet Jonah was his hatred of the Assyrians. You know, the people who lived in Nineveh, where God told him to go and preach. If God had said, Go to Bethlehem or Bethel or Jericho or Dan, I imagine Jonah would have been happy to obey, because we know from 2 Kings that Jonah did in fact prophesy certain things about Israel.

But Nineveh? Jonah didn’t want to go to the enemy. He told God why: he knew that when he preached the message of judgment, those violent idolaters who had fought against Israel on more than one occasion, would repent, and then God would forgive them. Yep, that’s why he didn’t want to go. He didn’t want them to repent. He didn’t want them to receive God’s mercy.

Again, that’s right there in the book of Jonah—in the chapter that doesn’t make it into the nice little picture Bible story books we so often see. After God saw the Ninevites change their ways and turn from their wicked deeds, after God relented of the destruction he had planned to send against them, what did Jonah do? He went up on a hill outside the city to watch, hoping that perhaps God would stay with the judgment He had planned.

Then Jonah went out from the city and sat east of it. There he made a shelter for himself and sat under it in the shade until he could see what would happen in the city. (Jonah 4:5)

While he sat there, God prepared another object lesson for Jonah. He gave him a plant that provided additional shade from the heat, but just as miraculously He sent a worm that destroyed the plant. And Jonah was angry. Why? He had liked that plant. He wanted the plant to live. He hadn’t actually planted it or cultivated it or done anything to give it life. But he wanted that plant to live.

God made the comparison: Jonah and his attitude toward the plant in juxtaposition to God and His attitude toward Nineveh.

Then the LORD said, “You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight. Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?” (Jonah 4:10-11)

Jonah had no compassion for the thousands of people who God was warning about the coming judgment. His actions—going the opposite direction in order to avoid giving God’s message, becoming angry when God relented and determined that He would not destroy them after all, sitting outside the city in hopes that God would still judge them—followed by God’s confrontation of him, show us Jonah’s heart.

He wasn’t thinking along with God, here. He wasn’t rejoicing with the angels that sinners had turned from the errors of their ways. He wasn’t thinking about mercy or forgiveness. Instead, he was thinking about revenge.

My guess is that Jonah would have been happy to deliver God’s message of judgment: “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” (Jonah 3:4b). If, that is, he hadn’t figured out that God, being merciful, would give them a second chance.

He didn’t want them to have a second chance. One way to keep them from repenting, was simply keep them in the dark about their coming judgment. So, one ticket to Tarshish, please.

The whole story is so ironic, because Jonah himself experienced God’s second chance when he was plucked from the sea by a God-appointed fish. When Jonah repented, God appointed the fish to hurl, then gave Jonah a second chance:

Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time (Jonah 3:1a)

Jonah reminds me of the man in one of Jesus’s parables who had been forgiven much but who would not forgive those who owed him even a small amount.

The story also reminds me that God loves the world. He loved the people of Israel and He loved their enemies. He wasn’t playing favorites or picking sides. He sent Joseph to Egypt, Daniel to Babylon, and Jonah to Assyria.

In essence He’s sent Christians to those places, too, as well as to many other places. That’s our “marching orders,” our perpetual assignment. And never has it been easier to “go” without really even having to go. We can preach the gospel—the good news that has to start first with the same kind of warning Jonah was to deliver—by supporting those who leave their homes and go in person. We can tell others through the internet, radio, print, podcasts, videos, so many, many ways. We can even go to our homeless or unchurched neighbors right where we live.

Our choice is simple: we can behave like Jonah or we can show the compassion of Christ, the love of the Father for those thousands who are confused and don’t know what is right.

Published in: on September 27, 2019 at 5:00 pm  Comments (9)  
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What Happened To The Assyrians?


Jonah was God’s prophet. Granted, he didn’t always happily declare God’s message as he was instructed to do. But apparently God can use a reluctant prophet because when Jonah finally made his way to Nineveh, where God sent him, the people of this warrior country heeded the warning of calamity and repented. All of them, from king to commoner.

