He is Our Rock (Psalm 92 #3)

This is the third and final post on Psalm 92. If you missed them, you can read the first one here – Praise in the morning, praise in the evening– and the second one here – You Thrill Me.

We left off last time discussing that although evil may flourish for a time, it will ultimately be destroyed. The psalmist compares evil to the weeds or grass, which appears rapidly but does not last.

But you, O Lord, will be exalted forever.
9 Your enemies, Lord, will surely perish;
all evildoers will be scattered.
10 But you have made me as strong as a wild ox.
You have anointed me with the finest oil.
11 My eyes have seen the downfall of my enemies;
my ears have heard the defeat of my wicked opponents.
12 But the godly will flourish like palm trees
and grow strong like the cedars of Lebanon.
13 For they are transplanted to the Lord’s own house.
They flourish in the courts of our God.
14 Even in old age they will still produce fruit;
they will remain vital and green.
15 They will declare, “The Lord is just!
He is my rock!
There is no evil in him!”

Psalm 92:8-15 (NLT)

Exalted Forever

Unlike evil, which has a definite end in sight, God’s praise and worship will continue for all eternity. He is worthy, and eternal exaltation is hardly enough to worship the Living God.

For those who worry that Heaven will somehow be like a never ending worship service, please do not be afraid! IF the thought of just singing for all eternity fills you a sense of dread, then please let me reassure you.

I love to sing, and especially so to the Lord. However, Heaven offers more than just unending choirs and instrumental praise. Worship is far more than singing. Singing is a vehicle certainly, but it is just one vehicle.

We worship God with our very breath. Every day while you work, serve, rest or play, you can worship God Most High. How? We do that by putting Him at the centre of everything we do. When we work, we work to the Lord. When we rest, we rest in His presence. When we walk, we walk with Him. Anything you can can be done with worship in your heart.

Heaven will be life – eternal life – and a life lived in worship and exaltation to our deserving King.

Strong as an Ox

Verse 10 gives thanks to God for giving us the strength of an ox. Interestingly, some translations render this “unicorn” rather than “wild ox,” but the point is the same.

Our strength is found in relationship with God. When times get tough, and they do, we must turn to God and draw on His power. We cannot do it all ourselves or in our own strength. Instead, we must rely on Him and be fully dedicated to prayer.

Do you feel as strong as an ox? If you are like me, then you perhaps must admit to not feeling quite so vibrant most days. My strength fades when I take my eyes off of Christ. After a sleepless night with a child, it is very easy to give in to the temptation of being pitiful, or being snappy or grumpy.

What’s the solution? The latter part of verse 10 tells us. The Lord God has anointed us with finest oil. Oil in the Bible is often a symbol of the Holy Spirit. When our strength is lacking, we must seek the refreshing presence of the Holy Spirit who renews and rejuvenates us. While this can be physical of course, primarily I am thinking of an inward refreshing.

Praise the Lord for sending us His Comforter and Strengthener!

Like a Palm Tree

In verse 7 of this psalm (not quoted above) the evildoer is compared to the weeds or grass, and we should take from this that it is short-lived. Grass and weeds seem to sprout as if from nowhere, and yet a hot summer or hard frost (more likely here in the UK!) and they are gone.

In contrast, the godly are compared to the palm tree or the cedars of Lebanon in verse 12. Times of heat or cold won’t destroy us. For the godly, rooted and anchored in God’s love, we have the staying power to outlast this world and its difficulties.

I love the imagery of the godly trees being transplanted into God’s garden from verse 13. We were all once lost and part of the world, yet God saved us and transferred us into His Kingdom where can flourish in His presence.

For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son,

Colossians 1:13 (NLT)

Evil is a temporary weed, but the godly are trees forever transplanted into the court of our God.

The Final Word

The psalm concludes with two key points. Firstly, that God is our Rock. The second that there is no evil in Him at all.

Let’s take the latter first.

God is not evil, nor is there any evil in Him at all. Some accuse Him of this but this comes only from our own human ignorance. I do not mean to sound harsh there, but as verses 5 and 6 remind us – God’s thoughts are very deep, and only those who lack understanding believe that evildoers escape judgement.

When tragedy befalls us, it can be easy to point at God and blame Him. We may say, “If God is so good, then why did so-and-so have to die so young?” These are natural questions, and yet ones that can never be answered satisfactorily. If we knew what God knows, then we would be able to answer.

