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What Do I Fear?

 

The Lord is my light and my salvation—

so why should I be afraid?…

Teach me how to live, O Lord….

Psalm 27:1, 11

The word that David uses here, “salvation,” could easily be translated “life,” or “fullness.” The Lord is my life…. The Lord brings fullness, and meaning, and real joy to our lives…. We don’t know exactly when David wrote this Psalm, but we do know he was experiencing difficulty, and most likely serious, life-threatening conditions. But he says, “I will not fear…”

A simple question for you: what do you fear today? What are the joy-robbers and fear producers in your life?   We all have them: Jesus said in this life we would have “trouble.”   But what David reminds us here is that those things that we fear and worry about, that cause us to lose sleep at night, can never rob us of our “life,” our true, real life.

Every day we need to ask our Lord to “teach me how to live,” because we let the world define it for us. And “life” is so much more than just what we can touch and smell and see…. We all know that, but we still get so absorbed by temporal stuff….

Ask yourself the question today and this week: “what am I afraid of?” “How important is that- really?”   “Am I losing perspective about what makes life truly meaningful?”

And after reflecting on your fears and worries, ask God to show you how to “live” the kind of life Jesus lived: full of joy and peace, even though much of the world around him was against him.

Remember what Paul said: “if the Lord is on our side, who can be against us….?”

Becoming People of Joy

I’ve been reflecting lately on Psalm 16, which begins: Keep me safe, my God, for in you I take refuge. We don’t know the circumstances during which David was writing: perhaps he was in real danger or struggle, perhaps he was just thinking about the uncertainties and frailty of life in general. Whatever his circumstances, he quickly moves to praise: therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices. His praise is not linked here to his circumstances, but in his Lord’s presence and His promises. You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. This Psalm, which begins with a plea for protection, ends with a wonderful expression of trust and praise. Seems to me, this is a great pattern for us and for our prayers, both for ourselves and those around us….

Let me encourage you to read for yourself Psalm 16: perhaps even a few times, and let its truth sink into your soul. No matter what your circumstances, or the circumstances of those you are praying for, this Psalm can lead us from a place of worry, fear, or discouragement into a place of trust, thanks and joy. And Paul reminds us that we are to Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; (1Thessalonians 5:16-18). Perhaps David here hints at how we can do that, how we can indeed be people of thanks and joy. Maybe, just maybe, it’s a function not of our circumstances, but of our relationship with our Lord, and our closeness to Him, a product of time spent with Him. Of “Being” with Him…. Maybe…. Just a thought…

About Grace

by the grace of God I am what I am,

and his grace toward me was not in vain. 1 Corinthians 15:10

 

When we think about grace, we are reminded of our salvation: we once were lost, but now am found…. We are forgiven, are being cleansed from our sin, and will one day be completely free of sin and in the glorious presence of our Lord and God. But the grace of God encompasses not only our salvation, but our creation as well: who we are, what we enjoy doing, our abilities, preferences…. Who we “are” is by His grace, not just what we are “becoming.” Yes, our creation, who we are, has been marred by sin. But, we are made in the image of God, which means who we are, our creation, is “good.” I encourage you today to think about who you are, and thank God for that. How you differ from those around you: how you see the world, those things that come naturally to you, that you excel at, those things that bring joy and satisfaction to your soul. Solomon in Ecclesiastes, writes:  I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live.  That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God (3:12-13). What he is reminding us of there is that not only should we find joy in the grace of forgiveness and salvation, but also in the grace of creation: our creation, who we are…. As you pray and go through your day, ask God to allow you to rejoice in who you are, in your uniqueness. And in the creation of those around you, even those whose sinful tendencies are more apparent. For this, too, this ability to rejoice in our creation, is a gift from God….

‘Enquiring’ of the Bible (not just reading it)

For the word of God is alive and powerful.

It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword,

cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow.

It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. Hebrews 4:12

I’ve been re-reading Eric Metaxes’ book, Bonhoeffer. I pass on a quote from one of his letters to a friend, where he speaks of the importance of the Bible:

First of all, I will confess quite simply- I believe that the Bible is the answer to all our questions, and that we need only to ask repeatedly and a little humbly, in order to receive this answer. One cannot simply read the Bible, like other books. One must be prepared really to enquire of it.   Only thus will it reveal itself. Only if we expect from it the ultimate answer, shall we receive it. That is because in the Bible God speaks to us. And one cannot simply think about God in one’s own strength, one has to enquire of him. Only if we seek him, will he answer us. Of course it is possible to read the Bible like any other book,… Only that that is not the method which will reveal to us the heart of the Bible, but only the surface…. Just as these words reveal more and more of the person who said them as we go on, like Mary, “pondering them in our heart,” so it will be with the words of the Bible. Only if we will venture to enter into the words of the Bible, as though in them this God were speaking to us who loves us and does not will to leave us along with our questions, only so will we learn to rejoice in the Bible.

