Saturday, July 4, 2020

Hope for Our Nation

Photo by Mike LoCascio 2011
As the United States celebrates Independence Day, we seem to be in an unprecedented time of turmoil, uncertainty, division, and civil unrest. Every issue and threat to our nation seems to be highly politicized, to the point that political ideology seems to overwhelm common sense. 
 
More than ever, our nation needs God's mercy, grace, love and protection.Only in Him, Who works all things together for good for those who love Him (Romans 8:28), can we have hope for our nation. Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord (Psalm 33:12).
 
It is fitting for Christians to consider what the Bible says about those in authority over us. No matter how our personal feelings or our political leanings affect our thoughts about those in office, Scripture tells us to pray for those who rule over us (1 Timothy 2:2). 
 
This is appropriate, for there is no power that be whom God has not appointed to accomplish His specific purposes (Romans 13:1). We may not understand His choices, for His thoughts are higher than our thoughts, and His ways higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). Yet we are not to resist the powers over us, for they are of God, and rebellion would be against God Himself, leading to not only earthly consequences but to His judgment on us (Romans 13:2-7). 
 
When David fled for his life from King Saul, who in a jealous rage wanted him dead for being more popular with the people as a warrior leader than Saul was, David finally had the opportunity to take the life of Saul as he slept. But he could not even lay a hand on him, for he realized that Saul at that time was the Lord’s anointed, and that his own hour to rule awaited God’s perfect timing (1 Samuel 24:4-13). 
 
The apostle Paul established an authority structure revealed to him by Christ Himself. All of us, whether male or female, Jews or Gentiles, slaves or free men, are equal in God’s sight and one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28). God extends to whosoever shall call upon the Name of Jesus Christ the freely given gift of salvation (Acts 2:21, Romans 10:13). Regardless of our past, social status, nationality, or family history, all can be saved by trusting in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6). 
 
Yet we are all subject to the curse of sin (Romans 3:23), so God has ordained a power structure on earth to prevent chaos in our society and relationships. If we are to love others as God loves us (John 13:34-35), we must put their needs above our own, even if we are in a position of relative authority (Mark 9:35). 
 
In marriage, wives are to submit to their husbands, and yet husbands are to love their wives self-sacrificingly, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it (Ephesians 5:21-33). Children are to submit to their parents, and yet parents should not provoke them to anger (Ephesians 6:1-4) and should give them good gifts (Matthew 7:11). 
 
Employees are to submit to their employers, working as if working for God directly and not for an imperfect human, who like all humans can make mistakes. Yet the employer is to consider the needs of those under his authority, for God has placed him in a position of responsibility to be a good steward (Ephesians 6:5-9). 
 
Even within the church there is an authority structure. Christ Himself is the Head of the church (Colossians 1:18), or the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:1-4), and under Him is the pastor or bishop (Titus 1:7-9), who is the undershepherd. The elders or deacons report to the pastor, as do the teachers, worship and music directors, and other church leaders, and the congregation submits to all of their leadership. Yet the pastor, elders and leaders must also consider the needs of the flock over their own preferences (1 Timothy 3:1-13). 
 
To whom much is given, much is required (Luke 12:48), particularly in government where those elected or appointed to power should serve the good of their people ahead of their own ambition. The kings of Israel are an excellent example of how good rulers do this, whereas bad rulers fail to do so. The greatest rulers do not lord their power over their subjects, but serve and minister to them, following Christ’s example (Matthew 20:25-28). As He walked the earth, Jesus Himself submitted to the authority of God the Father (Matthew 21:23-27). 
 
Sometimes God may allow bad rulers into power as a form of judgment, allowing nations to get the tyrants they deserve. When the righteous rule, their subjects rejoice, but when the wicked rule, their subjects mourn (Proverbs 29:2). 
 
Yet regardless of the relative attributes or shortcomings of our earthly rulers, Christians should follow the law of the land, including paying taxes (Romans 13:7). Jesus Christ Himself instructed Peter to pay taxes on behalf of Himself and the apostles (Matthew 17:24-27; 22:17-22). He Himself said that He did not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17).
 
Thankfully, the laws of the United States, and those of many other nations, are based on Biblical law, or the Ten Commandments and other laws given by God to Moses to govern God’s people (Exodus 20:1-17). Christians should therefore submit to their earthly rulers and the laws they establish, while realizing that we ultimately serve the highest authority, and it is to Him that we pledge our highest allegiance (Matthew 6:33; Colossians 1:18). 
 
For the most part, if we do good as God defines it, we will be keeping the law of the land, which is established to prevent and punish evil (Romans 13:3-5).  If and when we cannot keep the laws of the land and of God at the same time, God’s law must be our guiding principle (Acts 5:29). 
 
To avoid this conflict, Christians should be diligent not only to pray for salvation, wisdom and guidance for those in authority, but also to humble ourselves and pray for our nation. If we who are God’s people humble ourselves and confess our sins, individually and as a nation, He will hear us and heal our land (2 Chronicles 7:14). 
 
As we celebrate Independence Day, may we remember to pray for those in authority over us, for healing and forgiveness in our land, and for Holy Spirit guidance to first honor and obey our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! 
 
© 2018 Laurie Collett
Edited and reposted from the archives 







Saturday, June 27, 2020

A Lesson in Psalms: Honey, Beth, Best, Staff

Photo (2009) by Toby Hudson

As regular readers of this blog may know, I often have detailed and vivid dreams. Recently, however, I awoke with no memory of a dream, but only with four words in my mind: Honey – Beth – Best – Staff.

