Spurgeon’s turns

Morning
Morning

Charles H. Spurgeon has become known as the Prince of Preachers for good reason. The 19th century minister had an amazing ability to make biblical truth come alive. He knew how to turn a phrase.

Many years ago we purchased his classic Morning and Evening devotional. While I recall reading it enough to wear page edges and tear the dust cover, we didn’t use it extensively for family devotions, preferring instead to read through the Bible with our children at mealtimes. But I recently signed up at BibleGateway to receive daily devotional emails containing excerpts from Spurgeon’s classic. These daily meditations are giving me a renewed appreciation for Spurgeon’s turns of phrases and the way they vividly convey scriptural truth.

Take today’s reading (which you may be able to view here). Expounding the term “joint heirs with Christ” from Romans 8:17, Spurgeon speaks of Christ as “sole proprietor” of God’s “vast creation” and stresses our “joint-heirship” with him of heaven’s glories and his royal crown. Spurgeon writes:

He uncrowned himself that we might have a coronation of glory; he would not sit upon his own throne until he had procured a place upon it for all who overcome by his blood. Crown the head and the whole body shares the honour. Behold here the reward of every Christian conqueror! Christ’s throne, crown, sceptre, palace, treasure, robes, heritage, are yours.

What a thought! And he goes on to expand on Christ’s words about believers sharing in his fullness of joy—a concept with which I’ve always struggled. He writes, “Christ deems his happiness completed by his people sharing it.” And this:

The smiles of his Father are all the sweeter to him, because his people share them. The honours of his kingdom are more pleasing, because his people appear with him in glory. More valuable to him are his conquests, since they have taught his people to overcome. He delights in his throne, because on it there is a place for them…. He delights the more in his joy, because he calls them to enter into it.

Spurgeon excels at bringing biblical truth from my head into my heart. Inanimate theory becomes living reality.

My recently revived interest in his devotionals was piqued when I discovered the following gem from one of his reflections on Matthew 11:28-30, when Christ offers rest to those who take his yoke upon themselves:

Christ bids us wear His yoke; not make one for ourselves. He wants us to share the yoke with Him, to be His true yoke-fellow. It is wonderful that He should be willing to be yoked with us; the only greater wonder is that we should be so unwilling to be yoked with Him.

I used this gem in a PowerPoint I recently presented to four different women’s groups in Illinois and Indiana churches (you can read more about that here). The quote comes from a communion address Spurgeon delivered in his sitting room at Mentone. You can read the entire text here at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library (which is an extremely helpful and comprehensive website). That meditation appears in a collection of Spurgeon’s communion addresses called “Till He Come,” which can additionally be found here as part of the extensive Spurgeon Archive. You can probably find everything you want to know (plus a whole lot more) about Spurgeon on the latter site.

Evening
Evening

Was Charles Spurgeon a perfect preacher? Of course not. Anyone can find points of disagreement among his voluminous writings. But each morning and evening lately, his devotionals have an uncanny knack for strumming my heart strings.

I can’t find our worn and torn-dust jacket copy of Morning and Evening, but I’m thinking this recent release with updated language by Alistair Begg (Truth for Life) and ESV references might be a great replacement.

In the meantime, I’ll keep enjoying the devotionals as they appear in my inbox and touch my heart with Spurgeon’s turns.

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Defeated foes, Psalm 60

David wrote Psalm 60 after his army commander, Joab, had won a great military victory over the Edomites, but that triumph had not overshadowed recent struggles in Israel. When David became king, the nation suffered from internal divisions and external enemies. But David recognizes all Israel’s problems have ultimately come from God.

O God, you have rejected us, broken our defenses;
    you have been angry; oh, restore us.
You have made the land to quake; you have torn it open;
    repair its breaches, for it totters.
You have made your people see hard things;
    you have given us wine to drink that made us stagger (Psalm 60:1-3, ESV).

David implies God’s anger is righteous and over the people’s sins. He acknowledges God as the One who is sovereign over Israel’s calamity and strife, and as the only One who can restore and stabilize the broken and tottering kingdom. David compares the people, reeling from recent trauma, to those who stagger from potent wine. And he views even this as coming from God’s sovereign hand.

In verses 4-8, the tone changes from that initial dirge to a celebration of deliverance:

You have set up a banner for those who fear you,
    that they may flee to it from the bow. Selah
That your beloved ones may be delivered,
    give salvation by your right hand and answer us!

