Take Courage. Fear Not.


I’ve discovered in the last ten years or so just how relevant the various books of prophecy are. Some of them seem as if they could have been written about contemporary America. So I was not surprised when I came upon a verse that speaks to many in today’s climate of . . . worry.

I don’t know how else to say it, but there are small businesses that have had to close their doors; people who have lost their jobs; others who are worried about finding the paper products they need, when they need them; people who are concerned about getting sick or wearing masks or getting a vaccine or not getting a vaccine.

Isaiah comes along in chapter 35 and says

Encourage the exhausted, and strengthen the feeble.
Say to those with anxious heart,
“Take courage, fear not. (vv 3-4a)

Interestingly, the passage starts out by announcing a reason for nature to be glad and to rejoice: “They will see the glory of the LORD/The majesty of our God.”

Essentially Isaiah is describing how things will be when Messiah comes again. He will set things right—bring His vengeance on those who deserve vengeance, save those who trust in Him, provide a “Highway of Holiness” to the redeemed, to enable gladness and joy to the ransomed of the LORD, to chase away sorrow and sighing.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I find it a relief, refreshing, to hear good news. Not only that, this passage reinforces the fact that God is in control, even when circumstances seem so far from what we imagined or hoped for.

For instance, I grew up in the era which taught that the US is a melting pot. We all have one thing in common: we have come from somewhere else, whether recently or in the distant past, and we have come together, blending our identities into Americans. It’s a wonderful ideal.

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would see the day when students are taught “Critical Race Theory,” such that they had to identify which racial, religious, economic, gender, sexual preference oppressed group they belonged to. Those who could not, were part of the oppressors. In other words, these ideas are Marxist and they are the antithesis of the American ideal based on the creed that all people are created equal.

That idea is clearly one embedded in the Bible. God loves the whole world, for instance, and promised a blessing through Abraham for all the world. Paul specifically said all the divisions of ethnicity, gender, economics melted away at the foot of the cross. In the Church, made up of those who are reconciled to God through the sacrifice, the payment for sin, which Jesus provided, there are no distinctions.

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:21-24–emphasis mine)

So in the face of the many difficulties in 2020, our hope does not lie in a change in the calendar. I know a lot of people are talking about how they can’t wait to be done with 2020, as if the covid virus will disappear at midnight New Year’s Eve. Or jobs will suddenly come back and restaurants will miraculously open or racial tension will vanish or any number of other problems this year has uncovered, will suddenly be solved.

The change of calendar is not the answer, but the knowledge that Jesus, our Savior, will indeed come to reign as our King eternal, heaping gladness and joy on our heads and driving sorrow and sighing away, gives us a reason to take courage, to fear not.

God will handle the problems. He will set things right. It’s in the bank, a done deal. And we have His word on it.

In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. (Hebrews 6:17-18)

So now we can ask—are we in the company of those who have taken refuge in the promise of God? If so, Scripture gives us strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. Which means we can take courage. We can fear not.

Published in: on December 29, 2020 at 5:24 pm  Comments (1)  
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God Is In Control. Really, He Is


I just listened to a video from various citizens of Georgia who were witnessing to problems in the 2020 election. Despite so many people who have come forward, despite clear violations of state election laws, despite numerical impossibilities, despite verified anomalies such as more votes than registered voters in some counties, any number of court cases in the “contested states” have been thrown out for one reason or another. Though any number of state representatives seem convinced that there is “something to see” in regards to election fraud, so far no one with the authority to make a difference seems interested in a real study of what happened and how to make it right.

There have been hearings before legislative committees in Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, too, all with the same result—some state legislators seem convinced, some people who listen to the testimony, as I have, are convinced that something happened. But no legal body with the authority to do anything has looked at the evidence.

That’s just the election, the latest of the twists and turns in 2020. Of course an ongoing issue in many states is the mandated “lock down” which state governors have implemented because of the increased number of people contracting the Chinese Communist Party Corona Virus.

The fight has become all about whether or not a governor can make these “temporary” mandates that last for nearly a year. The latest in California is that restaurants, which had been allowed to host outdoor dining by following a variety of protocols which required the businesses to buy appropriate equipment, such as outdoor lighting, tents, tables, all located at least six feet apart, suddenly, and without explanation, were no longer allowed outdoor dining. Couple this action with the restrictions on churches, which have now been declared unconstitutional, and government “servants” time and again being exposed as law-breakers of these very onerous laws.

