Sunday, November 24, 2013

There’s No Place Like Home

As I am sitting in Kansas waiting for my time to fly back home, I can’t help but think of the words repeated over and over again by Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.”

This is true in so many ways. It’s true in the way, that as much as I love my larger family—my sisters, brother-in-law, nieces and nephews, and aunt and uncle—I love my wife and my children more. And being away from them is not something I enjoy experiencing for any extended period of time. Sure, going out for a few hours to run an errand or two, going to work knowing that you will be back home—those all are part of our days. I’m good with those things, but going to bed in a different place at a different time is not something that I put anywhere near the top of my list. Yet it is something that needed to happen, and I am glad for the time with my family. It has been a very long time and I have enjoyed getting to see them and having the chance to catch up and renew our relationships if only for a little while, even getting to meet a great-niece for the first time. But even in this there was a sense of heaviness as the reason that we came together was because of the passing of my sister, Margy.

There is another sense that there is no place like home, and that is being around another family. When I placed my trust in Christ for my salvation I was knit into another family, with which I have in some ways even stronger ties—ties which I do not share with many in my birth family. And this disparity, as loving as everyone has been, has rung in my mind and hung heavy on my heart as I heard a different gospel being preached.  Yesterday I had looked at my flight information wrong and was hopeful to attend a small church here in Scranton where I would share something in common with a people that I do not know but with whom I share this second family bond in common. I love my family and as difficult as I am at times, they love me. But in times like this it is heartbreakingly clear that the Christ I believe in is not the same as them. So, as I sit here in Kansas, not fellowshipping with people of like faith, I am reminded again that there is no place like home.

The last way in which I thought of there being no place like home is in relation to eternity. I came to Kansas to join my family at the time of the passing of my sister and to mourn and memorialize her together with them. As I sat in the service yesterday and heard a plan of salvation presented I was stuck with just how much emphasis there was on the path. Yet, for me the path is not one leading to salvation, but one that springs forward from salvation.

Salvation is not something I earned or contributed to in any way. It is a free gift, not as a result of any work that I did or can do. The Bible tells us, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NASB95) I am a simple person. “Believe,” “shall,” and “have” are straightforward words that need no clarification or qualification. Forgiveness, salvation, and eternal like are a package deal. They are a gift from God at the expense of His Son, and not as a result of any work no matter how good or worthy. In Ephesians 2:8-9 we read, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9, NASB95)

I had a few brief discussions while in Kansas, and for the most part the distinct difference in our belief is not seen, until it is brought down to this one issue. The path that I follow in not one leading to salvation, but one that results as a proof of salvation already received. Ephesians 2:10 goes on to say, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10, NASB95) There are other distinctions that could be drawn, but this is the real heart issue. As a redeemed child of God I am forever placed into God’s family.

Some believe that Margy is set for eternity because she walked the path well. I, on the other hand, believe that she is set for eternity for an entirely different reason. Margy, as a young teen in Port Hueneme, California trusted in Christ for her salvation and followed this up with a first step of responsive obedience by being baptized. During a season when she had left the Mormon church, while living in Grants Pass, Oregon we had talked about this quite a bit. The Bible teaches that salvation is a gift received by belief or trust, granted simply by asking, and it is one that will not be revoked by God when they themselves stray from His truth or maybe even with good intention walk a different path.

Jesus said in John 5:24, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” Again, I read things pretty simply and take God at His Word. He who hears and believes “HAS.” It is a done deal. It is already accomplished. This is what I hold onto for Margy, and in that I trust my good and faithful God.

As for works, the Bible does say a lot about them. I already quoted Ephesians 2:10 speaking of how we were created in Christ Jesus for good works that God had already prepared so that we would walk in them. But this is a result and not a means. In Romans 12:1 and 2 we read, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1–2, NASB95) Because I love God and I treasure so much what He has done for me, the only good, right, and reasonable spiritual thing I can do is to give myself fully back to Him in obedient and worshipful service.

Yesterday I heard a different gospel and a different hope being spoken of, and I know that some who read my posts believe in that gospel path. As they pray that those who do not know this path might come to understand, I also pray that they might shed the extra words and focus entirely on the only given and fully inspired Word of God—the Bible, and the Christ spoken of.

There really is no place like home. While I am so thankful for the time spent with my family and having the opportunity to even grieve together the passing of Margy, I cannot wait to board that plane to go see my wife and children and to return to worship with those of like faith. Then one day, when God determines that the time is right, I look forward to making one last trip and I trust that among the crowd of witnesses spoken of in Hebrews 12:1 that I will find my sister Margy.

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18, NASB95)

Today in “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young (11/24)

Thankfulness takes the sting out of adversity. That is why I have instructed you to give thanks for everything. There is an element of mystery in this transaction: You give Me thanks (regardless of your feelings), and I give you Joy (regardless of your circumstances). This is a spiritual act of obedience—at times, blind obedience. To people who don’t know Me intimately, it can seem irrational and even impossible to thank Me for heartrending hardships. Nonetheless, those who obey Me in this way are invariably blessed, even though difficulties may remain.

Thankfulness opens your heart to My Presence and your mind to My thoughts. You may still be in the same place, with the same set of circumstances, but it is as if a light has been switched on, enabling you to see from My perspective. It is this Light of My Presence that removes the sting from adversity.

