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Archive for the ‘Dependence’ Category

In I Kings 15:8-22, the Scripture provides us a biographical sketch of King Asa including one notable interaction he had.

The wider context for his life and reign was during the Divided Kingdom which followed after the reigns of Saul, David, and Solomon for 120 years. Ten tribes split to the north under the evil rule of Jeroboam. In fact, there were no good kings in the 200 years of Israel’s existence before the Assyrians exiled them.

Rehoboam, son of Solomon, and then his son, Abijam, were no better in the south. So, the great-grandson of Solomon, Asa, comes to the throne in a culture full of idol worship. The time is about 910 B.C. Asa ruled for 41 years, which certainly brought stability to Judah. His grandmother, Maacah, daughter of Abishalom (or Abisalom, son of David) was queen mother. Some translations say mother, but the Hebrew word can also be translated grandmother, and since Asa’s father had the same mother and father by name, she must have been Asa’s grandmother. This fact of who she was brought further stability and increased claim to the throne on Asa’s part since both his father and mother were in direct line from King David.

“Asa did what was right in the sight of the Lord.” (v.11) Of the 20 kings who ruled in Judah during the 325 years after Solomon until the Babylonian captivity, only 8 received this commendation. But Asa is in a narrower group of four who received an additional good word similar to his: “…like David his father.” (v.11) How did he do right in God’s sight? He removed all idol worship, delineated in three ways: 1) He did away with male prostitution, which was a religious rite probably of Asherah, the female fertility goddess, 2) he removed the idols of his father, and 3) he removed his grandmother, Maacah, because she had made an Asherah pole which would have been in the form of a female, “horrid” (v.13 NASB), “abominable” (v.13 ESV), and “repulsive” (v.13 NIV). Asherah could be groves of trees or carved, wooden poles. The latter is in view here since it is so terrible looking. Asa cut it down and burned it. The burning was for the particular reason of desecrating it so that it would no longer be worshipped, and the Kidron valley was where unclean things were deposited. I believe there is a connection between Maacah and the male prostitution. Even more important to telling who Asa was is the boldness with which he would go after even his own family to do what was right and pleasing in God’s sight.

Verse 15 adds another commendation: “ He brought into the house of the Lord the dedicated things of his father and his own dedicated things: silver and gold and utensils.” Dedicated things were usually spoils of war, at which he had been successful with God’s help.

In this description of Asa there is one negative, “But the high places were not taken away.” (v.14) This detail seemed to be a blind spot for many of the good kings. Solomon seems to have set a precedent, for it is said of him in I Kings 3:3-4, “Now Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David, except he sacrificed and burned incense on the high places. The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the great high place; Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings on that altar.” God had directed otherwise long before when Joshua said, “Far be it from us that we should rebel against the Lord and turn away from following the Lord this day, by building an altar for burnt offering, for grain offering or for sacrifice, besides the altar of the Lord our God which is before His tabernacle.” (Joshua 22:29) So, Solomon cannot be excused for sacrificing other places because the temple was yet built, because the tabernacle was present. Asa did not stop this unprescribed worship, and though perhaps ignorant of its sinfulness, it was no excuse. God through the writer extends grace because He knew Asa’s heart when it says, ” nevertheless the heart of Asa was wholly devoted to the Lord all his days” (v.14)

Then begins the account of an adversarial interaction with Israel to the north. Asa is being threatened by Baasha, king of Israel, by a fortification of Ramah a mere 5 miles from Jerusalem, Asa’s residence and capitol. And being on the main north-south trade route, the fortification could shut down trade for Judah. There is no indication that Asa prayed or took counsel with prophets. Instead, he reverses his dedication of gold and silver to the temple treasury and sends it to his enemy to bribe him to attack Israel. It is a “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” kind of move. So, Ben-hadad, king of Aram at Damascus, breaks his treaty with Israel and attacks their Northeastern flanks, killing and destroying. Baasha had his hands full at home, so he stopped fortifying to hem in Asa. Asa conscripts all of Judah to haul off the incomplete fortifications at Ramah and fortify elsewhere. It appears from this account that Asa got away with his scheme unscathed. There is one other mention of disease in his feet in his latter days, but otherwise, he dies in old age, reckoned a good king.

And so he was, but the II Chronicles 16:7-12 tells a fuller story of what was going on, and what God thought about it.

“At that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah and said to him, “Because you have relied on the king of Aram and have not relied on the Lord your God, therefore the army of the king of Aram has escaped out of your hand. Were not the Ethiopians and the Lubim an immense army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the Lord, He delivered them into your hand. For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His. You have acted foolishly in this. Indeed, from now on you will surely have wars.” Then Asa was angry with the seer and put him in prison, for he was enraged at him for this. And Asa oppressed some of the people at the same time. Now, the acts of Asa from first to last, behold, they are written in the Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel. In the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa became diseased in his feet. His disease was severe, yet even in his disease he did not seek the Lord, but the physicians.”