God has spoken in his holiness:
    “With exultation I will divide up Shechem
    and portion out the Vale of Succoth.
Gilead is mine; Manasseh is mine;
    Ephraim is my helmet;
    Judah is my scepter.
Moab is my washbasin;
    upon Edom I cast my shoe;
    over Philistia I shout in triumph.”

God sets his banner of love over those who believe in him. He protects his people from physical and spiritual enemies, delivering them from many earthly struggles and from eternal condemnation.

David envisions God speaking directly to him, promising to restore all the holdouts within the kingdom, to rule forever through the tribe of Judah, and to thoroughly subdue all Israel’s enemies.

The final four verses turn into a prayer as David addresses God (9-12, ESV).

Who will bring me to the fortified city?
    Who will lead me to Edom?
Have you not rejected us, O God?
    You do not go forth, O God, with our armies.
Oh, grant us help against the foe,
    for vain is the salvation of man!
With God we shall do valiantly;
    it is he who will tread down our foes.

Again, David acknowledges God as the only source of security and victory. If God does not go with us, we can do nothing. Even if it seems that God has rejected us, even if he seems to allow our enemies to triumph, he will not allow his chosen ones to perish. Our salvation is secure in Jesus Christ. When we seek to do God’s will, we shall do valiantly–no matter how it appears to us or in the eyes of the world.

For it is God who treads down our foes. If we love God and serve him wholeheartedly, our enemies are his.

Who are your foes? Are they people who don’t see things exactly the same way you do? Are they people who have a different agenda from yours? Or are your enemies the forces that fight against Christ?

With God, you will do valiantly, because he is the One who does it all. He will conquer every foe opposed to him and his Word.

God’s work in Illiana

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My sister, Bev, provided invaluable help for the book signings.

Late Saturday night I returned from a five-day speaking trip in Illinois and Indiana. Since then I’ve been decompressing and processing. My mind churns with memories and images that are difficult to distill. One thing I know: God’s Spirit amazed me over and over!

He equipped introverted-homebody me, who hadn’t been able to prepare as well as control-freak me would have liked, to speak with a confidence I certainly didn’t feel on my own. He revealed the compassionate faith of many dear sisters in Christ who welcomed my biological sister and me with open arms and hearts. God kept us safe while traveling over 1,000 miles. And he floored me when I witnessed his amazing grace working in the lives of men and women inmates.

Warmly welcomed by the Heart-to-Heart women at Oak Glen URC in Lansing, IL
Warmly welcomed by the Heart-to-Heart women at Oak Glen URC in Lansing, IL

Bev and I left the Pella area on Tuesday morning and arrived at our restful home away from home that evening. For two nights, we stayed in a beautiful condo that provided a quiet haven between speaking engagements. Painted above the headboard of the bed where I slept were the words of Psalm 23:3, “He restoreth my soul.” Providentially, that was also the first verse in my PowerPoint presentation, Soul Rest: Finding Rest in God. From where I lounged on the sofa, I could see through the front window the glowing spire of a nearby church.

On Wednesday morning, the Heart-to-Heart ladies of Oak Glen URC in Lansing, IL, welcomed us. They helped me get the PowerPoint presentation set up–until the wi-fi was turned off. We sang a few songs until a helpful fellow from the church came and got all the connections set correctly and I was back in PowerPoint business. That morning was a great time of meeting some old friends and many new ones. We had a lovely lunch with a dear, longtime friend.

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Sweet fellowship with the sisters at Community URC in Schererville, IN.

That evening we joined the women at Community URC in Schererville, IN, where an old friend I’d met at many Classis meetings brought in his digital projector and screen. Skillfully-made decorations enhanced the joyful experience of meeting these dear sisters in the Lord. The fellowship was even sweeter than the refreshments.

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Sharing God’s comfort with women from several churches at New Life CRC in Highland, IN.

On Thursday morning, we headed north to Highland, IN, where we found more fellowship at New Life CRC among women from many different churches. The common chord in our hearts, drawing us all together that day was the memory of Jan Robb, who had led Bible studies in various churches and had contacted me about speaking shortly before her tragic death. Through a series of providences, God led me to connect with another woman and brought me to Highland.

