Promises, promises (Psalm 91 part 2)

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say of Yahweh, “He is my refuge and my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust.”
3 For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler,
and from the deadly pestilence.
4 He will cover you with his feathers.
Under his wings you will take refuge.
His faithfulness is your shield and rampart.
5 You shall not be afraid of the terror by night,
nor of the arrow that flies by day,
6 nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness,
nor of the destruction that wastes at noonday.
7 A thousand may fall at your side,
and ten thousand at your right hand;
but it will not come near you.
8 You will only look with your eyes,
and see the recompense of the wicked.
9 Because you have made Yahweh your refuge,
and the Most High your dwelling place,
10 no evil shall happen to you,
neither shall any plague come near your dwelling.
11 For he will put his angels in charge of you,
to guard you in all your ways.
12 They will bear you up in their hands,
so that you won’t dash your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and cobra.
You will trample the young lion and the serpent underfoot.
14 “Because he has set his love on me, therefore I will deliver him.
I will set him on high, because he has known my name.
15 He will call on me, and I will answer him.
I will be with him in trouble.
I will deliver him, and honor him.
16 I will satisfy him with long life,
and show him my salvation.”

Psalm 91 (WEB)

This is a second post on Psalm 91, and you can read the first part here – Read the Bible… literally?

Last time, we started to think about whether the Bible should be read literally or not. And the answer was “It depends…”

Some passages are clearly poetic or allegorical and should not be taken literally. Likewise, other passages of Scripture are definite instructions that should be followed as such.

Psalm 91 has some amazing promises, and at this time in the world, there are many Christians quoting these promises of protection against the Corona virus. Is that appropriate however?

Can we interpret these verses as meaning God will protect us from harm, violence, pestilence and the like? Or is there more going on here?

We really want to be able to believe these promises and interpret them literally. Wouldn’t it be fantastic to have total protection against these things at all times? But us wanting it to be true is not the same as it being true.

I recently heard someone preaching on these verses and essentially saying that if you have sufficient faith, then you can accept these verses at face value and it only fails to work for those who fail to trust God sufficiently.

That’s the risk. We read these verses and if they seem untrue in our lives, then we conclude we don’t have enough faith. When we water down God’s Word to the point where we say, “If we do this, then that will happen…” We make the Bible a scientific formula in a way it was never intended to be. 

Look at the evidence of your life. If you are reading this, then chances are you are probably a believing Christian. Can you say you are without trouble, violence or illness at all times? If not, then is that because you have failed to trust God? Again, I doubt it.

When Jesus was being tempted by the devil, the enemy quoted these exact verses to the Lord.

Then the devil took him into the holy city. He set him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,

‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and,
‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you don’t dash your foot against a stone.’”Psalm 91:11-12

7 Jesus said to him, “Again, it is written, ‘You shall not test the Lord, your God.’”Deuteronomy 6:16

Matthew 4:5-7 (WEB)

It seems to me that the devil was trying to tempt Jesus into believing that these verses were literally true. He was enticing Him to test God by forcing Him to uphold the promise. If Jesus leapt from the roof, then angels would have to be issued to stop Him dashing His foot or on a stone.

Jesus responds perfectly and says you should not put God to the test.

If the devil is trying to get Jesus to test this promise, and He refuses, why do we think we can get away with it?

Similarly, if it was a matter of how much we trust God, then Jesus has us beaten. None of us can claim to trust the Father to the same degree that Jesus did. Jesus trusted His Father perfectly. If that’s the case, and if these promises are literal, then Jesus should have been able to draw upon them.

The psalm itself gives us a hint that there is more to these words than just their face value. Verse 15 says, “He will call on me, and I will answer him. I will be with him in trouble.” Be with us “in trouble”? But don’t the earlier promises suggest we won’t have any trouble?

So, where does this leave us? 

We must understand this passage in the light of other passages. Indeed, all Scripture must be understood in its proper place among the context of the Bible. 

Take Job. He lost everything; his health, his wealth and his family. As he sat down with his three friends, they essentially told him that all this happened because he did not trust in God. That is exactly what we are tempted to think when trouble comes to us. Yet, at the end, God appeared and pronounced that the friends had not represented Him well at all. 

Likewise, Jesus Himself said:

I have told you these things, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have trouble; but cheer up! I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33 (WEB)

Jesus says it plainly. While we live in this world, we will have trouble. He was neither ignorant of Psalm 91 nor contradictory of it. 

It is my belief therefore that this Psalm is about God’s faithfulness to His people. He does offer protection, refuge and defence, but often in the midst of the trouble befalling us. Our faith is not a weapon allowing us to remove every difficult and unpleasant thing in our path. Rather it connects us to the One who has overcome all of that, and walks through the trouble with us. 

I wish I could promise you that the Corona virus, or indeed any illness, will never affect you. Some teach that. Healing is very real, and I’ve have both heard and seen amazing miracles banishing sickness from someone. I do not believe God wants us to be sick, but neither do I think God’s primary concern is our comfort. 

God is more concerned about our eternal destiny, than our present and temporary trials. 

In our limited human minds, it is very difficult to try to grasp God’s wider purposes, especially when it comes to times of trouble. That’s where the trust comes in. God doesn’t reward our trust by removing all problems. Our trust in Him reminds us that He is in control, even when things go wrong. 

God is our refuge. He is most certainly our fortress. Life may get difficult, and it may even come to an end. God takes the long view however. This life is not all that there is, and eternity is a very long time in comparison. 

let this psalm inspire you. Let these wonderful words bring you into a place of praise and trust of our Heavenly Father. Ask Him to protect you from harm of course, but trust him if it does not happen as you had hoped. Don’t test God by putting yourself in harm’s way and demanding God rescue you. Instead, use your God-given brain and the leading of the Holy Spirit to avoid trouble where possible. If it comes, continue to rejoice in Him and your witness will speak volumes to a frightened world. 