I had no idea what this meant, particularly since I don’t know anyone named Beth, or what the Lord might be trying to tell me, until my husband and I began our daily devotional readings. The first passage designated for that day was from Psalm 119, including the portion labeled “Beth” in our King James Version Bible! 

This Psalm is not only the longest book in the Bible, but also a stunning example of God’s literary craftsmanship and design. Its twenty-two stanzas each contain eight verses and are each subtitled with one of the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, in alphabetical order. Each verse begins with the same letter for which the stanza is named.

Not surprisingly, Psalm 119 is all about God's Word, praising it, urging us to love it and meditate on it, and to learn from its laws and commandments. God bringing the “Beth” stanza of Psalm 119 into our daily reading encouraged me to consider in the context of the Psalms the meaning of the four words He summoned into my mind. 

Honey,” the first word in my dream phrase, is first mentioned in the Psalms in Chapter 19, which praises God’s law, testimony, statutes, and commandments. We are to observe these in fear of the Lord, meaning in an attitude of respecting and revering His judgments (Psalm 19:7-8).   

Normally we think of judgments as being punishments, yet this Psalm says that they are true and righteous, more desirable than much fine gold, and sweeter than honey and the honeycomb. Why? Because they warn us of how not to sin against God, and if we keep them, we will be richly rewarded (Psalm 19: 9-11). 

Blessings, like honey, often come in unexpected settings. Samson found honey in the carcass of a lion he had slain with his bare hands (Judges 14:5-9), suggesting that sometimes we must endure great trials before we can enjoy the rewards of victory. The struggle itself makes the blessing that much sweeter, like a spoonful of honey a mother gives her sick child after he swallows the bitter medicine

The sweetest blessing and reward anyone could have is salvation and eternal life, given freely to all who trust in the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6). Before we tasted of the Lord’s goodness (Psalm 34:8), we were His enemies, hating Him and rebelling against Him. But His infinite love for us is shown in His death for us even when we were His enemies, reconciling us to Holy God and giving us eternal life (Romans 5:10). 

Once submitted to Him, He will satisfy even His enemies with the finest wheat, for He is the bread of life, and with honey out of the rock (Psalm 81:10-16), for He is the Rock of our salvation (Psalm 18:2,48; 62:2-7; 89:26; 95:1). 

BETH (Psalm 119:9-16). 

Psalm 119:9 Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word.
10 With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments.
11 Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.
12 Blessed art thou, O Lord: teach me thy statutes.
13 With my lips have I declared all the judgments of thy mouth.
14 I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies, as much as in all riches.
15 I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways.
16 I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word. 

This stanza explains that following God’s Word is our best defense against sin, and that joy comes from incorporating it into our being! We must study it, for it reveals God and His ways and character. We must treasure it, share it with others through our witness, meditate on it, and delight in it. 

Later on in Psalm 119, verse 103 reminds us that God’s Word is sweeter than honey to our mouth. If we fill our heart and mind with this sweetness (Philippians 4:8), rather than with the bitter poison of sin and negativity, it will overflow into our speech and actions, refreshing others like a pure fountain or spring (James 3:11). 

Best

Surprisingly, there is only one mention of the word “best” in the Psalms: Behold, thou hast made my days as an handbreadth; and mine age is as nothing before thee: verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity. Selah. (Psalm 39:5). 

This is not using the word in a positive context, but rather is a warning against placing any stock in our own strength. God is infinite and eternal (Hebrews 13:8), whereas our physical life disappears like a puff of smoke (James 4:14). Even at our “best” we are nothing in comparison to Him (Psalm 8:4). He gives us our very life, our next breath, our salvation, and the best gifts, namely spiritual gifts, all of which pale beside His infinite love (1 Corinthians 12:31-1 Corinthians 13). 

Staff 

How can we therefore make the best use of the limited lifespan He has allotted to us, as well as of the time, talents, treasure and spiritual gifts He has distributed to us? By thankfully accepting and following His correction, according to these four words He placed in my mind. In what seems to be hardship and judgment there is great blessing, when He uses it to shape us into His image (Philippians 3:10). 

Just as a loving father disciplines his children for their own good, a shepherd guides His sheep by getting their attention with the rod and staff. The word “staff” in the Psalms first appears in Psalm 23, the Shepherd’s Psalm: 

4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. 

We don’t normally think of being poked with a rod or pulled along with the crook of a staff as being a comfort, but David in his darkest hours recognized the healing and restoring power of God’s loving hand of correction, as expressed in the above verse. We can take solace in the pain, knowing that we are saved thereby even from the power of death. God is our loving Father Who corrects His children when we drift off His narrow path into harm's way (Hebrews 12:5-11).

Jesus Christ is the Good, Great, and Chief Shepherd (John 10:11-18; Hebrews 13:20; 1 Peter 5:4), guiding us when we, as sheep, have gone astray (Psalm 119:176; Isaiah 53:6; Matthew 18:12). With His staff He will lead us through the valley of the shadow of death, not leave us helpless or hopeless within it. As we pass through that valley we find goodness and mercy, and as we emerge from it we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever (Psalm 23:6). 

The only other mention of “staff” in Psalms is in Psalm 105:16, referring to another type of judgment, with the Lord calling for a famine upon the land and breaking the whole staff of bread. This is a reminder that God provides for our physical nourishment through bread, which is the staff of life; and for our spiritual sustenance through His Word, which is the staff of spiritual life. We would starve if He were to withhold bread from us, but our worst judgment comes from being deprived of hearing His Word.

Honey – Beth – Best – Staff reminded me that the sweetest blessings can come from God’s Word, not only as a source of comfort, but as a correction when we stray far from His chosen path. May we hide His Word in our heart, that we would not sin against Him!

© 2020 Laurie Collett