Let’s Be Thankful!

-Thankful Or Critical?

Most of us are pretty consistent in the way that we look at life. Generally speaking, we are either a thankful person; or, a critical person. We’re either positive or negative. We tend to see the glass as either “half-full”; or, “half-empty” as the saying goes. Either way, we’re what we are because we’ve practiced it. We are creatures of habit. If you’re critical it’s because you’ve practiced being critical. If you’re thankful it’s because you’ve developed a habit of being thankful. You are NOT the way you are because of your circumstances! You ARE the way you are because of your reaction to your circumstances.

-Do Your Circumstances Rule You?

We’ve all known people who whine about everything; and others, with far worse life circumstances, who are thankful & a blessing to be around. If you’re a critical person it’s because you’ve permitted the circumstances to rule over you; you’ve narrowed your focus so that all you see is the negative & the painful in life. It’s kind of like getting too zoomed in on Google maps! Have you ever done that? You’re looking at the map, but you can’t get your bearings because you’ve over-focused or you’ve over-analyzed it. If you’ll just zoom out a little bit, and, get a bigger picture, then you can see! You just needed a broader perspective.

-A Broader Perspective Of Life!

If you tend to be overly critical, you need to zoom out & get a broader perspective of life by intentionally paying attention to God’s provisions, even in the tough circumstances. Thank Him for His faithfulness! Look at your circumstances in the big picture context of all His blessings. But, it has to be intentional! Forming that habit of thankfulness may require that you pray for God’s Holy Spirit to help you; to remind you to see the big picture in life; to zoom out from all the annoyances in life. Thankful people pay attention to God’s blessings; and, they pay attention because they are thankful people!

-Viewing Our Life Through The Cross!

Our greatest need, as people, is forgiveness for our sin against a Holy God! The Apostle John describes the way that Jesus provided forgiveness through His substitutionary atonement for sin on the cross: “Therefore they took Jesus away. Carrying His own cross, He went out to what is called Skull Place, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified Him and two others with Him, one on either side, with Jesus in the middle” (John 19:16-18). When we view our lives through the cross, we can’t help but become more thankful! Jesus’ disciples were repulsed when He first began talking with His disciples about His impending death on a cross! The cross was perhaps the cruelest instrument of torture and death that the world has ever known. And, that was their focus! They were too zoomed in on the pain and the suffering of the cross!

-Seeing The Cross Differently!

They needed to zoom out & get a broader focus of the cross. Jesus lived a sinless life and willingly gave up His life to give new meaning to the cross. The cross became the place where God’s love intersected with His justice. It symbolizes the atonement that Jesus Christ made on our behalf. He became God’s substitutionary atonement for us. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Church of Corinth, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus, who had no sin, became sin! He was the substitute for us, so that we could become righteous before God. Oh, let us learn to always be thankful for Christ’s atonement! The atonement is the reason we can be thankful for the cross. To atone means to appease. Jesus endured the full wrath of God, against sin, to appease God’s righteousness; so that God could be just & righteous to save us! The sin debt has been paid!

The Good News Of The Gospel!

-The Beginning Of Jesus’ Gospel!

At Jesus’ baptism, John the Baptizer said:  “Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the One I told you about” (John 1:29-30).  The Biblical writer, Mark, opens his account of Jesus’ life like this:  “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” The word “gospel”; or, “euangelion” in the original Greek language, means “good news”; and, it’s found more than 100 times in the New Testament Scriptures. It’s used in the context of “justification”; or, becoming a born again believer; and, “sanctification”; or, spiritual growth as a follower of Jesus; and, even “glorification”; or, the completion of our salvation when we get a resurrected body like Jesus’ body.

-The Gospel In Everyday Life!