While on Lockdown

Speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; 20 giving thanks always concerning all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to God, even the Father;

Ephesians 5:19-20 (WEB)


Don’t be deceived! “Evil companionships corrupt good morals.”

1 Corinthians 15:33 (WEB)

I write this at a very strange time here in the UK. It was announced last night that new rules were being imposed upon us to try to prevent the further spread of the Corona virus. Essentially we can now only leave the house to buy food, seek medical help, exercise once a day or travel to work if it can’t be done at home.

Such massive restrictions on our personal freedoms would have been utterly unthinkable only a few weeks ago. Yet, our government believes this is necessary to save lives, and agree or disagree with the measures, we must respect them for this.

Having to stay home for a good length of time is going to prove quite a challenge for many people. Our homes have never seemed so small! But before complaining too much, spare a thought for those who have no home to be isolated in.

Staying at home of course means we have very little human contact now. Thank God it has happened in an age where we have Internet and video calling, as I can’t imagine how people would have coped without such things.

Without that human contact, we must all be very careful about what we allow to influence us. Our only window to the world may now be TV screens, phones, and tablets. An almost constant negative news stream, social media posts and Whatsapp messages may bombard us and leave us feeling worse, not better.

Consider how often you read the news. At this time in the world, it makes sense to stay in touch with what’s going on, but is there much point in checking every hour? My phone is constantly “pinging” as news stories from various apps pop up. Do I really need to know how many people are dying on a daily basis of this virus? I don’t get a feed of cancer deaths, or those killed in road traffic accidents. Check the news once in the morning and then again in the evening – surely that will be sufficient.

I’ve likewise found myself checking social media much more often in the last few days. There are many positive posts of course, and it is a great way of keeping in touch with those you can no longer see face-to-face. There is an awful lot of negative posts too. Many of these are feeding into our fears, and leave us feeling far worse than before. Be very careful what you read. If you follow a page or a person who is leaving you feeling worse, then consider if you need to keep following them.

Paul encourages us, in the verses above, to be very careful about what we allow into our minds. He also reminds us what we should be talking about.

If we only ever listen to negative things, then inevitably this will affect our character.

We also need to ensure we are being a positive influence on those around, and particularly at this time. Your words can lift people up and point them to Jesus, and there are a lot of people in desperate need of encouragement right now. You can provide that.

Whatever flavour of social media you prefer, please can I encourage you to think before you click. Is what you are about to post at all helpful? Will it lift others up, or just bring them down?

In the same way, think carefully about what you read. Headlines alone can be misleading, and there is plenty of click-bait out there enticing us in. Before you read it though, ask yourself if this will boost you or hinder you.

Play biblical worship music as often as you can. Music is often uplifting, and especially so when it is full of God’s Word and pointing us towards Him. If you play an instrument, this is a great time to put in some practice and learn some new songs. Share your gift on YouTube or other social media too.

We are on lockdown, but we can still be a positive influence on the world. Church buildings may be closed, but the church itself – God’s people – are open for business as usual.

The Sinfulness of my Sin

I acknowledged my sin to thee, and my iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions to the LORD; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Selah.

Psalm 32:5 (WEB)

The sinfulness of my sin… captivating title right? And I know what you are thinking – two blog posts in two days? What’s gotten into Andy?!

I’m pleased to report that all is well, and I’m not self-isolating with nothing to do. In fact, I am very conscious of how everyone is feeling right now, and hoping that a few extra blog posts will be well received.

A few weeks ago I spoke on Psalm 32. You can listen to that message here. It is a wonderful Psalm and I only had a short time to discuss it. This post covers one of the things I did not have time to explore.

The totality of the Psalm is about sin and repentance. It points out the depth of our wrongdoing, the wonder outs grace of God and our responsibility to confess and acknowledge our sin.

There is an interesting little phrase in verse 5 which says God forgives the “iniquity of our sin.” We might say the “sinfulness of our sin.”

Some translations of the Bible render this as the “guilt of our sin,” but this doesn’t quite cover it in my view.

If God forgives our sin, then what does it mean for Him to forgive the iniquity of our sin?

It is like saying the “saltiness of salt,” or the “chocolatey-ness of chocolate…” What is the psalmist getting at here?

Often when we say “Sorry,” we are not really sorry for what we did, but rather are sorry we got caught. When we see hardened criminals breaking down in tears in the dock of the courtroom, it is often about the loss of their freedom, money or reputation. Being sorry for the consequences of sin is of course very natural, and a great reason not to do it in the first place. But are we sorry for the sin itself? If we never got caught, are we truly repentant for the thing we did?

The sinfulness of our sin is the badness of our sin. It is to recognise that sin is wrong, not because it has terrible consequences, but because it is wrong in the sight of God.

When we are truly repentant, we are sorry to God for falling short of His perfection. We are saying that the thing we did – the things we all do – are very wrong irrespective of consequence and punishment.

God forgives us not just from the punishment of sin through Jesus’ death at the cross, but for sin’s sinfulness also. God forgives us for the wickedness of our sin, and all of its consequences. That is not to say that we are free from any consequence on Earth of course, just rob a bank to see what I mean. God can forgive a robber, but they’ll still go to jail for it.

The point is that we need to recognise that our sin is wrong. It is wrong in and of itself. The consequences are indeed terrible, if facing them without Christ, but the sinfulness alone is wicked before God.

As you reflect on and confess your own sins, ask yourself if you are sorry for what they are, or for their consequence.

Spend some time this week to reflect on where you have fallen short, and on the One who forgives all of your sins and covers all of your iniquity. Come to Jesus at the cross and surrender your whole life to Him. It will be the best decision you ever made!