God’s love is demonstrated at the cross of Jesus Christ. He took on all the pain and suffering of this world, taking our place so that we can go free. That is love!

I am not saying that trouble is easy to cope with, nor that you should not grieve when you lose a loved one. The pain of loss makes us feel all kinds of things, and I would not presume to quarrel with yu over it. However, please do not doubt God’s love.

God is good, and there is no evil in Him. And He is our Rock. Rocks do not change. They are stable. Large enough ones cannot be moved or shifted. Likewise, God does not change, He is stable, and He cannot be moved.

Let us exalt Him this day and sing for joy at the work of His hands!

You Thrill Me (Psalm 92 #2)

Yesterday I wrote about the first few verses of Psalm 92, and so today i thought I would just carry on and talk about more of this great song of praise.

You can read yesterday’s post here – Praise in the morning, praise in the evening.

It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
to sing praises to the Most High.
2 It is good to proclaim your unfailing love in the morning,
your faithfulness in the evening,
3 accompanied by a ten-stringed instrument, a harp,
and the melody of a lyre.

4 You thrill me, Lord, with all you have done for me!
I sing for joy because of what you have done.
5 O Lord, what great works you do!
And how deep are your thoughts.
6 Only a simpleton would not know,
and only a fool would not understand this:
7 Though the wicked sprout like weeds
and evildoers flourish,
they will be destroyed forever.

Psalm 92:1-7 (NLT)

All He has done

Verses 1-3 encourage us to worship God for particular aspects of His character. It points us toward God’s unfailing love and His faithfulness. Verse 4 turns our attention to the good things God has done as a result of His wonderful character.

I once heard it said that worship is about recognising who God is, whereas praise is about the things He has done. Perhaps the definitions aren’t so rigid, but it is a helpful way to look at it. The psalm, in that case, turns worship into praise.

The New Living Translation, quoted above, uses the word “thrill,” which is a powerful term. God’s work should thrill us! We associate the word thrill or thrilling with something like a roller-coaster or extreme sport. I suppose in some ways our Christian lives can be a lot like that at times!

We are thrilled, or excited, by god’s wonderful works. Think of all He has done for you! We can look at Creation and see its complexity and beauty. We can look at the blessings we receive on a daily basis. Most of all we can focus on the saving work of Jesus Christ and the immense grace shown to us who believe.

Again, we are encouraged to sing in response to the kindness of God. Not just sing though, but sing for joy!

Joy is something I feel I lack. I’m happy, don’t get me wrong, but I find it hard to grasp joy in my inner man at times. Even as I write these words, I hear the Spirit’s whisper that it is because I do not do what the psalmist is instructing us here. I do not consider what God has done often enough. All too frequently I am caught up in the concerns of this life – work, family, or even recreation, and not nearly enough on the things of eternity.

The solution to lack of joy:

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 2 Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.

Colossians 3:1-2 (NLT)

Does this apply to you also?

Flourishing Evil

Verses 5-7 are really quite interesting. Verse 5 directs us to consider how deep the thoughts of God are. I am truly humbled by the times I have questioned God or what He has done. How dare I even imagine that I could fathom His reasons or actions with my limited mind?

When my children repeat over and over, “Why, dad, why?” I try to explain as best I can, but sometimes the answer is simply because I know things they do not. I cannot ask my six year old to understand the economic impacts of COVID-19 nor explain to my two year old about genetics or astrophysics. Some things are just beyond them.

The same is true for me. God’s thoughts and ways are sometimes so far above our comprehension, it is rather comical that we try to figure it out. God wants us to use our brain and to understand what we can, but we must also know our limits.

Verses 6 and 7 have some tough words for us. It says that only a simpleton would not understand this – that evildoers may flourish like weeds but they will be destroyed forever.

The psalmist is adamant. He tells us it is as plain as day! Yes evil may well flourish around us and be as abundant as weeds in a neglected garden, but they will not get away with it. Evil will not go unpunished. Why not? Because there is a just God in heaven!

Some people ask how a loving God could punish people in an eternal hell. The answer is simple, if not easy. A loving God must also be a just God. If God were to simply ignore sin and evil, then the result of that would not be “loving” for all. Imagine if someone committed a horrendous crime against someone you dearly loved, and the police just let them go. Would you feel loved? No, you would want justice!