After a lovely lunch with a dear, new friend, we drove down to DeMotte, IN, and set up at Immanuel URC. What a joy that evening to renew old and kindle new acquaintances, including our mother’s cousin and two delightfully polite 13-year-olds!

Meeting my mom's cousin, Wilma, at Immanuel URC in DeMotte, IN.
Meeting my mom’s cousin, Wilma, at Immanuel URC in DeMotte, IN.

Friday was a huge day of teaching a writing seminar to the men in Divine Hope Reformed Seminary within the walls of Danville Correctional Center in Danville, IL. What a privilege to witness the Spirit’s work in their changed lives–their hope and joy in Christ! These men were eager to learn and kept me on my teaching toes. They were attentive and polite students, expressing their immense gratitude for the visit and instruction.

On Friday evening, we arrived at the women’s prison facility in Rockville, IN. Paula Brummel and Annette Gysen helped me lead book discussions on my devotional, A Month of Sundays: 31 Meditations on Resting on God, which a donor had given to the women who signed up for the Resting in God conference. How incredibly humbling to hear women testify how something I wrote is drawing them closer to God. I was totally overwhelmed that God should choose to use me. Many of the women shared underlined text and how it touched their hearts. God’s grace floors me.

With Rev. Nathan Brummel and John Surowiec after teaching a writing seminar at Divine Hope Reformed Seminary in Danville prison in Illinois.
With Rev. Nathan Brummel and John Surowiec after teaching a writing seminar at Divine Hope Reformed Seminary in Danville prison in Illinois.

On Saturday morning, a “situation” in the prison kept us from being admitted at first. But after about a half hour’s wait, we were permitted to go through the wanding and patting down process before entering the prison.

In my initial presentation, I encouraged the women to rest in our Triune God’s steadfast love by trusting in the Father’s sovereignty, believing in the Son’s salvation, and walking in the Spirit’s sanctification. Paula spoke on Sabbath rest, past, present and future. After lunch, Annette discussed resting in God during times of suffering. In my final presentation, I talked about how we need to surrender all to Jesus in submission to his will, in sorrow for our sins, and in selflessness toward others.

The conference concluded with all of us women standing and singing Amazing Grace. What an experience! Back in Pella on Sunday morning, the last song during our worship service was Amazing Grace. I sang with tears running down my cheeks, clinging to my husband. All I could see was an image of those women’s glowing faces.

It was an exhilarating and exhausting week. Praise God for his Spirit’s work in the churches and in the prisons. In the hearts of church members and prison inmates, who are no different in God’s eyes.

Howling dogs, Psalm 59

wolves circle
When one dog starts to howl, all the neighborhood dogs join in. If this happens late in the evening, roving coyotes may even begin howling.

Psalm 59 brings that eerie chorus to mind by repeating an identical refrain. Verses 6 & 7 in the ESV say:

Each evening they come back,
    howling like dogs
    and prowling about the city.
There they are, bellowing with their mouths
    with swords in their lips—
    for “Who,” they think, “will hear us?”

Verse 14 echoes 6, while verse 15 depicts the  insatiable appetite of these “dogs”:

Each evening they come back,
    howling like dogs
    and prowling about the city.
They wander about for food
    and growl if they do not get their fill (ESV).

The vivid canine simile represents  the psalmist’s circling enemies and their taunting chants. But the psalmist’s song drowns out his enemies’ howls and growls.

But I will sing of your strength;
    I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning.
For you have been to me a fortress
    and a refuge in the day of my distress.
O my Strength, I will sing praises to you,
    for you, O God, are my fortress,
    the God who shows me steadfast love (Psalm 59:16 & 17, ESV).

In an earlier post, I spoke about how David wrote this psalm when he was trapped in his home, surrounded by men Saul had sent to kill him.

We may not have physical enemies prowling outside our homes, but we have spiritual enemies sneaking inside our minds. Ephesians 6:12 calls them the “cosmic powers over this present darkness” and “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

Christians easily fall into one of two errors about spiritual warfare. We can disregard its reality or we can regard it too much. We need to be aware of it without being preoccupied by it. And an awareness of spiritual warfare doesn’t preclude personal responsibility.