For thirty-six years Asa lived and ruled in pursuit of God and His ways. We don’t know what changed or when, how suddenly or slowly, but Asa became proud and self-reliant. God had even graciously warned him to not go this way when Azariah the prophet said, ““Listen to me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin: The Lord is with you when you are with Him. And if you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you.” (II Chronicles 16:2)

I want to end well, not flame out in anger or doubt or rebellion against God. I must cling to God all of my days, for I am no better than good king Asa who started and proceeded well but ended poorly. May God spare me and each of His servants from presumptuous sins, from rebellious acts, from arrogant decisions to instead serve Him in humility, giving attention to His Word and His Spirit’s leading, for His glory and the good of those who watch me and us.

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I have over the years used and shared a metaphor for God’s dealing with me and directing me. For many years I traveled a curvy, steep, two-lane road over the mountains to get to healthcare and hiking and climbing destinations. I have traveled it alone, with my family, with my wife, or with friends in all conditions: snow, blazing heat, intense storm, beautiful Autumn days, full bloom of Spring, wildlife crossing the road, semi’s and cars and motorcycles (1) wrecked, and fog.

This metaphor, I believe, first began to form in my mind when talking to my former landlord about traveling this stretch of pavement. He was a telephone lineman for many years until his retirement. He once told me that he had seen fog so thick on that stretch of road that he actually walked beside his truck with hand on the steering wheel looking down to see the white stripes on the pavement in order to make progress. He was not given to exaggeration or metaphor, but regardless, the image in my mind directed me toward how I would feel many time subsequent in the midst of trying to move from one point to another in my life. As the old hymn says, “God Leads His Dear Children Along” (2), sometimes in the clear blue, sometimes in the dark, and sometimes through deep fog. He makes use of the conditions of our circumstances He has allowed or created for His glory and our good. More specifically, He may be about encouraging our souls in the crisp, new morning or slowing us down to follow closely in the fog. We may only be able to see one dashed line ahead of us on our life’s road, which causes us to pay attention and pray constantly. I have felt as though He has closed in the fog so near at times that I could only see the next step in front of me, and that light only a moment before I took the step. Perhaps He knew I would run ahead and miss the path if given more light, or perhaps He was training me to follow closely, trusting only Him.

As I have shared and contemplated this metaphor, one little detail has not satisfied me. It seems to be a mixed metaphor with vehicle and dashed lines on the one hand and footsteps and path on the other. I may tell someone the fog on the mountain story only to finish with the footsteps along the path. Musing on this discrepancy a few days ago, a more pointed application illumined my understanding. Sometimes I may go at a pace of a car in the fog and others I must pick each step one at a time, not knowing what precipice I may be traversing (3). God chooses the pace by the depth and duration of the fog and roughness of the path. The weather is not the point; following patiently and circumspectly without either running ahead or falling behind is. I long for some clear days, but I cherish the quiet intimacy of the fog.

  1. Not having gained the fame of “The Dragon”, it is nonetheless a draw for motorcyclists who like the challenge of the curvy highlighted by exceptional scenery: NC181.
  2. Colored, underlined script are links, in case you didn’t know. I am reminding myself as I tell you that I should write a blog entry about the circumstances in which I learned and sang that hymn over the years. God is good to direct.
  3. Having read the Chronicles of Narnia to my granddaughter recently, this idea reminds me of the scene when Lucy had seen Aslan in the woods near the precipice’s edge, pleading with his eyes to follow her. Her siblings, save Edmund, and the dwarf voted her down. When their choice failed, Aslan graciously appeared again, and they followed through the dark down a narrow path between cliffs to its base. At the bottom when the sun arose and the fog cleared, one of the siblings, I believe it may have been Edmund, remarked how amazing it was they navigated safely down the path. But, of course, they did, Aslan was leading.

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I heard my pastor say to the several young people, whom he was congratulating for being graduated from high school or college, that it is a time for them of transition and need for guidance from God. I thought to myself, ‘You don’t have to be freshly graduated in order to be in that transition period. I taught high school science for 27 years in one school district, but now I am transitioning into a new “career”. As a part of the transition, I need to build a clientele in the new location. Apart from God’s intervention, I fully expect that to initially be a slow process. I am, however, starting off with a big bang. My boss is on a long overdue 5 week vacation, and I am seeing many of his clients. This is good training. How I was going to pull off this 5 week stint two hours from home without a place to stay was a mystery to me. But then my employer and his wife decided to graciously allow us to enjoy the comforts of their home by house sitting for them. Of course, God knew the provision He had for us, and I had to take each fog veiled step forward by His leading. That is what trust is, not knowing where you are going or how you will get there, and taking the next step as each one is revealed. Sometimes God provides a sunny view of many days ahead, but at other times He allows the fog to thicken so that we must step cautiously and confidently in the light He gives. The house we have been living in is a good provision for our needs at this juncture, but it is far from fancy. The house we are house sitting is of another sort. You can click on Vacation Villa, which is what I have decided to call it, to see a few pictures.