Read the Bible… literally? (Psalm 91 part 1)

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say of Yahweh, “He is my refuge and my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust.”
3 For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler,
and from the deadly pestilence.
4 He will cover you with his feathers.
Under his wings you will take refuge.
His faithfulness is your shield and rampart.
5 You shall not be afraid of the terror by night,
nor of the arrow that flies by day,
6 nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness,
nor of the destruction that wastes at noonday.
7 A thousand may fall at your side,
and ten thousand at your right hand;
but it will not come near you.
8 You will only look with your eyes,
and see the recompense of the wicked.
9 Because you have made Yahweh your refuge,
and the Most High your dwelling place,
10 no evil shall happen to you,
neither shall any plague come near your dwelling.
11 For he will put his angels in charge of you,
to guard you in all your ways.
12 They will bear you up in their hands,
so that you won’t dash your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and cobra.
You will trample the young lion and the serpent underfoot.
14 “Because he has set his love on me, therefore I will deliver him.
I will set him on high, because he has known my name.
15 He will call on me, and I will answer him.
I will be with him in trouble.
I will deliver him, and honor him.
16 I will satisfy him with long life,
and show him my salvation.”

Psalm 91 (WEB)

A cursory read of this Psalm and you might think all of your problems are over. The psalmist sings of God’s refuge, deliverance from deadly pestilence and being shielded in times of terror and violence. 

In the recent days where world governments have taken drastic measures to ward off the Corona-virus, I’ve seen many Christians quoting and meditating on the verses of this Psalm. But does this passage really suggest God will protect us from all illness, violence and trouble? If so, then why do we all face such troubled times in our lives? Let’s explore that in part two (to follow in the coming days).

For now, let’s think about taking the Bible literally. I recently heard a non-Christian source describing the “Pentacostals.” They were fairly general in their terms and what they said might have applied to any number of Christian denominations, whether they would consider themselves Pentacostal or not. One thin they said was that Pentacostals take the Bible literally – word-for-word. My ears pricked up at this. 

Is the Bible meant to be taken literally? It is not a Yes or No question i’m afraid. 

I hold Scripture in very high esteem. I believe that the Bible is inspired by God, and every Word can be trusted and relied upon. I base my entire life and eternity on the hope of the Bible. I know God and His Son Jesus Christ as revealed in the pages of Scripture. It is exactly as God intended it, and it without fault or mistake. 

Every Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness,

2 Timothy 3:16 (WEB)

Does that mean I take the Bible literally? Sometimes yes, and sometimes no. 

The Bible is not a simple book. It is made up of all kinds of different writing styles. Some of the Bible is poetic, some of it is historic, some is prophetic, and some of it is made up of letters written from Christians to churches or other ministers. 

Where the Bible is giving instruction, it is certainly meant to be taken literally. 

Passages containing poetry or allegory are more than likely not meant to be taken literally. 

Psalm 91 is one of those poetic passages, and we know that some parts at least, are not intended to be read literally. How can I say this for sure? Just read verse 4 with me:

He will cover you with his feathers.
Under his wings you will take refuge.
His faithfulness is your shield and rampart.

Psalm 91:4 (WEB)

Does God have wings? How about feathers? I’ve studied the Bible for years, and read many books about it, and i’ve yet to hear anyone claim that God is a winged or feathered Being. This is a picture. It suggests a mother hen covering her vulnerable chicks under the protection of her wings. That’s the message the Psalmist is trying to create here. He is not trying to communicate that God literally has wings. 

It is therefore important when reading the Bible to try to discern whether a passage is meant to be read literally. Sometimes it is clear and sometimes not. Genesis 1 is a classic example of this. There are those who say it is a literal account of the creation, while others that it is just a poetic picture of how God did it. Whether you agree Genesis 1 is a scientific text or not, you catch my meaning (I hope!)

So, can we take the promises of Psalm 91 at face value? I hope that I have shown above that some parts of this psalm at least, are not intended to be taken literally. But can we claim the promises for our own? I will discuss this next time. Look out for part two!

Did you know you can subscribe to this blog? You can do so via WordPress or by entering your email address. Then you will be automatically notified of part two when it arrives! 

Psalm 32

Andy recently spoke at a Holy Communion service at St. John’s Church, Great Clacton. He spoke on Psalm 32, one of thhe Penitential Psalms, and you can see the text of the passage and listen to the sermon audio below.


By David. A contemplative psalm.

Blessed is he whose disobedience is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
2
Blessed is the man to whom Yahweh doesn’t impute iniquity,
in whose spirit there is no deceit.
3
When I kept silence, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.
4
For day and night your hand was heavy on me.
My strength was sapped in the heat of summer. Selah.
5
I acknowledged my sin to you.
I didn’t hide my iniquity.
I said, I will confess my transgressions to Yahweh,
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah.
6
For this, let everyone who is godly pray to you in a time when you may be found.
Surely when the great waters overflow, they shall not reach to him.
7
You are my hiding place.
You will preserve me from trouble.
You will surround me with songs of deliverance. Selah.
8
I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you shall go.
I will counsel you with my eye on you.
9
Don’t be like the horse, or like the mule, which have no understanding,
who are controlled by bit and bridle, or else they will not come near to you.
10
Many sorrows come to the wicked,
but loving kindness shall surround him who trusts in Yahweh.
11
Be glad in Yahweh, and rejoice, you righteous!
Shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart!

Psalm 32 (WEB)


Don’t Let the Sun Go Down

Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath:

Ephesians 4:26 (KJV)

In my last blog post, I began to explore the above verse and what it means. As I said last time, I’ve usually heard this taught as a call not to go to bed on an argument. Good advice this may be, but not necessarily what Paul is getting at.

We considered how the first part – Be angry and sin not – isn’t just an instruction not to let your anger get the better of you, but could also be read as a command to be angry.