Take, for instance, the incident in November when California Governor Newsom urged us on a Friday to avoid air travel, and if we did so, to self-quarantine. Then the following Monday, he and a dozen or so legislators boarded a plane and flew to Hawaii for a conference. “Rules for thee, and not for me,” is the way one YouTube critic puts it.

And of course all rules about mask wearing and social distancing were out the window during the Black Lives Matter protests and riots. Rules for thee if you don’t agree with me, I guess that one could be called.

But of course, the racial tensions of the summer are just one more area of 2020 madness. People robbing and looting and burning, all in the name of Black Lives Matter? And then the disparaging remarks and even threats against anyone saying all lives matter—as if black lives aren’t included in “all lives.” On the tail of these protests came the “de-fund the police” movement, and in cities that did so, an immediate and steep rise in crime.

But apparently, the message was really “black lives matter more.” That certainly seems to be the message of the critical race theory which seems to have found a foothold in some educational institutions. To the point that a high school boy in Nevada is suing a “tax-payer funded charter school” for “coercive, ideological indoctrination” in regard to this Marxist way of looking at people as either members of the oppressor group or the oppressed group.

And yet, I say, God is in control?

Aren’t the lists of things that tore society apart this year proof that God is NOT in control? It can feel that way. Especially when so many people were dying from the virus early on, when people who are hospitalized or are in a nursing home can have no visitors. Surely God is not behind all this.

Or is He?

Another way to ask the question is this: Is God sovereign? In other words, is He really the supreme ruler, the One ultimately in charge, the final authority? And if not God, then who? Satan? Would we ever say Satan has more authority than God? How about Mankind? You know, free will and all. But do we not have free will only because God gave it to us?

In fact, did He not say to Adam, eat whatever you want, just not this one thing which I’ve determined is not good for you. Because if it was good for him, God would surely have given it. So God, in his infinite wisdom and all knowing power, put one small restriction on Adam’s free will. Meaning, God was and is the ultimate authority, the Sovereign Who is in charge.

The patriarch Job struggled with the idea that God was in charge while terrible things happened to him and his family. Joseph may have struggled in the same way, though we have no record of it. What we do have is his great declaration that though his brothers had truly planned evil against him, and had carried it out, God took their actions and used them as a means to preserve and protect Joseph’s whole family.

James, the writer of the New Testament letter, addresses the issue, saying right from the start that believers should rejoice in trials because something greater than the trial itself would result.

Paul sums up the point in Romans, in a misunderstood verse:

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren(8:28-29)

God causes. All things. Covid, riots, election fraud. For good.

The part that too many people miss is that the good God is doing in and through all things is to bring those of us who love Him into conformity to the image of His Son.

In other words, to refine gold, to shape it into a valuable ring, there’s a lot of heat and melting and separating out the impurities and hammering and pressing into the mold so that the ring will be just right.

God does that for us as individuals and He does it for His Church. I know He did so for Israel and other nations in the past, and since He is the same yesterday, today, and forever, I suspect He still works with nations today in the same way.

Published in: on December 28, 2020 at 5:04 pm  Comments (7)  
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Turning To God


If it’s true that the problems the US faces today are not going to be fixed by government, that they actually need a spiritual answer, that such an answer starts with turning to God, what does that mean? What does it look like?

I’ve talked to a number of atheists over the years, and clearly their belief (although they say they don’t believe anything) is that there’s no evidence for God. What they are actually saying is a refutation of Romans 1, and an agreement.

Paul says in the first chapter of this letter that “that which is known about God is evident within them because God made it evident to them.” This, he explains, has been so since the creation of the world, in which God’s invisible attributes, eternal power, and divine nature have been clearly seen through what He made.

So the atheist starts by denying creation.

Paul addressed that, too, saying that though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God. So we refer to “Mother Nature,” not God. Maybe Mother Nature will give us a break in the weather so the fires will be brought under control.