A funny side note. We needed to return to the other house this past weekend in order to take care of a few chores. On Friday evening we sat on the front porch overlooking the field and the trees growing off to the horizon. My wife wistfully said, “I like trees.” I replied, “Let me get this straight. You’d rather live in a shack surrounded by trees than a mansion without them.” With a very definite tone she said simply, “Yes.” I added, “Me, too.” That will help us to know what to look for and hope for when we go house hunting.

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The first answer that I received was, “You should pray without ceasing.” (from I Thessalonians 5:17) Yes, we should, but I am not there, though under the Holy Spirit’s tutelage, I do pray far more now than in years past. But really, under what circumstances do you pray? Frequently, we pray when we are hurting, confused, afraid, sad, or lonely. Do you pray when you are angry, happy, dull of mind and spirit, or thankful?

Listen to Jeremiah’s prayer: “O Lord, You have deceived me and I was deceived; You have overcome me and prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all day long; Everyone mocks me.
For each time I speak, I cry aloud; I proclaim violence and destruction, because for me the word of the Lord has resulted in reproach and derision all day long. But if I say, “I will not remember Him or speak anymore in His name, ”Then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones; and I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot endure it. For I have heard the whispering of many, “Terror on every side! Denounce him; yes, let us denounce him!” All my trusted friends,
watching for my fall, say: “Perhaps he will be deceived, so that we may prevail against him and take our revenge on him.” But the Lord is with me like a dread champion; therefore my persecutors will stumble and not prevail. They will be utterly ashamed, because they have failed, with an everlasting disgrace that will not be forgotten. Yet, O Lord of hosts, You who test the righteous, who see the mind and the heart; let me see Your vengeance on them; for to You I have set forth my cause. Sing to the Lord, praise the Lord! For He has delivered the soul of the needy one from the hand of evildoers.” (Jeremiah 20:7-13)

Jeremiah is clearly upset, dare I say angry, with God. He doesn’t say God has lied, but he does say He has deceived him. He is angry about the mocking, threats, subterfuge, and potential harm coming his way because he is obeying God. And unlike me on occasions, Jeremiah is not mistaken in his following of God. God clearly told him what to say and do. And he can’t even hold in the words given to him by God because they are “like a fire” (v.9) within. So, Jeremiah pours out his complaint before God. But this is not like the complaining of Israel in the wilderness, because that whining involved unbelief (Hebrew 3:7-19).

And that is the turning point of this prayer- belief- when Jeremiah says, “But the Lord…” (v.11). The simile he uses feels deep and substantial, like the tune (1) most used for “O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus.” God is “like a dread champion.” Despite our present society’s aversion to war (2), our God is a Warrior, and of the most fear inducing kind for His enemies. Jeremiah knows His Champion defends him, as He is “with me” (v.11), and they will fail at their scheming and threats. Even with this knowledge, in his pain, Jeremiah longs to personally, presently see their judgment, not merely in the afterlife. As he struggles his faith comes to the fore and he praises God for his deliverance. He transitions from accusation to appreciation and anger to approval. Prayer accomplishes much in the heart of the one praying.

This is not the end of his struggle in the prayer, however. I did not quote the whole of the prayer above. In verses 14-18 he curses the day that he was born in a very similar but abbreviated way as Job did in the midst of his suffering (Job 3). Jeremiah ends his curse with, “Why did I ever come forth from the womb to look on trouble and sorrow, so that my days have been spent in shame?” (v.18). Shame is Jeremiah’s focus. I wonder if shame is more taxing and bothersome to us than suffering?

Oh, what is all of this complaining about? Does it show fragility of faith, or is it warranted and acceptable to God? God says, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me.” (Psalm 50:15) And “Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have relieved me in my distress; be gracious to me and hear my prayer.” (Psalm 4:1) “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” (I Peter 5:6-7) (3) God wants us to call on Him in our joys and distresses. The other day, while trying to finish a deck before I was to leave town for five weeks, I did not see how it would all get done. I called out in my distress, “God, why does it always have to be so hard?” I didn’t get an answer to the question just then (4), but I did get an answer to my real need. It was a very long day, but my wife observed as we dropped into bed that night, “It is amazing how much you got done today.” It wasn’t just my hard work, though that was involved, but things went smoothly that frequently will not. God is good and He patiently hears our cries.

Indeed, Jeremiah’s prayer reminds me of many of the Psalms in which David bemoans his plight and despairs the outcome, but comes around to seeing what God has, is, or will do. Or consider Psalm 73 where the psalmist bemoans the wicked: “Behold, these are the wicked; and always at ease…” (v.12) But then he says, “When I pondered to understand this, it was troublesome in my sight until I came into the sanctuary of God; thenI perceived their end.” (v.16-17) Mysteriously, God uses our prayers to forward His purposes. God is all knowing, but somehow prayer can bring about change. Moses experienced it multiple times (e.g. Exodus 32:7-14, Numbers 11:2).