“always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father;” (Ephesians 5:20, NASB95)

“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His lovingkindness is everlasting.” (Psalm 118:1, NASB95)

“How blessed are the people who know the joyful sound! O Lord, they walk in the light of Your countenance.” (Psalm 89:15, NASB95)

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

High and Lifted Up

“Yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.” (Isaiah 40:31, NASB95)

This morning before 4 a.m. (yes, before 4 a.m. it actually does exist) I got up to go get on an airplane. During the first leg of my flight I had the opportunity to sit next to a man named Jerry, who has a rare form of cancer for which he has stopped treatment. He was on a trip to several cities to visit his children and his grandchildren. We talked about several things, including his career that he retired from many years ago, his love for hunting and his hunting trips (including a recent one with one of his sons), and his family. During the conversation I asked him if he had given much thought to what was going to happen to him when he died. He told me in response that he was going to be cremated and his ashes were going to be scattered into the wind from a mountaintop, and then he went elsewhere in the conversation. A while later I brought the conversation back around to what happens when he dies, had he ever thought about his spirit, the part of him that was not going to be cremated? He said that he had, but that he wasn’t certain. He had some religious upbringing but didn’t really go to church, believing in God in his own way. He also told me that a minister was coming regularly to the retirement center in which he lived and they would talk. And again the conversation was led away. It was a short flight, and I could not get him back around, so I quietly prayed and I asked him if I could give him a little book that I really enjoyed that spoke about those things. I told him that it was a short read, and maybe in his hours ahead of flying he could read it. He said he would really like it. As we emptied our overhead compartment, I got out a copy of Andy Stanley’s little book, “How Good is Good Enough?” and I gave it to him. He was then ushered away in an awaiting wheelchair.

Having now caught my second leg and having a couple of hours to stare out into the blue sky above the clouds, I have time to catch up on sleep, which is not really an option as its pretty bright and this little plane can get a bit bumpy. I some time to talk with someone else, which I will have to get up to go do as the seat next to me is empty and the young couple across the aisle is very comfortable together. And I some time to read, think, and pray (including praying for Jerry as he flies to Denver and makes his next connection).

I’ve been thinking a lot about a verse in Isaiah lately. The verse quoted above is from him, and it is frequently referred to when people are going through struggles and are weakened because of them. It is a verse of refreshment, as our God is the one who not only gives us breath, but also refreshes that breath both physically and spiritually. A few days ago I took some time away from writing on the heels of some disappointing news to go out to my garage and make a couple of new whirligigs, which I call whirly birds because of my love for birds and my special attention to the uniqueness of them. I had in mind a particular friend when I started them who loves ospreys. Little did I know that as I was completing the pattern and posting a picture to her in a Facebook message that her beloved husband was would be taken from her and ushered into the presence of our Lord. It wasn’t till much later that night that I found out what had happened. The bird is now finished and the first one is hers. So today, I can and will pray for Deb and her family.

On the same day that Deb’s husband (Jerry) went to be with the Lord, so did my sister Margy, though no one knew about Margy until Sunday. It is because of Margy’s passing that I am on an airplane today, and it is because of the generous gifts of family, church, and friends that the trip is even possible. And as I have left my family for a few days, I am praying for them in my absence that God would protect them and provide for them, especially Robin who so much falls on for these days knowing also that she would have dearly loved to have come with me. So, on my flight I also can pray for my family both at home and the rest of my family spread around in the passing of Margy that they would know God’s peace. And for those who have not trusted in His Son, Jesus Christ, for their salvation that they would be given cause to question their eternity and moved to find true answers. I also can and will give praise to God for my brothers and sisters in Christ whose love has been shown in such very practical ways.

When I took off (both times today) I was impressed with the power of the plane as its thrust pushed its nose into the air and me back in my seat. It was a power that truly was able to lift up this plane and everyone on it. And the capable pilot is managing that power to bring us to our destination so that we might once again place our feet on firmly established ground. As I thought about this I thought of a couple of things. First of all, I thought of my friends and family this year who have experienced being lifted from this ground by our God and very capably and assuredly delivered safely into His presence. This was done by a power far greater than anything we could ever ask or imagine, for it was accomplished by our Savior who gave His life in payment for our sins and took it back up again bringing with Him all who would trust in Him for salvation. This is a great truth realized for those who have caught that flight already, and a great hope for those of us who are on the runway.

“Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord— for we walk by faith, not by sight— we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:6–9, NASB95)

I also thought of the power that was referred to in the opening verse. My God truly does have the power to lift up those who are beaten down by the various burdens of life, as He has promised to even take those burdens upon Himself. What He calls us to do is to surrender them to Him and to depend on the strength that He gives to go through them victoriously.

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”” (Matthew 11:28–30, NASB95)

And lastly, as I open the window and look out to horizons that extend far beyond anything I can see when my feet are firmly planted on the ground, I am reminded of how vast and limitless my God is. All that exists both above and below was created by Him and held together by Him. He holds it all firmly in His hands, and just as surely as everything I see is His, so is everything I don’t see and can’t understand.

Isaiah brought a very powerful message both to the people of the time and for those of us who follow. He spoke of things both close at hand and that which was far off, and he did so faithfully as he was sent by the God who revealed Himself to Isaiah so gloriously. We read about his response to God’s call on his life in chapter 6 of Isaiah.

“In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”” (Isaiah 6:1–8, ESV)

I am praying for opportunities over the next several days to share this hope and I am also praying that I would be both sensitive to opportunities, wise in handling them, and bold like Isaiah to go where I am sent and to speak the message of good news that is so vitally important.