In the same breath, many of the same people declare that humans are in control of that which has been made. So everything will be fine if we just don’t screw it up. All the climate warming and the resulting floods and hurricanes and fires, are our fault because we aren’t doing a good enough job.

So, on one hand, Mother Nature is in charge and we’re just along for the ride, but on the other hand humans are in charge of not making a mess of “our home.” How this Earth became our home, doesn’t ever seem to cross their minds.

But the bottom line is this: those who do not believe in God claim there is no evidence for His existence, then distort that very evidence, suggesting instead that this world and our place in it happened randomly and yet in an orderly progression of random events that can’t be replicated. But it was random. Not a result of an intelligent mind or a loving Father who chose to bring the world into existence and chose to put us humans in charge of it.

Interestingly, I had one atheist tell me she kept the Ten Commandments. Clearly she didn’t really know what they say, because they start with “You shall have no other gods before Me.” Mother =Nature is another god. And so are we humans, if we credit ourselves with what only God does.

I don’t want to get too far from the point. If we are to turn to God, we first have to acknowledge that He is. The writer of the book of Hebrews says that: “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”

So the first part of turning to God, I think, is to live what we say we believe. If we believe God is, then we need to trust Him, even when things don’t go the way we want. We need to trust that He sees the end from the beginning, that He knows what’s right.

I remember playing as a kid that I was a pirate looking through a telescope (usually the cardboard tube after all the Christmas wrapping had been used up). The problem with looking through a narrow cylinder is that you don’t get the panorama. You only see one small portion, and sometimes that is so close up it seems as if it is everything, or at least all that is important.

Unlike that kind of limited perspective, God sees and knows what we need, today, ten years from today, what our neighbor needs and our nephew we see at Thanksgiving. God can be trusted, if He is God. And if believers want to lead the way for our nation to return to Him, we need to trust Him, even when we don’t understand what He’s doing.

The prophet Habakkuk had the same issue. He wanted the nation Israel to turn back to God. God told him He was about to send a far more wicked nation to put them into captivity. That made no sense to Habakkuk. Until God told him about the remnant and the Messiah which was part of this overall plan.

So, too, for us, we don’t know what God’s plans are for the world or even for us individually. But we can count on His promises and we can turn to Him as our shield, our refuge, our safety net.

Published in: on October 1, 2020 at 5:12 pm  Comments (9)  
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Behind The Mess, Evil


Where did evil come from? In this unprecedented year of trouble, the question about evil seems quite practical, not theoretical or philosophical.

Biblical Christianity has a clear, concise, and practical answer.

Solomon spelled out the answer in the book of Proverbs. In the first chapter, he personified Wisdom, and it is Wisdom that gives the answers to the question of evil.

“Because I called and you refused,
I stretched out my hand and no one paid attention;
And you neglected all my counsel
And did not want my reproof;
I will also laugh at your calamity;
I will mock when your dread comes,
When your dread comes like a storm
And your calamity comes like a whirlwind,
When distress and anguish come upon you.

“Then they will call on me, but I will not answer;
They will seek me diligently but they will not find me,
Because they hated knowledge
And did not choose the fear of the LORD.

“They would not accept my counsel,
They spurned all my reproof.

“So they shall eat of the fruit of their own way
And be satiated with their own devices.

“For the waywardness of the naive will kill them,
And the complacency of fools will destroy them.

“But he who listens to me shall live securely
And will be at ease from the dread of evil.” (Prov. 1:24-33)

In a nutshell, humankind hated God’s way, so He gave us over to our own way.

So many miss this point. Our good and loving God delegated to us the care of the rest of creation, and He told us what we needed to know to be successful.

Instead of embracing God’s way, we hated His way, thought we could figure out a way around it, and decided we knew better than He.

Simply put, that’s evil. There is no better way than the perfect way. Our embracing something less than perfect drags us further and further from God and from His plan for us. If it weren’t for His intervention, we would have no hope.

But thanks be to our loving, good God who knows exactly what we need, we have a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ who has brought us out of darkness into His marvelous light.

Later in the book of Proverbs, Solomon says

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,
And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (Prov. 9:10)

God is entwined in it all—the beginning of wisdom, our response to wisdom, the reproof when we ignore wisdom, the consequences for hating wisdom. And the point of wisdom is to lead us to the fear of the Lord.