You may have read this verse a hundred times in the past, and perhaps each time you read it, your brain said “Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry…” But what does it actually say?

It says – don’t let the sun go down on your wrath. Or to put it another way, don’t let your anger ever go out and grow dull.

I know this may seem like an odd idea, as surely the Bible teaches us to be loving and not to get angry. Can it really be a command to get and stay angry?

As we explored a little last time, anger is sometimes a right response. In the event of injustice or sin, we ought to be angry. Like God, we ought to hate sin and its effects on humanity. And while our sin may result in other people getting hurt, ultimately we are the ones who hurt the most as a result of sinfulness.

To truly love the good, we must also hate the bad. We must stand against sin in all of its forms. To do that, we need a holy anger, and one that does not go out.

Am I taking this verse out of context though? Is it correct to interpret it this way? I believe it is, but understand those who may disagree.

Context is always important when reading the Bible, and we ought never to take a single verse out of its proper context and form a doctrine out of it. Falsehood lies down that path.

Scripture should be interpreted in the light of other Scripture.

For some doctrines, we need to examine the entire Bible in order to see a complete picture. Of course we don’t have time or space to do this here, but lets look at this verse with it surrounding verses to get at least a small idea of context.

Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another. 26 Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: 27 Neither give place to the devil.

Ephesians 4:25-27 (KJV)

Verse 25 is a clear instruction to put away lying, and to speak truth to each other. This can actually be quite difficult at times. “Do you like my outfit?” or “What do you think of my new hairstyle?” More importantly, when it comes to questions of advice or big decisions, “Should I take this job?” or “Do you think I should marry them?” an honest answer is not always easy to give, and often not the answer the asker really wants to hear.

So often we seek validation from others to agree with what we have already in mind to do. To give an alternative view can be tough.

Similarly, Paul could well be talking about correcting each other in a loving way. Often we leave it to the pastor or minister to address such matters, but indeed there is a role for each of us as part of a church family.

Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not giving you permission to walk up to just anyone in church and give them a lecture about how they ought to live – we must earn that right through a trusting relationship or as a loving member of church leadership.

But we must tackle sin. We must not just get by with it. So in speaking truth to one another, there may be times when we need a little righteous anger to stir us up to confront an issue. Again, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying we should get angry at people; rather we should be angry at sin.

Verse 27 is short and not so sweet. Don’t give the devil a foothold. Could it be that by not following the “command” to be angry, we somehow give the enemy a route into our lives?

It is a narrow path, with ditches on both sides. Err in either direction, and you’ll end up off the road!

What i mean is this. Anger which is uncontrolled or directed at people or things, can certainly give the devil a chance to wreck our lives. How many lives have been destroyed in one single moment of uncontrolled anger? How many men and women find themselves in prison for one slip of judgement allowing their temper to get the better of them?

I’m not giving anyone an excuse to be angry in an ungodly way here.

Equally though, when we reuse to be angry at sin or to have a righteous anger, we give the devil a foothold. If we co-operate with him, the enemy can destroy our lives. If you follow every temptation to do whatever you want, to commit adultery or murder or to steal or rob, your life will come to ruin.

We need to get angry at the devil

Therefore, submit yourselves to God. Resist the Devil, and he will run away from you.

James 4:7 (ISV)

James says that we must resist the devil. Often we ask God to do the resisting, but in reality it must be us who do so. We do that through prayer, our words and our actions. But notice, submission to God must come first. There is no sense in trying to resist the enemy if you are not submitting your life to Jesus.

Likewise, Jesus said:

From the days of John the Baptist until the present, the kingdom from heaven has been forcefully advancing, and violent people have been attacking it,

Matthew 11:12 (ISV)

The kingdom from heaven is forcefully advancing…

Christians ought not to be passive, weak or downtrodden. We are children of God, and the Spirit of God dwells in us. We should be advancing God’s kingdom with passion and determination. Not in our own strength, and certainly not without persecution but always pressing on.

So, Paul tells us to be angry and to never let the sun go down on our wrath. Are you advancing or just barely holding on? Do you need some righteous anger to take a stand against the enemy and resist his influence in your life?

Ask God to stir you up. Pray that He will help you to have a controlled anger that is pointed at the right things. Renew your mind in God’s Word and learn who you are in Christ. Don’t just put up with the enemy, resist him!

Don’t let the sun go down.

Be Angry

Be angry, yet do not sin.” Do not let the sun set while you are still angry,

Ephesians 4:26 (ISV)

I like the ISV Bible, but here’s that same verse from the KJV.

Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath:

Ephesians 4:26 (KJV)

The KJV has a certain grandeur to it which other translations can lack at times. For every day reading however, I prefer a more contemporary version than the KJV with its “thee” and “thou” wording.

In this case, I find that the KJV is one of the closest to the Greek language. Many modern translations render this verse slightly differently, and even stray into interpetting it for us the reader.

Whenever I have heard this verse taught in the past, it goes something like this:

If you get into an argument with someone, try to settle the matter before you go to bed…

This is not bad advice at all, but I’m becoming less convinced that this is really what Paul was saying here.

Some translations actually bring forth the idea that we should deal with our “heated debates” before bedtime, and again, while that may be good advice, i’m not so sure that’s what the Scripture is really all about.

Take the Amplified Bible for instance, which is one I find very helpful at times. It says this:

Be angry [at sin—at immorality, at injustice, at ungodly behavior], yet do not sin; do not let your anger [cause you shame, nor allow it to] last until the sun goes down.

Ephesians 4:26 (Amp)

The first part of the verse is very similar to the KJV – advising us not to sin while angry. It specifies the kind of things we ought to be angry about, such as injustice. The latter part of the verse advises us not to let the sun go down while we are still angry.

In some respects, this is a contradiction. The first part appears to be encouraging us to “be angry” and then tells us not to “be angry” when the sun goes down. So what’s happening here?

