Sweet Meditations

It was one of those awful nights as a coach where you stare blankly out the bus window, wondering what in the world went wrong.  As the bus carrying the girls’ basketball team made its way out of town and onto the highway, I sat across the aisle from the head coach.  Even though I was the assistant coach, I still felt the weight of the embarrassing loss.  However, from the back of the bus came the sound of laughter, joking, and goofiness.  The jovial sounds escalated and I could practically feel the coach’s temperature rising from where I sat.  Finally, he could take it no more.  He got up, walked to the back of the bus and in a firm, yet controlled tone, said something along the lines of, “I don’t know what you girls are used to, but I’m not used to getting my tail handed to me like we just did!  You better figure out what its gonna take to be mentally prepared and you better figure out how to take this game seriously!  You girls should be embarrassed and instead you are acting like you don’t even care how bad that team made you look!”  Needless to say, when he sat down, the rest of the bus ride was quiet.  It took time, but throughout the season, the girls learned to think rightly and take the game more seriously.  By the end of the season, the team was a play-off contender.

How you think, what you think about, and where your mind dwells makes a huge difference in life.  One of the reasons Christians struggle is because they stop thinking biblically about their circumstances and the events that surround them.  Instead, they begin thinking about themselves, how things affect them, how they aren’t getting what they want, or things are not the way they want them.  In other words, as Christians, we can either think biblically or we can think selfishly. Either way, how we think matters.  I was struck by this as I was reading through Psalm 104 this morning.

Psalm 104 begins with these words: “Bless the Lord, O my soul!”  Note the Psalmist begins with worship!  He is making a choice to worship the Lord from the depths of his heart.  As we read on, we see him write, “O Lord my God, You are very great:  You are clothed with honor and majesty, who cover Yourself with light as with a garment, who stretch out the heavens like a curtain.”  The Psalmist worships God because God is the great God!  And, the great God is his God!

The Psalmist then goes on for the rest of the Psalm describing the greatness of God!  He reigns from Heaven and is over all Creation.  He “Laid the foundations of the earth, so that it should not be moved forever” (5).  The Lord God put the sea exactly where He wanted it to be and hedged it in with mountains.  He sent springs and creeks into the valleys for water, trees for the birds nest in and sing from, and grass for the animals to eat.  He made the moon and the sun to mark the days and seasons.  The Psalmist goes on to write, “O Lord, how manifold are Your works!  In wisdom You have made them all.  The earth is full of your possessions.” (24).  The Psalmist continues describing how God provides food and life for all living things, even bringing new life into Creation.  Throughout the Psalm, we see a picture of God’s sovereign goodness and wisdom exercised through the order of His Creation.

The Psalmist spends over 30 verses describing the greatness of God as seen in Creation!  As the Psalm draws to a close, we read this: “May my meditation be sweet to Him; I will be glad in the Lord.” (34).  What is the Psalmist getting at?  Our thinking about life and our circumstances must line up with who God is!  When we are ruled by anxiety and fear, we not thinking on the greatness of God!  When are angry and controlling, we are not thinking on the greatness of God!  When we are depressed and joyless, we are not thinking on the greatness of God!  When we are complaining and disgruntled, we are not thinking on the greatness of God!  In all of these instances, and countless others, our meditation is not sweet to God and we are not glad in Him.  You see, our understanding of God and our faith in Him is directly proportional to how we view life.

So, here is the challenge for you and me.  Are our thoughts and what we think about sweet to God?  Or do our thoughts and what we think about discount the greatness of God?  Are we glad in the Lord?  Or is our gladness based upon circumstances being the way we want them thus revealing that we find our joy in something other than God?  Psalm 104 reminds of the sovereignty, goodness, wisdom, and love of God and challenges us to think about life with those truths as foundational to the way we think.  Thus, may our thoughts and what we think about reflect these truths!  Oh…and spend some time in Psalm 104!  It is wonderful food for the soul!