When you don’t feel like praying, pray more. Boldly pour out your complaint and confusion before Him, knowing that He cares and is pleased that you have turned to Him with your troubles.

  1. Tune: Ebenezer
  2. Not that anyone with reason or an ounce of the goodness of God in them loves war
  3. Also see 2 Kings 1, Psalm 102, Psalm 142
  4. A couple of days later I heard the Casting Crowns song, “Voice of Truth”, and I thought, “His purposes and glory were served and need was accomplished.

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When the pastor preached from 1 Samuel 1 yesterday morning, I was particularly struck by Hannah’s response to Eli, the High Priest: “Then Eli said to her, “How long will you make yourself drunk? Put away your wine from you.” But Hannah replied, “No, my lord, I am a woman oppressed in spirit; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have poured out my soul before the Lord. Do not consider your maidservant as a worthless woman, for I have spoken until now out of my great concern and provocation.”” (I Samuel 1:14-16) She uses drinking wine as a metaphor for how she is presenting her request to God. As I contemplated this turn of words, I considered how we so often get it backwards.

We pour comfort into ourselves that results in pain when we should pour out our pain before God that results in comfort from Him.

The comforts we seek are drink, drugs, food, sex, attention, things, excitement, accomplishments, money, relationships. Some are bad in and of themselves, but others are not inherently bad, but we sour them by our selfish pursuit of them. Instead, you should be “casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” (I Peter 5:7) And “be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7) As the pastor pointed out, what we need most is God. He is our source of peace, even when there is no resolution of the problem, not our comfort food or drink, not a psych evaluation.

The result in Hannah was as follows: “So the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.” (I Samuel 1:18) Did she just pretend that she was not distraught? Did her troubles vanish in a moment? No, her faith in God that caused her to pour out her spirit to God, had resulted in the comfort from God. She did not even know at that moment if God would answer her request for a child in the affirmative, but she trusted God to do what was best. As pastor pointed out, she was a type for Mary, who had a strange and stressful pregnancy and birth, but trusted God through it all. And when she visited her cousin Elizabeth in Luke chapter 1, Mary quotes or alludes to much of what Hannah prayed in praise to God in 1 Samuel 2, both speaking boldly of God’s salvation.

In my times of stress and strain, I need to pour out my spirit to God concerning my troubles and trials. As Corrie Ten Boom said at the end of the “Hiding Place” that she and Betsy learned from concentration camp to tell others, “However deep our suffering, God is deeper.”

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Isaiah 53:3: “He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.” Certainly Psalm 22 conveys Christ’s death in sorrowful and grief ridden detail. It is the most quoted Psalm in the New Testament (NT). But He was not esteemed and was despised in His life which increased His sorrows and grief as conveyed by the second most NT quoted Psalm, 69. (1) It is interesting that these two Psalms are the most quoted in the NT. The NT writers, inspired by the Holy Spirit thought it most important that we understand how Jesus fulfilled the role of Suffering Servant and what it means for us.

I should count, but it seems like David is repining and distressed at least as often in the Psalms as he dwells on a “good theme” (Psalm 45:1 (2)) It is obvious from these most NT quoted Psalms that David is acting in the capacity of a prophet concerning the coming Messiah, but also he is simply stressed and strained. (3)

Concerning the prophecy, since so much of Psalm 69 is quoted in the NT as referring to Christ (4), it seems reasonable to think it most all refers to Him. The deep waters that threaten Him in vs.1 and 2 are in deep contrast to the deep thirst He experienced on the cross. What were those deep mire and deep waters that threatened Him? Was it the wrath of God poured out on Him for our sin? And what was He restoring (v.4), other than our relationship with the Father, that He had not stolen? Verse 5 obviously does not apply to the Perfect, Holy One, and you might think that v.6 doesn’t either. But Isaiah says, “Kings will be your guardians, and their princesses your nurses. They will bow down to you with their faces to the earth and lick the dust of your feet; and you will know that I am the Lord; Those who hopefully wait for Me will not be put to shame.” (49:23), and Paul says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (1:16) When we trust in Him, we do not find ourselves ashamed of Him. Death loses its sting and trials have purpose and are ultimately for our good, (James 1:2ff, Romans 8:28)

On the subject of David’s complaint, I wonder at the spiritual battle going on while he was trying to be a righteous king trying to do justice. All of the “dogs” (5) bay and howl when their sinful scavenging is called into question. How were the evil doers blaspheming God concerning His sanctuary that caused David’s zeal to flare up? We know what caused it with Jesus: money changers. People were making up excuses to accuse David. In the midst of these trials, God knows that we are but dust, so we may call out to Him as David did. He called out in complaint. He called out in faith. He called out in praise. He called out in curses upon His enemies. He called out, pleading with God to answer him quickly and decisively.