“With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.” (Ephesians 6:18–20, NASB95)

I’m unable to transmit right now. We’ll see what happens between now and when my feet next touch the ground. Not much conversation, but lots of thinking, writing, and praying.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Our God Who Wipes Tears

“He will swallow up death for all time, and the Lord God will wipe tears away from all faces….” (Isaiah 25:8, NASB95)

“and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4, NASB95)
Today my post is a bit different. It is a tribute written to my sister who we learned of her passing yesterday and was directed to those who came together as her friends and acquaintances and who were connected to her through social media.

Marguerite Francis (Burgess) Deason
The interesting thing about social media is it brings together people in ways that they otherwise never would have met. As with many of you on my sister's friends list I do not know you and you do not know me. Others, while related, our paths have been largely divergent because of the places we have chosen to live and the faith we have followed. But this week there are many visiting her page to share how Margy has impacted their lives and how deeply she is being missed.

I have three wonderful sisters. Margy is the middle one of them, and by many regards lived the hardest life of all. Though she once married, she has lived her life unmarried. The children she has loved have been those of other parents, including my own and her other nieces and nephews, especially Clovis who she spent so much of her life around. But she loved more than just these, she loved children everywhere, including many who were in need through the foster care system and those whose parents needed to work and they entrusted their precious little ones to her for child care. Margy loved people and she would give what little she had to give it back to them.

At the same time, Margy also lived with great pain. She lived with the pain of loneliness and the pain of illness. Struggling with Valley Fever took a great toll on her physically and it limited her in so many ways. But the one thing it did not do was take away her love and her heart for others.

I am so thankful for my sister Kathy who was the right hand to her left, as the two of them tackled many challenges together. And I am also hurting for Kathy and Bill and Clovis and the rest of our family as we shed tears at her passing.

I am thankful for those of you who were her friends and her support over these years, and I pray for you that her impact on you will endure.

But most of all, I am thankful to my God in whom she placed her trust as a young lady in Port Hueneme, California and in whom I have every confidence did not let her loose from His hands and who has graciously and compassionately relieved her of all of the pain to bring her into His loving presence with a true and enduring fullness of joy.

The picture is of a daisy. A daisy is a simple flower that blooms and brings great joy to those who take time to look upon it. I am not a botanist, and I do not know with any certainty which form I have chosen in this picture, one thing I do know is that one form of a daisy is a Marguerite. My sister bloomed for a season and brought much joy. 

As I looked at this singular flower I was also struck by the moisture on its petals. In that I thought of the sorrow that came with the joy, the tears that are being shed, and the great refreshment Margy now knows.

I love you Margy.

Your brat of all brats brother, Joe

“You are my God, and I give thanks to You; You are my God, I extol You. Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His lovingkindness is everlasting.” (Psalm 118:28–29, NASB95) 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Missing and Hurting

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3–4, NASB95)

I took a couple of days off from writing while working through some things, but even in working through them I was brought face-to-face with the fact that for those who us who are still taking breath, new things do not stop happening.

Have you ever asked, “Why?” Trials, hardships, and heartbreaks sometimes can be quite overwhelming in their intensity and even in their frequency. These past four days in our lives have seemingly grown in both. Thursday I received some disappointing news on a job prospect in which I was very hopeful. Last night I heard of the passing of a friend and the loss to a dear sister in Christ and their children, a man who was her husband, her great love, and her rock (Gerald “Jerry”  Jones). And today we got a phone call from one of my three sisters who called distraught to tell me about the death of the middle one of my sisters (Marguerite “Margy” Frances Deason).

But even in this there is insulation as I am not the one there in the middle, and there is little I can do in response. Right now all I can think to do is pray, and there really isn’t anything bigger I can do right now. After all, when it comes to our work and our provision who is it that holds this in His hands—BUT GOD. When it comes to the numbers of the days of our lives, who is there that holds these in His hands—BUT GOD. When it comes to the depth of our grief and the extent of our loss, who is there who understands this more—BUT GOD.  All of these are things that we would like to change in some way, but even in this who is there who knows exactly and perfectly what he intends and what is best in the scheme of eternity—BUT GOD.

Last night I saw an email hours after it was sent asking for prayer, which included the words, “Let’s pray for the family of (a husband and wife), that the Father of Mercies and God of Comfort would show Himself faithful to them. In particular let’s ask God to make His comforting presence known to (the wife).”

This is a message that generally carries the meaning that someone has died and someone else is left hurting, and in this context they were husband and wife. Our response was to stop what we were doing and pray. With today’s call my sister was right in the middle of it all and all I could do was entrust her to the hands of her husband and then to pray. Sure, in both there may be things to do in the hours and days go by, but in the moment there was nothing else I could do.

It seems so strange to say that, “All I could do was pray.” But, when we stop to pray, just who is it that we look to? Our God really does understand grief and loss, and His understanding started a very long time ago. In the beginning God created man and woman to have a relationship with Him. It was not one that He needed, but one that he was pleased to bring to pass. And in the midst of that relationship man rebelled and broke that union, leading to God having to drive man out of the garden in spiritual death. Following that God continued to reach out to man, and man continued to reject Him with obvious exceptions which we can rejoice in as we read of them in Scripture.