It’s self-fulfilling. The more we fear the Lord, the more we fear the Lord.

But “fear” doesn’t mean get all terrified, though that’s a part of it. The Hebrew word is yir’ah, and it’s various meanings are these:

I. fear, terror, fearing

A. fear, terror
B. awesome or terrifying thing (object causing fear)
C. fear (of God), respect, reverence, piety
D. revered

It is use C that applies here—fear, respect, reverence, and devotion. These are the heart attitudes, applied to our relationship with God, that yield wisdom.

Today there are a lot of ideas about God—he’s our buddy, he’s our Sugar Daddy, he’s an it or a she or an unknown, he’s nonexistent. All these are ways of neglecting wisdom’s counsel. We think we can ignore God or deny Him or treat Him with disrespect and still reap the benefits of His kindness and mercy. We don’t realize how much we pay for the existence of evil.

All the sin and sickness and death that plague the world and everything in it, is a direct result of turning our back on God instead of fearing Him.

Evil is here because of how humankind treats God. If we don’t love Him with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength (the first commandment), then how can we think we’ll be able to love our neighbors as ourselves (the second commandment)?

In short, evil is not something rightly dropped at God’s doorstep. He created a perfect world, and it is we who let Him down, not He who bungled the oversight of what He made.

My guess is, the same pride that said we could bypass the requirements God laid down, also is the reason we don’t want to admit evil exists in us and on earth, because of us. But that’s the truth—the Biblical answer to the question of evil.

Photo by brakou abdelghani from Pexels

This post is an adaptation of one that appeared here in January, 2015</span

Published in: on September 23, 2020 at 4:17 pm  Comments (2)  
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It’s Not A Good Year


Back in January my thoughts were on things like making New Year’s Resolutions and surviving the New Year’s Eve night of fireworks. Shortly after, there was the impeachment trial of our President, which I followed pretty closely. When that was resolved, folks started talking about the November election and the upcoming primaries.

But the news was quickly hijacked by the Covid-19 virus beginning to spread around the world. Italy seemed the hardest hit . . . until the US was. But truthfully, nations in Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, Scandinavia, Africa, all over Europe have all had to deal with this disease.

The US economy has tanked, and I think other countries are experiencing the same problem. People have lost jobs, businesses have turned belly-up. And of course, people are dying.

For whatever reason, the US can’t seem to get a handle on the disease, and it continues to spread. So, in places like Texas and Arizona, which once had very few cases, there are thousands of new cases every day, and up to a hundred new deaths. Of course, world wide there are hundreds of thousands of new cases and thousands of new deaths, so I suppose we should keep all the info in perspective.

But alas, like everything else that takes place today, the response to Covid has become controversial. No to masks—they actually hurt more than they help. Yes to masks because they will help contain the spread. No to Chloroquine because there might be side affects. Yes to Chloroquine because it might save lives. No to social distancing and closing churches because it’s all a government conspiracy. Yes to distancing measures so we can get over this pandemic more quickly (and have sports).

And on it goes. The debates are endless and, I might add, pointless, because this is our new year, our happy new year that is kicking off the 2020’s.

I could go on about the social unrest and the “cancel culture” culture, about extremists who eat their own because the canceled individuals haven’t gone far enough into the ideological abyss. Or what about cities that refuse to police things like destruction or theft of private property. How about the demolition of Federal property? But then there’s the controversy over whether the President should or should not send in troops to do what the local police can’t do or haven’t been ordered to do.

The atmosphere is toxic in 2020.

Some people—even some Christians—are throwing our elderly and infirmed under the bus. Stop the measures to contain the virus (usually this comes from conspiracy theorists) and let nature take its course. Because the spread of this virus, and the number of people dying, aren’t that bad.

I suspect that approach is sort of like the mayor of Seattle saying to leave the rebels in her city alone—until they marched on her house. When riots and looting and mobs come close to home, it’s time to do something. So, too, when Covid puts a loved one into the hospital, it’s time to take more serious measures.

In the midst of a thoroughly forgettable year that likely most people will never forget, God has not changed.

He’s still God. He’s still sovereign. He still asks the same of His people—that we rejoice always, that we glorify His name, that we tell people about Jesus.