So, we need to ask by the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been limited, in many churches, to Easter Sunday sermons; and, to altar calls, as though it only applies to our getting saved; and, not to our growth or sanctification in Christ? If you ask most Christians, “How do you apply the Gospel to the everyday stuff of life?” they wouldn’t know how to answer! I submit to you that the Gospel has everything to do with every single thing you go through in your life. Here’s how we need to unpack the Gospel of Jesus Christ:  “Whatever the question, Jesus is the answer! Whatever the problem, Jesus is the solution!” That’s not original with me; but, I have no recollection where I first heard it! But, I can’t think of a more complete; but, simple way to define the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

-We Never Graduate From Jesus!

What Jesus accomplished on the cross, for you, has everything to do with your family, your work; and, even the painful struggles of life. You need to grab hold of that truth if you’re a follower of Jesus; or, you will flounder greatly in your faith. The Gospel, of Jesus Christ, isn’t just for salvation; or, your justification! We never graduate from Jesus and His Gospel. Whatever you’re questioning in life, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the answer; and, whatever the problem you’re facing, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the solution! One of the biggest flaws in the way that we have made disciples is we’ve taught them how to successfully navigate the Christian life; or, to grow in their sanctification, without Jesus! One of the biggest flaws, in our prayer life, is that we pray that God will change the circumstances! Rarely will God answer that prayer!

-The Prayer God Wants Us To Pray!

He wants us to pray, NOT for a change of circumstances; but, for a change of heart; and, that only happens as we apply the truth of the Gospel. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is activated as you prepare the way for Him to enter your life. As Jesus’ forerunner, John the Baptizer prepared the world for His arrival. We have to prepare the way, in our own private world, for Jesus to enter. I mean, by that, that we must give proper place to Him. We must denounce all other competing loves!

-Not Worthy Of Me!

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus said, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it” (10:37-39). To prepare the way for Jesus the Messiah to enter your heart, you must see Him as the ultimate value! He is of greater value than all of our other loves! His worth is infinitely greater than even the great worth we attach to our mothers & our fathers & our children; and, to our own lives also! Jesus is the ultimate value of the universe; and, the good news of His Gospel tells us that as much meaning & enjoyment as we may experience in the pleasure of God’s created things around us, none of these will do for us what the Gospel of Jesus Christ will! And, so, we must prepare the way of the Lord in our hearts & lives.

Skeptical Of God’s Love?

-How Does God Answer Skepticism?

The Old Testament book of Malachi opens with an interaction between God and the nation of Israel. “‘I have loved you,’ says the Lord. But you ask: ‘How have You loved us?’” (1:2). Israel had become skeptical of God’s love for them! They had allowed life’s circumstances to jade their thoughts about God’s love for them. So, how does God answer their skepticism? “‘Wasn’t Esau Jacob’s brother?’ This is the Lord’s declaration. ‘Even so, I loved Jacob, but I hated Esau.’” What does that mean? How is that an answer to their question about God’s love for them? Well, let me try and walk you through it.

-God Loves With Free, Sovereign, Unconditional Love!

Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” Yes! The answer was yes! Though Israel descended from Jacob, every Israelite knew that Esau was Jacob’s twin brother born to Isaac & Rebecca. They also knew that Esau was the older brother; which meant, according to the customs of the time, that he should have gained all the rights & privileges as the main heir of the father’s blessings. So, what is the point? He answers their skepticism, about His love for them, by reminding them that He could have just as easily chosen Esau instead of Jacob; because they were twins & Esau was, in fact, the older brother! But, God chose Jacob and passed over Esau! Are you tracking with me so far? Because here’s the hard part; God answers their skepticism by telling Israel that He loved them with free, sovereign, unconditional love!

-The Difficult Doctrine Of God’s Election!