God knows my frame, too, that I am but dust. I must call out to Him for help with my challenges and problems and weaknesses. For “The humble have seen it and are glad; you who seek God, let your heart revive. For the Lord hears the needy and does not despise His who are prisoners.” (Psalm 69:32-33)

  1. http://e-mechanika.pl/ryq4jqn/096575-most-quoted-psalms-in-the-new-testament Psalm 110:1 is the most NT quoted verse in the Psalms.
  2. And Psalm 45 is not even written by David, but the sons of Korah.
  3. In Physics stress is causative applied force and strain is the resulting deformation. Psychophysically we can have stress, troubles and trials, and either be strained, worrying or sick or depressed or complaining, or not.
  4. Verses 3, 4, 9a, 9b, 21, 22-23, and 25 are quoted in the NT. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psalm_69#New_Testament
  5. “Dogs” was a Jewish derogatory term for Gentiles in Jesus’ day, but the insult had a wider meaning for any evil doer (see Isaiah 56:11, Philippians 3:2, Revelation 22:15)

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On this Labor Day, after chores were done and the moderate heat of afternoon had come, I decided to take a walk. Having focused too much on circumstances and societal ills recently, I was reminded by hymns and prayer and preaching of the Word and reading of the Scriptures and fellowship with brothers and sisters yesterday that I needed to once again renew my perspective in things that are “true, …honorable, …right, …pure, …lovely, …of good repute, …any excellence and …worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8). As I began my walk, parts of my body aching, the sun heating*, and my thoughts melancholy, I told God that I wanted His peace and joy. In fact, I pleaded, “I need Your peace; I need Your joy.” As I thought about why, the following words began to come:

I need Your peace; I need Your joy
Though trials come and storms destroy
Forever on this hope depend
That I am Yours; You will defend**

This world with sorrows ever bent
To rob our joy to full extent
Broken relationships and plans
Beg for a healing from Your hand

Your purposes are hard to see
Sense of security can flee
I on this confidence rely
My soul will to You upward fly

My health and body will decay
Unless suddenly in a day
And some loved ones before me go
We saints ever with You, I know

So frequently with sin beset
With worries frequently I fret
Temptations against me array
Through Your Word and Spirit I pray

And by these means I overcome
And more like Jesus I become
More victory through You I win
And peace and joy in You begin

I am so apt to be drawn to the difficulties of any situation and must constantly place before my mind, my eyes, my ears, and my heart the eternal truths of God’s grace in salvation, past, present, and future. I am thankful that “He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.” (Psalm 103:14) And even more so that “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.” (2 Peter 1:3) My hope, our hope, is in Him.

A writing note about the order of the verses. If you number the verses as seen, 1 – 6, the original order as written was 1,2,,3,5,6,4. I cannot decide if the beginning of peace and joy should be the end or if the order would better be 1,2,4,5,3,6 so that heaven is last. If you care to think about it, I would appreciate some feedback.

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*for which I had come out for a “therapeutic sweat”

**”I am Yours whom You will defend” was how I originally wrote the line, and I think it may more clearly communicate the intent, but “That I am Yours; You will defend” seems to fit the meter and flow better.

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Over a period of time I was talking to a friend about her need of Jesus. During this time I had a loved one who was sick, bills were piling up, responsibilities seemed endless and overwhelming. One day in the presence of my friend I opened up about my fears and difficulties. On the one hand I guess it made me seem like a more real person, but the next time the subject of Jesus came up I quite honestly said, “I am asking you to trust Jesus when I sometimes struggle to trust Him myself.” She was quite understanding about my struggles, but I had a moment of deep conviction. If we are going to point a skeptical and dying world to the Savior, we must learn ourselves to react in faith rather than fear.

Just as “courage”, according to a quote by Franklin D. Roosevelt, “is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear,” so faith is not the lack of fear, discouragement, loneliness, temptation, confusion, or any other difficulty, but the firm conviction that God is greater and able and willing to give us peace and patience in the midst of the difficulty and regardless of the physical outcome.

I had a moment of fear the other day as I crawled into a tight crawl space to jack up a floor supported by rotten floor joists, which I needed to replace. It was so tight that I could not turn on my side until later when I dug out a space for my hips and shoulders. The fear was momentarily paralyzing, but then I took a deep breath and prayed that God would give me calmness. A peace washed over me in seconds. I had to pray again later when it happened again. I ended up working in this situation for eight hours, only crawling the 20 feet to the tight exit when I needed to cut a board or get an additional tool.

Many fears and difficulties are not so obvious as these two examples I have given. Because of their subtlety, many fears and doubts can creep up on us almost unbeknownst to us. We are tied up in a web of fear we never saw being wrapped around us. We learned it as a child. We think it the natural reaction of any sane person. We hardly give it heed, but are nonetheless confined by its stifling cords.

