The secret things and the revealed things (Deuteronomy 29:29)

A healthy walk of faith seeks to know and live out all that God has revealed to us, while at the same time accepting that the Lord our God is God and, as such has reserved for Himself “the secret things.” He has revealed to us the things that are essential and has invited us to trust Him with the rest. In this light, we will consider Deuteronomy 29:29:

The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us forever. – Deuteronomy 29:29

Notice the order of presentation in the verse. First, the Lord establishes His sovereignty by declaring that He has kept for Himself “the secret things.” As His creatures, we have no secrets from Him, for “all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do (Hebrews 4:13).” The LORD “discerns my thoughts from afar and is acquainted with all my ways (Psalm 139:2, 3).” There is nothing hidden from Him, but He, as God, proclaims His sovereign right to have “secret things” which belong to Him alone and which remain hidden from our knowledge. No one can know these things because they are reserved for His eyes only.

But second, the verse speaks of all that the Lord has graciously revealed to us that we may receive and believe. God has published in His Bible everything that we need to live a fruitful life that is pleasing to Him, that is useful to others, and that is deeply satisfying to us. In fact, we are commanded to learn everything we can learn from the Bible by hearing, reading, studying, memorizing, meditating, and even praying back to the Lord the words of His book. We are free to do this to our heart’s content without restriction and without limitation.

And what has the Lord revealed to us in the Bible?

  • How the universe came to be and how God created man
  • How sin came into the world and where death came from
  • God’s holy Law that shows us that we are sinners
  • God’s plan to redeem sinners
  • God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ
  • How I can be saved from God’s just condemnation
  • That Jesus will return in power and glory
  • How the world will end
  • What eternity is like

As we explore the Scriptures, we are amazed at all that the Lord has chosen to reveal to us. Peter says that God “has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:5).” So, we study to know the limits of His revealed promises so that we can legitimately claim all that He has promised us. We study to know the limits of His revealed truths and doctrines so that we can proclaim His gospel to the nations and tell of all His excellencies in all He has accomplished and declare the greatness of His power and wisdom. We search out His revealed commands so that we can joyfully strive to match our obedience to His holy demands and so walk in a manner worthy of the gospel. The disciple delights in all that the Lord has revealed.

But there are limits. Beyond what the Lord has revealed are “the secret things.” Our knowledge is limited like the waves of the sea in Job – The LORD “prescribed limits for it and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed (Job 38:10-11).’” Just so, God has placed limits on our knowledge. The Lord, He is God and is beyond our comprehension. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:9).” “O, the depths of the riches, both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways (Romans 11:33)!” His glory is infinitely greater than He has revealed to us. His wrath against sin is infinitely more furious than He has revealed. His mercy, demonstrated in the death of the Lord Jesus Christ, is infinitely deeper than He has revealed. His power, which is displayed in His creation (Romans 1:20) and which He manifested in raising Christ from the dead (Ephesians 1:19-20), is infinitely mightier than He has revealed. God is infinitely higher than us, infinitely greater than us. He is so very “other” from us, and yet He has chosen to reveal to us not only the truths and the commands of His Word, but He has also chosen to reveal Himself to us and to call us into a relationship with Himself and to give Himself to us for us to enjoy forever.

What, then, do we do with “the secret things” that belong to God and are not available to us? We trust the God to whom these “secret things” belong. There are unknowns to us. There are “secret things” that we cannot know. But there is nothing that God does not know. So, we entrust the control of the “secret things” to Him who sent His only Son into the world to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10) and who found us.

SDG                 rmb                 11/10/2020

He set His face to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51)

The plan that had been established in eternity past and that had been necessitated by Adam’s sin and by every sin since Adam’s first sin was reaching its climax. The Lord Jesus Christ had entered time and space at Bethlehem and had been anointed for ministry and was displaying His glory in His ministry on earth. But now there had occurred a critical shift in direction, for now Jesus was headed for Jerusalem.

When the days drew near for Him to be taken up, He set His face to go to Jerusalem. – Luke 9:51

            All the preliminary details had been accomplished and the preparation was done. Now Jesus’ face was set, and Jerusalem was His goal, and there was nothing in heaven or on earth that was going to prevent Him from reaching His goal. And what awaited Him in Jerusalem? Was He going to be crowned king and begin to reign? Oh, no. He was inexorably, irresistibly going to Jerusalem because a Roman cross awaited Him there. He set His face to go to Jerusalem so He could be “rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised (Luke 9:22).” His goal was Jerusalem because He knew that He had to die as a substitutionary sacrifice for the sins of His people, and He was the chosen sacrifice. And so, Jesus decisively set His face.

            Everything about Jesus displayed His authority and His holiness, but I wanted to make three observations about this part of His earthly ministry.

  1. Jesus was crystal clear on His mission. He knew what He was and what He was not to accomplish. There was no ambiguity in His mind, no waffling or wavering. Having a definite target on which to focus enabled Him to avoid distraction. There was a cross for Him in Jerusalem, and His mission was to reach it, and the rest was just noise.
  2. Jesus had unflinching resolve. Knowing the goal, Jesus made the commitment to reach that goal. Regardless of the cost or the difficulty of the path, Jesus was directing all His energies toward that goal.
  3. Jesus had confident trust in His Father. The Father had created the plan and the Father had called Jesus to accomplish this part of the plan. Jesus trusted that the Father would be with Him and would guide Him and provide for Him until He had fulfilled the mission. He trusted in God’s sovereign control of all things to bring about the desired end.

