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Secure in the Storm

During times of difficulty and trial, whether it be my fall and broken hip, the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, or the latest school shooting last night in Florida, I find great comfort and security by turning to Psalm 46. In 1996, I wrote an article on the psalm entitled “Finding a place to stand” that was never published. I share it below in the hopes that it encourages and helps you find a place of comfort and security.

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People everywhere are looking for security. We hear about financial security, job security, home security, security systems for our cars, and even preventative medicine that provides health security. We all want to feel safe, secure, and stable. We all want to be free from fear.

The problem we face is that we live in a world that is basically insecure. People board planes that they consider safe, only to discover that they have been hijacked en route.  Others go to work feeling safe and secure, only to receive a “pink slip”. And still others visit a doctor for a routine check-up, and instead discover that they have a life-threatening disease. Money, health, possessions, people, relationships, and houses all are subject to change at a moment’s notice.

So then, the challenge we really face is to find a source of security that does not change.The writer of Psalm 46 claimed that he had found such a source. He boldly declared that God was the source of his security.

Webster’s Dictionary defines security as safety; certainty; freedom from worry; protection, shelter. In this psalm, God–as the psalmist’s security–is described by those very words.

 God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. . . The LORD of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our stronghold. . . The LORD of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our stronghold. (Psalm 46:1, 7, 11, NASB)

The psalmist used four key terms to describe the fact that God is a sure defense. He referred to God as a refuge, a strength, a help, and a stronghold.

When you were young and afraid at night, did you ever crawl into bed and pull the covers up over your head? I know I did. I believed that as long as I was covered, the monsters in the closet or the ones under the bed could not see me. And because they could not see me, I was safe.

God is our refuge and stronghold. He is our shelter, our hiding place. We can go to Him and know that we are safe.

When two children get especially angry with each other, what is one thing they might say? “My brother is bigger than your brother!” Or, “My dad can beat up your dad!”

Like little children, when we get into trouble, we want help from someone who is bigger and stronger than we are. God is that person for us. He is our strength when we have none of our own.

Besides describing God has our refuge, strength, and stronghold, the psalmist also stated that God is “a very present help in trouble.” Have you ever helped a child learn to ride a bicycle without training wheels? You run alongside, ready to steady the bike when it begins to wobble. Our children do not have to search for help because it is already present. In the same way, God comes alongside to assist us and to render aid when we are in a tight spot.

The psalmist called God the LORD of Hosts. It is a name of God that appears most often in the context of failure and powerlessness. In the Old Testament, this name was a great comfort, because it reminded Israel that the LORD of Hosts was a God who worked on their behalf to fulfill his purpose in their lives.

When we are in trouble and have no power to help ourselves, when we are under attack and require protection, when we reach the end of our rope and need deliverance, we can rest assured that God can and will work on our behalf.

The psalmist doesn’t stop with merely explaining that God is a refuge and strength. He went on to say that there are three changes in the attitude of the one who trusts in God’s protection and care. He stated that because God is my sure defense, I will not fear, I will not be moved, and I will not strive.

The first change in my attitude is found in verses 2-3. Because I know for certain that God is my hiding place and provides strength to take action, and I am convinced that he is with me and ready to act on my behalf, I will approach life with a sense of confidence.

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; Though its waters roar and foam, Though the mountains quake at its swelling pride. (NASB)

The psalmist stated that he would not be afraid even though the worst possible natural disasters might occur. He pictured the likelihood of an earthquake, a tidal wave, and a volcanic eruption. (The phrase, swelling pride, means to rise up, or to surge, as the NIV translates it.) He stated, Even if the most stable thing I can imagine, a mountain, should crumble . . . even though the ocean be stirred up into 30 foot swells . . . even though Mt. Rainier should shake and tremble and surge with molten lava . . . even then I will still trust God.

Rather than become irrational and panic, the author of this psalm stated, In the likelihood of a devastating natural disaster, I will not be dismayed. I will not be paralyzed with terror.  I will not fear, because I know that God is my sure defense.