And that thought directs my mind immediately to Hebrews 12:1-2: “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” The great antidote for fear encumbrance is “fixing our eyes on Jesus”. It was the same for us at salvation when the fiery serpent of sin had bitten us and we were destined for death. “And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.” (Numbers 21:9) Looking was equivalent to believing and had an immediate positive effect for John 3:14-15 says, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.” So, salvation was just a look, or glance, trusting God in Christ to overcome temptation, including fears; faith walk is a “fixing” of our gaze on Jesus. Every moment we are tempted to fear or go our own way, we must fix our gaze on Jesus. The result is that “no temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man, and God is willing, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will give you the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it.” (I Corinthians 10:13) And when you are tempted to have a worrying fear, “be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, let your request be made known unto God, and the peace of God will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

The Hebrews passage begins with “Therefore”, which points you back to the “chapter of faith”, Hebrews 11. This “great cloud of witnesses” fortifies our gaze on Jesus. We are not in this alone. Others have had worse difficulties and still fixed their eyes on Jesus. As the Holy Spirit enabled them to overcome Satan, temptation, and death by the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 12:11), so we are encouraged to do the same. Practicing this “fixing” brings endurance and the realization that Jesus suffered far more and had a victorious end.

I want to react in faith, not fear. It is a more peaceful way to live and a strong testimony for the truth of God being in my life. The realization that garden variety fear was stifling my walk and my witness has brought focus to my reaction in the last few weeks. I hope it is a focus that causes me to more frequently fix my eyes on Jesus in faith rather the circumstances in fear.

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Rarely do I complete a deck repair in one day, but this job was that small. There were two decks, the main 12 x 12, and smaller 4 1/2 x 10. The larger one had three boards with developing rot, a quick fix. I also replaced three balusters there.

The smaller one had an end rail that was fencing (??), almost an afterthought put up shabbily. Because of the position the back post and the proximity of the tree, I had to put the balusters on the inside.

The lower deck was also made with 2 x 6 joists. I would not use those on anything more than four foot spans. So, I installed a post in the middle to strengthen the span.

Off to one side of the smaller deck was an eroding flower garden. I installed a little barrier and back filled it to preserve the level space.

Small jobs are good. I get the satisfaction of quick completion. Also, most companies won’t mess with a job this small, but a day’s work is a day’s work. God has continued to provide work right along to pay our accelerated bills. I am constantly reminded that I can and should trust Him and must continue to do so, and that this demonstration of His faithfulness and provision means that I can trust in other areas as well. My faith has moments of faltering, but I have not seen Him unable or unwilling to provide as I am diligent to ask and walk into the opportunities which He provides.

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It’s not enough that you know
Or have had a Jesus moment
Life in Him will make you grow
Sanctifying development

If you are not really sure
Receive the gift He does proffer
Then you will surely endure
No better or lasting offer

I would fall away from Him
By doubt or outright rebellion
Going out upon a limb
Cast away to oblivion

Nothing can me separate
Or plunge me headlong into hell
Nor peace with God confiscate
Of these with joy I do tell

I may walk by the Spirit
And not according to the flesh
Trust His words in Holy Writ
My joy and resolve intermesh

After the trials of this life
One day I will look on His face
When forgotten all the strife
With success completed the race

Some of my poetry is straight up how I feel and what I believe. Other parts are aspiration based on what I believe can be and should be and will be. This poem is a combination. Life is complicated and messy, but God is faithful and enables me more as the years go along and I submit to Him more. May He and the the grace He provides be glorified in my turning to Him in every difficulty and disappointment.

Also see “Response to Troubles and Trials

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We need hope, but from whence does it come?

Certainly a sense of purpose or destiny or family and friends bring hope, but what about when these fail or seem distant? Hear what source of hope the Scriptures give us:

“For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 15:4-6

Given that this was written before any of the four Gospels and the book of Acts, it must refer to the Old Testament from which Jesus had “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”” Luke 24:45-47 Now, I am not excluding the great encouragement and instruction given by the New Testament, but I magnify the value of reading and studying the Old, especially for those many of you who don’t spend much time there or see much value in it, thinking I’m “not under law but under grace” Romans 6:14 (1) It was written for our instruction, so read the instruction manual before assembly.

Now we get to the meat of our source of hope. The passage reveals a two-fold instruction on hope from God with an ancillary instruction on hope from fellow believers.

Those who are blood bought, Holy Spirit sealed believers (2) increase in hope of their relationship to God and future rescue through persisting in faith in the midst of difficulty- perseverance. In fact, the teaching of perseverance of the saints is pointing out how believers persist in belief to the end while “the Spirit explicitly says” of those who do not truly belonging to God through belief in Jesus “that in later times some will fall away from the faith.” I Timothy 4:1

How does this strange occurrence of hardship increasing trust in God work? As the believer comes to understand that he or she does not deserve anything and yet God is carrying him or her through difficulty and revealing Himself in the process, the believer trusts more. The unbeliever begins to doubt that God cares and pulls further away. Many a believer will also struggle with doubts and be estranged, but it will not persist. In the end faith will persist. The believer perseveres.