APPLICATIONS

            What can we learn from our Lord for our daily challenges?

  1. Be clear on my mission. Having a clear purpose and mission is a great help in directing our energies and activities. We are not going to be the savior of the world, but God has called us for a purpose and for a mission. What is my mission? Why am I here? Clarity on your mission will help you focus and avoid distraction.
  2. Resolve to press on and persevere. The best way to persevere is simply to resolve to not quit. All paths have monotony and difficulty, but a determination to continue and to persevere will make you an overcomer. “One thing I do; forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14).”
  3. Trust the Lord. If the Lord has called you to Himself, then He has adopted you as His child. He is for you. “If God be for us, who can be against us (Romans 8:31)?” He is with you. “I will never leave you or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5).” The Bible is a book of the Lord’s faithfulness to His people. He is trustworthy. In the midst of the battle or in the midst of the calm, we can trust His sovereign control of all things to bring about His desired end.

SDG                 rmb                 11/4/2020

Living in the present with Joseph (Genesis 50:19-20)

My last post was about living in the present moment so that we can maximize our enjoyment of the Lord and can give ourselves away for the blessing of others. If I am dwelling in the past and lamenting things that cannot be changed, or if I am fearing the future and fixating on the threats that might come, then I am not living in the present. And the present is the only place where I can live and be faithful to my calling (Ephesians 4:1) and accomplish the works the Lord has given me to do (Ephesians 2:10).

In this post I wanted to further explore this idea of living in the present by looking at some biblical pictures of this and asking, “So, what do I do with my past? How do I handle thoughts and feelings about my past? Do I just pretend those things never happened?”

TWO ASPECTS OF THE PAST: MY OWN SINS AND THOSE OF OTHERS

It occurs to me that there are two aspects of our past that can prevent us from living fully in the present. First, there are my own sins and failures. There are the things that I have said and done in violation and rebellion against God’s moral Law and have thus wounded others, and these things now bring me the pain of shame and guilt and regret. How can I ever remove these black marks from my past when the sins are committed, and the words are said and cannot be taken back and are etched in history’s stone? Who will set me free from this guilt and shame (Romans 7:24)? The good news of Jesus Christ answers this question, because most of what the Bible has to say about our past and about how we are to deal with our past is focused on this aspect of our past. The Bible declares that, “Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool (Isaiah 1:18).” The Bible proclaims that, because the Lord Jesus Christ died on Calvary’s cross, your sins can be forgiven and your guilt and shame can be removed if you will place your faith in Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior. The gospel, and only the gospel, offers forgiveness, full and free, from all your sins and failures (John 8:36).  

But the second aspect of our past that can prevent us from living in the present is the things that have been done to us by others. This second aspect has to do with dealing with how others have wounded and harmed us. People can often be thoughtless, and they can be intentionally cruel, and they can inflict deep and long-lasting damage to us. But regardless of who or how the damage is done, we are the ones who must mend and forgive and untangle and resolve and defang these deep pains from our past. These kinds of wounds can stay with us a long time and can leave us trapped in the wreckage of the past. How do we deal with this part of our past? How are we able to bury these specters from the past so that we can live and flourish in the present?

JOSEPH RECEIVED CRUEL AND EVIL TREATMENT, AND YET . . .

            Joseph was the favorite son of his father, Jacob. Then one day, while obeying his father’s instructions to find his ten older brothers (Genesis 37), his brothers conspired together to strip off his special coat and to throw him into a pit to die. Before they could kill Joseph, however, some slave traders come along, and the ten older brothers decide to sell Joseph to the slave traders heading to Egypt. When Joseph is gone, they dip his robe into goat’s blood and tell his father that he is dead. Meanwhile, as a slave in Egypt, Joseph is falsely accused and thrown into an Egyptian prison. Here is a man who should have been trapped by his past and by the evil that was done to him by others. Here is a man whose major hope for the future would be to get out of prison so he can take revenge on his brothers.

            But that is not what we find. Through God’s providence and God’s plan, Joseph is dramatically promoted from prison to the palace and is made second in charge to Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. And what does he do with the pain of his past?

MANASSEH AND EPHRAIM

            Pharaoh gives Joseph a wife and through her, Joseph has two sons. He names the firstborn Manasseh, for “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house (Genesis 41:51).” The name of the second he called Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction (41:52).” Joseph is able to break free of the poison of his past because he focuses on what God is doing, and he focuses on God’s goodness. It is as if he says, “Yes, people can be cruel and evil, but God is good and I will rejoice in Him and I will trust Him to run His universe as He sees fit.” Joseph could have remained trapped in the past, bitter and vengeful and blaming others for his pain, but he chooses instead to trust the Lord and to live in the present and to do today what God has commanded him to do today.

RECONCILES WITH HIS BROTHERS

            What will Joseph do with his feelings toward his brothers? How can he ignore the hateful evil that they did to him, throwing their own brother in a pit and then selling him off to slave traders? But even in this Joseph will not be a slave to his past. He will not be trapped in the pit of self-pity or in the chains of revenge. Instead, when he finally confronts his brothers, the men who robbed him of his home and of the peacefulness of his youth, he says, “And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life (Genesis 45:5).” Joseph knows the God is the one who used the evil deeds of his brothers to preserve life in Egypt. God is the one in control. and God is good. God has made Joseph lord of all Egypt (45:9). Joseph focuses on God and is thus able to escape the slavery to his past. So, Joseph chooses to forgive his brothers and not to hold them under his judgment, and thus is able to live and love in the present. At the end of this scene, Joseph “kissed his brothers and wept on them, and afterward his brothers talked with him (45:15).”