It was “free” because God’s love cannot be earned! It was “sovereign” because God is in absolute control of all the world’s affairs! And, it was “unconditional” because Israel didn’t have to perform under certain conditions to receive it! If you’re at all like me, you’ve found the Biblical doctrine of God’s election to be one of the most difficult doctrines to receive. Why? Because it doesn’t seem “fair” does it? We’re all about “fairness”; aren’t we? This is such a hard doctrine that I’ve known many preachers try and explain it away; or, to just avoid it altogether! But, what about “free will” we want to ask! Didn’t Jacob have free will to choose or reject God? Yes! But, didn’t God choose Jacob & reject Esau? Yes! But, doesn’t that seem like a contradiction? Yes! It seems like one! But, it’s not!

-The Difference Between A Contradiction & Tension!

Because we know there are no contradictions in God’s word! There’s a tension here; as there are many tensions in the Scriptures, aren’t there? And, there’s a big difference between a “contradiction” and a “tension.” There can be tension between 2 truths! We can’t avoid preaching the 2 truths just because they create tension! If both are taught in Scripture; then, both must be preached! Does Scripture teach the “free will” of man? Yes, Romans 10:13; Acts 2:21; and, Revelation 22:17, among other Scriptures, all convey that anyone desiring to be saved can be saved!

-Living With Tension In Scripture?

At the same time, Jesus says, “NO ONE can come to Me unless the Father draws him…”; and, He says, “You did not choose Me, I chose you…” (John 6:44; 15:16). And, 1 John says, “We love Him because He loved us first” (4:19). So, which is it; “free will” or God’s “election”? Yes is the answer! Did Jacob choose God; or, did God choose Jacob? Yes is the answer! Do we have “free will”; or, does God “elect” us into His family? The answer is YES! Somehow God’s sovereignty covers my free will in a way that only God can make it happen! I choose Him because He chose me! I’ve learned to live with the tension; and, I’ve learned to love it! I’m okay with not figuring it out! I’ve memorized Proverbs 25:2 just to remind myself on these occasions:  “It is the glory of God to CONCEAL a matter…” I believe that says it’s to God’s glory that we can’t figure it out! He’s so much bigger than our intellectual abilities! Don’t become skeptical of Him!

Ungodly Men & Ungodly Laws!

-We Don’t Have To Take Care Of Ourselves!

The Old Testament prophet, Daniel, viewed himself as nothing more than God’s humble servant. He didn’t take himself too seriously! He saw himself as just one piece in God’s sovereign plan for the world! Though life circumstances, no doubt, made him fearful at times; fear did not control him! When we get over our fear, we can kind of “let go” & “let God” use us however He wants. I don’t have to take care of myself. God takes care of me! God shows us, in Daniel’s story, how we ought to respond when ungodly men make ungodly laws.

-Bow Down & Worship!

In Daniel, chapter 3, Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar, builds a 90’ tall gold statue of himself; and, demands that everyone bow down & worship it; or, be thrown into a fiery furnace. That would be a problem for Daniel’s 3 Hebrew friends— Hananiah, Mishael & Azariah! They had been raised in good Jewish homes. They knew the commandments Yahweh had given to Moses in Exodus 20— “I  am the LORD your God; do not have any other gods besides me; do not make an idol for yourself; You must not bow down to them or worship them.” So, here they were between a rock; and, a hard place! Obey the King & face God’s judgment; or, obey God & face the fiery furnace.

-An Awkward Moment!

Get the picture? There are probably thousands of people, representing all the nations that Babylon had subdued; all, waiting for the sound of the music. They hear it; and, everyone bows down & worships the gold image except 3 men. They had to know that their insubordination wouldn’t go unnoticed. And, it wasn’t:  “Some of the Chaldeans took this occasion to come forward and maliciously accuse them” (3:8). So, they are made to stand before King Nebuchadnezzar; and, they “…replied to the king, ‘Nebuchadnezzar, we don’t need to give you an answer to this question.  If the God we serve exists, then He can rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and He can rescue us from the power of you, the king. But even if He does not rescue us, we want you as king to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up’” (3:16-18).

-God Is Able To Deliver!