God knew man was helpless to do anything about it his condition, and that the only thing man could do was to trust in Him who loved them and drew them to Himself. So God, chose to send His Son, who willingly set aside His position with the Father, to be born of a virgin and to be raised as a man knowing hardship and all that comes with life except for one thing—Himself sinning. But it was more than just sending His Son learning to empathize having walked in our shoes. No, His Son went to the cross, voluntarily laying down His own life to pay the penalty for our sins. He paid the price which we could never pay. And this not the end, three days later His Son rose from the dead demonstrating His power over death and with that He showed that He also could give life to all who trust in Him. After showing Himself for many days, He ascended to heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father in order to intercede on our behalf. Think of that, when we cry out to God we have a special intercessor in God Himself who hears our prayers and attends to them.

And beyond that, Jesus did not leave us alone as my sister Kathy was distressed that my sister Margy died all alone. Our everywhere-present Heavenly Father sent His Holy Spirit to indwell every single person who places their trust in Jesus Christ for salvation. In doing this we not only know the constant presence of our God, but we have the special indwelling presence of His Spirit—indeed making it such that we never are alone in this life.

God did this as a down payment on His promise of eternal life, but also so that we might be empowered to have life here and now. We have a God who knows our needs. He knows the depths of our hurts, and He knows how to bring comfort to those hurts including through the hands, arms, and prayers of others. So, when I say, “All I can do is pray,” I do so thinking and wishing that I could do more at the moment. But at the same time, I also do it knowing that this is also the most important thing I can do, while also searching out what God might have me personally do in response as His child with arms on.

“For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer; and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort. For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life;” (2 Corinthians 1:5–8, NASB95)

I am praying to my God today for my friend Deb and her family and for my sisters (Kathy and Dianne) and our families as we grieve the loss of people we dearly love, but I do so expectantly knowing that my God is faithful to heal our hearts and bring encouragement in the assurance of an eternal hope.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Dependence in Disappointment

Some days are very difficult days, and the encouragement of others is a huge refreshment. Maybe you received some disappointing news or a plan of yours seemed thwarted. Maybe you seem to have been juggling a bunch of balls for a while and then they started falling to the ground. It is days like this that a good friend to talk with, to pray with you, and to encourage you is a valuable jewel. It is also days like this that maybe a trusted devotional that you have gone to over time catches your eyes and your heart and it gives you cause to pause and be refreshed.

For the past week I have not included a section from “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young in my posts. While not sharing it, I have continued to look at it as I have for the past eighteen months, just as others have faithfully opened to things such as The Daily Bread, The Word for Today, and so many other valuable resources over the years as tools of biblical encouragement. But today as I opened my devotional I was really hoping to be encouraged, and what I was reminded of is that even in the face of worldly disappointments that God is bigger than them and He will make me to stand such that in Him I will not be disappointed.

Today in “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young (11/14)

Bask in the luxury of being fully understood and unconditionally loved. Dare to see yourself as I see you: radiant in My righteousness, cleansed by My blood. I view you as the one I created you to be, the one you will be in actuality when heaven becomes your home. It is My Life within you that is changing you from glory to glory. Rejoice in this mysterious miracle! Thank Me continually for the amazing gift of My Spirit within you.

Try to depend on the help of the Spirit as you go through this day of life. Pause briefly from time to time so you can consult with this Holy One inside you. He will not force you to do his bidding, but He will guide you as you give Him space in your life. Walk along this wondrous way of collaboration with My Spirit.

“Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.” (Psalm 34:5, ESV)

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV)

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18, ESV)

“If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25, ESV)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Moved by the Word (A look at the Pilgrim's part I)

“Your statutes are my songs in the house of my pilgrimage.” (Psalm 119:54, NASB95)

Today Robin and I had a Thanksgiving lunch with our daughter Beth at her school. When I arrived I found her standing in the lunch room waiting on us wearing a solid white paper Pilgrim’s (actually Puritan) bonnet. After getting our lunches we went back to her classroom where her teacher had made tables ready for the children and their parents to eat. It was a special time, which we began with prayer as the Pilgrim’s themselves expressed their thankfulness to God.

Upon arriving back home I decided to refresh my memory a bit on the Pilgrims, their plight, and their history leading up to that time of thanksgiving in the Plymouth Colony. And, as much as our schools have steered away from influence of faith, their roots lie very strongly there. Over the next few days I will tie in various pieces of this history from Duane Cline’s, “The Pilgrims and Plymouth Colony: 1620.”

For starters, let’s go back to their earliest beginnings.

“Until the latter part of the sixteenth century, the only Bibles available were printed in Latin. After the Reformation began the Geneva Bible was published in English. For the first time the common men were able to read the Scriptures for themselves. The Geneva Bible is the version that would have been most familiar to the older generation of Pilgrims. At the beginning of the seventeenth century, King James authorized another translation of the Bible into English, which still bears his name [The King James Version]. Until these English versions came into being, the common man was not able to read or understand the Scriptures. It was necessary for the ministers and church officials to tell the worshippers what was in the Bible and interpret the Scriptures. As the English translations became more readily available, the people were able to read the Scriptures for themselves, and controversies began to arise concerning the interpretation of many passages in the Bible. Other controversies arose concerning the rituals of the church service.

“At the time the Pilgrim Fathers were living in England there was only one church approved by the English rulers. Everyone was required to attend that church - and ONLY that church - every week. If the English ruler were Protestant, all people of the realm were required to follow the Protestant beliefs and attend those church services; if the ruler were Catholic, everyone in the kingdom was required to practice the Catholic faith and rituals. All religion in the kingdom was strictly dictated by the government. This is what we call a “State Church.”

“The reigning ruler appointed the archbishop of his or her choice and every church in the kingdom was under the direct orders of the ruler and the archbishop. There was no freedom to choose what a person believed or how he could worship.