CONFESSION OF SIN AND FORGIVENESS AT LAST

            Joseph has been freed from his past, and he has forgiven his brothers’ sins against him, but because his brothers have never admitted (confessed) their evil to Joseph and have never asked for his forgiveness, they remained trapped in the past. They remain fearful that Joseph may some day remember the evil that they have done to him and may take revenge. But finally, the brothers, too, are set free from the evil that they did to Joseph. “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, for they did you wrong (Genesis 50:17).” Joseph responds to their request for forgiveness by weeping, as all the evil of the past and its pain finally rolls away, and he says, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good to preserve many people alive (Genesis 50:19-20).”

FORGETTING THE PAST SO WE CAN FULLY LIVE IN THE PRESENT

            By fixing his focus on God, and not on the evil deeds of men, Joseph is able to move past his past, so that he can fully live in the present. The Lord has given him the ability to forgive his brothers so he can forget their cruelty to him. He thus forgets what lies behind, so that he can be free to embrace what lies ahead (Philippians 3:12-14). When we focus on the Lord and His goodness, we remove from our past the power to enslave us and we can joyfully live in the present.

SDG                 rmb                  10/1/2020

Ever in the present (Exodus 3:14-15)

The LORD, the one true and living God, is eternally in the present. That is what the Bible teaches and what the LORD declares about Himself. All events take place in the present for the LORD because He exists beyond time. He is aware of time, for He is the One who created time, but He is not bound by time, so He does not live within time.

I AM WHO I AM

In Exodus 3:14, when Moses asked His name, God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. Say to the people, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” Then God told Moses that His name was “the LORD.” The word that we have in Hebrew for God’s name is “YHWH,” which is connected with the Hebrew verb “to be.” The point is that even God’s name declares that God is always in the present. He did not say, “I WAS,” or even “I WILL BE,” but He proclaimed “I AM.” For God, all the events of His universe occur in the present. “I AM WHO I AM.”

JESUS IS THE ETERNALLY PRESENT ONE

In John 8, when Jesus was being challenged about His identity and about His claims to deity, He said to the Jews, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM (John 8:58).” The Jews picked up stones to stone Jesus because they understood that Jesus was claiming to be YHWH. Jesus was claiming to be the ever-present One for whom everything is in the present. Jesus did not say, “Before Abraham was, I was.” That would not have angered the Jews, but it may have confused them. Ah, but when Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I AM,” there was no question what Jesus was claiming. Jesus was claiming to be YHWH, the great “I AM.”

JESUS MODELED FOR US WHAT IE MEANS TO LIVE IN THE PRESENT

In Jesus, we see the unique combination of eternal deity entering time and space and intentionally being subject to the ravages of time and even subject to the experience of death. While Jesus lived on this earth, He had a mission to accomplish (Matthew 16:21; 17:22-23; 20:17-19 – and parallels; also John 17:4), which involved Him being delivered over to evil men who hated Him and then being crucified on a Roman cross. Jesus understood in the fullest possible terms exactly what His mission required, and yet at no point in His ministry does He dwell on the cross. Instead, Jesus remains always in the present moment.

For example, in Mark 10:32, “they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed.” The crowds are going up to Jerusalem so that Jesus can be arrested and crucified. There is no one who is more aware of what is shortly to take place than Jesus. He knows every lash from the whips, and He knows the spit that will drip down His face, and He knows the blows He will feel. He knows the mocking He will endure. He knows the nails that will rip into His flesh. He knows that, as He bears all the sins of His people, He will be abandoned by His Father. He knows the words that He is to say from the cross to fulfill the prophecies of His crucifixion. He knows all this perfectly. But now is not the time for that. Now is the time to walk up the mountain to Jerusalem, so He walks on ahead of the crowd. Now is the time to stop and have mercy on Bartimaeus, and to give him back his sight. Now is the time to call Zacchaeus down from the sycamore tree so He can go to be a guest in his house. Now is the time to ride the colt into Jerusalem. Now is the time to baffle the religious leaders with parables, and to tell His disciples about His return, and to have a final supper with His apostles. In all these events, Jesus is fully in the moment, fully present, completely trusting what is to happen in the future into the hands of His Father. Even though the horrors of the cross drew steadily closer, Jesus remained in the present moment, perfectly obeying the Father’s every commandment.

As in everything He does, here also Jesus, as the perfect Man, models for us how we are to live for the glory of God in this fallen world. Jesus lives in the present moment and entrusts His future into the hands of His Father. Just so, we are also to strive to live in the present moment and entrust our future into the hands of the Father.

HOW THE DISCIPLE IS TO LIVE IN THE PRESENT

            PRINCIPLE/THEORY: The more we live in the present, the more we live like the Lord. This is based on the idea that because Jesus lived in the present, He has shown us that we are to live in the present. This keeps us in the middle of the “trust zone.”

            When I am dwelling in the past, I am often dwelling in the place of sin and shame and failure that cannot be changed. While there can certainly be pleasant memories from the past, most often if we are living in the past we are living with regret or with guilt that holds us prisoner and that robs us of present peace and contentment and joy.

            On the other hand, when I am living in the future, I am living in a place that does not exist and I am distracted from giving my energy and my attention to what is here and now. More than that, because we live in a fallen world, the future often evokes fear and dread. Often our future skies are full of dark clouds and whirling tornadoes as threats of loss loom large.