Enraged by their insubordination, the king demanded that they be thrown into the furnace. But, they determined to obey God rather than the king; and, trust God to do whatever he willed. They had faith that God was able to deliver them; but, even if He didn’t, they would not bow to the king’s image. There is a great application to take from their example—we need to be careful we don’t make claims for God on His behalf! We may think that God has to respond in a certain way; but, our knowledge is finite! His ways are higher than ours! So, don’t make promises for God that He doesn’t make!

-How Our Story Ends!

We can’t make demands on God about how our personal story ends! They trusted that God would deliver them either by a miracle; or, by death! We have to be careful that our trust in God is not limited to delivery by miracle! Their trust in God was not just tied to delivery from the furnace:  “…EVEN IF He does NOT,” they said, “we won’t bow to false gods!” That’s a gospel response. Sadly, the gospel being preached in the majority of our American churches is all about “me.” It’s man-centered; and, not God-centered! So, if He doesn’t deliver me from the furnace I won’t trust Him! That’s where false teaching begins… with man’s ways! King Nebuchadnezzar took credit for his accomplishments; when, it was God who blessed him with his abilities! I read somewhere that:  “Pride is like plagiarism because it attempts to take for ourselves Glory that belongs to God alone.” God will not share His glory with you! Humble yourself before Him.

Hope In Suffering!

-We’re Permitted To Grieve!

We opened our Bible to the O.T. book of Lamentations, in our last post; and, discovered that the Prophet Jeremiah & the nation of Israel were in a world of hurt! Jeremiah feels it personally; and, for his people! And, God’s word tells us that there is a place for that. The N.T. book of Romans tells us to, “weep with those who weep.” We’re permitted to grieve! But, we’re also told not to grieve in the same way that unbelievers do; like, those with no hope! Lamenting is appropriate in times of pain & struggle. But, we’re also instructed that the pain & struggle should give way to repentance & hope!

-God’s Faithful Love Offers Hope!

Because of God’s faithful love, there is hope in suffering! “I call this to mind,” Jeremiah writes, “and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s faithful love we do not perish, for His mercies never end. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness! I say: The Lord is my portion, therefore I will put my hope in Him” (Lamentations 3:21-24). And, let me remind you that “hope” in Scripture is completely different than the cross-your-fingers kind of “hope” that the word means in today’s culture. The “hope” in God’s Word is a “confident expectation.”

-A Confident Expectation!

Jeremiah— inspired by God’s Holy Spirit to write this— has “hope”; or, a confident expectation despite his suffering and pain; because, of God’s faithful love. He chooses to focus on God’s character rather than the circumstances of his pain & suffering. “I call this to mind,” he says; that, “God’s love is faithful.” He refuses to live under the circumstances! To neither dwell on the past or the current suffering; but, to be forward in his thinking; that, God’s love is faithful! Whatever our current state of life, God’s love is not negated! The ESV translation says, “…the steadfast love of the LORD never ceases…” The MESSAGE paraphrases it, “God’s loyal love.” God is loyal to us!

-Don’t Doubt God’s Loyalty!

Don’t let the undesirable events in your life give you any cause to doubt God’s loyalty! If you’ve believed in Jesus you’ve been adopted into God’s family. And, while the enemy hopes to crush you under the struggles of life, God is acting like a loving Father & He’s acting on the junk in your life, intending to grow your faith & give you “HOPE”—a “confident expectation” that He will continue to come through for you! The Apostle Paul wrote the Church of Rome that “hope” is produced through our suffering:  “…we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit…” Romans 5:2-5.

-Rejoice In Afflictions!