“Anyone who objected to the beliefs of the state church or the forms of the church services could be arrested, questioned and thrown into prison. If they refused to give up their personal beliefs, they could be tortured in an effort to make them agree with the state church. If they still refused to give up their convictions after torture, they could be executed. Many people were imprisoned, tortured and put to death. Those who were executed for their religious beliefs died painful deaths. Many were hanged and quartered, some were burned at the stake, while others were crushed to death under heavy weights.

“There were two major groups of believers who disagreed with the beliefs and practices of the Church of England. One group wanted to stay in the church, but hoped to change its forms of worship: This group was called “Puritan” because they wanted to “purify” the church. The other group did not believe the state church could be changed: This group was called “Separatist” because they wanted to separate completely from the Church of England.

“At the beginning of the 1600s, a group of Separatists began to gather at Scrooby in the northeastern county of Nottingham. Scrooby was located on the main post road which ran between Scotland and London. When Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603 and James VI of Scotland was to become James I of England, he traveled the post road on his way to be crowned.

“James I was a Protestant and the Separatists were hopeful he would be more tolerant of differing religious views. It was not long, however, before the Separatists learned that differing religious views would not be allowed under the new king.

“One group was called the Separatists because they demanded a complete separation from the Church of England. They wanted to worship in a very simple manner without all of the ritual and symbols which were used in the Anglican Church. In their study of the Bible they had decided the original church in New Testament times had been a simple church and they wished to follow that example in their own worship. They believed there were so many changes needed to be made in the Anglican Church that it could not be accomplished to their satisfaction. Therefore, the only possibility for them was to “separate” completely from the state church.

“Their pastor, Richard Clyfton, had guided this religious community into a form of democratic self-government. Various points of view were tolerated, but the will of the majority ruled in decision-making. The members of this group believed in equal rights and equal duties for members of its congregation. Our modern concepts of a democratic system of government began with Pastor Richard Clyfton. It was their Pastor John Robinson who first coined the word "independent" in the matter of self-government.

“The Pilgrims were warm, generous and thoughtful in their dealings with their fellow citizens and with the Indians they met in America.

“Their manner of dress was typical of the ordinary fashions in England at that time. We know from Wills and Inventories of that early period that some of the leading men wore brightly colored clothing. Some even wore breeches of red, green or violet. This is a far cry from the dark, somber clothing of the Puritans which we see pictured every Thanksgiving. The Pilgrims were a good-natured, fun-loving people who loved life and insisted on the freedom of choice.

“It was the Pilgrims who established Plymouth Colony. It was the Pilgrims who celebrated that first Thanksgiving with the Indians. It was the Pilgrims who brought our American principles of democratic government into being - not the Puritans.” ("The Pilgrims and Plymouth Colony: 1620" is available at Mr. Cline is a well-regarded authority on this topic, and I am looking forward to continue reading of his work.

So far we have the history of a group of people who had been given the Bible in their own language to discover that some of what they had been taught did not line up with what they had then be enabled to read in their own Bibles, and they had to decide what to do. They had to decide how to live under a government who dictated their belief and even dictated when that belief might change. And for them, the Separatists at least, the answer was to step away from the authorized church and adopt their own simple form of worship.

I imagine for many first century Jews who came to faith in Christ they had to make similar decisions. Like these early believers in England, we also know that the early followers of Christ were not accepted with their new faith and were even dispersed throughout the land in the face of aggressive persecution and even death. But also, as we know from history, as people have stood firm in their faith and have been persecuted and dispersed that God has used this for His glory and the advancement of the gospel to those who otherwise would not hear. What man intended for destruction, God intended for the furtherance of His plan as we read even Jesus telling His disciples, “but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”” (Acts 1:8, NASB95)

James, in writing his letter primarily to Jewish believers, wrote, “James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings.” (James 1:1, NASB95)

Peter started his first letter with the following, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials,” (1 Peter 1:1–6, NASB95)

Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NASB95)

The reality is that the world opposes the gospel and at times this resistance has been established firmly in the government and a prescribed religion (even one in which there were faithful believers) and has been accompanied with intense persecution. Our God has long used persecution to spread His Word. It was true of the apostles. It was true of early believers, and it has been true of believers throughout history even continuing today.  This is one way God sends out the message that His Son died for our sins according to the Scriptures, was buried, and rose again also according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3)

People need to hear and God even uses the evil of man to send out His preachers. “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!”” (Romans 10:14–15, NASB95)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Strengthened in Weakness

James 5:13-16 (NAS) Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praises. (14) Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; (15) and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. (16) Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.

Translating from one language to another in such a way that you both maintain accuracy and fluency has been a challenge for even the most educated of men over time. And the reality is that sometimes they may not select the best word to convey the original intent or meaning. Many of our Bible translations have done an excellent job of preserving and presenting correct wording, even using a variation in wording for the same original language word whose meaning may be more complex than a single one of our words. But sometimes there is a passage in Scripture where you might stop and wonder why a specific English word was chosen over another.

One of those passages for me is James 5:13-16, where a number of years ago I struggled with this seemingly invariable promise that if someone is sick and he or she calls upon the elders of the church to pray and anoint the person with oil that the person will be restored and made whole. I had known several close and dear friends in the Lord who were near death and who had followed this instruction, yet God, in His wisdom, chose to not to heal them physically, but rather He allowed them to die physically and live with Him in eternity. At the same time, I have been continually amazed with the peace that our God has given these same individuals through the process.