I think this verse is going beyond advising us not to be angry during night hours.

Let’s work through this verse logically, and study the text itself rather than our usual interpretation.

Anger is not a sin

The first thing to note is that anger is not a sin. This verse clearly indicates that we can be in a state of anger, but without falling into sin.

Jesus Himself – who was without sin – got angry. He got very angry. In fact, He was so angry that He turned over tables and even had a “weapon”.

 In the Temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, as well as moneychangers sitting at their tables.  After making a whip out of cords, he drove all of them out of the Temple, including the sheep and the cattle. He scattered the coins of the moneychangers and knocked over their tables.

Then he told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

John 2:14-17 (ISV)

So we see clearly that Jesus was angry, and yet did not sin even once. This tells us that anger alone is not a sin.

The problem comes when our anger is directed at the wrong things, or gets out of control.

As the Amplified Bible expanded this verse, it showed that the target of our anger ought to be things such as injustice or sin. That’s why we were given anger in the first place – to take action when we recognise that someone or something is unjust.

When a child is killed by a drunk driver, or an elderly person is robbed at gunpoint, it is perfectly acceptable to be angry about such things.

The issue is when we direct that anger against the slow checkout attendant or the person who didn’t see us and cut us off in traffic. Frustrating as those things may be, they are not real reasons to get angry.

The way to test is to examine our selfishness. Chances are that if we are angry because of a selfish reason (such as having to wait) then that is not a righteous anger. Righteous anger is directed at ungodliness, sin or the devil. Other unrighteous anger is usually a result of our own selfishness.

Anger is a secondary emotion. No one ever gets angry without reason, there is always something that comes first. It may be offense, humiliation or fear that triggers it.

Perhaps you have children and get angry at them at times. Ask yourself why. It may be because of fear – they did something daft and were in danger of hurting themselves. It may be that they interrupted something you were doing, and “self” didn’t like it. If my anger is kindled against my children, it is often because “I” just want to sit down, or “i’ve” had a tough day. It is rarely anything to do with them.

Be Angry

While the verse is often interpreted as “don’t sin when you get cross,” it goes even further than that. Rather than just don’t sin, it’s a command to be angry.

Actually this is a quote from Psalm 4:4 –

Be angry, yet do not sin. Think about this[b] when upon your beds, and be silent.
Interlude

Psalm 4:4 (ISV, emphasis added)

Psalm 4 is a passionate plea to prayer. David starts off crying out to God, then to man, then to God about man and finally to man about God.

Paul grabs hold of this passion and says, “Be angry, and sin not.” One of the problems in the church today is that it is afraid to stand up and call sin by its name. We compromise our position, accepting the world’s way and either ignoring or dismissing the Bible, and people outside don’t always know what the church stands for.

It’s not enough just to love the good things, we must also hate the bad.

I once heard someone say that love and hate are two separate ends of the same stick. To truly love something, you must also hate the things that come against them. I don’t know if i wholeheartedly agree with this or not, but i certainly do understand that loving good is not the same as hating evil.

When we try to love good without hating evil, we end up accepting everything and standing for nothing. We end up with watered down doctrines and a church that looks like the world instead of the Word.

So Paul’s command to be angry is not by accident. This post has already gone longer than I planned, and I haven’t yet addressed the issue of going to bed while you are still angry! Let’s pick that up next time.

For now though, perhaps you are someone with a temper and you know that you need to bring it in line. Perhaps though, you are on the opposite end, and actually need to stir yourself up and start getting angry at sin and injustice. Perhaps – slightly confusingly – you are both, and need to redirect that temper towards the right things.

Do you need to be more or less angry this week? (At appropriate things of course) Do you need to have a serious think about the things that make you angry, and the things that don’t?

All the Benefits of Believing

All the Benefits of Believing (ATBOB) #11

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!

Psalm 103:1 (ESV)

 

Read the entirety of this Psalm here.

 

This is the concluding part of our “All the Benefits of Believing” series, and I really hope you have enjoyed it and learned something.

Last week we reached the end of the psalm, and in this post I just want to summarise some of the things we’ve covered along the way.

Beginning and End

David launched into his song of praise by instructing himself to “Bless the Lord, O my soul!” Praise is not always automatic, and sometimes we need to encourage ourselves to bless God. We are human and subject to many trials, and this can sometimes mean we just don’t feel like it. We must go beyond our feelings however, not only because God deserves our worship, but because it is better for us.

Likewise, David concludes his psalm with the very same phrase – “Bless the Lord, O my soul!” These phrases act as bookends, always bringing us back to our created purpose of worshipping God. We would do well to pray in like manner, beginning and ending with words of praise and thanksgiving.

But what comes in between? David’s list of reasons to worship the Lord – the benefits of believing.

These include:

  • Forgiveness
  • Healing
  • Rescue
  • Redemption
  • Satisfaction
  • Crowning with love
  • Justice
  • Mercy
  • Grace
  • Compassion
  • Steadfast love

And the list goes on and on!

There is no shortage of things to thank and praise God for here, and I encourage you to spend some time going over the list and the psalm, and truly worshipping God. Even if you just pick one item a day and spend that day giving thanks, I’m sure you will be uplifted.

What might your list look like?

While David’s list here is extensive, your own personal list may be somewhat different. That is ok, and again, I encourage you to write one of your own. What are you especially thankful for? Perhaps a particular relationship? Perhaps your church?

What characteristics of God do you see displayed in the life of Jesus? Are there particular ones which you are especially grateful for? Read through the Gospels and find a few, then let them be opportunities to bless the Lord this week.

All the Benefits of Believing

The word “all” appears nine times in this one psalm (ESV). To me, it’s an important biblical word and not one to skim over lightly. Often we read the word, but exclude ourselves from the promise. All usually means all, which includes you. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not suggesting you force every Scripture into a promise or command for yourself, but equally don’t automatically disqualify yourself.

