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Archive for October, 2019

 

Ask a church gathering, “What’s your favorite psalm?” and many folks will name #91 for its reminders of God’s goodness and power.

They’d be in good company. The great theologian, Charles Spurgeon wrote:

 

“In the whole collection there is not a more cheering psalm,

its tone is elevated and sustained throughout,

faith is at its best, and speaks nobly…

He who can live in its spirit will be fearless” (1).

 

That fearlessness would certainly be encouraged by the eight promises of verses 14-16:

 

 

Note that God promises:

Rescue, protection, and deliverance (vs. 14-15)—not from trouble, but through it. He does not promise a life of ease and bliss. However, “the only things faithful people can lose in suffering are things that are finally expendable” (2).

Answers to every prayer (v. 15)—answers that always reflect God’s perfect knowledge of all things, his wisdom and grace, even when the answer is wait, or even no.

His steadfast presence (v. 15)—“Few delights can equal the mere presence of one whom we trust utterly” (George MacDonald).

 

 

Salvation (v. 16)—“I have summoned you by name; you are mine,” God has said (Isaiah 43:1). We belong to him, purchased at an exorbitant price:  the precious blood of his own Son.

But upon first reading, one promise puzzled me, and another actually startled me.

First, the puzzle. In verse 16 God promises long life. And yet all of us have been devastated by lives cut short.  How are we supposed to interpret this promise?

With a long view into eternity.

Once we experience the glory of God and his heaven, we’ll no longer be concerned about the number of days any of us spent on earth. We’ll only delight in the fullness of God’s presence and all the eternal pleasures he’s prepared for us (Psalm 16:11).

 

 

And then there is the startling promise: that God will honor us (v. 15), as in confer special esteem, respect, and distinction with deferential regard (3).

But he’s the one who deserves honor. Our God is all-powerful, all-wise, all-knowing, omnipresent and eternal—to name a few of his attributes.  What could we possibly do to warrant his honor?

Not a thing. But scripture assures us: those who honor him he has chosen to honor in return (1 Samuel 2:30).

Imagine standing in the splendorous throne room of almighty God as he announces:

  • The removal of your filthy rages of sin, to be taken as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12)
  • The magnificent robes of His Son’s righteousness placed around your shoulders (Isaiah 61:10)
  • Your official standing as his child (Romans 8:15-17)

 

 

  • The privilege of companionship with him any time of day or night (Revelation 3:20)
  • Tasks to provide purpose and satisfaction in life (Ephesians 2:10)
  • Countless blessings to bestow joy and pleasure (Psalm 40:5)
  • Eternal life granted through his Son Jesus (1 John 5:11-12)

 

These honors and more are the extravagant expressions of God’s infinite love for you.

 

 https://www.azquotes.com/quote/1404884

 

An expanded excerpt from Ms. Smith increases the wonder:

 

Put together all the tenderest love you know,

The deepest you have ever felt,

And the strongest that has ever been poured out upon you,

And heap upon it all the love

Of all the loving human hearts in the world,

And then multiply it by infinity,

And you will begin, perhaps,

To have some faint glimpse of the love God has for you.”

–Hannah Whitall Smith

 

There are two caveats, however, presented in verse 14. These promises, including the conferral of God’s honor, are reserved for those who love him and acknowledge his name (affirm the reality of his attributes in their lives).

The psalmist is not talking about a warm, congenial feeling for God; he’s talking about a love put into action with trust and obedience.

 

 

As humans, our default mode is often self-reliance and independence. But what could be more sensible than to trust and obey One who is all-seeing and all-wise, who loves perfectly and honors lavishly?

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Oh, Father, how foolish I have been at times, willfully rebelling against your leadership.  May I choose daily the place of honor you’ve sacrificially prepared for me by loving you wholeheartedly, trusting you for guidance, provision, and protection, and following your wise ways.      

