an encouraging promise

The lions may grow weak and hungry,
    but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

Psalm 34:10

When we are sometimes literally hungry, but I have to think of the times I may be down and discouraged, such a text from God’s word can be a great help. This was true just the other day for me.

The promise is for those who seek the Lord. And what’s promised is certainly all that is needed. To not lack any good thing.

Ultimately we know that will be fulfilled in the life to come through the resurrection in Jesus, when heaven and earth become one at his return, and God makes all things new. But in some measure in some way, this is entirely true for this life, as well. We lack no good thing to not only survive, but flourish in this life. It is in the way of the Lord, the way of Jesus for us. So that we’re not talking about luxuries, and living it up. Even though at times we might experience some of that. And God has given us richly, all things to enjoy (1 Timothy 6). But we’re talking about the true riches, which just might include a contentedness to do without, in a happiness over what one has, instead of wanting what one has not.

And so this is a word of encouragement to me in the midst of difficulty and discouragement. To simply seek God, and be given all that I need to overcome and be at peace, in and through Jesus.

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God’s safe keeping

In peace I will lie down and sleep,
    for you alone, Lord,
    make me dwell in safety.

Psalm 4:8

How can we feel safe in a dangerous world? The simplest answer, and maybe simplistic to many is only in God’s safe keeping. We see this at the end of Psalm 4, quoted above.

Reality is that God’s people suffer the same things as anyone else. And when you consider persecution, and even martyrdom, God’s people can suffer more. But even in this life we have the promise of God’s protection, not just in this psalm, but in others, as well (Psalm 91; Psalm 121).

Jesus assures us that the Father who cares even about the sparrow, cares about us all the more. That we can rest assured in him, and not worry about a single matter, even though each day will have its share of trouble (Matthew 6).

We can be completely at rest in God’s safe keeping, in his protective care. But that doesn’t mean that we’re assured of another day. Or that we will necessarily escape the dangers of living in a fallen, broken world. And that we won’t face more danger as God’s people. God does protect us in many ways, at times surely using his angels, or in whatever way God chooses. But sometimes that kind of protection is withdrawn. We can be sure that even then God will be with us with a protection that’s even greater, surrounding us with his presence. And ultimately, at our last breath, ushering us into his heavenly kingdom.

In the meantime, we trust for God’s protection now. While trying to live wisely. Yet ultimately knowing that God alone keeps us safe. In and through Jesus.

 

God’s strength for our days

…and your strength will equal your days.

Deuteronomy 33:25

This was part of Moses’s blessing to Asher. Precisely how to translate and understand this might be a little in the air. It at least seems to give the sense of God-given strength as needed. I still like the rendering of the NIV, though most of the other renderings, except for the NLT don’t deviate in the basic meaning. Either way, God promises strength or protection as needed.

All of God’s promises to his people are “yes and amen in Christ” (2 Corinthians). And we can be assured that God will give us needed strength and help for the tasks given to us. It may seem difficult at times, perhaps even unsurmountable. But God will give all that we need when we need it. A blessing not just to individuals, but to an entire tribe, so that we’re together with others in this. “As our days are, so shall our strength be.” In and through Jesus. Amen.

getting rid of the “what ifs” and “if onlys”

Joel is a book that can be read or listened to in less than fifteen minutes. You will notice passages which are used in the New Testament, though the fulfillment in Christ seems somehow different in that in Christ is the day of salvation, God having taking on himself the judgment deserved by the world in Christ on the cross. Nevertheless there remains a day of reckoning for all, when the decision and result of our lives will be confirmed, and as it were, sealed.

But for so many, including myself, “What ifs” and “If onlys” can haunt and plague us. And we can rightfully wish that others will do better, that perhaps we can help them by gentle, wise instruction, and above all, by prayer. But we ourselves are left with the fallout of either the poor choices we made, or the lack of good decisions as well, or likely the combination of both. There is certainly nothing we can do in the present to change the past. But we live with God’s promises to us, each and everyone of them somehow fulfilled in Christ:

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.

2 Corinthians 1:20

Back to Joel. A book that needs to be read in its own context, and then in the context of the entire Bible, and considered in how it is applied in the New Testament. For us today in this post, it will be in terms of the “What ifs” and “If onlys” of our lives. First I want to note the call to repentance God makes to his people, one that can still echo to us today:

“Even now,” declares the Lord,
    “return to me with all your heart,
    with fasting and weeping and mourning.”