I struggled with how I would teach this passage, so I opened up my Bible, a few study tools, and some additional helps and I dug deeper. Twice in this passage I read of a person being sick. So as I spent some time looking at the words which were translated “sick.” I was not at all surprised to find that they have been translated elsewhere in Scripture differently.

The first “sick” is in verse 14, and it is the Greek word sqene (Strong # 770, asthene) which means to be ‘weak’ or ‘feeble’. In the New American Standard Bible it is translated: am weak (1), becoming weak (1), fell sick (1), sick (18), and weak (12). As I looked at the context of the various verses I found that many were clearly and properly translated ‘sick’ while others appear to have been equally clearly and properly translated ‘weak.’ It appeared to me that this Greek word was broad, and that there was some flexibility based upon context. Reading from one of my study Bibles this morning, which I did not have when I initially did this study, I read of this particular context, “James directs those who are “sick,” meaning weakened by their suffering to call for the elders of the church for strength, support, and prayer.” (MacArthur Study Bible)

The second “sick” is in verse 15. It is the Greek word kmnonta (Strong #2577, kamn + nta) which is from a primary root meaning to be weary. It is used two times in the New Testament. Once it is translated ‘grow weary’ (Hebrews 12:3) and the other it is translated ‘sick’ (James 5:15).

I next turned to the word “healed” in verse 16. This is the Greek word aqte (Strong # 2390, iaomai, iomai). It means ‘to heal,’ and is translated in some form of heal all of the 26 times it is used. So the next question is “Heal from what?” So, I looked at the other verses in which the word was used. In doing this I also found that the uses of healing, while largely physical in nature, were not limited solely to that which was physical as these examples might show:

Matthew 13:15 - dull hearts, deaf ears, blind eyes - healing is restoration (faith requisite) (John 12:40)
Acts 10:38 - speaking of Jesus, anointed with Holy Spirit and power, healing those oppressed by the devil
Acts 28:27 - quoting Isaiah 6:9 - healing through salvation
Hebrews 12:13 - discipline brings healing
1 Peter 2:24 - By Christ’s wounds we were healed - sins forgiven & restored to the Shepherd

Allowing for these variant meanings, here is James 5:13-16 again.

James 5:13-16 (NAS) Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praises. 14 Is anyone among you weak? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; 15 and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is weary, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed (restored and made whole). The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.

Our God is the Great Healer (Jehovah Rapha). He has healed man from the greatest illness of all, his spiritual death, and he has given him new life in His Son—Jesus Christ. All we need to do in order to get the cure is to trust that His Son did die for our sins according to the Scriptures, was buried, and rose again also according to the Scriptures. Having been healed from spiritual death and given new life, our God continues to work in and through us as He chooses. Sometimes He does the miraculous and heals people in this life in ways that we know only came from Him according to His purposes. Sometimes He heals people by having them pack away their physical tent and entering His presence (which ultimately happens to all who trust Him and physical death to all period until His Son comes again). Other times, He gives us the strength for the day to endure illness, weakness, and afflictions of all sorts for His glory. We need to be careful that we do not put God in our box because of our expectations. He is the infinitely wise God who is true to Him promises.

Consider the apostle Paul who wrote, “Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:7–10, NASB95)

“Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16–18, NASB95)

Our God cares about our welfare, and He established something truly special in James chapter 5, when someone is so sickened for any reason that they know they can call upon the elders of their church to come to them, pray with them, and even anoint their head with oil as a special recognition of our God who sets apart, soothes, restores, and even heals. Our God hears those prayers and He does keep His promises. We should never lose sight of the great obligation that we have to pray for one another that we might all be continually strengthened and healed.

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man,” (Ephesians 3:14–16, NASB95)

Monday, November 11, 2013

Faithful Servants

“Then Joshua commanded the officers of the people, saying, “Pass through the midst of the camp and command the people, saying, ‘Prepare provisions for yourselves, for within three days you are to cross this Jordan, to go in to possess the land which the Lord your God is giving you, to possess it.’ ” To the Reubenites and to the Gadites and to the half-tribe of Manasseh, Joshua said, “Remember the word which Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, saying, ‘The Lord your God gives you rest and will give you this land.’ “Your wives, your little ones, and your cattle shall remain in the land which Moses gave you beyond the Jordan, but you shall cross before your brothers in battle array, all your valiant warriors, and shall help them, until the Lord gives your brothers rest, as He gives you, and they also possess the land which the Lord your God is giving them. Then you shall return to your own land, and possess that which Moses the servant of the Lord gave you beyond the Jordan toward the sunrise.”” (Joshua 1:10–15, NASB95)

This morning we went to a Veteran’s Day ceremony in which our son’s Scout troop was participating along with the Young Marines and the Civil Air Patrol as they, along with the Veterans of Foreign Wars, honored those who have served and are currently serving in our country’s military. Following the ceremony, the Scouts retired two flags which had also done their service flying as a symbol for all that we celebrate.

These ceremonies hold a very special place in my heart as my dad served in the US Navy for thirty years, and then following his eventual retirement from paid employment, he and my mom spent the rest of their lives serving veterans and our community through the Fleet Reserve Association. The roots of patriotism run deep in our family who was here in this new land as settlers from its earliest days.

But our family is not alone in this. Even today we are praying for a friend who is an Army Chaplain and who has just left for his third deployment, serving both our God and our country. We are praying for him, his wife, those with him, and his first grandchild who will be delivered in his absence.

