Saturday, February 9, 2019

the best is yet to be

artwork by Krista Hamrick

This beautiful artwork by Krista Hamrick inspired me to do a study based on Psalm 90:10:

AMPC: The days of our years are threescore years and ten (seventy years)—or even, if by reason of strength, fourscore years (eighty years); yet is their pride [in additional years] only labor and sorrow, for it is soon gone, and we fly away.

CEB: We live at best to be seventy years old, maybe eighty, if we’re strong. But their duration brings hard work and trouble because they go by so quickly. And then we fly off.

ESV: The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.

EXB: Our lifetime is [L The days of our years are] seventy years or, if we are strong, eighty years. But ·the years are full of [L their pride are] ·hard work [toil] and ·pain [trouble; Eccl. 1:2]. They pass quickly, and then we ·are gone [L fly away].

GW: Each of us lives for 70 years— or even 80 if we are in good health. But the best of them bring trouble and misery. Indeed, they are soon gone, and we fly away.

GNT: Seventy years is all we have— eighty years, if we are strong; yet all they bring us is trouble and sorrow; life is soon over, and we are gone.

TLB: Seventy years are given us! And some may even live to eighty. But even the best of these years are often empty and filled with pain; soon they disappear, and we are gone.

NET: The days of our lives add up to seventy years, or eighty, if one is especially strong. But even one’s best years are marred by trouble and oppression. Yes, they pass quickly and we fly away.

Pastor Warren W. Wiersbe writes: “Life expectancy in the United States is up to 75 years. That's good news; 25 years ago it was only 70 years. Perhaps it will keep going up, but in comparison to eternity, the human life span is short. That's why we read, "The days of our lives are seventy years; and if by reason of strength they are eighty years, yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away" (v. 10). That sounds like a rather doleful statement, but it's true. The setting of Psalm 90 is found in the events recorded in Numbers 14. God had brought the Jews directly to Kadesh-Barnea. He said, "Now go in and possess the land." And they would not do it. They doubted God's promise and questioned His wisdom. They did not believe He would enable them to conquer the land. As a consequence, God said, "All right, everybody 20 years and older is going to die within the next 40 years." And that's what happened--the world's longest funeral march. For the next 40 years the nation wandered in the wilderness, while that older generation died. Then God took the younger generation on a whole new crusade, and they conquered the Promised Land. The older people knew they were going to die before they got to the Promised Land. But Christians today know that when we die we'll go to the place Jesus is preparing for us. It's important to make our lives count while we are on earth. Yes, our lives have their difficulties, and if the Lord doesn't return soon, our lives will end in death. But death will lead to eternity. And we can live a life of the eternal today. The Bible says, "He who does the will of God abides forever" (I John 2:17). Let's touch the eternal today by abiding in the Almighty and doing His will.”

Every year at about this time, I think a little more seriously about a topic that interests everyone, but concerns only those who have reached certain age plateaus. The topic is “getting older.” The reason I think about it at this time of year is that I celebrate another year of life during February. The interesting thing about this aging process is that each of us faces the same inescapable prospect, yet we all handle it differently. It all depends on our perspective. Our lifetime passes quickly, as the writer of Psalm 90 pointed out so bluntly (v.10). Because that is true, we need the kind of attitude poet Robert Browning displayed when he wrote, “Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made.” Life is cumulative, Browning was saying, and each of our days is a foundation for tomorrow. For us to use those days properly, we need to develop a positive outlook on the passage of time. In Psalm 90, we learn that a correct view of life includes a search for wisdom (v.12), a dependence on God’s mercy (v.14), and a request for God’s favor (v.17). As we maintain this perspective, we will enjoy the passage of time.

In the only psalm attributed to Moses, he wrote, “The days of our lives are seventy years; and if by reason of strength they are eighty years, yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away” (90:10). Those aren’t words we want to hear. We want to remain forever young, but Scripture reminds us that the years pass and death will one day arrive. That leaves us to wrestle with two essential questions: Am I ready to “fly away” at life’s end, having trusted Christ as my Savior? And am I using my fleeting days to please the One who loves me eternally?

Scientists predict that the average lifespan
in the United States may reach 100 by the end of the 21st century. They say the genetics that control aging could be altered to extend life beyond the 70 to 80 years referred to in Psalm 90:10. Life’s final chapter, however, will still read, “It is soon cut off, and we fly away.” Moses, who wrote those words, likened our existence to grass that flourishes in the morning and is cut down and withers in the evening (vv.5-6). Although he lived to be 120 (Deuteronomy 34:7), life’s brevity was never far from his mind. That’s why he prayed, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90:12).