Since I have learned to read the Bible in this way- it becomes every day more wonderful for me…. I try to sink deeply into it (the text he is reading), so as really to hear what it is saying. I know that without this I could not live properly any longer.

I encourage you today to “enquire” of the Bible, to “enquire” of God who is its Author.   Have you spent time today in His Word, not just reading it, but prayerfully listening, as you read, for the Voice of your loving and gracious Father?   As Boehoeffer reminds us, it is alive, and transformative, and wonderful….

The ‘Heavy Burden’ called life

What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind!  

I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; 

all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind…. 

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, 

and I will give you rest.  

Ecclesiastes 1:13-14 & Matthew 11:28

The only question, if one truly reflects on these verses and believes them, is whether we are going to try to carry the burdens of life ourselves, or whether we are going to turn to Jesus, lay those burdens on Him, and find rest.  When God created this world for Adam and Eve, it was good, and therefore not a “burden.”  But sin has so permeated this world, and our own lives, that we only get glimpses of that goodness.  Paul writes that all creation is “subjected to futility.”  He’s saying the same thing Solomon did many years earlier.

What are the “burdens” that life is placing on you today?  And those around you, what are their “burdens.”  We all have them, you know.  Sometimes they are heavier, more consequential than at other times:  sometimes they can seem quite overwhelming and paralyzing.  But we all have them, these “burdens,” these struggles, troubles, problems….

Will you take them to Jesus, those things that are wearing you out and a make life seem so heavy?  Our souls find rest only in Him (see Psalm 62), only as we unburden ourselves of the burdens of life, and let Him touch us with His joy, His peace, His love….  David, who knew his share of “heaviness,”  knew this:  remember his words in the 23rd Psalm:  “He restores my soul.”  

It’s actually quite a simple choice (to try to carry our own burdens, or let Jesus carry them for us):  yet so often we make the wrong one….  Will you TODAY take the time to turn over your burdens, your life, to Jesus?  And let Him touch your soul, and bring healing and rest to you?  Its seems like such a no-brainer, but….

Showing Compassion

A police officer who had been at many traffic accidents over the years, some with very severe injuries, wrote that at the scene of these accidents three groups of people would show up, each with a different response toward those involved in the accident.

The first group is the bystanders and onlookers. They are curious and watch to see what happens but have little active involvement. The second group is the police officers, of whom he was one, whose response was to investigate the cause of the accident, assign blame, and give out appropriate warnings and punishments.

The third group is the paramedics. They are the people usually most welcomed by those involved in the accident. They could care less whose fault the accident was and they did not engage in lecturing about bad driving habits. Their response was to help those who were hurt. They bandaged wounds, freed trapped people, and gave words of encouragement.

When it comes to reaching the lost and hurting in our world, we’re going to be in one of these three groups. We will be uninvolved and let others do the work. Or we will condemn people for their foolish behavior saying things like, “It’s your own fault that you’re in this mess. If you had been going to church and doing like you should this never would have happened!” Or we will be praying for and concentrating on helping and showing compassion to them.

Three groups – one is uninvolved, one is assigning blame and assessing punishment, and one is helping the hurting. Which group are you in? Much of the church is responding to the lost and hurting like the police officer instead of the paramedics. In Jesus’ day, this is what the Pharisees and teachers of the law did. They were more interested in condemning and criticizing sinners than in showing compassion. The Parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son focus on our need to show compassion rather that blaming or condemning.

I leave you with a challenge: will you pray for those who don’t know Jesus as their Lord and Savior in your life? Maybe you’ve been praying for them for years- don’t give up! And for those who are hurting, will you ask God to show you ways to show care and compassion towards them? That we would be more like the paramedics, and less like the onlookers and police officers, towards those around us.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved,

clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  

Bear with each other and forgive one another

if any of you has a grievance against someone.

Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  

And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Colossians 3:12-14

Christ-Centered Thanks

I will bless the Lord at all times;

his praise shall continually be in my mouth.

Psalm 34:1

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances;

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

I’ve been reflecting recently on the incident during Jesus’ life when Jesus, traveling through Samaria, healed ten lepers of their dreaded disease. Only one returns to give thanks to Jesus. Were the others thankful? Of course they were, and most likely they rushed home to re-connect with their families and their lives. Many of them most likely had been separated from their previous lives for years. We can only imagine their joy, their sense of anticipation and hope as they headed home. They were so caught up and thankful for the gift, that they forgot, at least for the moment, the Giver.

Are we at times guilty of the same thing? So caught up and enjoying the many gifts we have been given, that we overlook the Giver of all that we have and are? Our praise and thankfulness needs to be radically Christ-centered. A discipline I am working on, that I think will help me not only stay close to my Lord, but also steer me away from a complaining, grumbling spirit, is to make sure I thank my God every time I say thank you to someone else. To make sure I connect the dots all the way to my God: to add a vertical thanks to the horizontal ones. I encourage you also to be radically Christ-centered in your praise and thanks. Connect the dots to Him. He deserves it, you know….

Taking the Time

“When we have met our Lord in the silent intimacy of our prayer, then we will also meet Him… in the market, and in the town square.

But when we have not met Him in the center of our own hearts, we cannot expect to meet Him in the busyness of our daily lives.”  (Henri Nouwen)

 

God has told his people, “Here is a place of rest;

let the weary rest here. This is a place of quiet rest.”

But they would not listen.

Isaiah 28:12

In quietness and confidence is your strength.

But you would have none of it.

Isaiah 30:15

 

Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him.

Psalm 62:5

 

I think those Scripture passages, and the quote from Nouwen, speak for themselves. I leave you with a simple challenge: have you taken the time today to meet your God in the center of your heart?   Have you stopped or slowed down, for at least a few minutes, to fix your eyes on Jesus, to pour out your heart before your God, to let Him heal, restore, comfort, energize, mold… to touch your heart with His loving, gracious hand?

Don’t have the time? Maybe tomorrow? Can you afford NOT to?

“Today when you hear his voice, don’t harden your hearts….

God’s rest is there for people to enter….

Hebrews 3:7-8, 4:6

What We ‘See’

I pass on for your reflection a poem from Christina Rossetti, one that I have found myself reflecting on and praying for myself. Remember Elisha’s prayer for his servant when the Aramean army had surrounded him? “O Lord, open his eyes and let him see!” The Lord opened the young man’s eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire.” (2 Kings 6:17). This passage and this poem remind us there is so much that we can and should “see” regarding whatever we are going through. Will you join me, as you pray for yourself and others, that you (and they) will “see” things more clearly, as God Himself sees them? And perhaps most importantly, that we will see, as she puts it, beyond all creatures (and things), that we will see Thee. Only then will we find true peace, joy, and real life. Enjoy.

Lord, purge our eyes to see

Within the seed a tree,

Within the glowing egg a bird,

Within the shroud a butterfly;

Till taught by such, we see

Beyond all creatures, Thee

And hearken for the tender word

And hear it, “fear not, it is I.”

Christina Rossetti

The Mystery of God

I pass along a song for you to reflect on this week, as we remember the death and celebrate the resurrection of our Lord. It was written by William Cowper, born in England in 1731, became a believer in 1764, became a good friend of John Newton(who wrote “Amazing Grace and other hymns), he lived a hard life filled with what he described as “seasons of madness.” Afflicted throughout his life with periods of depression, several times he tried to commit suicide. I encourage you to look him up and read more about his life, for it is a reminder that for us who live in-between the Resurrection of Jesus and His glorious Re-Appearance, life can be difficult, even overwhelming at times. But as Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9: We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. No matter what difficulties you are facing, remember: “God is with you,” and “nothing can separate you from the love of God.” And may you find comfort and encouragement from the words of William Cowper, who experienced great troubles and perplexities during his life.

 

God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform;

He plants His footsteps in the sea and rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines of never failing skill

He treasures up His bright designs and works His sovereign will.

 

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; The clouds ye so much dread

Are big with mercy and shall break in blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, But trust Him for His grace;

Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.

 

His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding every hour;

The bud may have a bitter taste, But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err and scan His work in vain;

God is His own interpreter, and He will make it plain.