Driving home, as Robin told me of our friend sharing an ultrasound picture of his grandchild saluting veterans on this day, I thought of another valiant warrior and servant who was faithful over the long haul, one who was faithful in bringing to realization a new homeland. I wrote about this person in July, when our first grandson was born. This person, of course, is Caleb. Caleb was consistent in following after God from all that we read of him in Scripture, but this passage which follows describing him later in life is one that really shows what it is to be a valiant warrior and a faithful servant.

“Now these are the territories which the sons of Israel inherited in the land of Canaan, which Eleazar the priest, and Joshua the son of Nun, and the heads of the households of the tribes of the sons of Israel apportioned to them for an inheritance,” … “Then the sons of Judah drew near to Joshua in Gilgal, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite said to him, “You know the word which the Lord spoke to Moses the man of God concerning you and me in Kadesh-barnea. I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the Lord sent me from Kadesh-barnea to spy out the land, and I brought word back to him as it was in my heart. Nevertheless my brethren who went up with me made the heart of the people melt with fear; but I followed the Lord my God fully. So Moses swore on that day, saying, ‘Surely the land on which your foot has trodden will be an inheritance to you and to your children forever, because you have followed the Lord my God fully.’ Now behold, the Lord has let me live, just as He spoke, these forty-five years, from the time that the Lord spoke this word to Moses, when Israel walked in the wilderness; and now behold, I am eighty-five years old today. I am still as strong today as I was in the day Moses sent me; as my strength was then, so my strength is now, for war and for going out and coming in. Now then, give me this hill country about which the Lord spoke on that day, for you heard on that day that Anakim were there, with great fortified cities; perhaps the Lord will be with me, and I will drive them out as the Lord has spoken.”” (Joshua 14:1, 6–12, NASB95)

Caleb impressed me because he did not see service to his God and his countrymen as something for the young alone. He remained committed even to his eighty-fifth year of life to go into battle to do what God had given him to do. On a more recent scale, I am also impressed with the example of my own father, who after serving faithfully for thirty years and officially being recognized as retired, chose to return back to others what he had been given in his earlier years through continued volunteer service.

A veteran is someone who has been there and done that. We have so many of them in our country who are to be remembered because of their military service, just as we have so many around us in our churches who have been faithful in serving our God.  Veterans are not people to be put on a shelf, but rather they are people who have gone where maybe we haven’t and to whom we can look in honor as we follow their example and learn at their feet.

I can only imagine how the sons and grandsons responded as they stood in Caleb’s presence when he made his declaration of commitment to go and do what Moses had commissioned him to do and what the Lord had instructed.

With citizenship in heaven and here in this country, I am truly thankful today as I reflect on the faithful veterans who have served both, and I pray for the salvation of those who serve our country and do not know our Lord. I also pray for endurance and safety for those in service to both God and country that they might remain faithful in their calling and resolute in the fulfilling of their duty to both.

As Christians our battle is not one which is seen, but that which is unseen, and we have a powerful and faithful God who has already won the war, now we just wait on the final battle.

“These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful.” (Revelation 17:14, NASB95)

…and the celebration which follows.

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.”” (Revelation 21:1–5, NASB95)

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Our God and Our Healer

Yesterday I ended by speaking of the Hebrew word, raphah, found in Psalm 46:10 for being still or ceasing to strive. In discussing the blog with Robin she asked about how this relates to one of the names of God, Jehovah Rapha. So, I went and looked at both words using my New American Standard Concordance and Dictionary using Strong’s numbers.

(Rabbit Trail: Strong’s Concordance was first published in 1890 as the combined work of over one hundred of Dr. Strong’s colleagues. In it they reviewed nearly 9,000 Aramaic-Hebrew words and over 5,000 Greek words used in the Old and New Testament based upon the King James translation. As the years progressed his system gained wider acceptance and numerous other tools were developed using his numbering system. I started with a King James Strong’s Concordance which I think weighed about a million pounds, and several years later I was able to get the New American Standard Concordance and Dictionary using his numbers. Now there are several readily available concordances on line for free or at a minimal cost.)

As I looked at the two words in their original language spelling it was readily apparent to me that they ended with a different Hebrew letter. The word we looked at yesterday, “raphah” (Strong’s #7503) sure enough ended with an ‘h’ (He) and the word for today, “rapha” (Strong’s #7495) ended with a silent letter (Aleph) which when translated into another language is not carried over. So, the long answer to Robin’s short question is that they are different words, but likely not totally unrelated as I compared their meanings.

Raphah had to do with weakness, with letting go either because of an inability to continue or a recognition of inherent feebleness or even going limp. Rapha, on the other hand, means to heal, to become refreshed or repaired. While I am not a Hebrew scholar, and rely greatly on readily available tools and solid commentary, my logical mind lets me look at these things and say, “Hmmm” as I connect the dots. When I am weakened by circumstances of life or by physical issues I need healing or restoration, and for that I am to call upon the Lord who is my ever-present God and my healer.

“And He said, “If you will give earnest heed to the voice of the LORD [YHWH or Jehovah, the I AM] your God [Elohim, the God of creation in Genesis], and do what is right in His sight, and give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have put on the Egyptians; for I, the LORD [Jehovah], am your healer (rapha).”” (Exodus 15:26, NASB95)

Here we have our God (the I AM) who pre-existed all creation, spoken of as our Creator (as we know from Genesis) and Healer. The context of this passage was speaking of a promise to the Hebrew people that if they would do what is right in God’s sight and listen and obey (give ear and not just lip service) to His commandments that He would not afflict them as He had the Egyptians, but would be their Healer.