God is showing us His faithful love toward us by choreographing the painful struggles into our lives, Paul says; because they are for our good! He uses them to help us grow spiritually; so, rejoice in the “affliction” because it produces “endurance” which produces “character” which produces “hope”—that “confident expectation” in God’s ability to use the struggles to strengthen our faith! So, don’t fight Him! Enduring the struggles will always eventually produce hope if we’re submitted to God’s Spirit because that’s what the Spirit produces in us; and, He uses the painful stuff in life to generate it. But, then, Jeremiah says that there is hope; or, a confident expectation, even in suffering, because God’s mercy never ends (v.22). Some translations say, “…through the LORD’S mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not…” This is what Jeremiah called to mind! We need God’s help to call these same truths to mind.

Struggling With Depression?

-Let God Be God!

It’s incredibly freeing when you stop trying to be your own savior; and, everyone else’s savior too! To just let God be God! To admit you don’t know what to do next! To feel the helplessness of being out of control! Only then can you fully abandon yourself to the only One who can part the Red Sea; to the only One who can use 300 weaponless soldiers to overthrow a vast Midianite army; to the only One who can knock down a giant with a little stone; to the only One who can feed 5000 with a piece of bread and a few small fish; to the only One who can raise a Messiah from the dead to save a people from their sin!

-Thank God For Failure!

I can honestly thank God for all the times of failure in my life! I praise Him for allowing me to fail! Be honest with God! Admit you’re not big enough or strong enough or smart enough! Admit you’ve tried! But, praise him when your strength fails! Thank Him for it because your failure is the only thing that drives you back to the only One strong enough & beg enough & wise enough to fix it! Be honest with God when you’re afraid! King David wrote this Psalm during a time of fear:  “I sought the Lord, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to Him are radiant with joy; their faces will never be ashamed. This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him from all his troubles. The Angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and rescues them” Psalm 34:4-7. 

-Fear God! Not Circumstances!

Be honest with God when you’re afraid! Fear Him instead of your circumstances & He will deliver you from them; or, He will deliver you THROUGH them! Sometimes He removes them; but, sometimes He grows you THROUGH them! Be honest with God when you’re struggling with depression! And, praise Him anyway! I love Psalm 42:5. It’s a Scripture that has so impacted me that I’ve put it to memory:  “Why am I so depressed? Why this turmoil within me? Put your hope in God, for I will still praise Him, my Savior and my God.” The writer is asking himself why he’s so depressed! Why is he struggling with turmoil inside?

-Sing About Your Depression!

Do you ever feel that way? It’s okay to admit that to God! In fact, it was God who inspired the writer to include it in Scripture! And, let’s remember that the book of Psalms contained songs that Israel sang to God! So, they sang about depression! And, while I truly believe that, at times, depression needs to be treated medically as an illness, there are times in life when we just feel “blue” over the weariness of life!

-Overcoming The “Blues”

The best way to overcome those “blue” feelings is to place your hope in God & begin to offer Him praise for all the blessings He has given you! Praise Him because He alone can satisfy your soul! King David also was inspired by God to include these words in Psalm 63— ”My lips will glorify You because Your faithful love is better than life. So I will praise You as long as I live; at Your name, I will lift up my hands. You satisfy me as with rich food; my mouth will praise You with joyful lips” vs. 3-5.  Oh that God would bring all of us to that place where we would see that He is all we need! That we would truly live like we believe that His faithful love is really better than life! That our souls would be satisfied with Him alone! That all the other created things that we enjoy in this world would pale in comparison to the beauty of our Great God!

Praise God!

-Your Deepest, Darkest Secret!

Do you realize that you really can be honest with God about everything! Even the deepest, darkest secrets— that you’re reluctant to share with anyone— you can share with God! You can tell Him everything! He already knows how you feel; so, just be honest with Him! Be transparent with Him— “Lord, I know I shouldn’t feel like this; but, I do! Help me!” And, when He answers your prayer, offer Him praise! That’s the pattern we see in Scripture! For example, the writer of Psalm 30 says:  “LORD my God, I cried to You for help, and You healed me” (v.2).  King David wrote that Psalm. He cried to God for help & God answered!

-Don’t Put Limitations On God!