Famous furniture designer, D. J. De Pree, took those words literally. He calculated the number of days from the date of his birth until he would turn 70. At the end of each day he’d reduce his total by one. To see that figure decline reminded him to make each day count for the Lord. He lived to be 99 years old, before his death in 1990. Reflect for a moment what time of day it would be today if Moses' normal life span of "70 years" were squeezed into a single 24-hour day. For example, if you are 59, the time is approximately 8:30pm. The closer we get to 70, it would be near midnight! There is actually a watch called the "Tikker" which not only tells time but calculates your estimated life span, and displays a running countdown of your remaining time! It is advertised as the watch "that counts down your life, just so you can make every second count!" That's not a bad tagline, Biblically speaking!

Pastor Lloyd Stilley writes: “There is a scene in the Civil War motion picture Gods and Generals that is telling. The movie follows the rise and fall of Civil War hero General Thomas Jackson, and does not try to hide his Christianity. Throughout the picture, Jackson's dependence on God is shown, but never more strikingly that in the early morning hours of July 21st, 1861. prior to the First Battle of Bull Run. As the glimmers of dawn break forth, Jackson calls out to God, asking for His will to be done. Almost immediately, things do not go well for the out-numbered Confederates. Union forces quickly overpowered them. The Confederate line broke. All out retreat ensued. Several Confederate brigades ran to the next line of reinforcement, which was held by Jackson's brigade. Morale was all but gone as retreating soldiers swarmed Jackson's position, with the Union army on their heels. But then someone yelled over the din of battle to the men, telling them to look at Jackson. At that moment, General Jackson was sitting erect in his saddle with cannon fire exploding all around him. His left hand was wounded by a musket ball. Nevertheless, he did not flinch. Word spread among the men: "Look at Jackson, standing like a stone wall," they said. Stonewall Jackson, as he would be known from that day, paced his horse back and forth across the hazardous front line, shouting orders to "charge" as the musket balls pierced the air. His stunning bravery stirred the men to valor, and they turned to face advancing Union forces with new resolve. At the end of the day, General Jackson returned to the battlefield to survey the losses: 111 Confederates dead, 373 missing. Weary and sad, Jackson knelt beside a dead soldier. And it was then that one of his captains asked him, "General, how is it you can keep so serene, and stay so utterly insensible, with a storm of shells and bullets about your head?" Jackson replied, "Captain Smith, my religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself with that, but to be always ready, whenever it may overtake me. [If this was] the way all men...lived, then all men would be equally brave." Stonewall Jackson was declaring his belief that God ruled over the details of his life, even the flight of bullets and shrapnel. His bravery was based on his belief that, as A.W. Pink wrote, "God is God in fact, as well as in name, that He is on the throne of the universe, directing all things and working all things according to the counsel of His own will (Eph. 1:11)." Basically, what General Jackson told his captain is, "I am invincible until God is through with me."

To say God is sovereign is to say that He is unrivaled in majesty, unlimited in power and knowledge, and unaffected by anything outside Himself. He is outside of time and completely free to do whatever He wills to do anywhere, at any time, in every single detail without interference. He reigns, period. That is what it means to say God is sovereign. And that's what Stonewall Jackson believed when bullets and bombs filled the air. Now run that around the block in your thoughts. When someone we love deeply lies in a hospital bed and we don't know what's going to happen, God is in control. When the economy—national or personal—is on a slide, God is in control. When we're lonely and the phone doesn't ring and we wonder if we're ever going to connect with someone, God is in control. Nothing will enter your life that God does not either decree or permit. And this God, who sustains every atom of this universe, who raises up nations and brings them down, who remains un-thwarted in the accomplishing of all His purposes . . . this King over all loves you! He wants you to seek Him, to rely on Him, to wait for Him, to walk with Him.

Moses, the author of Psalm 90, wasn’t anticipating a refreshing shower when he pulled back his tent flap to face another day in the hot, barren wilderness. His to-do list usually had one thing on it: walk until God says stop. Moses began each day with something many of us are missing: an unwavering assurance of God’s unfailing love. His confidence in God’s love and care was all he needed to face each day in the wilderness. We have the same promise that Moses had. Nothing we do or say will alter the passionate love God pours out on us. In our waking moments, before our minds become cluttered with concerns, before our feet hit the floor, we can pray, “Lord, satisfy me today with your unfailing love.” When God’s love becomes our greatest source of satisfaction, joy will carry us through our daily stresses, and God will put a song in our hearts . . . "to the end of our lives.”

The average life span of a mayfly is a brief twenty-four hours.
A rare number of them reach ancient status, living up to fourteen days, but some live only two hours. This tiny winged insect is born, reaches maturity, mates, and dies in just one of our days! It would seem foolish to us for the mayfly to waste even one moment in light of such a short life span. To an eternal God our life is but a brief flash, yet we often flit along like the mayfly, acting as if we have unlimited days in front of us. Our time on earth is brief, and each moment has potential. It is only when we view time through God’s eyes that we can truly understand how precious a gift is every hour that we exist. Do you make the most of your numbered days, or is time an empty commodity? Ask God today how you can make the most of the time that you have been given. Seize each moment, for life will quickly pass away.