 

Notes:

  1. Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David
  2. Timothy Keller and Kathy Keller, The Songs of Jesus, Viking, 2015, p. 226 (emphasis added)
  3. Webster’s II New College Dictionary

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.flickr.com; http://www.canva.com (4); http://www.azquotes.com; http://www.pixhere.

 

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Jurgen Moltmann’s eyes searched the German forest for a glimpse of his fellow soldiers’ Nazi gray uniforms. Somehow he’d gotten separated from his unit and was now alone near the front lines.

Not far ahead he detected movement in the trees, then spotted a brown army jacket and the unmistakable shape of the other soldier’s helmet: British.

Moltmann made a split-second decision. He put his hands on top of his head, and walked toward the enemy. After a year and half of war, after enduring nightly bombing raids in Hamburg and witnessing the horrific deaths of friends, Moltmann decided he’d endured enough.

It wasn’t a war he believed in anyway. Hitler had cut short his education in 1943 when Moltmann’s whole class was assigned to the anti-aircraft batteries in Hamburg. He’d been just sixteen years old.

As he approached the British soldier, Moltmann thought, Being a POW can’t be worse than the war itself. But behind the barbed wire of the camp in Belgium he suffered horrific nightmares, felt unrelenting guilt for what his country had done, and collapsed into deep depression and hopelessness.

 

German prisoners, February 1944

 

Later Moltmann was transferred to Kilmarmock, Scotland, assigned to a POW road crew. Relentless rain drummed on their backs day after day. To and from the work site he and fellow prisoners rode in trucks—silent, with heads down near their knees. “It was a picture of real forsakenness,” Moltmann later recounted (1).

While in Scotland, a U.S. Army chaplain gave Moltmann a Bible, and out of boredom he started to read. In the book of Mark he encountered another Man who also knew forsakenness, and soon the young soldier came to believe in Christ.

The war ended in April of 1945 but at least 400,000 German prisoners were kept in the British camps, to be repatriated to their homeland one boatload at a time. Germany had been decimated; there weren’t enough places to live nor enough food to eat if all the prisoners were returned en masse.

 

 

In 1946, Moltmann was transferred to Norton Camp in Nottinghamshire, England, which the YMCA helped to run. Though still prisoners, the men were allowed to study education or theology.

Moltmann chose the latter, anxious to understand more of his newfound Christian faith. He took advantage of the large library and proffered lectures. He learned Hebrew and Greek.

Frank and Nellie Baker, a young pastor and his wife, served several small churches in the area. God gave them the desire to minister to the POWs of Norton Camp. With the commander’s permission, the couple took a prisoner home for dinner each Sunday after worship.

Moltmann was one of them. “The seed of hope was planted in my heart around Frank and Nellie Baker’s Sunday dinner table,” he said (2).

In 1947, he attended a Student Christian Movement conference. There he experienced reconciliation with young men and women who had fought for the Allies.

As a result of the forgiveness and increasing hope in his spirit, Moltmann decided to continue his study of theology once he returned to Germany, to better understand “the power of hope that had saved his life” (3).

 

 

Since Moltmann had been one of the last Germans captured, he was one of the last to be sent home, in 1948. By 1952, he had earned a doctorate degree and become pastor of the Evangelical Church of Bremen-Wasserhorst.

In subsequent years he taught theology at an academy (1958-1963), then Bonn University (1963-1967), and finally the University of Tubingen (1967-1994).

Moltmann also wrote forty-three books. The first, published in 1964, carried a highly appropriate title: The Theology of Hope. And today he is regarded as “one of the most significant theologians of the age” (4).

 

Jurgen Moltmann, March, 2016

 

But if it weren’t for hope, we’d surely not know of Jurgen Moltmann because “without hope one cannot live,” he wrote. “To live without hope is to cease to live. Hell is hopelessness. It is no accident that above the entrance to Dante’s hell is the inscription: ‘Leave behind all hope, you who enter here’” (Theology Of Hope).

 

https://www.azquotes.com/quote/843177

 

Moltmann’s transcending hope prospered in the war’s aftermath, even amidst the decimation, grief, and uncertainty, because he embraced what Christ offered him: resurrection hope.