In other words, we can’t use “spiritual warfare” as an excuse for not recognizing negative or proud thoughts and trying to take them captive to Christ:

For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete (2 Corinthians 10:4-6, ESV).
We shouldn’t dwell too much of the reality of spiritual enemies, but we must keep our focus on Christ. God promises:
Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4, ESV).
God is in control of even the howling and growling dogs in our lives. Keep your focus on Christ. Sing aloud of God’s steadfast love in the morning. Those are the best ways to drown out chants of any enemy and fill your mind with praise to God.

Psalm 58

On Mondays for the last several years, I’ve been trying to post a meditation on a psalm and today’s the day for Psalm 58. Interestingly, Bible Gateway’s “Book of Common Prayer” reading plan for today (March 17, 2014) includes Psalm 58.

Almost four years ago, I looked at Psalm 58 in a post titled “Broken Teeth & Torn Fangs” that talked about its vivid imagery and imprecatory language.  I noted how this psalm thrusts into overdrive Psalm 57’s image of wicked liars as lions.

We see this particularly in verse 6 (ESV):

O God, break the teeth in their mouths;
    tear out the fangs of the young lions, O Lord!

I noted that the editors of the Literary Study Bible use the term “satiric” four times in their brief introduction to Psalm 58 and avoid the use of the word “imprecatory” all together. Reading my original post nearly four years later, I’m still not sure warrior David viewed this as satire when he wrote it. If you want a somewhat graphic description of David’s forceful character when he became angry at Nabal, read the King James Version of 1 Samuel 25.

People tend to avoid talking about the imprecatory Psalms, perhaps because they don’t know what to say about them or are embarassed by their apparently vindictive words. But we know from 2 Timothy 3:16 that all scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. And that includes imprecatory (or satiric, if you prefer) Psalms.

Psalm 58 pulses with vivid pictures of the wicked who “go astray from birth, speaking lies” (v. 3), comparing these liars to poisonous snakes:

They have venom like the venom of a serpent,
    like the deaf adder that stops its ear,
so that it does not hear the voice of charmers
    or of the cunning enchanter (verses 4 & 5, ESV).

Lies are poison. Liars are like devious snakes who will not listen to charmers or enchanters. Intent on their malicious purpose, they will not listen to reason. They refuse to be controlled by anyone other than their own desires.

After David compares liars to young lions, asking God to break their teeth and tear out their fangs (see v. 6 above), he continues to pray for their destruction with disturbing descriptions (verses 7-9, ESV):

Let them vanish like water that runs away;
    when he aims his arrows, let them be blunted.
Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime,
    like the stillborn child who never sees the sun.
Sooner than your pots can feel the heat of thorns,
    whether green or ablaze, may he sweep them away!

Because some of these phrases carry weighty emotional freight, these verse are difficult to read.  And they’re immediately followed by this graphic image:

The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance;
    he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked (verse 10, ESV).

How are we to understand such disturbing language and graphic imagery?

We must first realize that the vengeance depicted here is not our own, but God’s. He has executed it in his perfect and righteous judgment.

In Heart Aflame: Daily Readings from Calvin on the Psalms, John Calvin writes about verse 10: “It might appear at first sight that the feeling here attributed to the righteous is far from being consistent with the mercy which ought to characterise them; but we must remember that…there is nothing absurd is supposing that believers, under the influence and guidance of the Holy Spirit, should rejoice in witnessing the execution of divine judgments. …when wilful obstinacy has at last brought round the hour of retribution, it is only natural that they should rejoice to see it inflicted, as proving the interest which God feels in their personal safety” (p. 142).

Christians who seek to show Christ’s compassion shouldn’t cringe when reading imprecatory Psalms. These Psalms are not calls for us to perform violence, but are assurances that God will certainly judge and completely destroy those who thwart the cause of his righteousness. Their destruction will witness to the entire world (verse 11, ESV):

Mankind will say, “Surely there is a reward for the righteous;
    surely there is a God who judges on earth.”

This verse implies that we don’t have to wait until the final Day of Judgment to see the wicked destroyed. We may wait that long to see some forms of justice, but God will also make his justice obvious while people still inhabit the earth.

While we might be tempted to cringe at or reject scriptures expressing imprecation, we can view them correctly when we remember Romans 12:19 (ESV):

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

We are not to seek vengeance. Rather we must rest in God and trust that he will see justice done. We can be thankful that God is a righteous judge who will not allow wickedness to triumph forever. He may destroy evil on this earth, and we can be sure that he will finally eradicate it forever.