The problem we have though, is that we are all guilty of sin and evil. So God, to be just, must punish us all. But thank God for His mercy and “deep thoughts”!

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16 (NLT)

God has done something astonishingly amazing. He could have just left us to face the punishment of our sin but He didn’t – He had a plan. God came down and became human. We call Him Jesus. He never once failed to do good, and never once sinned against God or man. Yet He took the full punishment we deserve. He became our substitute so we can go free.

This thrills me!

God’s justice is fulfilled in Christ’s death. God’s love is demonstrated in the same way. Only a fool or a simpleton would accuse God of injustice or a lack of love towards His creation.

Evil may flourish for a lifetime on Earth, but eternity is a very long time.

Let the God of love and justice thrill you this day! Sing for joy for the things He has done! And another day we will complete this stunning psalm.

Have a great weekend!

Praise in the Morning, Praise in the Evening (Psalm 92 #1)

Part of my Bible reading this morning was in Psalm 92. It is a wonderful psalm of praise and thanksgiving, and I think we need a good dose of that right now. In fact, we always do, but times of struggle seem to require an extra boost of worship.

The psalm is one for the Sabbath day. In case you are not familiar, the Sabbath was a day of rest, dedicated to the Lord which the Jewish people celebrate from Friday evening to Saturday evening. No work is done on the Sabbath, and the intention is that the time is spent in praise to God, resting our bodies and souls.

While Christians do not celebrate the Sabbath in the same way, the principles are still very much needed and it would not hurt us one bit to dedicate a day to the Lord to rest and worship. We do not need to make it a law, and whether you do it on a Saturday, Sunday or any other day perhaps does not matter. what matters is that we spend dedicated quality time with God.

The psalm begins like this:

It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
to sing praises to the Most High.
2 It is good to proclaim your unfailing love in the morning,
your faithfulness in the evening,
3 accompanied by a ten-stringed instrument, a harp,
and the melody of a lyre.

Psalm 92:1-3 (NLT)

It is good to give thanks to the Lord

Amen to that!

It is indeed good to give thanks to God, and something we all lack at times. Too often we are asking for more from God, while neglecting to thank Him for all He has already done.

Thankfulness is less of an activity, and more of a heart attitude. I mean that we ought not to just thank God for a set time, then move on, but rather make thankfulness an integral part of our lives and who we are.

Times may well be tough right now, but can you find things to be thankful for? Knowing Jesus is no small thing if it be the only thing you can think of immediately.

Sing praises to the Most High

I love music, but have never been specially musical. I play guitar, but it has always been a bit mechanical rather than any natural musical ability. Singing, like my guitar playing, is not a natural talent of mine. Where I have learned to play the guitar, I have also learned to aim my voice in the general direction i wish it to go!

Whether you are tone-deaf, or a top suprano, we can all sing praises to the Most High God. In church or at home, we can all lift our voices and unite in singing about the goodness of God.

Verse 3 encourages us to use instruments to accompany our voices. Whether you play or not, many of us can play background music to sing along with. I mentioned in my post on Wednesday – The Blessing– how we had been playing a lot of worship music lately. This is good to do, and helps us focus on our relationship with God and not on the worries of the world.

In the morning and in the evening

Verse 2 tells us it is good to proclaim God’s love in the morning, and His faithfulness in the evening. While I do not think these two specific things are literal instructions i.e. that we should only proclaim Gods love in the morning, and the evening is reserved for His faithfulness, I think the principle is clear. We should start and end each day in worship to God.

If you are like me, then you tend to start your days rushing around getting children ready, grabbing a coffee and then dashing to work. Days end in a similar way, but in reverse and with less coffee!

The ideal is to put God first, right at the start of the day. Jesus did this. We see many times in the Gospel accounts of Jesus rising early in the morning to spend time with His Father.

Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray.

Mark 1:35 (NLT)

Days can end in a similar way. As we prepare for bed, what if we took the time to give thanks for all the good that happened this day. I imagine our sleep might be a fraction more peaceful having dedicated some time to recalling the good, and not worrying about the bad.

I want worship to be an integral part of your life, but do not want it to be a chore you schedule into an already packed routine. Focus on different aspects of God’s character each day. Keep it fresh by using different songs or even different places where you worship. Most importantly, worship while you work, clean or shop.

Never stop giving praise to the Most High!

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.