The greatest help to perseverance is the Word of God. For this reason, Open Doors, a ministry to persecuted believers all over the world, frequently reports how believers ask for Scriptures over security, food, or shelter. The Bible brings hope and especially when we are paying attention during difficulty. The passage says “the encouragement of the Scriptures”. As we read of others who struggled but found God’s grace to persevere, we find strength. Promises of God impart strength. Ultimately, the excellency of the character of God imparts strength. Strength comes in the form of hope. When we are hopeless, then we are weak. When we are full of hope, then we are strong, strong in the Lord.

But God gives yet another avenue for increasing hope- fellowship. The passage speaks of “same mind”, that is, unity of belief and purpose. Then it says “with one voice glorify”, which is unified worship. When we worship together in unity and convey how God has increased our faith in difficulty and have comforted others in their difficulty with the hope of God and shared Scriptures of encouragement and instruction, then true fellowship and encouragement has occurred and hope is increased. For this reason “let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:24-25

The other disciplines of the faith like prayer, witness, fasting, service, and so forth, are all a part of this perseverance-Scripture-fellowship encouragement that strengthens faith leading to hope. What a good God we have who for His glory and our good by “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.” 2 Peter 1:3

And one day we will be removed from all difficulty and spend eternity in His presence. That will be glory!

  1. In context, this verse has nothing to do with the value or truth of the Old Testament. Rather, it refers to the source and power for overcoming sin, grace applied by the Holy Spirit and not striving to fulfill the requirement of the law. Why? Well it is because “a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 2:16
  2. These are not a special breed or dispensation of believers, just plain believers. I use these adjectives to exclude those who have mental assent to the things of God and are spectators in the church, but not saved.

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Last Sunday as I entered the church auditorium, I greeted a couple and conversed with them for a moment. I complimented the lady on her coat, which was sorta of a yellowish-tan, not quite gold or orange color. So, I followed up my first comment with, “What would you call that color?” Without hesitation she responded, “I’d call it sunshine.” Her husband and I chuckled and I said, “That sounds like it should be the beginning of a poem.

Fast forward to Wednesday morning. I was driving my wife to a doctor’s appointment 1:15 minutes away. About a third of the way into the trip I told my wife about the conversation on Sunday. She said that was cheery. We both went back to our thoughts and the following poem began to come. I didn’t write anything down until we reached our destination. I had composed the 1st verse and two lines of the 2nd verse by the time we arrived.

“I’d call it sunshine”
Even though the day be drear
I’d look for joy
In the midst of trial and fear

Not pretend it’s fine
When hardships are all around
But peace with God
Is settling and profound

Can’t keep it in line
There is so much going on
God controls all
It’s trust and rest I must hone

I am His, He’s mine
Though life is full of trouble
Unchanging grace
And His Word are comforts double

This poem is not about pretending everything is OK when it is not. It is not an Optimist’s perspective. Instead, this is a reminder for those who know God to look at the unseen realities that God has revealed and living based on that. And it is a reminder for those who have not come to know God that there is a spiritual reality that they should consider and seek to know God.

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The following hymn caused me to think of several others, or at least phrases within them. In verse one of “Be Thou My Vision” it concludes “Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.” And of that presence of God I may say, “I Need Thee Every Hour.” Therefore, “Abide With Me” in the evening and night terrors, during the day, and death’s door. The hymn writers put word to our need for God’s presence in our lives for peace and really, sanity.

Some hymns fade and are forgotten for reasons of musicality. They just don’t have a memorable tune or the tune doesn’t go with the tone or meaning of the lyrics. (1) Other hymn lyrics don’t resound with the worshipers’ heart cries. I came across the following old hymn from 1820, by John Keble, that may have slightly stilted language. But as I read musingly, it gave me comfort and conviction. (2)

Sun of my soul, Thou Savior dear,
It is not night if Thou be near;
Oh, may no earthborn cloud arise
To hide Thee from Thy servant’s eyes.


When the soft dews of kindly sleep
My wearied eyelids gently steep,
Be my last thought, how sweet to rest
Forever on my Savior’s breast.


Abide with me from morn till eve,
For without Thee I cannot live;
Abide with me when night is nigh,
For without Thee I dare not die.


If some poor wand’ring child of Thine
Has spurned today the voice divine,
Now, Lord, the gracious work begin;
Let him no more lie down in sin.


Watch by the sick, enrich the poor
With blessings from Thy boundless store;
Be every mourner’s sleep tonight,
Like infants’ slumbers, pure and right.