            So, how am I to live in the present, in the so-called “trust zone” with Jesus, when I am haunted by my past and frightened of the future?

THE ANSWER IS THE GOSPEL

            The answer is that I am to believe in the Lord Jesus and trust Him.

            What do I do to forget the past and to stop dwelling on the sorrows and wounds of the past? Practically, I will rest in the Lord and trust Him with my past, knowing that He has sovereignly ordained all the events of my past for His perfect purposes to produce the man He wants me to become. I will forget what lies behind (in the past), and strain forward to what lies ahead (in the present) and press on toward the goal (Philippians 3:13-14).

            How can I overcome my fears and doubts about the future, especially in our present time when there are threats on all sides? Practically, I will trust the Lord with my future, because the Lord has declared that there will never be a time in the future when He will not be with me (“I will never leave you or forsake you (Joshua 1:5).”) “The LORD is with me like a dread Champion (Jeremiah 20:11).” “If God is for us, who can be against us (Romans 8:31)?”

CHRIST HAS FREED ME FROM SINS IN THE PAST AND FEAR OF DEATH IN THE FUTURE

            But the ultimate answer is that I will live in the present, secure in the fact that Christ’s death on the cross has erased the sins of my past and His resurrection has removed the threat of death in the future. (John 11:25-26; Romans 4:25; 1 Corinthians 15:54-55; Hebrews 2:14-15) This glorious reality allows me to live in the present, in the middle of the “trust zone” with Jesus. SDG                 rmb                 9/24/2020

More thoughts on Ecclesiastes 11

Back on August 31 I had posted an article about Ecclesiastes 11:1-4, “Casting bread upon the waters.” I have some more thoughts about that may be helpful and encouraging. This post will be not so much a single article but a collection of related thoughts.

The key words that come to mind in Ecclesiastes 11 are risk, stewardship, loss, trust the Lord, wisdom, contentment. The context of Ecclesiastes 11 can easily be adopted to wisdom about investing.

Regarding risk: Is risk different for a Christian? That is, does Christ make a difference in our view of risk? I think that the answer should be an unqualified “yes.” Perceived risk is directly related to trust in the Lord and to stewardship.

Stewardship is a word used mostly by Christians. Stewardship relates to how well my resources (primarily monetary, but they could also be time and talents) are being used for the purposes that Christ would approve.

CHANGED DEFINITIONS

            Since I have become a Christian, I find that even the definition of words related to money have changed. PROSPERITY: Prosperity has been dramatically redefined. Before I was a believer, “prosperity” was an entirely material word. It was about what was going on “under the sun.” More was always better. There was little regard for quality, because what I was measuring was dollars, and there is no “quality” for dollars. It’s about quantity. But now, prosperity is much more about pleasing the Lord. I am prosperous when my life is being lived in a way that is pleasing to the Lord.

            My monetary goals change as I grow as a Christian. Before I was a Christian, it was all and only about greed and about keeping score with dollars. The only goal was wealth and it was easy to keep score: He who dies with the most money wins. It was like Monopoly for adults. Since the objective was clear, the means for achieving the objective were clear and few. My peace, my contentment, my feeling of satisfaction, how well I was serving others, and so on were not considerations that deserved much attention.

            Hoarding money, which would have been a potential strategy for achieving my greed goal, reveals fear and distrust. I hoard money because I am afraid that if I don’t, I will not have enough. A hoarder has no confidence or trust in the giver of the goods. A hoarder feels the need to rely upon themselves.

            Saving money can be either a response to fear or an act of wise stewardship, and it can be difficult to detect the difference. If “saving” continues when there is more than ample resources available (Give us THIS DAY our daily bread), saving has become hoarding and it reveals a low level of trust in the Lord.

            Perhaps the action that shows the most spiritual maturity is an attitude of “godly spending.” Money is simply a conduit for bringing good things to others. It must be remembered that money is only good in its use.

GENEROSITY

            We can be generous with our resources because we have been promised prosperity by the God who sovereignly controls the universe. We can be generous because our trust is in the sovereign Lord, who loves us and has given us His promises. We can be generous because the Lord who controls all things makes a distinction between His people and the rest. The LORD delights in His people, and so His people have an enormous advantage. Because we have placed our faith in Christ, we can have confidence in an uncertain world. Faith in Christ entitles me to embrace the Lord’s precious and magnificent promises.

            The beginning of wisdom is THE FEAR OF THE LORD.

            Progress in wisdom flows from TRUST IN THE LORD.

IT IS SAFER TO TAKE RISKS

Because we have already died (Colossians 3:3), we should have no fear of death.

Jesus says that we can never die (John 11:25-26). Thus, what do we have to lose.

The heroes of the Bible consistently take risks because they trust the LORD. Some of these risks are much more than outrageous. Gideon reduced his army from 30,000 to 300. David went up against Goliath with no sword, no shield, and no armor bearer, yet he was victorious because the LORD was with him. In Exodus 14, the LORD commands Moses to put the people of Israel in the place of maximum risk, then the LORD demolished Pharaoh and the Egyptian army.

In Numbers 14, the children of Israel refused to go into the land from Kadesh-Barnea because they feared the people of Canaan. Thus, they rebelled against the LORD and despised His provision. The consequence was that everyone from that generation fell dead in the wilderness wanderings.

Jeremiah was constantly threatened by his peers and by the kings who reigned while he prophesied, yet Jeremiah did not back down or shrink back. He declared, “The LORD is with me like a Dread Champion (Jeremiah 20:11).” If we have that same God giving us the same promises that He gave Jeremiah, why would we be any less bold than Jeremiah? This applies to our entire lives, including our perception of risk.