Perhaps the chance of an earthquake doesn’t wake you at 3:00AM in a cold sweat. What causes you to cringe is the possibility of your son or daughter having an accident with a drunk driver. Maybe the rumors of your company downsizing and the possibility of a layoff takes your breath away. Perhaps you’ve discovered a lump on your side and you’re apprehensive about what you might learn. Maybe you’re haunted by the fear of your parents getting Alzheimer’s or having a stroke and you won’t be able to take care of them.

If you sense a hurricane warning in your life, anchor deep in the knowledge that God is your refuge and strength. Then you can ride out the storm without being alarmed. The first result of knowing that God is my sure defense is that I will not be afraid. The second result is that I will enjoy a sense of stability and blessing.  Because God is my sure defense, I will not fear, and I will not be moved.

In verses 4-6, the psalmist described a river flowing through the city of Jerusalem that brings blessing and joy. He used a metaphor to say that God is present among his people. (This concept would be well known to Israel since the prophet Isaiah also likened God’s presence to a river in Isaiah 8:6 and 33:21.)

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, The holy dwelling places of the Most High. God is in the midst of her, she will not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations made an uproar, the kingdoms tottered; He raised His voice, the earth melted. (NASB)

In the Old Testament, God was present among his people through the temple. Today, God is present in believers through the Holy Spirit. God’s presence not only causes us to be glad and to rejoice, but also to experience a sense of security and stability.

That doesn’t mean that this person will never encounter problems. It simply means that in the midst of them, they will not be moved.  Just north of Los Angeles is an amusement park with an observation tower. Guests can ride to the top and view the surrounding countryside. Because of the danger of earthquakes, the tower is designed with a sway factor of 7 feet at its upper point. In the event of an earthquake or high winds, the top of the tower can rock 14 feet back and forth.  But it will not crumble because its foundation is secure.

In the same way, the one who trusts in God for his sense of security can withstand difficulty and disaster without being moved.

In addition to stability, the psalmist explained that God provides help when morning dawns. Have you heard the saying, “God is seldom early, but never late”?  Since dawn is the time of attack, God sends deliverance when it is needed the most.  Whether your night of trouble is short or long, you can rest assured that morning always comes.  And with the morning comes a renewal of God’s faithfulness. (See Lamentations 3:22-23.)

We do not need to be afraid because God is a refuge and strength. We do not need to be moved because God provides help when we need it most.  The third result that the knowledge of God’s presence and protection should produce in our lives is that we can relax and not worry.  Because God is my sure defense, I will not fear, I will not be moved, and I will not strive.

In verses 8-10, the psalmist stated,

Come, behold the works of the LORD, Who has wrought desolations in the earth. He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two; He burns the chariots with fire. “Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (NASB)

I was part of a ministry team in Kremenchuk, Ukraine on May 9, 1995, the 50th anniversary of V-E day. Much of Ukraine was under Nazi occupation during World War II and the city of Kremenchuk was destroyed down to the foundations of the buildings. The population of the city went from 120,000 before the war to about 5,000 afterwards.  We watched old men in uniform, women with tears in their eyes, and somber children laying flowers at a monument commemorating the Soviet victory over Germany. We were moved by a 21 gun salute. There was one old grandmother who was sobbing, her shoulders heaving, as she cried for a husband? a son? killed in the war.

Our response to all of this was quietness and silence. We had nothing to say.  What more could we possibly add?

That is the response that the writer of this psalm suggested in verse 10. After telling them to view the remains of war and consider God’s work, he commanded his readers, Cease striving.  Be still.  Be quiet.

This command is not a comfort for the harassed, but is a rebuke to a restless and turbulent world. In the midst of noise and confusion, be quiet. When panic builds and the need to do something rises, be still. When the pressure mounts to worry and fret, cease striving.

The command is to stop doing one thing in favor of another. Stop worrying and let God be exalted in your life.  Be quiet and watch God work. Cease striving and know that he is God. This kind of knowledge pictures an intimate acquaintance. It comes through the process of enduring stressful times and then afterward reflecting on what God did to bring you through.

In times of distress, it is tempting to place our security in bank accounts, political alliances, military strength, personal relationships, and worldly wisdom. It is extremely difficult to relax and let God demonstrate his power.  Yet that is precisely what God wants me to do.