We do that when we feel unworthy of one of the promises of God. As I stated in this series more than once, you are qualified not because of your behaviour, but because of Christ.

It is interesting to me that David, who wrote this psalm, was not born again and could only look ahead to the promise of Christ. Yet his words of praise are so amazing. We, who live and abide in Jesus, should not only be able to enjoy David’s words, but lift up our own words of thanks.

David could only look forward to Jesus; we can know Him personally.

I’m conscious of those of you who may be reading this and thinking, “That’s all well and good for you Andy, but look what’s happening to me!” I hear you. These are wonderful things, but for some of us, they seem like a distant hope and not for the here and now.

For things such as forgiveness or being crowned with love, it is hard to prove these in our lives. What does forgiveness look like? The crown of love isn’t a physical one, so how do we know it is there? The simple answer (but not easy one) is faith. We believe these things because they are true, irrespective of how we feel about them.

Other benefits such as being satisfied with good things may require some adjustment on our part. You may be looking at a pile of bills covered in red and thinking, “so much for being satisfied with good things…” As I said in an earlier post, we have to choose between two opposing views. Do we believe God’s Word, or our circumstances?

It is the same choice that Adam and Eve faced; do they believe what God said, or do they believe the serpent?

When we encounter a promise in the Bible that is seemingly unfulfilled in our lives, there could be a number of reasons for this. Firstly, check the promise is for you. The context will help here. Is it a promise made to the church, or to a specific person, or to the nation of Israel? Is it applicable to you?

Secondly, if it is for you, then we need to ensure we have understood it correctly. In our example above, being satisfied with good things is not necessarily a promise that you will have everything you want whenever you want it. Similarly, it may have nothing to do with your circumstances, but rather your attitude. Are you dissatisfied because you are in lack, or because you covet things that others have?

Thirdly, is the promise for now, or for the future? Some things spoken of in the Bible are not for the here and now, but for heaven perhaps or another time.

Finally, if we have properly established the promise is for us, that it is for the here and now, and that we have not misinterpreted it, the only thing left to consider is ourselves. God always keeps His promises. He will always uphold His end of the bargain. If we are not receiving, then the problem is always with us and not with the promise, and certainly not with God.

The real benefit of believing

I want to conclude the series by repeating something I’ve said more than once – but it bears saying again.

All of the benefits we have examined over the last few months are truly wonderful. There are many things to thank and praise God for, but they pale in comparison to the real benefit of believing.

The real benefit of believing is Jesus Christ Himself.

I don’t think I can say it any better than Paul did when he said:

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ

Philippians 3:8 (ESV)

All the benefits of believing are benefits of believing in Christ. If you are without Him, then you are without any and all of these blessings.

I encourage you not just to thank God for all of these wonderful things, but to thank God for the One Who made it all possible – Jesus Christ Himself.

Jesus embodies these benefits. His made the way for our forgiveness, He is the One who redeems us, and through Him ours sins are removed.

Praise the Lord, O my soul, for all the benefits of believing in Him. Bless the Lord, O my soul, for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord! Amen!

King of Angels (and everything else)

All the Benefits of Believing (ATBOB) #10

The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all. Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word! Bless the Lord, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will! Bless the Lord, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the Lord, O my soul!

Psalm 103:18-22 (ESV)

I’m slightly sad to say we’ve reached the end of this amazing psalm! But not quite the end of the series. I want to discuss the final few verses in this post, and then will put up another post next time summarising what we have learned.

Enthroned in the heavens

God is on the throne, and that makes Him King. And there is no higher throne in heaven or on earth. God’s throne is above all others, and He is the King of kings.

We must not forget this truth. God is indeed our Father, and He loves us as dear children (as we’ve seen in earlier verses). But He is also King, and One to whom we will all bow the knee one day. God is deserving of our fear (reverence and respect) even as part of His loving family.

God’s Kingdom rules over all

Again we find another use of the word “all.” This time it points to the fact that God is over all, and that He is Supreme in all creation. We may at times foolishly think that we’re in charge of our lives, household, family or career. While we have the God-given right to make our own choices and to choose our own path in life, we must all always remember that one day we will stand before Him and realise who is really in charge!

God’s kingdom reaches over us all. None of us are outside of His rule or influence, even if we say we don’t believe in Him. Some describe hell as a place without God, and with folly believe that is what they are experiencing now. Wrong! While God does not impose Himself on those who reject Him, He is still the One who holds the universe together. His grace is still extending to the earth and those who follow Him, so this is not a world untouched by God.

In our modern world, we’ve perhaps lost the impact of Kingship and royalty. I write this not long after the marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan in Windsor, UK, and while millions watched and thousands lined the streets to see “royalty”, they are seen as are many celebrities in our culture. Less than 500 years ago, the Kings and Queens of Europe had great power and wealth, and commanded as rulers with the authority to give and take life itself. While many of their actions were questionable at times, we must at least respect the power they held, and bear it in mind when we consider God as King over all.

Angels and more

David goes on to encourage different groups to praise the Lord. He starts by exhorting the angels to bless the Lord.

To understand angels and their ministry would take far more than one simple blog post, but we do get some insights here. Firstly, angels are messengers and servants of God. To tell them to worship, is to tell them to fulfil their created purpose.

Angels respond to God’s word

We read that “you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word” speaking of the angels. There are many reasons to speak aloud God’s Word and this is one of those reasons. The angels respond to it. They don’t respond to fear, worry or doubt, but to the very Word of God.

Along with the angels, David calls on the hosts of heaven and the ministers (servants) to bless God also. Ministers here, in my view, aren’t necessarily ordained ministers but rather all those who live to serve God. That can include you and I.