And that’s reason to rejoice!

Revisiting Psalm 57

Because I’m pressed for time this month as I try to prepare several speaking presentations, I’m posting a link to a previous meditation on Psalm 57 rather than writing an entirely new one.

I wrote this post about “Lying Amid Lions” almost four years ago, but its scriptural truths are timeless.

In God We Trust, Psalm 56

DSCN3686Ever wonder where the phrase engraved on American coins comes from? Contrary to the prevailing national culture, money made in the United States still says: In God We Trust.

Regardless of how many Americans actually put their trust in God, he cares for those who do. And despite the failure of many to acknowledge him, he remains sovereign over all people and all nations.

In Psalm 56, David confesses his unequivocal trust in God. A notation in the ESV tells readers that David wrote this psalm when the Philistines seized him in Gath.

Bear in mind that the giant, Goliath, who died when David flung a stone that embedded in his brain, was from Gath. Imagine how Philistines from Gath felt about the man who killed their gigantic and previously unstoppable hero. I wouldn’t have wanted to be in David’s sandals.

And the Philistines weren’t David’s only enemies. He was constantly on the run from Saul, the king of Israel, whose place he was destined to take.

Feeling overwhelmed, David begs for God’s gracious mercy and confesses his trust in him(Psalm 56:1-4, ESV):

Be gracious to me, O God, for man tramples on me;
    all day long an attacker oppresses me;
my enemies trample on me all day long,
    for many attack me proudly.
When I am afraid,
    I put my trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise,
    in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
    What can flesh do to me?

Despite David’s acknowledgement of trust (head), he continues to feel beleaguered. These enemies never let up (verses 5-7, ESV):

All day long they injure my cause;
    all their thoughts are against me for evil.
They stir up strife, they lurk;
    they watch my steps,
    as they have waited for my life.
For their crime will they escape?
    In wrath cast down the peoples, O God!

Rather than exercise personal vengeance, David asks God to act. Then he again professes his trust in God, couching that confession within the context of a beautiful image of God’s intimate care (verses 8-11, ESV):

You have kept count of my tossings;
    put my tears in your bottle.
    Are they not in your book?
Then my enemies will turn back
    in the day when I call.
    This I know, that God is for me.
In God, whose word I praise,
    in the Lord, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
    What can man do to me?

Each time I read this psalm, I’m floored by the picture of a personal God who tracks my night-time tossings and counts my heartfelt tears. Four years ago, I blogged about this image.  I’ve also written and spoken about it in other venues. Still, it never fails to smack between my blind eyes with renewed awareness of God’s deeply personal love.

David concludes this psalm with a vow to worship God and walk in his ways (verses 12-13, ESV):

I must perform my vows to you, O God;
    I will render thank offerings to you.
For you have delivered my soul from death,
    yes, my feet from falling,
that I may walk before God
    in the light of life.

DSCN3697Citizens of the eternal kingdom have been delivered from death for a purpose—to walk before God in the light of life.

May we each take the American national monetary motto to heart, showing by every action that we trust in God!

Betrayal, Psalm 55

snowy boy and girlWe trust friends and family members to protect us and promote our best interest. But sometimes the people we trust betray us.

The psalms pulse with prayers for deliverance from persecution. Usually this comes from “enemies” or “wicked” men. But Psalm 55 describes the trauma of betrayal.

Like many other psalms, it begins with a plea for mercy. But this extended request becomes a bit more specific than most:

Give ear to my prayer, O God,
    and hide not yourself from my plea for mercy!
Attend to me, and answer me;
    I am restless in my complaint and I moan,
because of the noise of the enemy,
    because of the oppression of the wicked.
For they drop trouble upon me,
    and in anger they bear a grudge against me (Psalm 55:1-3, ESV).

This enemy is noisy. The wicked are oppressive. They drop trouble like a crushing hammer blow. And they bear an angry grudge.

Verses 4-8 convey the vivid image of a dove flying away from terror to find refuge:

My heart is in anguish within me;
    the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
Fear and trembling come upon me,
    and horror overwhelms me.
And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!
    I would fly away and be at rest;
yes, I would wander far away;
    I would lodge in the wilderness; Selah
I would hurry to find a shelter
    from the raging wind and tempest.”