Do you live in strife and panic? Are you fretful and worried? Do you find your sense of security slipping away? Enter God’s invisible sanctuary of rest and trust him completely for your security.

To move closer to that goal, begin by making friends with silence. I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure that silence and I are friends. Acquaintances, perhaps. Life is filled with so many distractions and noisemakers. Gain control of them and allow yourself time to reflect.  Find a quiet place to think.

Then make a list of the things, people, circumstances, and situations that concern you and rob you of peace. What worry is your constant companion during your waking hours?

Follow that by tracing the phrases, “I am with you,” or “Do not be afraid” throughout Scripture to learn what God has promised to do for his people. Genesis 15:1, Joshua 1:9, Psalm 91, would be a good starting point.

Wrap your fears into a neat mental bundle, and toss them one by one into the trash as you read those verses. Ask the Lord to take each specific fear and replace it with his calm, victorious presence.

Finally, memorize verse 10. Each time you find yourself fretting and “sweating the small stuff,” or when you feel insecure, repeat that verse to yourself.  Jump start your day with it as you get out of bed in the morning.

If you do these things and place your security in God, you will be able to conclude with the psalmist, Because God is my sure defense, I will not fear, I will not be moved, I will not strive.

 
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Posted by on February 15, 2018 in Encouragement, News stories, Personal growth, Psalms

 

I’m confused by double standards

I admit to being simple minded and naïve, but I do not understand the double standards when it comes to this issue of sexual abuse and sexual harassment. Lest you be concerned, I don’t approve of sexual abuse or sexual harassment in any way, shape, or form. It is sinful and should be condemned. However, I am confused by the double standard surrounding this issue.

Dozens of women came forward to accuse former Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein of decades of alleged sexual harassment and assault. The #metoo movement spread virally shortly after the revelations about Weinstein. At the same time, however, Hollywood produced the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, which promotes sadomasochism. Despite being widely panned by critics, the three films were a box office success, which indicates a tacit approval and interest in deviant sexual relationships.

Gymnast Aly Raisman was one of the many who accused former USA gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar of sexual abuse. However, she posed nude in the Sports Illustrated 2018 Swimsuit Edition and made the statement, “Women don’t have to be modest to be respected.”

In September 2017, the world mourned the death of Hugh Hefner. As the founder and editor-in-chief of Playboy, he helped fuel and promote the loosening of sexual mores and the growth of the pornography industry.

I am confused. On the one hand, we rightfully condemn sexual abuse and sexual harassment. On the other hand, we feed, fuel, and promote sexuality and sexual misconduct through movies, magazines, and TV. Don’t we understand that the latter opens the door to the former?

It seems like the truth of Romans 1:18-32 is being played out before our very eyes.

 
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Posted by on February 15, 2018 in Culture, News stories, Scripture

 

Exam humor

I think some of my students view their weekly quizzes like Jeremy does.

As final exams approach every semester, teachers and students look to different verses in Scripture for hope. (Courtesy of Dallas Theological Seminary)

The verse of the professors, Jeremiah 17:10.- “I . . . search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”

The verse of the students, 2 Corinthians 13:6.- “I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test.”

 

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2018 in Dallas Theological Seminary, Fun, Zits

 

Russia 2018 – February update

I’m now within 8 weeks of leaving for Russia. The details are coming together.

  • The travel arrangements are all complete. My visa arrived in the mail. The airfare has been purchased and hotel reservations have been made. (I also purchased travel insurance for the airfare in the event I am not cleared to travel.)
  • I am currently preaching an 8-week series on The State of the Church, examining the seven churches in Revelation 2-3. The most recent sermon was on the letter to the church in Sardis: A church that was dead (Revelation 3:1-6). The series helps me cast vision for First Central Bible Church as well as prepare to teach Revelation in Russia.
  • I’m reading through different commentaries and resources in order to gain an overview of the book as well as a better understanding the details.

Regarding my health, my recovery from a broken leg/hip is progressing.