“Hope finds in Christ not only a consolation in suffering, but also the protest of the divine promise against suffering. If Paul calls death the ‘last enemy’ (1 Cor. 15:26), then the opposite is also true: that the risen Christ, and with him the resurrection hope, must be declared to be the enemy of death” (Theology of Hope) (5).

That gleam of resurrection hope has now been shining through Jurgen Moltmann for over seventy years, impacting for eternity countless others.

We would do well to remember him, consider his way of life, and imitate his faith (Hebrews 13:7).

 

 

 

Notes:

  1. https://highprofiles.info/interview/jurgen-moltman/
  2. http://www.jacoblupfer.com/blog/2015/2/28/where-jurgen-moltmann-found-hope
  3. https://scienceandbelief.org/tag/norton-camp/
  4. https://www.christiantoday.com/article/liberation-and-hope-10-of-the-best-jurgen-moltmann-quotes/83599.htm
  5. https://ryandueck.com/2007/06/19/moltmann-on-hope/

 

Sources:

https://highprofiles.info/interview/jurgen-moltman/

www.jacoblupfer.com/blog

https://scienceandbelief.org/tag/Norton-camp/

https://spu.edu/depts/uc/response/spring2k8/features/wartime-blessings.asp

Grace Notes by Phillip Yancey, Zondervan, 2009, p. 116.

Volume 10, Tome 1, Kierkegaard’s Influence on Theology: German Protestant Theology, edited by Jon Stewart.

 

Photo credits:  http://www.needpix.com; http://www.flickr.com (2); http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.simple.m.wikimedia.org; http://www.az quotes.com; http://www.canva.com.

 

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(from https://quotefancy.com)

 

Heaven to our souls.

Sounds glorious, doesn’t it? No stress, no pain, no enigmas.

But on any given day, doubt and worry crowd heaven out:

  • When will God answer our prayer? And what if it’s not the answer we’re hoping for?
  • Where is God? Why doesn’t he come to our rescue?
  • Did I miss his guidance?

Such questions have plagued us all at sometime or other. But watch the saints of great faith. You’ll see men and women who demonstrate considerable confidence and assurance with negligible doubt and worry.

 

 

Their great faith isn’t just happenstance. Observe closely and you’ll note various habits of those saints—habits we’d do well to adopt:

To begin, Ask God for more faith. Such an obvious step; so easy to overlook. Yet it’s a request God surely delights to fulfill (1).

Affirm the truths and promises of the Bible. Soak up its wisdom, examples, and encouragement (2)—daily.

Pray about everything to ward off the worry. Write down requests, leaving room to record answers. As visible evidence of God’s faithfulness increases, so will our faith in him.

Twenty years ago I switched from using a prayer list to writing requests on 3 x 5s. They offer more room to note progress and resolutions when they come. I’ve kept the cards as concrete proof of God’s faithfulness.

Here’s the 3″ stack of answered prayers so far.  (Some cards contain multiple concerns and answers.):

 

 

Granted, God has not fulfilled every request to my preference. Instead, he did what was right, according to his infallible wisdom and far-reaching purpose (3)—and for that I’m most grateful.

Thank God—in advance—for his responses to prayer. “There is nothing that so fully solidifies faith as being so sure of the answer that you can thank God for it” (Rev. Charles Henry Parkhurst, 1842-1933).

In addition, praise God for his power at work, even though there’s no evidence yet (4).

 

 

Envision the outcome, perhaps something like this:

 It breaks our hearts, Father, to see _______________ suffer because of health issues, a dysfunctional family, and financial pressures. We put our hope in you, our Great Physician, the Prince of Peace, and the Lord who Provides. We look forward to the day when physical limitations are removed, family members respond to your Spirit, and miraculous provision eases her financial burden. We praise you in advance, knowing you are already at work to bless ________________.  Amen! 