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Precious Dust

Last night after dinner, our family took a drive up into the mountains.  We parked along a creek and hiked a small trail that meandered along the tumbling water as it flowed joyfully down the narrow ravine.  As we walked along, we saw large groups of Trilliums that had grown up out of the freshly melted snow.  These large, white, three petaled flowers are a welcome sight in the Spring!  It is a sure sign that Spring is well on its way!  However, these beautiful flowers have an incredibly short lifespan.  Within a matter of days, their vibrant white turns to a deep purple and then to a pale brown before dropping lifelessly off the stem of the plant.  The plants boldly declare Spring is here and then they disappear into the ground.

We shouldn’t miss that Scripture often refers to humanity as the grass or flowers in a field, here one day and gone the next.  Scripture reminds us that we come from dust and quickly return to dust.  There is a reason why the phrase “Dust to dust” has long been attached to funerals.  I have been especially reminded of these things in the past few weeks.  Our weakness and frailty has been readily exposed.  We can be taken out by a virus we can’t even see and an entire country can be nearly shut down by a microscopic organism.  Regardless of where one stands in regard to the government’s response to the virus, we should not miss that nearly 18,000 Americans have died in the last couple weeks.  If we value human life, that is a significant number in a very short amount of time.  It stands as a poignant reminder of our frailty.

But here is the question: Does our frailty make us worthless?  Are we no more important than the Trillium that announces Spring and then quickly dies?  The Bible gives us a firm answer to this question.  In Psalm 103, we read these words.  “As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him.  For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.  As for man, his days are like grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes.  For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.  But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children’s children, to such as keep His covenant, and to those who remember His commandments to do them.” (Psalm 103:13-18).

How does God pity us and extend His mercy and His righteousness to us?  Well, earlier in the Psalm we read, “For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:11-12).  How has God done this?  Through the Cross of Christ.

Today is known as Good Friday.  It is the day in which we remember that Christ went to the Cross for us.  He took God’s righteous wrath for our sins in our place.  Jesus was our representative before the Holy God.  He took the penalty of death that should be ours to take.  Because He died on the Cross for us, our sins are forgiven through faith in Him.  He has removed our transgressions from us, as far as the east is from the west and clothed us with righteousness.

The Bible reminds us we are frail, though we are often slow to believe it.  But the Bible also tells us that we are precious and valuable.  While our frailty is compared to dust, grass, and flowers, our value is compared to children.  We are so precious to God that He sent His Son to die on the Cross for us.  We are so precious to Christ that He went to the Cross with joy because He knew it would mean we would be with Him for eternity (See John 17:20-26; Hebrews 12:1-2).  So, this Easter, as we are reminded of our frailty, may we be all the more thankful that we are precious to God!  His mercy towards us is from everlasting to everlasting!  You are precious to God!

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Wisdom or Fear?

Wisdom or fear?  This has been a question flowing frequently through my mind, like the planes that regularly flow along our house as they coast into the nearby airport.  A package comes from Amazon…should I allow no one to touch it except me and then wash my hands really well after opening it?  Some grocery items are at Costco and others at Wal-Mart…do I only go to Costco and forgo the other items so as not to have double exposure by going to two stores?  Is that trip to Home Depot an essential trip or a trip for a project that could wait?  Should we continue with our vacation plans for May or should we post-pone?  I need to floss…when did I last wash my hands?  Be honest…I know I ‘m not the only one who has had these questions go through their mind!

Questions that seemed silly or unnecessary three weeks ago are now questions that regularly flow through our minds.  We find ourselves facing questions that can seem like an endless hole.  We exit a store and use the hand sanitizer when we get into our car…but we touched our keys, our phone, our pocket, our door handle, our ignition, and our console before we got to the hand sanitizer.  Now what?  Do we need to purchase a fumigator?  In fact, I saw an article today by a doctor who said keeping Covid-19 out of your house is easy.  Just walk in the door, go straight to the bedroom, undress, throw your dirty laundry in the hamper, take a shower, brush your teeth, put on clean clothes, and then go wipe down every surface you may have touched.  Right!  No problem!  But what about the car I got out of, the shoes I untied, the jacket I took off, and the car keys I put on the counter?  How are we as Christians to think rightly about these things?

First of all, we need to remember that our hope is in the Lord, not in remaining healthy.  Health, though a good thing, can quickly become an idol in our lives.  Many serve it far more than they realize.  Could you still have joy and hope in the Lord if you remained in a place of unhealth, such as diabetes, cancer, or severe arthritis?  God is the Lord who reigns and thus we must sovereignly entrust ourselves into His loving hands.