  • The surgeon said that the break is now healed.
  • I go to PT (physical therapy) twice a week and I do about 45 minutes of exercises & stretching 3 times a day to rebuild the strength in my leg.
  • I graduated from a walker to crutches last month. The next goal is to go to one crutch by the end of February. By the end of March, I hope to be walking on my own without any aid.
  • My primary care physician still has me on Coumadin (blood thinner) to get rid of the blood clot(s) and swelling in my calf. He will do another ultrasound in March to check on the progress.
  • I started driving again four weeks ago and am back in the office 3 days a week.

Praises

  • The trip is fully funded!
  • The travel arrangements are all made.
  • I received my visa.
  • My leg/hip is getting stronger!

Prayer requests

  • Greater insight and understanding of the book of Revelation.
  • Complete recovery and full health and strength in my leg/hip.
  • Be able to walk without crutches or cane by end of March.
  • Blood clot(s) in calf completely gone.
  • Be able to travel without limitations.

Thanks for your prayers and encouragement. I’m in your debt.

 
 

Realistic rehab

I can certainly identify with Crankshaft’s evaluation of a physical therapist’s prescription for rehab.

 
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Posted by on February 12, 2018 in Fun, Health

 

To the church in Sardis: A Church that was Dead

In 1968, the Swiss dominated the watch industry producing 65% of the watches in the world and 80% of the profits, however just ten years later they had only a 10% market share. What happened? Their own researchers invented the electronic (Quartz) watch and the Swiss executives rejected it. The Japanese on the other hand saw a new paradigm with this technology and took over the market that the Swiss dominated with the technology that the Swiss themselves invented. The Swiss were so sure that electronics were not the future of watch making that they didn’t even protect their own invention with a copyright.

What is true of industry is also true of churches. If we rest on past accomplishments, we can start to slide. If we are not careful, we will become increasingly irrelevant.

In Revelation 1:11, Jesus sent a message to each of seven local churches in Asia Minor. In the letter to the church in Sardis, Jesus rebukes the church for its compromise that is leading to spiritual death and reassures the faithful few with promises of heavenly citizenship. This letter points out the key principle, We need to take an honest look at our present circumstances. Rather than rest on past accomplishments, we need to obey Christ and live for him in the present.

The Church (1a) – Not much is known about the church. It was possibly founded as an outreach of Paul’s ministry at Ephesus (Acts 19:10).

The City (1a) – The city was located about 30 miles southeast of Thyatira and about 50 miles inland from Ephesus. It was located on an important trade route that ran east and west through the kingdom of Lydia. The city was one of the most ancient, founded about 1200 BC. It became the capital of the wealthy and powerful Lydian kingdom.

The citadel of the ancient city of Sardis occupied a long ridge on Mount Tmolus which rose about 1,500 feet above the area below. The city occupied a large portion of the valley below; and the acropolis, to which threatened citizens could repair in time of war, served primarily for the defense of the city. The approach to the acropolis was sheer at any point except across the saddle of Mount Tmolus, which was also steep and difficult. Hence, Sardis was considered to be almost impregnable for opposing armies.

The city was conquered by the Persians, then the Greeks under Alexander the Great, and finally by the Romans. On two separate occasions, the city was conquered because the sentries failed to keep watch and defend the city. It had fallen due to overconfidence and the failure to watch. “Capturing Sardis” became a saying for achieving the impossible.

Important industries included jewelry, dye, and textiles, which had made the city wealthy. It was the center of the dyeing industry. It was known for its manufacture of woolen garments. From a religious standpoint it was a center of pagan worship and site of a temple of Artemis. The temple dated from the fourth century B.C. They worshipped the mother goddess, Cybele. Her worship was of the most debasing character, and orgies like those of Dionysus were practice at the festivals held in her honor.

The Character of Christ (1b) – Jesus holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. The seven spirits represent the Holy Spirit. The seven stars are the pastors of the churches. Christ holds each one in his hands. Christ introduces himself as the one who works sovereignly in the churches through the Holy Spirit and godly leaders.

The Condition of the Church: Commendation – What sounds like a word of approval is actually a word of rebuke. There is no compliment, only criticism. Their “strength” is their “weakness.”