And, don’t limit your understanding of God’s healing to the physical. There is a spiritual & emotional part of you also! And, there are times when life is so painful that we need God’s healing in all three—physically, spiritually & emotionally! Perhaps David is alluding to some pain that was self-induced by his sin because he speaks of God’s anger a couple of verses later:  “Sing to Yahweh, you, His faithful ones, and praise His holy name. For His anger lasts only a moment, but His favor, a lifetime. Weeping may spend the night, but there is joy in the morning” (30:4).  And, he concludes this Psalm with this praise to God:  “You turned my lament into dancing; You removed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness so that I can sing to You and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise You forever” (30:11-12). 

-Don’t Depend On Improved Circumstances!

What began as a Psalm of lament, David says, God has turned into dancing! And, for that He praises God! We need God’s help to speak the gospel into every negative situation of our life! God will redeem it all! Just remember that our worst day in heaven, with Him, will still be better than our best day in this life! Keep things in perspective! Don’t depend on your circumstances to improve! They may! But, they may not! But, God is faithful even when the circumstances are not! Depend on Him regardless of your circumstances.

-Brokenness Into Dancing!

By Jesus’ work on the cross, God removes the great canyon between Himself & us— that our sin created— and, He turns our brokenness into dancing! Offer Him praise! So, be honest with him about your suffering! But, don’t stop there! Be honest with Him about your sin; because He forgives! And, then, praise Him for that! Praise Him for forgiveness! There is no bigger burden you can carry through life than your sin! Again, it’s David who writes the 32nd Psalm out of deep shame & guilt over his sin! But, he no longer lives under the weight of his sin!

-Experience Forgiveness!

He’s experienced forgiveness! Look at the start of his psalm:  “How joyful is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! How joyful is the man the Lord does not charge with sin and in whose spirit is no deceit” (Psalm 32:1-2). Do you lack joy in your life? Is it because you’re haunted by your past sins? They can be forgiven! God gladly forgives sin & covers it by the shed blood of His Son, Jesus, on the cross! But, forgiveness comes when we get honest with God! No more deceit, David says here! We have to own our sins! Own our misdeeds! Then, we have to humble ourselves before God & agree with Him that we’re guilty of sin. That’s what David says next:  “When I kept silent, my bones became brittle from my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy on me; my strength was drained as in the summer’s heat” (v.3). Our unconfessed sin even harms our health! So, ask God to forgive! He will!

Your Greatest Happiness!

-Right Relationship With God!

Your greatest happiness will come only when you are in the right relationship with God, your Creator! You were created for Him! And, only in Him will you find your ultimate fulfillment! If you’ve cracked the Bible, you may have noticed that the book of the Psalms takes up quite a chunk of space in the Bible. The word for “Psalms” in the original Hebrew language means “praise”; and, most of the Psalms were poetic “Songs Of Praise” to Yahweh; although, one-third of the Psalms are prayers! So, it contains both songs & prayers that Israel used in their worship! Also, most students of Scripture believe there’s significance to the order in which they were placed.

-Psalm 1: The Stage Setter!

So, Psalm 1 is meant to be understood as an introduction to the rest of the Psalms. It’s like the “stage setter” because it vividly points out the radical difference between the “believer” and the “unbeliever.” According to the writer of the Psalm, your life will be blessed or happy if you live it sincerely for God; and, it will prove to be miserable & unhappy if you rebel against God! Those are your only 2 options! It’s funny how the world sees the life, that follows Jesus, as boring & blasé! I think even many believers suffer from some big-time misconceptions about the Christian life.

-Earthly Hedonists!

It’s been my observation that many believers just endure the Christian life! Secretly, they still pine for the pleasures & fleeting happiness that they think the world enjoys. In their heart, they’re earthly hedonists! They’re like the children of Israel, during the Exodus, still looking back with longing for the old life they left behind in Egypt. Somehow, we’ve come to the erroneous conclusion that life’s just not going to be fun or happy as a Christian; but, we put up with it because, well, we get heaven in the end! But, the 1st Psalm debunks the notion that the life that follows Christ & adheres to the Scriptures is boring! What this Psalm says is quite the opposite.