God has not gone away, His plans for the world have not changed, His purpose for His people has not become something different.

Rather, God asks us to be joyful, in the midst of the difficulties the things in our society are causing. He asks us to still love our neighbors even as we face accusations that we can’t do that if we are a certain skin color.

God still wants us to be the body of Christ, loving our brothers and sisters around the globe, praying for the challenges suffering saints face that might be greater or more disruptive than those we face.

Even if we are at the heart of the worst of what’s going on in 2020, our mandate from God has not changed. It’s not suddenly OK to speak against our brothers or judge our brothers. That what James says in chapter 4, and then reiterates in chapter 5. He’s talking to Christians who were being persecuted, and he holds ho punches:

Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor? (4:11-12)

Above all God wants us to remember that He is still in charge. The Covid virus didn’t somehow slip past his attention. The riots in Chicago or Portland or Atlanta haven’t happened when He had His back turned.

Because He knows the end from the beginning. He has an amazing way of working through human agents. In fact that’s His preferred method today. He wants the Church to be His hands and feet, caring for widows and orphans and strangers and the oppressed.

At the same time, He brings people who are opposed to Him, who reject Him, along our path in order to refine, correct, or warn.

I’m of the mindset that the greatest need in the midst of the pandemic and the unrest and the economic fallout, is for us as a world, to bow before God and recognize that He is LORD, that He will do justly. That we who fear Him can know that He will keep us, even as His word promises.

Will He keep us now or in the life to come? Yes.

Published in: on July 30, 2020 at 5:12 pm  Comments (2)  
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Humming Birds And Parakeets


So this morning a couple hummingbirds that live in the tree next door got into a fight at my neighbor’s bird feeder.

I love hummingbirds. They have always fascinated me. One was a frequent visitor at my mom’s place years ago, and I remember sitting on the porch and trying to hold very, very still in order to keep from scaring our little guest away.

But this morning the hummingbirds were irritated with each other. They didn’t come to blows (clearly—since they don’t have hands!), but they squabbled. It seems that one of the birds was taking too much time at the feeder and the other one wanted in.

Apparently hummingbirds don’t operate under the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. They certainly aren’t prioritizing their neighbors (or family members) as more important than themselves, as God through the apostle Paul tells us humans to do.

Unfortunately, a segment of our society looks more like squabbling hummingbirds than people abiding by the council of God’s word.

As my neighbor and I were talking about the hummingbirds, she mentioned that one of her relatives who had a pair of parakeets accidentally left the door of the cage open and the male escaped.

So like us humans, leaving God’s provision and protection and abundant care to . . . what? Explore for ourselves?

I wonder if the little parakeet wanted a quick flight, only to lose his way and not be able to get home. Or maybe a cat found him perched on a tree limb. Or perhaps a hawk swooped him from the sky. Maybe he’s still out there, searching for food, fighting off the sparrows and crows for his share of the edibles he comes across.

God’s word does talk about birds in a number of places. In one specific instance Jesus made the comparison with birds and his disciples:

Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows. (Matt. 10:29-31)

In another place Jesus makes the point that God cares for the birds—feeds them and provides “clothing” for the flowers.

Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! (Matt. 6:26-30)

A couple important things come from these passages:

1) God considers people as more important than birds. More valuable. Worth more than they.

I think that’s significant in this day when evolutionists are telling us that birds, cows, cats, people—all part of a continuum, not really different. From that belief comes the idea that abortion is not really wrong if eating a hamburger isn’t really wrong. But that bleeds into the next point.

2) God cares about the birds, has their life span planned. Arguing from the lesser to the greater, He makes the point that if He cares about what happens to them, He certainly cares about what happens to us.

In other words, there are no throw-away humans. In truth, what sets us apart from the birds, what makes us more valuable than they is the image of God stamped on every single person. Every. Single. Person. Without exception. Animals, insects, birds, reptiles, fish—not so much. God didn’t fashion them in His image.

There’s another point:

3) God’s plan is to care for us.

He said that in the Matthew 6 passage:

Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (vv 32-33)

If you think about it, that’s exactly what God did for Adam and Eve in the Garden. All the food they could eat, and when they were in need of clothing, God gave it to them.