While Jehovah and Rapha are not commonly found together in Scripture, only Exodus 15:26 that I know of, it is clearly a teaching of Scripture that our God heals. One example is found in Proverbs 3:8. Following Proverbs 3:5-6, which is all about trusting in the Lord with all of our hearts and acknowledging Him in all of our ways as He sets the path of our feet, we have verses 7 and 8.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and turn away from evil [Strong #7451 (ra)]. It will be healing [Strong #7500 from 7495 (rapha)] to your body and refreshment to your bones.” (Proverbs 3:5–8, NASB95)

Verse 8 clearly speaks of healing that comes from following after God. While God may not choose to heal us from cancer or to lift the immediate pressures of life that come upon us, He has promised to strengthen us for that which He does not heal and to give us peace to be still when everything around us is in turmoil. What He expects of us is to call upon Him trusting Him to prove through us what is good and acceptable and perfect.

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2, NASB95)

“No temptation [test, trial, or anything else] has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted [pushed, pulled or prodded] beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13, NASB95)

Scripture also tells us that we are to pray for one another and even at times to take those important things to the elders of the church who also are to pray for you.

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6–7, NASB95)

“With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints,” (Ephesians 6:18, NASB95)

“Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises. Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” (James 5:13–16, NASB95)

God cares about our health.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll come back and take a look at James 5.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Watcha Thinkin’?

"Be still, and know that I am God...." (Psalm 46:10a)

“What are you thinking about?” “Nothing.”  Nothing as an answer works for a moment of zoning out, but like a ditch on a rainy day, it’ll fill up soon enough. I know there are times which I honestly can answer “nothing” as there actually is nothing in specific I am focused on. And there are other times my thoughts are flipping between an assortment of things with no specific focus. Then there are the times when I do try to focus on something, and other stuff tries to pry its way in.

This whole process of thinking can be very relaxing at times, while at other times it can be quite pressing.  There are times when I try to quiet myself to listen, and every small thought I could have of the world crops in. There are other times when I might go before Him to spend time with Him, but there is something else on my mind that I cannot put aside. In both of them I am learning more and more that being still before God is not trying to shut everything else out, but resting in His control over these things knowing that He desires me to come to Him in all things—the big and the small, the pleasant and the pressing—laying it all before Him in petitions and in praise.

My first experiences with Psalm 46:10 were not from reading my Bible, but from cards and posters and seemingly pat comfort phrases. It was kind of like taking a couple of “be still’ aspirins which really didn’t deal with my aches. I had no real knowledge of the verse (not even knowing where it was found most of the time), and I was getting quite frustrated because I found myself unable to be totally still and listen to God.

Then one day I actually looked it up after hearing it quoted in a different translation—the New American Standard Bible (NASB). It read “Cease striving” rather than “Be still.” This gave me occasion to stop and ask just what it meant to ‘be still’ or ‘cease striving,’ and along with that over time, to open to the passage and explore it further.

The first clue that I did not accurately understand the verse was actually found in reading the rest of the verse, which I did in several translations.

“Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10, AV)

“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”” (Psalm 46:10, NIV84)

“Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”” (Psalm 46:10, NASB95)

Most of them included those same words, ‘be still,’ but they all continued with God being exalted among the nations (or the heathen or unbelievers) and Him being exalted in the earth. As I thought about this I began to realize that this being still had more to do with being quieted in the face of something with the certain knowledge that God wins and that everyone will acknowledge Him in the end.

Next I looked at the verses around it as I read the entire psalm, which I will include here in the New American Standard because it was the Bible which shaped most of my years of learning from God’s Word.

“For the choir director. A Psalm of the sons of Korah, set to Alamoth. A Song.

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 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. Selah. 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. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold. Selah.

“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.” The LORD of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our stronghold. Selah.” (Psalm 46, NASB95)

You see, verses 10 and 11 are actually the capping statements in a song about running to God as our hiding place and our strength during times of trouble. He is powerful over the entirety of the earth, including volcanoes, floods, and earthquakes (not to say that these verses are specifically speaking of these, but definitely made me think of them). It is from Him that the streams of life flow and which give us hope even of entering one day into His dwelling place. God is in the middle of all of this, and the earth cannot do anything apart from Him.

And the same truth applies to all of the people who inhabit the earth. He is powerful over kings and wars. He is the one who delivers victoriously. And for that reason, we can rest before His powerful presence knowing that He will indeed be exalted. In that I can find peace for my heart to be calmed and trust to give my struggles over to Him knowing that He is the one who is for me and He is the one who makes me to live victoriously in Him.

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, “FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:31–39, NASB95)

So, now I have learned and continue to be reminded to be thankful for those times when I am truly quiet before Him, knowing that He does have everything firmly under control. These are the times when I find myself worshipping Him and thanking Him for His hand in my life, for Him knowing how to bring me through the big things and the small ones because He truly does care about all of my concerns.

I can be quiet before my God because my God is able to quiet everything else. And when I am not quieted, it is a sure sign that those things have captured my eyes and they serve as a good clue of my need to turn my eyes back on Him.

Lastly, as I looked at 'be still' itself, I was amazed to see that one of the common meanings of the Hebrew word, raphah, is to relax, to let it go. I heard someone describe this once by having us hold onto a ball palms down and fingers apart—try it.