Surround yourself with other believers in pursuit of great faith. “Iron sharpens iron” (5); faith-seekers sharpen faith-seekers–with their support, challenge, and encouragement.

 

 

Adopt faith-building practices. For example, post encouraging scriptures around the house. One useful spot is the bathroom mirror. While face-washing and teeth-brushing, recite faith-enhancing words from the Bible.

 

 

Expect your faith to be tested. Just as our physical bodies require strenuous exercise for optimum health, so does our faith. It’s the difficulties of life that provide it.

“Faith untried is simply a promise and a possibility,” said Oswald Chambers. “Tried faith is pure gold.”

~  ~  ~ ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~

These seven habits will produce great faith, which in turn bring heaven of the soul.

 And what might heaven of the soul include? Three elements make my short-list:

  • Peace

As we pour out our concerns in prayer, God pours in his peace—peace so profound it transcends all understanding (6).

 

 

  • Joy

Author and life coach Paul Sailhamer offers this definition of joy born out of great faith: “Joy is that deep settled confidence that God is in control of every area of my life.” Such joy provides rock-solid strength, not shaken by circumstances.

  • Optimism

People of great faith focus on the positive, affirm God will bring good out of every situation, and look forward with eager anticipation to see what God will do (7).

Imagine the interior of your soul filled with the ambiance of peace, the beauty of joy, and the golden light of optimism. Sound heavenly?

 

 

Great faith makes it happen.

 

What habits of faith-filled people have you noticed?  Or, what habits do you personally practice that build confidence in God?  Please share your observation/experience in the comment section below!

 

Notes:

  1. Matthew 21:22
  2. Romans 10:17
  3. Romans 11:33-36
  4. Hebrews 11:1
  5. Proverbs 27:17
  6. Philippians 4:6-7
  7. Philippians 4:8; Romans 8:28; Ephesians 3:20

 

Photo credits:  http://www.quotefancy.com; http://www.maxpixel.net; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.jble.af.mil; http://www.maxpixel.net; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.pxhere.com.

 

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“Here’s what I’ve been looking for!” My husband propped his walking stick against a forest tree and pulled from the underbrush a straight, stout branch about my height. With his pocketknife he whittled off several small branches and gifted me my own walking stick. “Try this, “ he coaxed. “It really helps.”

I’d been groaning through the incline portions of our hike in the Appalachian foothills. Yes, exercise and walking were part of my routine at home, but we lived in the flatlands of Florida at the time. The upward slopes of this footpath were causing my leg muscles to complain loudly.

What a surprising difference that branch made!  Swinging it ahead helped propel me forward. I felt more stable in the uneven and slippery places with the walking stick to provide balance.  And leaning into it as I hefted myself up steep inclines did take some of the stress off my aching legs.

That experience brings to mind a familiar truth tucked in Psalm 23:

 

 

Your rod and your staff comfort me.”

 

Just as that walking stick gave me relief on the trail, the staff of God’s Word has offered much relief on the path of life.

For example:

As a young wife and mother, discouraged by the mindless repetition of housework, I came across this staff of scripture to propel me forward:

 

 

The realization dawned that taking care of my family was equivalent to serving him. And though it would be a lie to say from that day forward I happily swept, scrubbed, and sanitized, I did carry with me a new perspective.

 

When distraught over my faults and deficiencies, God handed me this walking stick of relief:

 

“I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you

will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus…

For it is God who is working in you,

enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose.”

–Philippians 1:6; 2:13 HCSB

 

 

What a loving, attentive Father he is, day after day working out his plan and blessing upon our lives, slowly but surely transforming us into our best selves.

 

When distraught over election results, I leaned on the comforting truth of Daniel 2:20-21:

 

 

“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and

power are his. He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and

raises up others. He gives wisdom to the wise

and knowledge to the discerning.”

 

What a relief to know he is sovereign over the universe, and everything is under his control.

 

When I was heartbroken after a young friend died as the result of a car accident, I desperately wanted to know why. Why didn’t God answer the prayers of countless people and bring her out of the coma?