Today, of course, God uses a whole lot of ways to provide for us. Could be the sweat of our brow, could be the kindness of strangers, could be the kindness of friends.

The significant thing here is that God wants to provide. Alas, too many of us are like the little parakeet who flew away from his home. We decide to make it on our own, and then we wonder why things are hard.

– – – – –

Hummingbird photo by Harrison Haines from Pexels

Paraleet photo by Roshan Kamath from Pexels

Published in: on July 29, 2020 at 5:29 pm  Comments (1)  
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Exalting The LORD


I’m accustomed to the Bible. I’ve gone to church since I was a small child. Truth be told, my parents undoubtedly took me to church when I was a baby, but I can’t say I remember the experience.

What’s more, in my teens I made some feeble efforts to read the Bible on my own. Finally I succeeded in making that a habit when I was in my early twenties.

All that to say, not only is church language (some people call it churchese) familiar, but so is Bible language.

Some might be scratching their heads. Bible language? There is Bible language?

Well sure there is. Where else do people talk about justification or sanctification or glorification? These are Biblical terms, words used and explained by Paul. And as it happens there are a number of other “Bible words,” that I never really thought about being used—not exclusively, but perhaps primarily—in the Bible.

Take mercy, for example. Who uses that word apart from Christians? It doesn’t really come up too often in normal conversation. I mean, even in legal proceedings, I don’t think mercy is really part of the equation. Most penalties, in our state at least, have mandated sentencing, leaving judges no leeway to be merciful.

As it happens, our society is in a dangerous place of payback, so we don’t hear a lot of neighbors talking about mercy, or customers concerning businesses. Instead, the public is more apt to “cancel” someone or to boycott, or protest, or demand reparations, or to simply take what they consider to be their rightful due. No mercy.

The idea is, no mercy was offered to me, so they ain’t receiving any mercy from me!

Except, no one really says that. Because mercy isn’t really part of the every day vocabulary. It’s part of Bible talk.

I realized this fact about some of the words I don’t think twice about any more, because I’ve been around Bible talk for so long, when a friend approached me and asked me if I’d be interested in reading a Psalm a day with her.

Well, yeah!

One of the things I soon discovered was that a word like mercy is Bible talk. It needs explaining.

And so is the word exalt.

Today we read Psalm 30, which begins with these words (NIV):

I will exalt you, LORD,

for you lifted me out of the depths

I hadn’t really thought about it before, but exalt is a Bible word.

Who else do we exalt in the present culture in the western world? Ourselves, surely, but we don’t generally talk about doing so by using the word. We also exalt stars—of movies, music, TV, sports. But in those instances, we are more apt to say the culture or individual idolizes them, as opposed to exalts them.

What precisely do we mean by exalt? It’s a fair question. Is idolize an accurate synonym? Yes, according to the Oxford-American Dictionary, it is. The most appropriate definition is as follows:

hold (someone or something) in very high regard; think or speak very highly of

The synonyms listed in the accompanying thesaurus are these:

extol, praise, acclaim, esteem; pay homage to, revere, venerate, worship, lionize, idolize, look up to; informal put on a pedestal, laud.

Many of those terms are not quite right when we’re talking about God. Or they also are Bible terms. Take revere or worship. I suppose it is possible that an Englishman would say he reveres the Queen, but generally those words are reserved for speaking about God. And specifically about the Christian God. Do Muslims revere Allah? Maybe, though I don’t recall anything about revering God in the Five Pillars of Islam or in the Islamic law (sharia).

Perhaps Hindus revere their various gods. I know that those they believe are present in the animal kingdom are preserved and protected. Many Hindus don’t eat meat, for instance, and they do all they can to preserve the life of even the lowest insect. I’m a little muddy as to the reason, here. All these animals aren’t gods, in their way of thinking, but they are reincarnated beings who have been brought back as lower forms of life as part of their karma.

So who is exalted?

As it turns out, the Bible talks a lot about exalting God.

So what exactly does exalting God mean, apart from the other Bible-term synonyms or from those that simply don’t work (like idolize).