Come near and bless us when we wake,
Ere through the world our way we take,
Till in the ocean of Thy love
We lose ourselves in Heav’n above. (4)

I am drawn in to the words by the calling upon God for peace and nearness at all times of day. It gives time of day detail to the plea of the hymn, “I Need Thee Every Hour”. It causes me to want to add other verses that call on God’s presence in other daily activities like mealtime and work hours and evening reflection. The third verse requesting God to abide most poignantly reminds me of my need of Him whether to live or to die. I can do neither without Him. Verses four and five feel like the petitioner is pleading with God for the fallen brother in Christ, the sick, poor, and mourner just before retiring for the night. And then he prays for God to bless him in the coming day in verse six. It is a good reflection on our need and desire for God and the protection and peace of His presence.

  1. In my opinion, the tune commonly used for this hymn, Hursley, is well suited to the ideas conveyed. The only problem is that this long meter (8.8.8.8.) song is used used in another hymn I already knew, and several others besides.
  2. As I mused upon the effect this hymn had upon me, it caused me to consider what a hymn is for. Comfort, conviction, joy, thanksgiving (3), worship, and review and better recall of truth come to mind. All of these should be encapsulated in worship, but in the list I was thinking of worship in terms of attributing worth to God for His character and works. I think this probably should be a blog entry unto itself.
  3. Cool! A footnote within a footnote. I learned recently that there is no Hebrew equivalent of thanksgiving. Rather, the translators were interpreting the praise given to God for His benefits as thanking Him.
  4. Sources for understanding this sacred poem/hymn better:
  1. Sun of my soul, Thou Savior Dear
  2. Sun of My Soul, Thou Saviour Dear Hymn and Story : John Keble, 1792-1866 (christianmusicandhymns.com)
  3. Evening Poem by John Keble – Poem Hunter
  4. Sun of My Soul (hymntime.com)

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We don’t enjoy harsh teachers, but we can learn from them nonetheless. “But it isn’t fair”, “such a teacher shouldn’t be allowed”, and “we must do everything in our power to rid the system of such teachers”. Unless of course the teacher has tenure with no intention of retiring any time soon.

Pain is just such a teacher. Now I’ve lost some of you. We want the fun, picture filled blog entries. But life has not been so fun lately, and that is not the goal of life anyway. So I decided to share a little of the less pleasant side of life, not for pity or running readers off, but because it is part of life and part of my life at present. And there are lessons to be learned from this less than favorite teacher.

I started having mild back pains about three weeks ago. I have had back problems all of my life and I think there is evidence of it being genetic since my three brothers have and father had back problems. I do exercises to keep my core strong and avoid extreme motions.* However, this time I didn’t do anything that I could have avoided to prevent the problem. I guess if I had been able to see the future and its ramifications, I could have worked around it, but I don’t have that ability. Sometimes it is just small things that trip us up.

Anyway, I have these down periods with back maintenance, but this was a perfect storm. The two most painful things were getting in and out of bed and putting shoes and socks on. Function and activity came to a standstill.

In the midst of this particular storm**, my attention was riveted by the frequent bolts of lightning running along my lower back. The teacher had my attention. When in pain, you pray more. Certainly a prime topic is relief, but I found myself praying for others I know who experience constant pain and wondering how they cope. And what of people who have reduced functionality because of pain? Couldn’t I be more compassionate and helpful? And the thought occurred to me several times that at my age, when a significant regression in health occurs, is this the downturn from which there will not be recovery or serious reduction in functionality? And if it is, what is my new focus? What would be my purpose? What new goals do I set? In short, I found this bout with pain highlighting (throwing a shadow on?) my mortality. Life is short and the end is coming, sooner perhaps rather than later. Don’t think so darkly you may say, but in the midst of the pain, lighter thoughts are hard to come by, and they may be no more than whistling in the wind anyway.

So here are the deeper and brighter, not lighter, thoughts that resulted from what I am going through. Life is good, because God is good. I have purpose and meaning because He has assigned those to me. Even if my body wears out or continues in pain, I can pray for others, for my family, the infirm, this sick nation, my lost friends, and my church. I have peace with God even in the midst of turmoil within and without. I am more content when I am thankful, even in the midst of difficulty. Even though I knew all of this beforehand, I know it at a deeper level now. I suspect the lessons are not done since the holidays (the second advent) have not come, but I will have to focus on these and like thoughts as soon as the next lesson starts rather than days into it.

That should make the teacher and lesson seem less harsh, even though still uninvited and unwanted.

.

I should report that my back has shown some improvement in the last few days, though I don’t know what that means for work and play just now. I am privileged to be able to start again, but wary of the fact that physically that is not sustainable in the long-term. Life is full of ups and downs, but I don’t have to pin my hopes on the ups nor dread the downs. I belong to God.

*I hear some of you snickering (LD and BF, for instance).

**See “Midst the Storm”.

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Overflows from the Heart

"But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart…" Matthew 15:18

CreatorWorship

Pointing to the One who made, saved, and sustains