Finally, the LORD ALWAYS makes a distinction between His people and the rest. The LORD has promised to do us good. Psalm 1:3 gives us the promise that “everything that he does will prosper,” but if nothing is done, how can the LORD prosper the venture?

SDG                 rmb                 9/4/2020

Walking a Darker Path (Mark 10:32-33)

My walk with Christ easily lends itself to the analogy of a path. That path began in late 1990 when I came to Christ from a very non-Christian worldview and found myself suddenly following Christ.

Much of my walk with the Lord has been pleasant and many days have been spent strolling through meadows or climbing through forest glades on well-marked, smooth paths. As the Lord effortlessly strides ahead, I struggle to keep up, occasionally stumbling over a rock or a root. When I lag too far behind, He stops and looks back waiting for me, always smiling, always patient, always encouraging. Thus He and I have spent many idyllic days in sweet fellowship, and thus over time He has taught me about His ways and has taught me how to walk, and thus I have gradually gotten stronger and better able to follow Him. I have seen His power and His faithfulness, and my trust in Him has become more sure.

This trust and increased strength are important, because the Lord knows, and I know, that my path will not always meander through pleasant meadows. There have been times in the past, and there will be times in the future, when the character of the path changes. There are times when, for His perfect purposes and for my deeper discipleship, the Lord needs to lead me into a darker, dangerous place.

I sense that I am now entering such a time and following Him toward such a place, and I feel that there are many others in this decaying world who are feeling the same thing. For the past two or three years or so, the Lord has led me past alpine lakes and through hardwood and hemlock forests, but now, as I peer up ahead, the landscape seems much more barren. Towering thunderhead clouds loom, billowing up to obscure the sun and rumbling their foreboding tune. The path is beginning to drop steeply and to narrow, becoming harder to follow. Rocks, prominent and jagged, threaten the sides of the trail. A gloomy dusk has cloaked the scene, making it harder to see where to walk. There in front of me is the Lord, still leading, still smiling and still patient, but His looks back to me are now more frequent, wanting to make sure that I am staying close. Does He sense my reluctance to follow Him into the darkness? Does He know my fear? And now it has become clear that the Lord is, in fact, leading me into a season of a darker path as He beckons me down into the foggy chasm.

What, then, is the believer to do when the path becomes treacherous and when the Lord leads us toward the edge of a murky chasm? As I walk with the Lord, there are some basic things to do to make sure I stay on the path.

  • Consider Jesus’ example of fearless obedience to His Father’s plan. Jesus’ entire life was one of suffering. He was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3).” He knew what it was to walk a dark path. In Mark 10:32-33, the Bible says:
    • And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, He began to tell them what was to happen to Him, saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn Him to death and deliver Him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock Him and spit on Him and flog Him and kill Him. And after three days He will rise.”

When I consider that I am going to walk a dark and difficult path, I need to remember and keep my eyes on the Lord Jesus (Hebrews 12:2). In Mark 10, as they go up to Jerusalem, He is the only one who knows EXACTLY what awaits Him there. The Lord is beginning the walk to the cross. He knows with certainty that mocking and scourging and crucifixion await Him and yet He is walking ahead of the crowd. Since my Lord accepted this darkest of all possible paths and persevered, so I need to accept whatever path the Lord leads me down and persevere to the end.

  • As Jesus trusted and obeyed His heavenly Father and accomplished His work (John 17:4), so I need to trust and obey the Lord and accomplish the work He has given me to do (Ephesians 2:10).
  • Regardless of the darkness of the path, the Lord is with me. He has sworn that He will never leave me of forsake me (Hebrews 13:5; Joshua 1:5).
  • Regardless of the darkness of the path, the Lord is the one leading me. The path on which I am traveling may seem dark and difficult, and I may not know the short-term destination, but I know and trust the One leading me. The Lord is trustworthy, and He has sovereignly chosen this path for me, and He is leading me along it. Regardless of the nature of the path, because of the One who has chosen this path for me, I can trust that this is the perfect path.

SDG                 rmb                 7/24/2020

You Knew My Path (Psalm 142:3)

            There is a scene from the original “Star Wars” movie (1977) that sticks in my mind. All the living heroes of the movie (Luke, Leah, Han Solo and Chewbaka) have temporarily escaped from the battle with the storm troopers by ducking into a convenient trash bin. Their relief from escaping the battle is short-lived, however, because the trash bin becomes a trash compactor and threatens to doom them to a nasty death by crushing.

            While this may not be a perfect analogy, there are times in life when we all feel like we are in this situation. Part of the human experience is the feeling that we are small and weak and that the threats against us are big and gnarly. We have exhausted all our cleverness in escaping our adversaries, only to end up in a sloppy, scummy trash bin just as the maintenance crew decides to activate the compactor. In that moment we realize that we have been outmatched by the challenges that life has presented to us. And the question is, “What do you do then?” To whom do you cry out when life has overwhelmed you and your carefully laid plans have collapsed, when your friends have failed you and there seems to be no escape for you? Where can you find hope and confidence? In Psalm 142, David is in that place, and we will find in this psalm patterns and strategies for how to respond from the midst of the intergalactic trash compactor.