Rend your heart
    and not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
    and he relents from sending calamity.
Who knows? He may turn and relent
    and leave behind a blessing—
grain offerings and drink offerings
    for the Lord your God.

Joel 2:12-14

This call was given in the midst of God’s judgment. Hard times had come from the hand of God, arguably through others who in the end God would judge. So there’s the prior, necessary call to repentance. We are sorry, yes for the consequences our past actions or inaction has caused. But the heart of repentance is always with reference to God. We’ve abandoned God, and we’ve lost out on God’s will for us, as well. We have sinned against the goodness of God, turning to our own understanding and devices. Or whatever we have fallen for in the past, making idols of that, rather than worshiping the true God. Whatever our past, we need to work through it in terms of repentance which gets right to our heart, no less. So that our life will follow.

And then we have God’s gracious promise to help us move away from the “What ifs,” and “If onlys”:

“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—
    the great locust and the young locust,
    the other locusts and the locust swarm—
my great army that I sent among you.
You will have plenty to eat, until you are full,
    and you will praise the name of the Lord your God,
    who has worked wonders for you;
never again will my people be shamed.
Then you will know that I am in Israel,
    that I am the Lord your God,
    and that there is no other;
never again will my people be shamed.

Joel 2:25-27

Exactly how that plays out, or what it looks like for each one of us, we do not know. We have to trust God in that.

All of this is in the context of the big picture, for Christ and for the gospel. It is not about us having our own dreams fulfilled, but rather, the dreams which God gives us:

“And afterward,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your old men will dream dreams,
    your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
I will show wonders in the heavens
    and on the earth,
    blood and fire and billows of smoke.
The sun will be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood
    before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
And everyone who calls
    on the name of the Lord will be saved

Joel 2:28-32a

We can be assured that no matter what our past, if we repent, God will somehow restore the years, so that we can serve him in and through Christ for the gospel. As witnesses by how we live, and what we say. In and through Jesus.

the command/directive not to be anxious about anything

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

I was thinking yesterday about the command or directive from God not to be anxious, or worry about anything at all. The Greek word translated “anxious” by some Bible translations, and “worry” by others is μεριμνάω which according to Bill Mounce means “to worry, have anxiety, be concerned.” It seems rather unreasonable given the nature of the world, and the responsibilities we have, so that it would sound not only like foolishness in the eyes of the world, but a mistake even to those who have faith in God through Christ. Radical, for sure. But the imperative doesn’t end there.

We’re to pray with thanksgiving, to let God know just what is going on instead of giving in to anxiety, or trying to fix the problem ourselves. It is easy over time to just kind of give up and lose hope due to a number of circumstances, but mostly due to lacking faith in God. We’re to believe not in ourselves, but in God’s promise and love, even his calling to us. Confident that he will bring it to pass, and enable us to fulfill that calling through the gifting God gives us. I’ve been there, and it’s not good. It doesn’t matter how we feel about something, whether anxious, or losing all hope. We need to pray, and keep praying, and not give up. Continuing to bring it to God in prayer.

The answer promised is not necessarily a nice fix of the problem like we might envision, or like. It is simply God’s peace. This suggests to me that our solutions, or even wishes may somehow be misguided, probably the basic point being that we are trying to solve the matter ourselves, rather than letting God work it out, rather than waiting on God. It’s not like we won’t end up doing anything in the end. It’s just that we need to do so not in anxiety and fear, but with God’s peace. Or to simply remain in that peace, not doing anything ourselves. All of this in and through Jesus.

the prophet

In the Bible, and specifically the Old Testament, there are the roles of prophet, priest, and king. In Jesus they are summed up and fulfilled. And today somehow shared within his body the church, through the Spirit’s working. In the Old Testament the prophet is a bit different. Like all prophets along with the gift of prophecy in the New Testament, it is essentially about speaking the word of the Lord for a specific time, with an emphasis in the New Testament on “strengthening, encouragement and comfort” (1 Corinthians 14:3). In the Old Testament there are what are classified by us as the major and minor prophets, the difference being solely in the length of the books, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel being major prophets, and Habakkuk and Zephaniah being among the minor prophets. But David, though king, is called a prophet as well, because he spoke the word of the Lord as recorded in the psalms and elsewhere.