The trauma creates great anxiety within the psalmist’s soul. His description sounds like a full-blown panic attack. Anyone who’s had one knows how desperately you long to escape. The psalmist desperately desires to be free from both the raging anger of the attacker and the resulting personal tempest of terror.

This prayer takes a slightly imprecatory turn, asking God to act, and describing cultural sin that sounds very modern:

Destroy, O Lord, divide their tongues;
    for I see violence and strife in the city.
Day and night they go around it
    on its walls,
and iniquity and trouble are within it;
    ruin is in its midst;
oppression and fraud
    do not depart from its marketplace (9-11, ESV).

Imprecatory requests in the psalms never ask God to permit personal revenge. They always request divine action. And the object is never only personal enemies, but those who strive against the Lord. The above verses depict urban strife and violence around the clock, in the city and suburbs, in economics and commerce.

From the general context of diving petition and urban turmoil, the speaker switches gears to directly address the betrayer:

For it is not an enemy who taunts me—
    then I could bear it;
it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me—
    then I could hide from him.
But it is you, a man, my equal,
    my companion, my familiar friend.
We used to take sweet counsel together;
    within God’s house we walked in the throng.
Let death steal over them;
    let them go down to Sheol alive;
    for evil is in their dwelling place and in their heart (12-15, ESV).

The writer pounds nails into the betrayal coffin: “you, a man, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend” (verse 13). This was not a mere acquaintance; this was an intimate friend. A wise counselor who gave good advice. An apparent fellow believer who walked beside him at worship. What a horrific betrayal! No wonder the psalmist calls on God to bring an end to the evil.

What will the psalmist do in the meantime? Will he work behind the scenes to bring about their destruction? Will he seek vengeance? No. He’ll cry to God and trust in him.

But I call to God,
    and the Lord will save me.
Evening and morning and at noon
    I utter my complaint and moan,
    and he hears my voice.
He redeems my soul in safety
    from the battle that I wage,
    for many are arrayed against me.
God will give ear and humble them,
    he who is enthroned from of old, Selah
because they do not change
    and do not fear God (16-19, ESV).

Betrayal demands continual cries to the Lord. We must depend completely on him to sustain us through the trauma and make it right in the end. God will hear the pleas of the righteous and will humble the pride of the wicked.

But we can’t stop thinking about the deceit speech of the betrayer:

My companion stretched out his hand against his friends;
    he violated his covenant.
His speech was smooth as butter,
    yet war was in his heart;
his words were softer than oil,
    yet they were drawn swords (20-21, ESV).

This friend violated trust. His smooth-as-butter speech and his soft-as-oil words cloaked a naked sword.

What can we do in the face of such horrendous betrayal? Only this:

Cast your burden on the Lord,
    and he will sustain you;
he will never permit
    the righteous to be moved (22, ESV).

Such a burden is impossible to bear. You must cast it on the Lord. He will sustain you. He will never allow the righteous to slip from his grip or be shaken from his sure foundation.

The wicked, however, face an entirely different future:

But you, O God, will cast them down
    into the pit of destruction;
men of blood and treachery
    shall not live out half their days.
But I will trust in you (23, ESV).

God will cast them down into the pit of destruction. He will cut short the lives of men who shed blood and practice treachery. What are we to do?

Cry to the Lord, wait on his will, and trust completely in him.

Upheld life, Psalm 54

>Awaking the Dawn, Psalm 108What problems plague you on this Monday morning? If you live in the Midwest, it’s another bitterly cold and fiercely windy day. You can pretty much ignore it if you work inside. But nearly everyone has to drive to work in it and some people, like rural letter carriers and truck drivers, have to drive all day in it. Others, like utility workers and city mail carriers, have to be out in it. If you dread going back to work today, think about (and pray for) these poor folks or others who have more difficult jobs than you.

The key to facing life with a good attitude, however, doesn’t come from simply comparing yours to others who have it worse. Psalm 54 reveals the key to unlock the calm attitude door.

In Psalm 54, David expresses a plea and describes a problem. Then he confesses the Rescuer and commits to a response.

He begins, not by asking God to equip him to action, but by pleading for God to act:

O God, save me by your name,
    and vindicate me by your might.
O God, hear my prayer;
    give ear to the words of my mouth (Psalm 54, 1 & 2, ESV).

You think you’ve got problems? Look at David’s!