Second, we must understand biblical fear.  Paul Tripp helpfully describes the three forms of biblical fear.  First is “Fear of God” which is holy reverence for the Creator of all.  Second is the “Rapid Response Fear” which is our instinctual ability to react quickly in a dangerous situation.  The third is “Appropriate Concern”, which Tripp defines as that which, “Allows us to be sobered by what we are facing, and with our God-given ability to analyze, we make wise and planned choices to protect ourselves and those we love.”  These are the biblical fears God has built into us.

Third, we must understand unbiblical fear.  Unbiblical fear is dwelling upon that which concerns us or makes us afraid.  It is allowing ourselves to be controlled by fears and forgetting that God is sovereignly working in the midst of it all for His glory and our ultimate good.  The more your mind dwells upon a concern, the more fear will grow in your mind.  Specifically, in the Covid-19 situation, it is being consumed with everything going on, reading article after article, over analyzing every decision, checking the news 10 times a day, and making decisions more from fear than from wisdom.

Fourth, we must understand God has told us not to be filled with unbiblical fear.  Apparently, Timothy was a young man who struggled with fear.  He served as a pastor in a difficult environment at Ephesus and faced the hardship of ministry.  In the midst of it all, he struggled to not give way to fear and thus Paul wrote to him, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (II Timothy 1:7).  Instead of fear, we are to flee to the truths given to us in the Gospel!  Consider what Paul said in light of the Gospel.  What is more powerful than having the chains of sin and death destroyed?  What is more loving than the love God has for us in sending Christ to die for us?  What is stronger for a sound mind than the truth of God’s Word?  Fear must not control us but rather the truth of the Gospel and God’s Word must control us.  You are loved and kept by the all-powerful God who is the eternal truth!  “For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting, and His truth endures to all generations.” (Psalm 100:5).

Fifth, we must not lose sight of love for others.  In times like these, it can be tempting to just look out for yourself and try to keep yourself and family safe.  But that isn’t all God has called us to!  Jesus said in John 15:12-13, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”  Let love for God and love for others fuel your decisions!

So, in putting this all together, as decisions are before you, ask yourself the question: “Am I making this choice out of fear or out of wisdom?”  Let’s go back to the example of getting in your car after being in the store.  You look at your hand sanitizer sitting there in the console.  What you do next may be wisdom or it may be fear.  It may be wisdom to squirt some on your hands and use it.  But it may be fear if squirting some on your hands, then your keys, then your phone, then your door handle, then your steering wheel, etc. is what gives you peace as you drive out of the parking lot.  Wisdom or fear?  Why am I doing what I am doing?

I have been thinking a lot about the Apostle Paul these days in regard to wisdom and fear.  Consider how he could have functioned.  He doesn’t go to Ananias after his conversion because he is afraid what a Christian Jew will think of him.  He doesn’t preach in the synagogue of Damascus because he is afraid the Jews who once loved him will now hate him.  He doesn’t go to the Jerusalem church because he is afraid of what the church there will think of him.  He doesn’t go Cyprus because the sea is scary and the boats so primitive.  He doesn’t go to Galatia because there is persecution there from both the Jews and the Gentiles.  He doesn’t go to Greece because it is a dangerous place full of idol worshipping people.  He doesn’t return to Jerusalem because people at Ephesus told him the Jews would kill him if he returned.  He doesn’t submit himself to go to Rome because it is the same government that killed Jesus.  He doesn’t write to the churches from Rome because he is afraid his imprisonment will bring shame to the Gospel.  And that is just a sampling!  Yet, where would the New Testament be if Paul made every decision based upon fear?

So Christian, make wise decisions to the best of your ability.  Make decisions out of love for God and love for others.  But flee the temptation to give way to fear and continually meditate upon the concerns of the day.  Instead, follow the example of Christ who faced constant fear through entrusting Himself to God (I Peter 2:23).  Use the hand sanitizer but do so knowing your hope is not in a solution of 60% alcohol!  Your hope is in the Creator God, who is 100% in control of all things we face!

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