Have you ever been so burdened by stress
that you wished you could just get on a plane and fly away? Most of us at one time or other have had troubles so overwhelming, situations so burdensome and heavy, that we, like the psalmist, have wished we could fly away like a bird and be at rest. We may imagine a getaway to a quiet beach or the mountains, a place free from stress and problems and endless responsibilities. We dream of a turnaround in a pressing situation so that we won’t have that to worry about anymore. But God offers a kind of rest that is different from what our own minds would conceive. God offers us rest in the midst of our distress. It is the only true rest—an inner rest that comes from abandoning ourselves to the Lord and entrusting to him whatever troubles or problems are overwhelming us. Instead of flying away, run straight into the arms of God, and rest in his care and love for you today.

Heavenly Father, help me to see time as a valuable asset that you have entrusted to me. When you gave me life, you intended that I live life abundantly and that I experience joy, fulfillment, and purpose. Help me not to squander time on meaningless endeavors but to understand that my days are numbered and that each one counts. And although an entire lifetime is just a moment to you, let my days be filled to overflowing with the glory of your presence. Thank you for your promise of unfailing love. Impress on my heart a deeper awareness of your love and care for me. Give me eyes to see all the ways you express that to me throughout this day. Forgive me for seeking satisfaction in material possessions, family, friends, and work. I pray that you will become my greatest source of satisfaction and joy. Enable me to find my rest in you, to discover a place of deeper abandonment and security in your everlasting love. You are my only rock. You are my only rest. I praise you for your amazing sovereignty. You wove me together in my mother’s womb, saw me before I was born, and have already recorded every day of my life. You charted the path ahead of me and laid out every moment before a single day had passed. I don’t have to fear because you are with me, before me, behind me, surrounding me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me! In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.

Joni Eareckson Tada's prayer - "God, I turn today over in my hands and ask you to help me to pay attention to what you have for me in it, not for the future but for right now."

Missionary C. T. Studd writes:
“Only one life, twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last!”

Look Up—meditate on Psalm 90:10 … pray to see what it reveals about the character of God.

Look In—as you meditate on Psalm 90:10 … pray to see how you might apply it to your life. Be propelled to ask galvanizing questions about your discoveries: "Because God is_________, I will_____________."

Look Out—as you meditate on Psalm 90:10 …pray to see how you might apply it to your relationships with others. Let the nature of God impact on every relationship, for your good, and for His glory.

* If you liked this post, you’ll love this book – Name Above All Names Devotional: Focusing on 26 Alphabetical Names of Christ

Sunday, October 28, 2018

choose life, choose Christ

artwork by Krista Hamrick

This beautiful artwork by Krista Hamrick inspired me to do a study based on Ruth 1:16

NASB: But Ruth said, "Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where * you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.

BBE: But Ruth said, Give up requesting me to go away from you, or to go back without you: for where you go I will go; and where you take your rest I will take my rest; your people will be my people, and your God my God.

GWT: But Ruth answered, "Don't force me to leave you. Don't make me turn back from following you. Wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.

KJV: And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God:

NLT: But Ruth replied, "Don't ask me to leave you and turn back. I will go wherever you go and live wherever you live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.

Young's Literal: And Ruth saith, 'Urge me not to leave thee -- to turn back from after thee; for whither thou goest I go, and where thou lodgest I lodge; thy people is my people, and thy God my God.

But Ruth - A dramatic contrast marking a change in direction of her life from godless, hopeless, pagan Gentile to one grafted into Israel and eventually in the lineage of the Messiah. Whenever you observe a "but" (or other words associated with contrast, such as yet, nevertheless, on the other hand, etc.) pause and ask what is the author contrasting? There are over 4000 uses of this little conjunction "but" in the Bible and all of them are important. Howard Hendricks adds that contrasts are always important in Scripture. They indicate a change of direction. What does the word "but" force me to do? To go back to the preceding context. The flip side of comparison is contrast—things that are unlike. We could say that in Bible study, as in love, opposites attract. At least, they attract the eye of the observant reader. There are several ways the biblical writers signify contrast. The word "but" is a clue that a change of direction is coming.

Pastor Vance Havner writes, "A good woman is the best thing on earth. Women were last at the cross and first at the open tomb. The church owes a debt to her faithful women which she can never estimate, to say nothing of the debt we owe in our homes to godly wives and mothers.”

Missionary Jim Elliot said, "He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose." A perfect description of Ruth the Moabitess!”

Leave (forsake) ('azab) basically means to depart from something -- to leave, to forsake, to leave, to loose, to depart, to abandon. Things that can left behind or forsaken include persons, people who should left behind; places and objects. The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures, translates azab in this verse with kataleipo which literally means to leave behind or leave remaining. Kataleipo is often used to indicate abandoning a heritage, giving up riches, and leaving one's native land, exactly what Ruth did!