            This study of Psalm 142 will focus only on the first half of verse 3:

“When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, You knew my path.” (NAS Bible)

            Since we have dropped into the middle of the psalm, it would be good to get a little context. Although the nature of David’s trouble is not clear, it is obvious that the shepherd-king is in distress and may have been in distress for a while. Here in Psalm 142:3, David says that “his spirit is overwhelmed within him.” I read this as meaning both his soul and his body are exhausted. He has tried to maintain his courage, but the setbacks keep on coming. Like a surfer caught in the midst of a series of big waves, he is losing the fight to catch his breath. As soon as he fights his way to the surface, another wave of water crashes down. Fear and fatigue are towering over him, and he is overpowered. He is outmatched. “When my spirit was overwhelmed within me . . .” What is David’s source of hope?

            The last four words of Psalm 142:3a are “You knew my path.” These four words are critically important to the child of God who is feeling overwhelmed by the incessant challenges of life.

“You, O LORD, knew my path.”

            David expresses the confidence that every believer can have, that the LORD is personally aware of and concerned with our every trial and overwhelming circumstance. The LORD knows my path, and He knows your path. The NAS Bible renders the Hebrew verb in the past tense, “knew.” In this case, the past tense is much stronger than the present tense. The LORD KNEW my path in eternity past, before the creation of the world, and then He brought my “path” into existence according to His perfect plan. He personally ordained it to be. “You knew my path” means that the LORD has led me into this situation, the LORD is personally with me in the midst of it, and the LORD already knows every detail of the outcome. “You knew my path” means that the LORD has His personal fingerprints on every detail of every circumstance of my life, making sure that exactly this circumstance unfolds exactly this way so that all things work together for good (Romans 8:28) and so that I am conformed more into the image of Christ (8:29).

REFLECTION

            In the book of “Job,” we read that “man is born for trouble as the sparks fly upward (5:7).” Our Lord Jesus Himself said that “each day has enough trouble of its own (Matt. 6:34)” and “in this world you will have tribulation (John 16:33).” The Bible speaks truth about life on earth after sin enters the world, and it is a life of effort and setback and difficulty. Of course, it is not ALL trial and difficulty, but we must have a sober expectation that overwhelming times will come so that we are not defeated when we meet the first opposing waves.

            In light, then, of the inevitability of trials, what can we do as followers of Jesus that will make a difference in our lives? First, when we are feeling overwhelmed by the trials of life, we can have confidence that the Lord who guided us into the trial is with us in the storm and will guide us out to our safe haven (Psalm 107:30). Remember, “the LORD knew my path.” Each trial thus becomes an opportunity to increase our trust in the Lord and to anticipate His faithfulness.

            Second, it is in trials that the Lord proves His power to deliver us. God has already accomplished the most powerful act of deliverance imaginable when He delivered us from our sin and condemnation and raised us up in salvation through our faith in the completed work of Christ on the cross. Having already demonstrated His power in giving us eternal deliverance, He is more than able to come to our help for temporal deliverance. What I mean is this: The Lord will deliver those who cry out to Him. Nothing is too difficult for Him (Jeremiah 32:17). Your trial may be overwhelming to you, but to the One who called the universe into existence ex nihilo and who raised Jesus from the dead (Ephesians 1:19-20), the trial is completely under His feet. In fact, if my thinking is correct on this, the Lord brings trials into our lives SO THAT He can rescue us when we cry to Him. “The LORD knew my path,” so He knew how He was going to deliver me. SDG                 rmb                  7/3/2020

1 Peter 5:7 Casting All Your Anxiety on Him – Part 4

In this brief verse, Peter gives profound instruction to the disciple of Jesus Christ for dealing with anxiety in their life. This is the fourth in a series of blogs exploring anxiety and then applying Peter’s instruction to every believer’s everyday life.

“casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.”

We have seen that anxiety is “the ongoing fear and emotional distress and unease felt in response to some perceived threat, whether real or imaginary.” In our last study, we began looking at four broad practical strategies that will help lead to victory over anxiety, and we had examined the first one, the strategy of disciplining our thoughts. In this study, we will address the second of our four strategies, namely:

PRAYER AND CONFESSION OF FEAR

Key verses: Philippians 4:6-7; “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, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Key concept: When the disciple feels even the beginnings of anxiety, he/she must bring that concern before the Lord with prayer and supplication, so that the Lord’s peace will replace the anxiety. Develop the reflex that worry is a stimulus to immediate confession of fear and earnest prayer.

Prayer is such a powerful weapon for the disciple of Jesus Christ and part of “casting our anxiety on the Lord” is having the readiness to pray about those things that are causing anxiety. Notice here in these two verses (Phil. 4:6-7) that there are two commands followed by a promise. First Paul commands that the disciple “be anxious for nothing.” Yes, that is a command from an apostle. Then Paul commands the disciple to make his/her requests known to God through prayer and supplication. If that is done, the disciple is promised that the peace of God will come upon them. So how are these ideas turned into a strategy?
It seems to me that the first step is for me to become aware of my anxiety. Life is going along smoothly and then some threat rears its ugly head and I suddenly notice my anxiety rising. That threat could be a “real” threat (job loss, physical danger, scary diagnosis, major negative change in my world, a potential major expense) or it could be something that I perceive to be a threat to my peace and tranquility, something that I cannot control and that could turn out badly, but whatever the case, my anxiety level rises. So first I sense that loathsome feeling and I recognize and admit to myself that I am experiencing worry. “My anxiety is rising.” I acknowledge, I confess (a good biblical word) my fear and anxiety to myself and to the Lord. Next it is helpful to identify what is causing the anxiety. Specifically, what is it? What is the exact threat that is causing my anxiety to rise? These two steps are necessary because they place me in the best position to attack the anxiety with prayer. I have admitted to myself that I am anxious about something and am therefore in need of a power greater than my own, and I have identified the offending threat so that my prayers can be focused on demolishing the anxiety by bringing that threat before the Lord.