Old Testament prophets seem to come on pretty heavy handed in judgment, calling the people of God back to faithfulness to God and to God’s covenant with Israel as given in the Torah, and yet stretching beyond the Torah to what the fulfillment of that Torah was to be, somewhat unbeknownst to them. And their word would normally always end in God’s blessing. It is as if God’s judgment was really only a necessary means to God’s blessing, therefore judgment is called God’s strange work, because God’s heart of love is always to bless. However those who refuse God’s blessing when it’s all said and done end up under God’s curse. Of course that blessing is fulfilled in Jesus and made known through the gospel.

I believe there are a few voices now and then, here and there who speak prophetically today, even echoing to some extent the prophets of the Old Testament. They sometimes speak in a way which seems to be a stretch, yet they mean every word of it in making their point. At the heart of it is often the idolatry of God’s people, and a call to repentance. And included in that is an indictment against the whole world for its sin and evil due to its waywardness from the Creator God. But true prophets speak a message of hope, even if in the current times all seems at least bleak, and darkness has set in. The end of the story we find in scripture is bringing to full circle what was true in the beginning of an idyllic picture of paradise in a garden (Genesis 2) broken at the fall (Genesis 3), the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem added, as heaven and earth become one in the new creation when Jesus returns (Revelation 21 and 22). So no matter what is happening in this life, we can be assured of God’s goodness winning out in the end, and bringing in full justice and restoration of all that is good in the kingdom to come in Christ when shalom will be the reality at work in all relationships on earth.

In the meantime the prophet continues to wail –this message being part of the teaching ministry of the church as well– with calls to repentance, pointing to the promise of a better day, even as they hold God’s people, and the world to the standard God set in creation. But with an emphasis on living in the hope of the new creation in this broken world in which we live. A new creation present now in Jesus through the gospel, witnessed to and the beginning of it lived out in the church, in and through Jesus.

remaining faithful (and seeing the big picture)

“See, the enemy is puffed up;
    his desires are not upright—
    but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness[g]

Habakkuk 2:4

Sometimes it feels like nothing is left so to speak, that at least everything is in shambles. And life itself does not make sense. If you read the three chapters of Habakkuk (you can through the link above), you’ll find that precisely to be the setting for the prophet Habakkuk’s complaint to God. Injustice was rife among God’s people, which made no sense, since God wasn’t doing anything about it. And then God’s solution in response to Habakkuk’s request as to what God would in time do made no sense to Habakkuk, either. God bringing on a nation, an empire of that day, which acted even worse than God’s people, and was less righteous in Habakkuk’s eyes.

What are we to do in such circumstances? God’s answer to us is that the righteous will live by faith, or more precisely by their faithfulness. Actually without faith, it’s impossible to be faithful. Both faith and faithfulness are tied to commitment in response to God’s word, promise, and command. We can say, covenantal in nature. Of course one has to believe God’s word. But within that belief has to be a trust which is a commital of one’s entire life to God. So that all depends on God, but we are in it for the long haul, through thick and thin. A covenant is a binding agreement between two parties.

For Habakkuk in a way that seemed easier since he was part of the covenantal people, Israel. But simply to be part of that nation did not mean at all that individuals lived up to that covenant obligation. So even then the call to the individual within community was in play. Today there is the challenge among many evangelicals to see God’s covenant in terms of a people, the church. We often don’t put sufficient emphasis on church, but see it more as a good help to our faith. But church is indeed a part of our faith in that the covenant we have before God in Christ is both individual and communal. That covenant is broken if we consider it nothing but individual, “between me and God.” We’re in this together. In New Testament terms, we are indeed one body, so that while each part has its place, and is important before God, we are important for all the others, as well. It’s never only about us and God. It’s about us and God and others in Christ.

So the call to faith and faithfulness is both in response to God’s word, God’s promise to us in Christ, and together with others in Christ, and not just for the sake of each other, but in our witness of the gospel before and for the world. We remain faithful when life around us makes no sense and seems to be falling apart. But we trust God in all of that, and are committed to the good news of the gospel which is breaking in through God’s saving work now. God’s judgment at work in the world now, too, as needed. But an emphasis on God’s salvation, “today” being that time.

We all have part in this, so that we live now with that in mind. Through our faith and faithfulness. By God’s grace, God’s gift and giving in Christ. Assured that God is at work now and to the end, in and through Jesus.