The Condition of the Church: Concern (1b) – The church had the appearance of being alive. They were regarded by their contemporaries as an effective church. The reality is that the church was dead. Their outward appearance was a façade hiding their lack of life. The church had grown comfortable and content living off its past reputation.

The Command (2-4) – Jesus exhorts the church using five commands.

Wake up – Wake up from their spiritual slumber. The first step toward revival in a dying church is honest awareness that something is wrong.

Strengthen what remains – The verb means to “support” or “stand something on its feet” and has the idea of establishing a thing by making it strong. This was vital because what little that remained was about to die.

Remember – Remember the time when they had been spiritually alive. It is not merely a matter a remembering past truths, however, it is also putting them back into practice. “Received” refers to the truths they have been taught. “Heard” refers to believing and acting on the teaching.

Keep it, Obey it – Be obedient to the heavenly vision. Spiritual vigilance is seen in perseverance and obedient living of these spiritual realities.

Repent – Change direction of your life. The church needs to change its downward spiral and get right with God.

The Consequences (3b) – Jesus promises sudden and immediate judgment. He will come suddenly and unexpectedly like a thief to destroy them. Just as the city of Sardis had succumbed to unexpected military attack, so the church of Sardis will be visited by Christ’s judgment—if it does not change.

The Commitment (4-5) – While the church is dead and dying, Christ recognized a godly remnant in the Sardis church who had not soiled their clothes with sin. He promised the true believers will be dressed in white, symbolic of the righteousness of God. Their names will remain in the book of life. Christ will acknowledge them as his own before his father and his angels.

It is possible for a dead church to change. As long as a few people remain faithful, God can breathe new life into the church.

The Challenge (6) – Take the message to heart. Hear and heed the message.

When Mickey Cohen, a famous Los Angeles gangster of the late 1940’s, made a public profession of faith in Christ, his new Christian friends were elated. But as time passed, they began to wonder why he did not leave his gangster lifestyle. When they confronted him concerning this question, however, he protested. “You never told me I had to give up my career. You never told me that I had to give up my friends. There are Christian movie stars, Christian athletes, Christian businessmen. So what’s the matter with being a Christian gangster? If I have to give up all that—if that’s Christianity—count me out.” Cohen gradually drifted away from Christian circles and ultimately died lonely and forgotten.

Principles (1) What matters most is not our religious reputation before human beings but our standing before God, which is related to how we live. (2) For a sick and dying church to regain its health calls for specific action prescribed by Jesus Christ, and made effective by the Holy Spirit.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on February 11, 2018. It is part of a series on The State of the Church. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

It will be awkward until it’s not

“It will be awkward until it’s not,” said John, my physical therapist, as he encouraged me to keep practicing walking with one crutch.

Walking with one crutch is not only awkward, but painful as well. I’ve gone from a walker to two crutches. Going to one crutch is the next step in my rehab before I can get rid of the crutches altogether. Wanting to get back on my feet, I’ve been diligent to practice this new skill at least three times a day. I try to do four laps up and down the hallway in our house (about 20 feet). I tried it this afternoon in the sanctuary at church. As I explained to Robin W, the center aisle in the sanctuary is long, unobstructed, and no one can hear me when I groan. 😉

The phrase, “It will be awkward until it’s not,” is applicable to any skill development. Whether rehabbing a broken limb, learning how to drive, mastering accounting principles, studying computer programming, or learning a foreign language, it takes time before awkward, conscious practice becomes second nature.

The same can be said for developing spiritual disciplines. Inductive Bible study requires consciously observing, asking questions, and paying attention to grammar before it becomes second nature and you do it without thinking. Learning how to share your faith requires memorizing key verses, anticipating questions and objections, thinking through an outline, writing out your testimony, and practicing on a friend before it becomes a natural part of your conversations. Prayer requires diligence and a thoughtful prayer list before it seems like a normal conversation with the Father.

Learning to walk without support is awkward and difficult for me. I could give up and just sit in my recliner. But I am motivated to get back on my feet. I just need to apply that same level of discipline and drive to other needed areas of my life.