This is a good place to remind the disciple of Jesus of the need to always and often be diligent and persistent in prayer so that heaven is familiar with your voice. The time to learn prayer and to begin to cry out to the Lord is not when disaster is bearing down on your life or when the cruise ship of your life has struck an iceberg. It is wise to be skilled in prayer so that this tool in the spiritual armor is readily pulled from the sheath. Your knees should not be unfamiliar with the floor and your voice should be often heard before the throne of grace. In this way, when the time comes to bring your anxiety and your fear before the King, there will be no reluctance, no stuttering, no hesitation.

Once we have confessed our fear and identified what it is that is causing the anxiety, now the warfare of prayer begins in earnest. Our goal is that, by following the apostolic instructions given in Philippians 4:6, we arrive at the peace of God promised in Phil. 4:7. In our prayer, we are employing the means of destroying our anxiety by bringing our mind to accept and believe and dwell in the truth that, “If God is for us, who (or what) can be against us (Romans 8:31)?” This prayer will be war, since the enemy who brought the fearful thought into your mind at the first will continue to remind of that thought as you seek to reject it, but our weapons are stronger (2 Cor. 10:3f; 1 John 4:4)) and our dread Champion (Jeremiah 20:11) is always victorious. Begin this time of prayer, then, by praising the Lord for His might, for His goodness, for His promises, and for His love for you (Isaiah 12:2). Fear does not cohabit well with praise and with rejoicing. Praise the Lord until you are convinced that He is with you and that He is for you. Now bring the specific fear out into the light and present it before the Lord. “Here, Lord, is what is causing me fear and anxiety.” (Consider Hezekiah in Isaiah 37:14ff in a situation that was genuinely threatening.) At this point you might be comparing the threat that is causing your fear with the power of your Lord and Savior, the One who spoke the universe into existence and who sovereignly controls its every action and feel that maybe your threat is not so scary after all, but this exercise of prayer should continue until the anxiety is fully vanquished. Bring the threat into the light and then cast it onto the Lord, as Peter says you should (1 Peter 5:7). The Lord will receive your anxiety and will carry it away. He will accept your fear from you, if you will give Him your trust. Pray in this manner until your anxiety has been replaced with the “peace that passes all comprehension.” Know that the Lord may or may not take away whatever real threats confront you, but He will remove your anxiety if you will trust Him and if you cry out to Him for His aid. (Psalm 34:4 – The Lord will deliver you from all your fears.)

The next blog will continue our process of casting our anxiety on Him with some more strategies for gaining peace.

SDG            rmb             3/25/2017

Trust in the Storm – Part 1 (Mark 4:35-41)

Jesus said to His disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” With that, the disciples set off across the lake and head into a ferocious storm. As the waves are breaking over the boat and filling it with water, the Lord Jesus is asleep in the stern of the boat. Here we see Jesus as the perfect example of trust, that, while he is in mortal danger of drowning in the lake, He so trusts His heavenly Father that He can sleep in the storm.

What I want to do with a short series of blogs is first to examine the trust demonstrated by Jesus Christ and understand in a new and deeper way the greatness and the perfection of our Savior, the God-Man Jesus Christ. But then I also want to explore ways that we, too, can become people who trust the Lord, even in the midst of storms that may threaten our lives. Since Jesus is our perfect example of trust, we must learn how to live by faith and walk by trust in the Lord in the midst of all our circumstances so that we walk as Jesus walked. A disciple is one who is growing in trust of the Lord.

Jesus, Our Example: Perfect Trust in the Storm

As Mark’s gospel account of the life of Jesus unfolds, it quickly becomes apparent that this Jesus is no ordinary person. While His voice is an ordinary human voice, the authority of His words come forth with unquestioned power. His words are certain and uncompromising and pure. They ring with the truth of heaven. He commands demons and they instantly obey. He dispels disease and death with a word or a touch. He has supreme confidence in Himself without the slightest hint of self-consciousness. His disciples hang on His every word and begin to believe that He may be the promised Messiah. And so when He says they are going to the other side of the lake (Mark 4:35), they eagerly hop in the boats and begin sailing and rowing toward the other shore.

When the boat has left shore far behind and the Master has fallen asleep in the stern of one of the little boats, “a fierce gale of wind” arises and begins to threaten the lives of all the men in the boats, including the Lord Jesus Himself. Make no mistake about the circumstances – the lake is deep and the disciples are far from shore. They are completely vulnerable and the situation is definitely life-threatening. You know that things are dire when the fishermen in the boat, who have fished this lake all their lives, wake up the Carpenter and ask Him to do something. My trust wavers and my faith flags when I hear an unusual noise under the hood of my car or when my manager at work calls me into his office, but our Lord was so confident of His Father’s care that being in the midst of a hurricane in the middle of a deep lake in a tiny boat did not prevent Him from taking a nap. Jesus has perfect trust in His Father taking care of Him.

There are two things that I want to mention that aided Jesus in His trust in the Father’s protection in this life threatening situation. First Jesus knew all the promises of God which had been written in the Scriptures and He had every reason to believe that all the promises made to the righteous in the Word applied to Him. God would be His refuge and His fortress, His help in time of trouble. He could abide with safety in the shadow of the Almighty. God would answer Him in time of trouble. God would conceal Him in His tabernacle. God would deliver Him from the hand of the wicked. When Jesus passed through the waters, the LORD would be with Him and the rivers would not overflow Him. Jesus could trust the Father with these and many more promises.