Finally David closes his wonderful song where he began it. His very first words were “Bless the Lord, O my soul” and likewise his last words here as well.

It is as though he starts by stirring himself up to praise, lists so many reasons to do so, and then again calls on his own soul to praise. More on this next time.

Do you think it was easier to stir up his soul the first time David said, “Bless the Lord,” or the last time?

I don’t know where you are at today, or what is going on in your life, but let me encourage you to praise the Lord. You will certainly feel better for doing so.

Compassion, Love, Eternity and Covenant

All the Benefits of Believing (ATBOB) #9

As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. 14 For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. 15 As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; 16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. 17 But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, 18 to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.

Psalm 103:13-18 (ESV)

We take a larger chunk of Psalm 103 today, not only to pick up the pace a little, but because these verses fit together so nicely. It would make little sense to split them up and cover them in separate posts, so I’ll try to cover them all here.

The section starts by thinking about God’s compassion. David uses the comparison of a father to his children, to illustrate God’s compassion for those who fear Him. This, in an ideal world, is the perfect comparison. God is our Father, and indeed loves us as dear children.

I understand however that for those who never had a father figure in their lives, or those who had one who did not treat them well, this comparison may not bring the impact it ought to. That’s not an easy thing to deal with. But let me assure you, any and every thing you missed out on with your earthly father, is more than made up by your Heavenly One.

God’s compassion (His love) is without end, and we will consider this more in a moment.

But who does He direct this compassion towards?

Those who fear Him.

The word “fear” here is yare’, and it means “reverent fear”. It is not about being frightened of God, and being scared to approach Him. Instead, it is about having a reverence for God. Reverence goes further than mere respect, and is that sense of presence of the Almighty that makes us bow the knee to Him.

God knows and recognises that we are “dust”. This means that we are physical, limited beings who dwell on the Earth for a little while. All of us will face death, and our bodies will return to the ground from which they came.

This is not a thought to pass over quickly. The psalmist compares the human life to grass or flowers, which fade after only a short time. Don’t misunderstand, this is not limiting us to a short life, but rather pointing out that life on this Earth is indeed short in comparison to eternity.

The older I get (and I’m not old by any stretch!), the more I realise that life truly is short. As the years move by, they seem to speed up in a way they never did when I was a child.

We must make the most of every single day, and live life to the full.

David does not say all of this just to get us down! His point is emphasised in verse 17. Human life is indeed short – in comparison to God’s everlasting love! Again, we find the phrase “steadfast love” – the idea that God’s love does not move or change with the wind, but is fixed, set and eternal.

There’s another little phrase here that I don’t want to skip over – “his righteousness to children’s children.” God’s love does not just extend to us who believe in Him, but also to the generations that follow. It is my belief that not only do I receive the blessings of God, but that they come to my children and theirs also.

 How might your actions affect not only you, but your children’s children also?

So far, so good. We’ve read about God’s great compassion and His unending, everlasting love – but again, who does it apply to? Verse 18 brings in a strong condition.

To:

  • Those who keep His covenant, and
  • Those who do His commands.

If your heart has sunk a little after reading these conditions, then please stick with me a while longer!

Perhaps you are not entirely sure if you have kept His covenant? Perhaps you are more sure that you have NOT done all of His commands? So does this exclude you from the compassion and love David has been praising God for?

Not at all!

David wrote these words while living under the Old Covenant (I think we touched on this in an earlier blog post). This Old Covenant required God’s people to keep His law and obey His commands in order to qualify. This led to very strict legalism (see the Pharisees in Jesus’ day) and even worse, those who saw themselves as “religiously righteous” looking down on those they considered “sinners”.

What many in Israel failed to realise was that they could not keep the Law. The Law was and is perfect, setting out God’s standards for humanity. The problem was not with the Law, but with us. We are not perfect, and so cannot keep God’s perfect Law. And so… we need a Saviour!

Jesus came and lived a perfect human life, fulfilling the entire Law in every respect. Despite never being tainted by sin, He was executed like a sinner deserves, and took on the punishment that you and I deserve. Death could not hold Him however, and He was raised to new life!

That is the Gospel of Jesus Christ – and it is the New Covenant, the covenant that you and I now live under.

We no longer need to fulfil the covenant, instead we put our trust in the One who did!

Does that mean we can do whatever we like, and break God’s laws whenever we feel like it? Certainly not! Sin is still sin, and even though dealt with, still has consequences. If you steal or murder, then you will likely face criminal charges. You could be forgiven, but still in prison!

Equally we have an enemy (the devil) who is looking for someone whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). Sin very much opens the door for the enemy to work in our lives.

Grace is not a licence to commit sin, but a safety net to catch you when you fall.

Even for the born again Christian, it would be impossible to never sin again or to obey every command of God. While we are new creatures in Christ, we are also subject to the whims of the flesh, the ways of the world and the temptation of the devil.

We qualify for all the benefits the psalmist sets out here not because we deserve it, but because Christ made it possible through His obedience. You need to put your trust and faith in Him.

For more details about the Gospel, read my Resurrection Sunday blog post here, or else listen to the accompanying sermon (mp3) here.

East Never Meets West

All the Benefits of Believing (ATBOB) #8

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

Psalm 103:11-12 (ESV)

 

When I began this series, I wasn’t certain how long it would take to work through this spectacular psalm. We are now on part eight, and reach verses 11 and 12. There is so much to enjoy and appreciate in this one passage (the entire psalm I mean) and I do hope you are still getting a lot from it.

These verses tell us two things; how much God loves us, and how far He has removed our sins from us.

As high as the heavens are above the Earth

The word translated as “heavens” here is the Hebrew word shamayim referring primarily to the sky or abode of the stars. It is the same word used in Genesis 1:1 when God created the “heavens and the Earth”. For David writing this, he would have had little distinction between the sky and Space beyond, whereas we distinguish between the two. Irrespective of this, the point is clear.