-Setting The Record Straight!

The writer sets the record straight— we don’t just endure the Christian life, putting in our time here until we get to heaven & hang out with Jesus forever & ever! No! This Psalm tells us that it’s the life that submits to God & His word that provides us with the greatest fulfillment & the most happiness possible in this life! Happiness & prosperity in this life & eternity follows only the God-centered life; not, the life that is centered & focused on the stuff of this world! Does it surprise you that God is concerned with your happiness? Some believers even debate between “joy” & “happiness.” Joy is the fruit of the Spirit, they say; and, that’s what we should concern ourselves with!

-Is Happiness Fleeting?

Joy sounds more spiritual than happiness, doesn’t it? Happiness seems like it’s dependent on circumstances! It comes & goes! Joy is based on the eternal, the argument goes! But, this 1st Psalm seems to play the contrarian:  “How HAPPY is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path of sinners or join a group of mockers! Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction…” (vs. 1-2). It seems like we don’t have to choose between joy & happiness! Instead, life in Christ offers us both— JOY & HAPPINESS! But, there is a caveat. Genuine happiness, in life, is contingent on some things! That’s where we get the idea that happiness is dependent on circumstances. But it’s not so much that happiness comes & goes as much as it is that our walk with God is inconsistent! That’s what we’ll talk about next week!

When Someone Curses You!

-Discerning God’s Work In Our Lives!

Over the last few posts, I’ve commented on the difficulty we have of identifying; or, discerning when & where God is at work in our lives! We struggle to see Him behind the difficult & painful experiences of life! But, God does, in fact, use those experiences to grow us and sanctify us! In fact, God may use someone’s cruel words to humble us! That’s the main point of this post! Perhaps you recall that when King David’s son, Absalom, betrayed him, David was forced to run for his life. As David; and, all of those who remained loyal to him, were fleeing the city, they came to this place where there was a hill above them! And, up on that hill, a man named Shimei began to curse David!

-David’s Response To Being Cursed!

Shimei was from the family of Saul & he must have believed some conspiracy theory that David was responsible for King Saul’s death; because, he throws stones at him! I love the loyalty of Abishai, one of King David’s men, when he asked David permission:  “My lord, the king, let me go cut off his head” (1 Samuel 16:9). And, clearly, David would have been within his rights, as king, to have Shimei executed because it was a capital offense to curse the king! But, David shows restraint! He shows great humility:  “The king said, ‘If he is cursing because the LORD has said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who then shall say, ‘Why have you done so?” (v.10). 

-Does God Use The Cursing Of Others?

It seems that David is thinking more about the wrong he had done to others (his sexual sin with Bathsheba & his murder of her husband) than the wrong that Shimei was doing to him.  “Don’t touch him,” David says to Abishai, “Don’t cut off his head! It may be that God has sent him to remind me of my sin.” So, how do you respond when someone curses you or speaks cruel words to you? Do you return evil for evil? Or, do you recognize it as God’s work in your life? Will you humble yourself & ask God to show you if there’s any truth to your opponents words?

-The Mysterious Way God Works!

If there is anything to be learned from this whole story— of Absalom’s & of David’s running for his life— it’s that God often works in mysterious ways! Not just in our lives; but, through the “events” that become part of the story of our lives! There’s another gem, to uncover, in this miniseries! What we see is that God sometimes uses someone’s wise counsel against them! But, how can that happen? It can happen only by the providential hand of God! Ahithophel had been one of David’s trusted counselors!

-Confidence In God’s Sovereignty!