A hundred years later the prophet Nahum is once again speaking into the lives of the Assyrians to deliver God’s message of warning. This time, apparently, the response was nothing like it had been to Jonah. Instead, in a matter of years the very thing that Nahum said would take place, did in fact happen. Assyria collapsed, devolving into a series of civil wars until their territory was taken over by the Medians. They have never regained their standing as an independent and powerful nation.

So what happened? From repentance to calamity in a couple generations. Of course the Bible doesn’t tell us, but clearly, the people who repented in Jonah’s day did not successfully pass on to their children and their grandchildren the need to bow in humble repentance before the Living God.

In some ways they remind me of the people of Israel. God rescued them out of the hand of Pharaoh, miraculously provided for them to cross the Red Sea on dry land, and then met with Moses to give him the Ten Commandments. The people were completely on board with the idea of following and obeying God. They vowed to do so. Until they didn’t have enough water. Until they didn’t have any meat. Until they got tired of eating manna. Until they faced another enemy who wanted to destroy them.

At each of those turns, the people grumbled and complained, essentially accusing God of wrong doing against them. God, You shouldn’t have brought us here. God, You should have left us in Egypt. God, there are giants in this Promised Land of Yours, and we aren’t going up against them.

From gratefully vowing to do what God required, to complete rebellion. And it didn’t take them a hundred years to get there.

How easily we humans turn our backs on God. The Assyrians were no different. How could they be? We suffer with a nature that basically tells us we should be on the throne of our own lives. We should get to determine good from evil on our own.

So no wonder that today, some atheists deny a moral right and wrong. Those don’t actually exist, they say. Rather society simply decides what they as a group believe will be good or . . . not good. They don’t actually believe in evil, any more than they believe in a fixed morality, an absolute standard.

But God Himself is that fixed point, that unchanging standard, that Absolute Truth. We can either embrace Him or turn from Him.

Not that we necessarily turn from Him in one swoop. Repentance might sweep the city like it did Nineveh when Jonah preached, but turning from God seems to happen more slowly, over time.

It might start with our own grumbling against God by excusing our complains with the idea that God is big enough to handle our anger or God wants us to be authentic or God is so gracious and merciful, it’s OK if we vent to Him.

The thing is, all those are true, but so is the road to apostasy the people of Israel took on their way to their homeland. So is Paul’s statement to the Philippians:

Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world (Phil. 2:14-15).

So who was a light to the crooked and perverse world of the Assyrians? Who stood in the gap for that nation?

Of course, the Old Testament prophets are so relevant today because they show us our choices. We can respond with repentance, as Assyria did in Jonah’s day, or we can respond by ignoring the warnings, as Assyria did in Nahum’s day.

Because of Jesus Christ, God has made those who follow Him

A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9)

In some senses, we are no longer called to stand in the gap for a nation but for the whole world since Christ’s command to make disciples extended to the uttermost parts of the world. There is no limit to whom or where we are to proclaim God’s excellencies.

The early Church is a great example. The more they were persecuted, the more they were martyred, the more they grew.

Oddly, here in the US, the more we fight for our rights, the more we seem to lose significance. It seems we live in a strange tension. We can and should stand in the gap for our culture, our post-truth culture that wants to walk away from God as completely as if they were turning to a Buddha or a Baal or to the Egyptian sun god. But we ought not confuse the symptoms with the problem.

The problem is not a drift from our Constitutional rights. The problem is not a change from Biblical morality to reliance on feelings and perception. The problem is that our culture, our friends and neighbors, our family, need to know the Truth because the Truth will set them free, just like He has set us free.

Yes, He. Jesus Himself declared that He is the way, the truth, the life, that no one comes to the Father but through Him.

Coming to the Father is exactly what the Assyrians neglected. I wonder, in a generation will someone ask, What happened to the American Christians?

Published in: on May 4, 2018 at 5:55 pm  Comments Off on What Happened To The Assyrians?  
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