David is comparing the greatness or size of the love of God to the unmeasurable expanse between the Earth itself and the sky or heavens above. It was perhaps the largest, most enormous thing he could think of to which to compare God’s love to.

Paul prays in Ephesians 3:

…that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:17b-19 (ESV, emphasis added)

That –

  • Believers would be rooted and grounded in love.
  • They would comprehend the dimensions of Christ’s love.
  • That they would know (or experience) Christ’s love which surpasses (head) knowledge.

David is praising the Lord for the enormity of His love, and Paul is praying that the church would know that same love through Christ. God’s love for His people is so crucial to our understanding of faith that we must not only study it, but experience it for ourselves.

Notice the phrase “steadfast love” again in these verses. It is not a love built on shifting sands or moving goalposts. It is stable, steady and cannot be increased or detracted from.

God’s love towards those who fear Him

Who is this love directed towards? Those who fear Him. This “fear” here is reverence. God directs His love towards those who revere Him,; those who recognise Him as Sovereign God. We may consider ourselves as on the receiving end of this tremendous love.

East Never Meets West

David goes on to express the idea that as far as the east is from the west, so far has God removed our sins from us. Similarly to the previous verse, he is trying to express an immeasurable distance – that’s how far God has taken away our transgressions.

One of the reasons this is so wonderful is that for King David, he did not experience personally the saving work of Jesus, dealing with sin once and for all. He could only look forward to a time when that would be true.

In another psalm, he says:

Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity…

Psalm 32:2a (ESV)

For us as New Testament believers, we can rejoice in the fact that God, through the shed blood of Christ, has removed our sins from us once and for all time. He has not just dealt with the individual “sins” we commit, but sin itself. Sin is certainly not dead in the world we live in, yet we are dead to it (Romans 6:11).

Not only has sin been dealt with, and its effect taken away – but it has been forgotten as well.

For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.

Hebrews 8:12 (ESV)

How does an omniscient God forget anything? Because He chooses to.

Spend some time today rejoicing that God’s love is without measure, and that He has taken your sin away. Whatever else is happening in your life today, these are great reasons to worship God.

All the Characteristics of a Gracious God

All the Benefits of Believing (ATBOB) #7

The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. 10 He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.

Psalm 103:8-10 (ESV)

I’m reflecting on whether “All the Benefits of Believing” is the right title for this series of posts. When we read verses like the ones above, perhaps a better title would be “All the Characteristics of a Gracious God.” Not sure if it’s catchy though…

The reality is that we believers experience these wonderful benefits of a relationship with God because He is so loving and kind. Any benefit we experience is because God is so good to us.

Merciful and gracious

This psalm tells us that God is both merciful and gracious to us. But what are mercy and grace?

There are a number of definitions of course, but to me these are two different sides of the same coin.

Mercy means we don’t get what we do deserve, whereas grace means we do get what we don’t deserve!

Put simply, God’s mercy means we don’t receive the punishment for our sin. That punishment fell on Christ. And a heavy punishment it was too!

Likewise, God’s grace means we receive all the benefits of a relationship with God, which we did not and could not earn ourselves.

We get all the good we don’t deserve, and none of the bad we do deserve. What an awesome God!

Verse ten expresses this idea of grace and mercy perfectly. God does not deal with us according to our sins. If He did, we would all be in trouble! Instead, He extends mercy and grace to us so that we might receive the benefits of believing which we have not earned.

Slow to Anger

The psalm goes on to highlight that God is slow to anger. This means that He is not irritable, grumpy or snappy as we so often are. Instead, He is patient and gentle. While the way we act at times could warrant a little righteous anger, God does not inflict that anger upon us.

David wrote this psalm under the Old Covenant, which was a time before Christ came to the Earth. God’s people lived under the Law and its curses. It meant that their relationship with God was essentially conditional on them obeying the requirements of the Law of Moses.

However, we see time and time again in the Old Testament examples of God’s people going astray and yet God withholding His anger towards them. Of course a time came when enough was enough, and the people of Israel were led off into captivity but God held off that punishment for so long. And even as they went, the prophets of old spoke of a time when they would return to the land.

Unlike them, we don’t have to fear God’s anger. We live under the New (and Better) Covenant, where the righteous anger of God was spent on His Son Jesus Christ. We don’t face that anger ourselves, as Jesus took our place. There will be a time in the future when God’s anger is poured out on the Earth, and the day of judgement will come. But we need not fear it, as we are covered by the Blood of the Lamb.

Verse nine, quoted above, talks of a time when God will no longer chide, and that His anger will not last forever. This is an extension of the point above, that He is slow to anger, but also that it lasts only a short time. It may burn hot, if you like, but burns out quickly.

Verse nine could also be a reference to the time of Christ. A time when God no longer needs to chide His people, because He will have dealt with their sin and poured out His wrath on Jesus. This is not to say we no longer commit sins, of course we do not have perfect behaviour. Instead of the Law and its threat of punishment, we are now led by God’s Spirit who shows us right from wrong.

Abounding in steadfast love

Why is God so merciful? Why does He pour out His grace on us? Why is He so slow to anger? Because of His steadfast love.

God is love (1 John 4:8). It is not just something He likes to do, it is Who He is. God cannot help but love. He can’t choose to not love, as that would be denying Himself. Love is the very definition of God, and He directs it to us – His people.

God’s love is steadfast – meaning it is unchanging. It is anchored, cemented and locked down. He will not change His mind, or blow hot and cold. God’s love remains.

Due to all of this, His love is demonstrated through mercy, grace, and slowness to anger (amongst other things!).

If you take nothing else from today’s post, understand this – God is love, and He loves you.

Praise the Lord for all of His awesome Characteristics!