But more significantly and more profoundly, Jesus could perfectly trust His heavenly Father with His life on the Sea of Galilee, because Jesus knew that He was not going to die on the lake in a storm. Jesus had been chosen by the Father and sent to earth to die on a cross in Jerusalem. His atoning, sacrificial death on the cross had been ordained before the foundation of the world and there was no possibility that Jesus, the suffering Servant and the Son of God, was going to die anywhere but on Calvary’s tree. The salvation of God’s elect and the completion of God’s redemptive plan and the propitiation of God’s wrath necessitated the sacrifice of the Lamb of God on the cross and there could be no deviation from that predetermined plan (Acts 2:23). Since that was the case, Jesus could trust that He was secure on the lake in the storm. No matter how ferocious the storm, Jesus knew that His time had not yet come. Jesus had a baptism to undergo (Luke 12:50) and He still had a bitter cup to drink (Mark 10:38) and the accomplishment of His appointed work (John 17:4) precluded any premature death in a boating accident.

So we see the glory of Jesus in His perfect trust in His heavenly Father. But how can we, as His disciples, follow in His steps and grow in our trust in the Lord so that we are not disturbed by life’s storms? That will be the subject of the next couple of blogs.

SDG     rmb     10/3/2016

Not Involved in Great Matters – Psalm 131:1

“I do not involve myself in great matters, nor in things too difficult for me.” Psalm 131:1

When a man or woman comes to the Lord in repentance and in faith and becomes a disciple of the Lord Jesus, they give the Lord a blank check for their life. With that blank check the disciple unreservedly commits to obey the Lord in everything He commands, to go wherever the Lord sends him/her and to do whatever the Lord asks him/her to do for the rest of their lives. It is certainly true that the disciple does not know what will be involved with their specific obedience and does not know all of what it will cost them to follow Jesus, but they give the Lord Jesus a blank check nevertheless and make their commitment to obey.

Now in the course of their discipleship journey, there will be many occasions when the disciple does not understand why the Lord is working out the details of their life in the way that He is doing or does not know the reasons why the Lord is calling him to do a particular thing. In fact, rarely is the disciple entrusted with an answer to the why questions. For example, in my own life I do not know what purpose was served by my three years in Russia and I can tend to think that my years there were a mistake and that I wasted that time. It is in those times that I must remember Psalm 131:1, which says, “I do not involve myself in great matters, nor in things too difficult for me.” The Lord called me to go to Russia. Of that I am sure, and that is enough. I obeyed His call and did the best I could with the time that I had there. I tried to learn the language and share the gospel with Russians. But ultimately why I was there is not my concern. I was there to glorify God with my life and to obey His calling on my life. The details beyond that are “too difficult for me.” Those details are above my pay grade and I am not to concern myself with these “great matters.” Instead of regretting that time as if it was a mistake, I rest in the fact that the Lord knows all the reasons for all things and He will work out the details.

What are other examples of “involving myself in great matters or in things too difficult for me”? Often these are areas of life where I want to have sight and the Lord commands me to trust Him without sight. When I was 46 years old and peacefully enjoying my simple life as a bachelor, the Lord called me to marry a widow with three children. The Lord said, “Roy, marry Lisa.” Just a simple command without explanation. “Lord, You have the wrong guy.” (So the Lord came to the wrong address and did not know who He was talking to??) “How will this turn out? Lord, do You realize how risky this is? A lot of people could get hurt in this if this doesn’t work.” All my questions about the future and about the outcome of this marriage betrayed a lack of trust in the Lord. And I plead guilty to that charge! But then I must realize that I gave the Lord a blank check on my life when I came to faith in Him. I told Him I would trust Him in all things and that I would obey Him no matter what He asked me to do. And I must make the decision daily “to not involve myself in great matters, nor in things too difficult for me.” Outcomes are not my concern. Outcomes are “great matters.” Outcomes are “things too difficult for me.” Hearing, trusting and obeying – those are things that I can do, but determining outcomes or answering why questions are above my pay grade. I am to leave those with the sovereign Lord and trust Him that He will work out those details in His own wisdom, for His glory, and for my good.

Sometimes I worry about the past. That is, I have a particular tendency within my personality that causes me to regret decisions I have made in the past and to feel that they were huge mistakes. When I do this, however, I am involving myself in great matters, contrary to Psalm 131:1. The Lord is sovereign and He takes full responsibility for leading His children and for determining outcomes. That is what it means to be sovereign God. When I regret something in the past, I hint that God did not control that outcome or that He didn’t intend that to work out for my good and His glory (contrary to Romans 8:28). By “involving myself in great matters, things too difficult for me,” I have discouraged and depressed myself and have dishonored the Lord. So based on Psalm 131:1, I will banish regret from my mind. (See also Philippians 3:13-14.)

Sometimes I worry about the future. That is, I am bent toward wondering if everything will be alright in the future. When I have these thoughts, I must again remember Psalm 131:1 and not “involve myself in great matters,” like how the world and my life are going to turn out in the future. Rather, I trust the Lord and obey what He has told me to do, which is consistent with the blank check I gave Him 25 years ago.

You and I are simple people and we are simply people. We have been given the humble task of obeying the word of the Lord and loving the Lord of the Word. If we do these things and do not concern ourselves with things too great for us (Psalm 131:1), we will be peaceful and blessed.  SDG rmb 12/31/2015