Shelly was a talented pianist with a short-term missionary assignment pending. Why didn’t he save her?

God gave me the stabilizing staff of Romans 11:33-36, to help me walk through my questions and grief:

 

“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!

How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!

Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?

Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?

For from him and through him and for him are all things.

To him be the glory forever! Amen.”

 

 

Those last two statements brought sudden clarity. Everything—even painful eventscome through God first before they touch us. And somehow it all has potential to bring him honor and praise. The answer to my question why isn’t necessary.

 

“Each of us may be sure that

if God sends us over rocky paths,

He will provide us with sturdy shoes.

He will never send us on a journey

without equipping us well.”

–Alexander MacLaren

 

And with those sturdy shoes of equipping, praise God he also provides walking sticks of stability, support, relief, and comfort in his Word–if we keep a watchful eye.

 

 

What walking sticks in scripture have offered you stability, support, relief, and comfort?  Please share in the comments section below!

 

Photo credits:  http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.heartlight.org;  http://www.canva.com (2); http://www.wikimedia.org.

 

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“Would you look at this?” my friend exclaimed. Her outstretched hand waved over a selection of magazines in our favorite place to meet, a local bookstore/cafe.

 

 

Do you see what caught Cindy’s* eye? That word “Mindfulness” or “Mindful” shouted from nine different periodicals.

After the initial surprise, we realized why mindfulness is such a hot topic.  These days many adults are under great pressure to push themselves hard, move faster and accomplish more each day. All the while electronic devices are demanding their attention.

Add to that the worries rasping in their minds: the mistakes and failures of yesterday, the tight schedule and uncertainties of tomorrow, and fears for the future.

The pace, stress, and anxiety take their toll in the form of health problems, sleep disorders, and relational strain.

 

 

As a result, many have embraced mindfulness—a pleasurable time-out to capture the joy of now–like pausing to savor the tart, crisp, juiciness of an apple, stopping to listen as small bare feet patter down the stairs, or taking a moment to study a chipmunk collecting acorns.

And according to the research, just a brief interlude of mindfulness can calm the nerves, reset one’s emotional equilibrium, and foster contentment—all to positive effect upon our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.

But I wonder, how many people know God offers even more–if we augment mindfulness with gratitude and praise?

 

 

For example, while doing the dishes I can focus on the hot water warming my hands, the clean scent of soap, the rainbowed bubbles floating in a bowl, the burbling water cascading over glasses and cups–then add a short prayer:

Thank you, Father, for giving us five senses

with which to enjoy your world.

 

 

While traveling in the car I can take note of the late summer haze clinging to the hillsides, today’s cloud exhibition, and the leaves on the roadside performing pirouettes on the breeze–then honor the Lord of all things:

I praise you, Father, for your creative genius

on display everywhere I look.

 

 

While reading a book with my two-year old granddaughter, I can pay attention to the sensation of her little body snuggled into my side, the sweet sound of her toddler-voice “reading” some of the words, and the dimples on the back of her hand as she points to a picture–then express gratitude to the Giver of all good gifts:

Thank you, Father, for the delights to be found

beneath the surface of ordinary experience.

 

 

Each day I can pause to observe the rose-pink tint of dawn, the dappled treetops in the noonday sun, and the slow glide of shadows at sunset–then rejoice in God’s power and glory.

My mouth is filled with your praise, O God,

declaring your splendor all day long.”

–Psalm 71:8

 

 

Mindfulness may prod us to notice God’s gifts in the moment, and that’s good.

But mindfulness plus gratitude and praise prompt us to treasure him, and that’s transformational.

God’s presence becomes palpable (James 4:8), joy sings in our hearts (Psalm 92:4), contentment settles in our spirits (Isaiah 26:3).

And the Giver of all good things surely smiles with pleasure in response.

 

 

*Name changed.

 

Photo credits:  Nancy Ruegg; http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.pexels.com; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.pexels.com; http://www.pixabay.com; ww.canva.com.)

 

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