But, he had swung his allegiance to Absalom against David. In an interesting side story, his betrayal came most likely because he was Bathsheba’s grandfather; so, he had observed David’s sin. He had reason to be bitter! He had observed David’s abuse of power & when he had the occasion to turn against him, that’s exactly what he did! And, when Ahithophel spoke, it was as though God was speaking (v.23). In ch.17, he gave Absalom a sound military strategy to defeat David. But, in God’s Sovereignty, Absalom rejected it & accepted the counsel of another! “Since the Lord had decreed that Ahithophel’s good advice be undermined in order to bring about Absalom’s ruin, Absalom and all the men of Israel said, ‘The advice of Hushai the Archite is better than Ahithophel’s advice.’” (v.14) God is Sovereign! He is in control of the affairs of your life; so, if you find yourself on the run, like David, trust God’s plan even if it seems unorthodox.

God’s Plan Is Good!

-He Uses Evil Men!

When evil men set their will against God, He will use them & their evil plans for His Sovereign purposes! We’ve been talking about God’s Sovereignty the last couple weeks; and, Scripture tells us that God actually raised up Egypt’s Pharaoh to accomplish His Sovereign purpose:  “The Scripture tells Pharaoh: I raised you up for this reason so that I may display My power in you and that My name may be proclaimed in all the earth” Romans 9:17.  God, in His Sovereignty, turns Pharaoh’s evil plans, for Israel, against him & sets Israel free, from their slavery to Pharaoh, to the praise of His Glory!

-God’s Eternal Plans!

In addition, to His Sovereignty, there is another thread that weaves its way through Scripture; and, it’s closely related to His Sovereignty. I’m referring to God’s eternal plans for His creation! He has a divine plan for all of His Sovereign work in the world & in our lives. One of my most favorite Scriptures, in all the bible, is an acknowledgment that Joseph makes in Genesis chapter 50. After their father Jacob’s death, Joseph’s brothers fear that he will take revenge on them for selling him into slavery many years earlier. But, look at Joseph’s response:  “You planned evil against me; but, God PLANNED it for good to bring about the present result—the survival of many people” Genesis 50:20.

-Confidence In God’s Plans!

Joseph had become so confident, in God’s Sovereignty & His plan for Joseph’s life, that he even trusted God with the evil plans others had against him.  He didn’t separate his “church life” from the “rest of life.” There was no secular for Joseph! Everything, in life, was part of God’s sacred plan! God used Joseph’s negative life incidents to grow him! To sanctify & mature him! To set him free from the bondage & slavery of sin! We also see that God’s plan was to use famine to bring Jacob’s family to Egypt; where, He promised that, in 400 years, He would lead them out of Egypt to a “promised land” that flowed with milk & honey.

-There Are No Coincidences!

In this way, God orchestrated all those “circumstances” to raise up Moses to lead Israel, in their Exodus, out of Egypt.  The world would say it was just a set of “coincidences”! But, we know better! It just “so happened” that Pharaoh’s daughter found Moses, in a basket, among the bulrushes. And, because she “Just happened” to be Pharaoh’s daughter, she had the power to save his life, though Pharaoh had determined to kill all Israelite males! It just “so happened” that Moses’ own birth mother was selected, by Pharaoh’s daughter, to wean him & train him; so, he could grow in the things of Yahweh!

-God’s Never Surprised!

In fact, Moses’ mother was actually paid, by Pharaoh’s daughter, to raise him (Exodus 2:9). Later, God informed Moses that it was “His plan” to send him to Pharaoh & demand, of him, that Egypt would let Israel, God’s people, go! God always has a plan! The Book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible, says that Jesus was, “…the LAMB slain from the foundation of the world…” Rev. 13:8.  From before creation, God had already planned that Jesus, His Son, would come to earth as a man; and, die on the cross to deliver us from sin! What a great God! He’s never taken by surprise! So, even when the world is surprised by a world-wide virus like COVID-19, God had planned, from eternity past, to use it to bring Glory to Himself!