For strangers have risen against me;
    ruthless men seek my life;
    they do not set God before themselves. Selah (3, ESV).

Scholars differ on interpretations regarding that little word “Selah,” but I think it’s safe to assume it means something like, “Pause and consider.” So let’s think about our problems. Each of us has their own personal struggles. You may face another bitter day of work in sub-zero temperatures. Or you may be headed for another day of working with difficult people who manipulate against you behind your back. You may be underpaid and under-appreciated. You may be bullied at school or work. You may be manipulated and abused, stuck in a situation that looks hopeless. You may wonder how you can cope with your physical or emotional pain today. Like David, you may even be persecuted by ruthless strangers who seek your life.

All of these problems are the result of sin, from the wickedness of those who reject God and his ways, to the physical ravages of disease, to life-threatening weather. Too many of our problems are beyond our control. Do you sing with Penny in The Rescuers“Who will rescue me?”

There’s only one answer to that question.

Behold, God is my helper;
    the Lord is the upholder of my life.
He will return the evil to my enemies;
    in your faithfulness put an end to them (4 & 5, ESV).

God is the Supreme Rescuer. He upholds your life and mine. We don’t have to scheme about getting even or dream of exacting revenge. God’s in control. He’s the One who will return evil to his enemies and yours. He is faithful and will put an end to them. You may not see it in your short lifetime, but God will make sure good triumphs in the end.

We may see how God overthrows the enemies in our lives, but even if we don’t see immediate results, we can trust God to make everything right one day. And we can trust him to uphold and sustain us while we suffer.

David’s problems were not resolved while he wrote this psalm. The ruthless men were still seeking his life. But he confessed God as his Rescuer and was convinced he would act (“He will return the evil” and “put an end to them”).

David responded with such faith in God’s future actions that it was as if he already saw the result.

With a freewill offering I will sacrifice to you;
    I will give thanks to your name, O Lord, for it is good.
For he has delivered me from every trouble,
    and my eye has looked in triumph on my enemies (6 & 7, ESV).

Before he was even delivered from his enemies, David responded with a commitment to freely offer a sacrifice and thank God for his anticipated deliverance. He reminded himself of past rescues with assurance for future ones.

Whatever problems you face on this bitter morning, know that God is in control. If you believe in the finished work of Jesus, God upholds your life now and will certainly rescue you in the future. Trust him and thank him!

None Who Does Good, Psalm 53

>Established Mountains & Watered Earth - Psalm 65Most of us tend to think we’re pretty good people. After all, we’re not criminals or murderers. We’re far superior to evil leaders like Hitler or Hussein. Truth is, we’re all sinners.

The Bible teaches that every person who ever lived and who ever will live, with the exception of Jesus Christ, is a sinner. No baby is born totally innocent and no saint can achieve complete perfection. Psalm 53 is one of many texts clearly showing that we’re all sinners.

But there are two kinds of sinners, unsaved and saved, and Psalm 53 begins with a picture of the foolish person who does not believe in the existence of God.

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
    They are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity;
    there is none who does good (Psalm 53:1, ESV).

Unless the Holy Spirit regenerates our hearts, we are all lost sinners, following our sinful natural desires.

God looks down from heaven
    on the children of man
to see if there are any who understand,
    who seek after God.

They have all fallen away;
    together they have become corrupt;
there is none who does good,
    not even one (verses 2 & 3, ESV).

Verse four more clearly delineates the divide between those who do evil and those God calls his own people:

Have those who work evil no knowledge,
    who eat up my people as they eat bread,
    and do not call upon God?

In many places of the world today, workers of evil devour God’s people as quickly and commonly as they eat bread. But those who do not call upon God have no knowledge.

They may appear to be in control now, but they face fear and destruction.

There they are, in great terror,
    where there is no terror!
For God scatters the bones of him who encamps against you;
    you put them to shame, for God has rejected them (5, ESV).

Such persecutors will succumb to anxiety and imagine terror where none exists. God will not allow them to triumph forever. Those who surround his people now will be definitively destroyed, because God has rejected them.

Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
    When God restores the fortunes of his people,
    let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad (6, ESV).

David longed for the day of redemption, when the promised Redeemer would come. Just as Old Testament believers anticipated the Messiah’s birth, we long for Christ’s return. Let all God’s people rejoice and be glad in that great news!