The best way I can explain it is this: exalting God, exalting Jesus, is something we do to elevate His standing. Of course we can’t actually elevate God’s standing since He is God and already over all things. But we can point to Him, credit Him with what He does, put Him in the spotlight, so to speak, call attention to Him so that others notice Him, too.

And that’s what I think David was saying in Psalm 30. He exalts God, and then He spends the rest of the psalm explaining why.

His number one point is that he’s exalting God, because God put him in an elevated position. I mean, he’d been a mere shepherd boy, only for God to lift him from that position to the place of king over the nation Israel. It really is an amazing transformation, and because of it, David wants to turn the spotlight back on God: He gave me this power and authority—it was not my doing.

So, too, Christians can exalt the LORD, because we once were His enemies, going our own way, either in intentional rebellion against Him or in denial of who He is and His right to rule. But because of Jesus Christ, we’ve been made new.

Now we are friends, sons, heirs, beloved, adopted into His family. On and on.

Because of our transformation, like David’s, it’s only right for us to exalt the LORD.

Even though we may have to find another word to explain what it is we’re doing.

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Photo by St. Mattox from FreeImages

Published in: on July 28, 2020 at 5:33 pm  Comments (1)  
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Sidetracked


Becoming sidetracked—distracted, pulled off course, diverted—is something we all understand. I mean, how many times do we start one task and in the process see something that pulls our attention away and causes us to start a new task.

Facebook or social media in general is a good place for becoming sidetracked. Yes, we want to click over to read one article, but there’s a link that seems like it will give more information, so we jump over to a different site, then a notification comes which we have to read, which contains an important message we must deal with at once and . . . what were we planning to do at Facebook in the first place?

In some ways the issue is that we are bombarded by information. And options.

Of late, our society has bombarded us all with Problems That Need To Be Fixed. The current two, of course, are the Coronavirus and racism. Before those, we were told—or perhaps taught would be a better word—that the planet was at risk unless we got our act together and stopped using fossil fuel as a source of energy. THAT would solve all the problems.

Except, apparently, racism and Coronavirus.

Along with these issues, we’ve also been taught that we need to stand against sexual abuse in any shape, that women must receive equal pay and opportunities as men, that we should stand against Apartheid, fight a war on poverty, stop bullying, build up a child’s self-esteem so they don’t pick up a gun and try to kill as many of their schoolmates as possible.

I could go on.

The thing is, these causes and campaigns are not all wrong, though some have engendered a bit of controversy. So is the Coronavirus a real problem? Yes, as much as some people would like to say it’s a problem drummed up by government to control the population. Actually, people are getting sick and dying all over the world.

And racism? The very people who say “all ANYBODY are ANYTHING,” are racists. So all police aren’t racist. Nor are all whites. Those are actually racist statements (as is the statement that all BLM supporters are racist). So yes, the problem of racism does exist.

Apartheid was an issue in South Africa, but now it seems to have migrated to America where we have NAME-THE-RACE communities. In other words, we are segregating by choice—at least a number of us are.

And yes, the gender issues are real. Women should not be harassed, raped, abused, misused. Bullying is a real problem—no one should be shamed or coerced or mocked publicly, because of their beliefs, their looks, the way they talk, or think, for their background, or history. Of course mass shootings are a real problem, too, at least in the US. In South America, for decades the issue was bombings. And shootings. I guess the Middle East goes the bombing route. And of course the US has known a few of those, ourselves.

I could go on. The environment? Yes, actually God gave humans “dominion” of the earth—not to misuse it, squeeze all the goodness out of it, as happened during the Industrial Revolution in the West. When people realized that rivers were becoming so polluted they were toxic, that the air was so contaminated it was dangerous, measures began to come into practice to change the damage we had done.

I say “we” as a reference to humans, though none of us were even alive at the time.

But I don’t want to get too far afield from the main topic (although that would actually serve as a good example of what I’m saying). All the problems—and many more that I haven’t even mentioned—are only side issues. They aren’t the real problem.

But as long as we talk about these other problems in the media and with our children and in our schools, as long as we are writing books and signing petitions and participating in protests and pointing fingers about any of these issues, we are being sidetracked.

The real issue—the central issue above all else—is that we as a culture, as many cultures—have turned away from God. We show it by how we treat each other and by how we treat our world, but mostly by how we treat God.

