Saturday, October 27, 2012

Psalm 44

O God, we have heard with our ears, our fathers have told us the work that You did in their days, in the days of old.  You with Your own hand drove out the nations; then You planted them; You afflicted peoples, then You spread them abroad.  For by their own sword they did not possess the land, and their own arm did not save them, but Your right hand and Your arm and the light of Your presence, for You favored them (Psalm 44:1-3).

     We all know the Biblical accounts of how God freed Israel from slavery in Egypt and gave them the Promised Land in Canaan.  While they were still in Egypt, God’s mighty hand brought plague after plague upon the Egyptians.  Before the last plague Moses records the words of the Lord saying, “‘At midnight I will go throughout Egypt.  Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the slave girl, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well.  There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again.  But among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any man or animal.’  Then you will know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel” (Exodus 11:4-7).
     The principle is this: God makes a distinction between those who are His children and those who are not.  Israel was freed from slavery and led into the land which He gave them by His right hand and His arm and the light of His presence.  It was for their good, but also for His glory.  God did what He did for Israel so His name would be praised not only among His children, but also among those who were not His children.  At Jericho Rahab saved the two Israelite spies and said, “We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed.  When we heard it, our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven and on earth beneath” (Joshua 2:10-11).
     As children of God, our lives are to speak testimony of the greatness of our God.  Those who are not in God’s family are to look at our lives and fear the Lord and praise Him.  Our actions should never be the focus, what God should always be center.  In the same way that Israel was saved from slavery to Egypt, God also saved us from slavery to sin and the domain of darkness (Romans 6:17; Colossians 1:13).  Instead of praising the Lord for what He has done like the first half of Psalms 44, many times I find myself living in the second half of the chapter.  Instead of praising God for all He has done and will do, I get wrapped up in trials and tribulations in the here and now. “Yet You have rejected us and brought us to dishonor, and do not go out with our armies…You have given us as sheep to be eaten and have scattered us among the nations.  You sell Your people cheaply, and have not profited by their sale.  You make us a reproach to our neighbors…You make us a byword among the nations, a laughingstock among the peoples…” (Psalm 44:9-14).  Instead of getting caught up in our circumstances and trials we should continue to fear the Lord for who He is, what He has done, and what He will do.  Fearing the Lord is more than reverence and respect; it is reverence and respect that leads to action.  “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil” (Proverbs 8:13).  As His children we are to stand firm in our faith, flee evil, continue to seek His righteousness, and continue to trust He will use these trials for His glory.  “All this has come upon us, but we have not forgotten You, and we have not dealt falsely with Your covenant.  Out heart has not turned back, and our steps have not deviated from Your way” (Psalm 44:17-18).
     Romans 8:36 quotes Psalm 44:22 which says, “But for Your sake we are killed all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”  Many people quote the latter half of Romans 8 emphasizing that nothing, “Neither death, nor life..nor powers, nor height..nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God” (Romans 8:38-39).  Praise God for that!  But also praise God that, “For Your sake we are killed all day long.”  Suffering, hardship, and trials endured for the glory of God are cause for us to rejoice.  “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (Colossians 1:24).  Everyone who was not at the crucifixion of Jesus did not see Him patiently endure His suffering, but God has allowed the body of Christ to be used “in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.  What “is lacking” is that the world today did not see Christ, who for the joy set before Him, patiently endured suffering on the cross.  Therefore God has allowed us, the Body of Christ, to encounter hardships and suffering so that we can be a glimpse to the world of Christ has done for us.
     God brought all this to mind this morning not because I am encountering suffering but because I was discouraged.  A couple things didn't happen the way I wanted them to, and I felt like God wasn't coming through for me.  He used these passages to remind me that, as His children, our greatest joy in life is that we can be used by Him for His glory even through something as small as our response to a minuscule trial.  In every trial, big or small, we need to stand firm in faith and pray with confidence to our Lord, “Rise up, be our help, and redeem us for the sake of Your loving-kindness” (Psalm 44:26).  We can have confidence in the midst of any hardship that, "He who watches over you will not slumber" (Psalm 121:3).  Godly perseverance leads to joy.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Bless versus blessings

     One thing that the Lord has been teaching Jamie and I lately is the importance of praising Him and thanking Him.  As we getting closer every day to leaving for the mission field, I realized that I am praying significantly more than I used to.  However, my prayers have been consumed with requests, struggles and questions.  “Lord, please raise up partners for your ministry…Please comfort me during this time…Where should I be focusing my time and energy?”  God has constantly been drawing me back to the phrase “Bless the Lord.”  

“Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His Holy name.  Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget none of His benefits; who pardons all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases; who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with loving-kindness and compassion, who satisfies your years with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle.”      Psalm 103:1-5

     Most of my prayers over the years have been built around my desire for blessings.  Blessings are not just limited to material goods.  I want to be blessed with an abundance of money so that it will never again be a concern.  I want to be blessed with certainty of future plans knowing exactly where we will end up going so that I can plan and prepare.  I want to be blessed with constant comfort so that the stresses of life won’t get to me.  Most of my life I have prayed because I wanted to be blessed.  More than anything else I have wanted Him to pour out His goodness on me, and thus I spent my time asking Him to. 
     So when I heard the Psalmist’s words ring out, “Bless the Lord”, I was a little confused.  My understanding of the word bless has been limited to blessings. For example, “The Lord blessed us by pouring out blessings on us.”  I couldn't comprehend what it meant to bless God.  Looking into to it revealed that our word blessings is related to the Hebrew word berakah which means a gift or present.  Our word bless is related to a barak which can be translated as bless or kneel.   “Bless the Lord” is the image of a man kneeling in awe and respect while singing praises to God.   
     A blessing Jamie and I have recently received is that our prayer cards were printed for free.  Jamie contacted a printing company she deals with at work to ask for a price quote for printing our cards.  She sent an email with our prayer card template and told them she appreciates working with them and that the material they printed for her work had generated a lot of business.  The next day the owner of the company emailed her back saying they would love to use her quote for marketing and would print our prayer cards for free.  God is good.  Free prayer cards are something I never would have even thought of asking for, but God provided it.  All we can do in this situation is bless His name.  Thank you, Lord, for being a good God.  May we make it a priority daily to bless Your name first and foremost. 

Matt Redman - 10,000 Reasons

Monday, October 8, 2012

Rescued for what?

The newly accepted ReachGlobal missionaries

     The interviews and application process are complete.  We are now officially missionaries with ReachGlobal!  Our newsletter will be sent out in about a week filling everyone in on what is next for us.  Thank you for all your prayers and encouragement!  Jamie and I are super excited about where God will take us and about being a part of what He is doing around the world.  God has been preparing us for years, and He is still working on us daily.
     This time, to save money, we decided to drive to the interview in Minnesota instead of flying.  Before we headed out God brought to mind one of our last blog posts about everything being for the glory of God’s name.  I really felt the Lord telling us, “You can pray for safe travels, or you can see what better things I have planned.  Do you desire safety and comfort over the opportunity to have My name glorified?”  So instead of praying for safe travels we prayed, “Lord, in whatever happens we ask that you would glorify yourself and allow us to be excited about what you are doing.”  Thirteen hours of driving later we were sitting on the side of the road with a smoking engine.  Of course the VERY FIRST thought into my head when I saw the smoke is, “I should have prayed for safety."  
     Instantly God really began working on our hearts reminding us that He is sovereign and in complete control.  “Take comfort, I am going to glorify My name through this,” He constantly whispered to me.  It turns out we could not have broken down in a better place.  We had just gotten out of 2 hours of bumper to bumper traffic in Chicago, and the next day’s drive was through the Wisconsin and Minnesota wilderness where towing companies would be limited.  We broke down about a mile from an auto repair shop; and a rental car company was across the street.  Also, we had gotten a financial gift the week before we left that ending up covering the cost of our car repair.  God is good.  
     As we were waiting for the tow truck, Colossians 1:13 came to mind.

For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.

What were we rescued for?  For comfort on this earth?  For an easier life?  For safe travels?  Or were we rescued for His glory and our own good (which many times we don’t understand)?  As we sat waiting, I had complete confidence that God would use this ordeal for His glory, but I began to feel regret for years of misguided prayers.  I wonder how many times God wanted to glorify Himself through my life and yet I prayed contrary to what He wanted to do.  A passage that comes to mind is Acts 9 when Saul is blinded by God on the road to Damascus.  God tells a believer named Ananias to go to Saul and pray for him.  Ananias was afraid to do this because Saul was coming to Damascus to persecute Christians, but God tells him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake" (Acts 9:15).  
     God is beginning to show us all the hard times that will come as we serve Him, but He is graciously weaning us into it.  God used mono to guide us back to Pennsylvania and teach us about listening to Him, and He used our car breaking down to teach us about trusting Him.  For years I have been more interested in being comfortable than glorifying God, and now He is showing me that a false sense of comfort isn't true security.  Storms and hard times are meant to blow away the sand so we see that there is only one true rock on whom we can rely.  We wouldn't have wanted our trip to go any different than it did, because now our journey to the mission field is more securely placed on the only secure Rock.

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
Psalm 46:1