Do we know God? Or do we buy into the “God is dead” rhetoric? Do we exclude Him from our schools? Keep Him locked in the privacy of our own homes rather than include Him as part of the public conversation about all these other issues?

After all, God knows the human heart better than we do. He knows my heart and He knows the heart of the guy in China who just lost his mother to the Coronavirus. He knows the heart of abusive cops and He knows the heart of criminals and He knows the heart of citizens who are just minding their own business.

God is mindful of us. “He knows we are but dust.” Jesus understands our weaknesses, because “He was tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” God knows.

Do we turn to Him for answers? Or do we treat Him as an uninvolved spectator?

Do we live to make Him known? To turn the spotlight on Him as the One who deserves all praise and worship and honor?

Or are we focused on getting our lives back to normal?

What’s our mission statement, our assignment from God, and are we focused on accomplishing that or are we sidetracked by, oh, so many things?

Photo by Mark Plötz from Pexels

Published in: on July 7, 2020 at 5:21 pm  Comments (4)  
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All The Eggs In One Basket


As I read through the major and minor prophets—Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and so forth—one theme seems crystal clear. Whether God, through the prophets, was issuing warning, announcing judgment, or rebuking His people, the behavior that came up time and time again was that Israel was supposed to worship God only.

Sure, from time to time the prophets also talked about oppressing orphans and widows; not keeping the Sabbath; rulers, priests and false prophets leading the people astray; even the killing of their children in false worship.

The bottom line, however, was that all the ugly, sinful behavior the people engaged in, was linked to breaking the command to love God only. This passage from Deuteronomy spells things out pretty clearly:

“Now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the LORD’S commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good? Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it. Yet on your fathers did the LORD set His affection to love them, and He chose their descendants after them, even you above all peoples, as it is this day. So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer. For the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe. He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. You shall fear the LORD your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name. He is your praise and He is your God, who has done these great and awesome things for you which your eyes have seen. (10:12-21)

In truth, all the elaboration and explanation shouldn’t have been necessary because God stated what He wanted in a very clear commandment which He placed first in the Ten Commandments:

‘I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.You shall have no other gods before Me.’ (Deut. 5:6-7)

No other gods. First, Scripture makes it clear that there ARE no other gods—only idols, false angels, pretend gods who wish to usurp God’s sovereign rule.

Despite God’s clear instruction, the people of Israel became enamored with the culture around them. The Egyptians, for instance, had all kinds of false gods. When, after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, God’s people reached the Promised Land, they found a number of other cultures who worshiped a different set of false gods, so they decided to add them to their pantheon.

But God had said, put your eggs all in one basket. Don’t trust Yahweh, the living God, and Baal and the Asherim and Molech, and Chemosh, or any of the other gods that the people around them worshiped.

Today we might be tempted to scoff a bit. After all, we are not superstitious. We do not worship the Sun or bow before a statue made of gold or wood or stone.

But truth be told, we in our sophisticated Western culture are not any different from those ancient Middle Easterners. We just hide what we’re doing. We say God is on the throne, but here in America, Sunday evening church services are almost non-existent because people who say they follow Christ are too busy with work or sports or family or some other leisure activity to give God one day in the week. He can have an hour Sunday morning, and maybe even two if we’re “really involved” in our church. But the whole day? Well, churches have made it easy for us by doing away with that Sunday evening service.

We say we love God, so we read our Bibles for fifteen minutes, maybe even a half hour a day. We might even get a devotional on our phone or tablet. But in contrast we watch TV for a couple hours, or play our computer games into the late night hours.

We privatize our religion and don’t let the Bible inform our views about Covid-19 or race or the Fourth of July. We are pretty OK with adopting the attitudes of our culture—our divided culture—about such things.

I know, because I’ve done all these things, and I could go on and on.

I’m not about to make a list of what I think we should or shouldn’t do. How we should vote or think or what we should say. Each person is different, and God moves in different ways in all our lives. But I do think we should love God more than these—whatever these is to us. We should give up stuff that stands in our way, that keeps us from loving God with all our mind, heart, strength. ‘Cause all our eggs belong in one basket.

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Published in: on June 30, 2020 at 4:35 pm  Comments (3)  
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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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