Turn back (shub/shuv) essentially means to turn, to return, to turn back, to do again, to change, to withdraw, to bring back, to reestablish, to be returned, to bring back, to take, to restore, to recompense, to answer, to hinder. Shub refers to a reversal or change of direction, an “about face.” Shub describes movement back to the point of departure or reversal of direction.

Pastor Warren W. Wiersbe writes: “Naomi was trying to cover up; Orpah had given up, but Ruth was prepared to stand up! She refused to listen to her mother-in-law’s pleas or follow her sister-in-law’s bad example. Why? Because she had come to trust in the God of Israel. She had experienced trials and disappointments, but instead of blaming God, she had trusted Him and was not ashamed to confess her faith. In spite of the bad example of her disobedient in-laws Ruth had come to know the true and living God; and she wanted to be with His people and dwell in His land.”

Pastor Don Fortner writes: “Ruth was converted by God’s grace. We understand that. “Salvation is of the Lord!” It is God’s work alone! Yet, our God condescends to use human instruments to accomplish his work. And the instrument God used to save Ruth was Naomi.”

Pastor Matthew Henry writes: "Thy God shall be my God, and farewell to all the gods of Moab, which are vanity and a lie. I will adore the God of Israel, the only living and true God, trust in him alone, serve him, and in everything be ruled by him;" this is to take the Lord for our God. From this point on Naomi's people would be her people, though Ruth had no certainty that she would find acceptance. Most significant of all, Ruth declared Naomi's God to be her God. Her resolve was total, extending even to death, and confirmed on oath in the name of her new-found Lord.”

Pastor Thomas Constable writes: “Ruth now confessed her commitment to Yahweh, Israel, and Naomi, a commitment based on her faith in Yahweh. These verses are a key to the book because they give the reason God blessed Ruth as He did.”

Pastor Woodrow Kroll writes: “Ruth had to choose to worship the idol Chemosh, which involved the sacrifice of children, or to put her trust in the living God, who gives life instead of taking it. She chose Jehovah. These were important choices, and she made them with a determination that changed her life. Like Ruth, we are all born outside of God's family. But God graciously gives us the opportunity to make choices that can give us eternal life. Instead of continuing in Satan's kingdom of darkness, you can choose to change your allegiance to the kingdom of His beloved Son (Col. 1:13). You can choose to continue in the deeds of darkness or walk in the light (Eph. 5:7-10). You can choose to search for fulfillment in the world or place your trust in Jesus, who has promised to meet your every need (Phil. 4:19). Like Ruth's, these are crucial decisions and, when made with determination, can change your life. What decisions have you made? Choose rightly. Choose life. Choose Jesus Christ as your Savior. This is the most important decision of your life. You always choose best when you choose God.”
Choose rightly. Choose life. Choose Jesus Christ as your Savior. This is the most important decision of your life. You always choose best when you choose God.

Pastor James Smith writes: “Ruth could not bear the thought of returning to the heathen environment in which she had grown up. If she had not fully repudiated the gods of Moab before, Ruth does so at this point. She would hear no more of Naomi's urging to return to Moab. On the contrary, Ruth committed herself for better or worse to Naomi, Naomi's people, and Naomi's God. She did not even desire to return to her native Moab for burial. Nothing but death would separate her from Naomi.”

Pastor Iain M Duguid writes: “Each of these statements ratchets up the level of her commitment a notch higher. Ruth was not merely relocating her home to go somewhere geographically less pleasant, as if someone were willing to move from sunny Southern California to the unbearable heat of Death Valley. That would be noble self-sacrifice; this is far more. She is committing her life to Naomi, body and soul, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health. In so doing, she is also committing her life to Naomi's God, whom she calls as a witness by his personal name, the Lord. She is even willing to die and be buried in Naomi's land—the land of Naomi's God, not the gods of the Moabites. Given the intimate connection between land and deity in the ancient Near East, and the importance of proper burial for a restful afterlife, this was the ultimate commitment in the ancient world. She further binds herself to do this with an oath of self-imprecation. If she reneges on her promise, she invites the Lord—Naomi's God—to stretch out his hand to strike her down. Here is an astonishing act of surrender and self-sacrifice. Ruth was laying down her entire life to serve Naomi. In effect, Ruth was forsaking all that she had ever known to follow the one true God. She was following in the footsteps of Abraham, who had forsaken his family and his homeland in response to God’s command.”

Pastor Charles H. Spurgeon writes: "This was a very brave, outspoken confession of faith. Please to notice that it was made by a woman, a young woman, a poor woman, a widow woman, and a foreigner. Remembering all that, I should think there is no condition of gentleness, or of obscurity, or of poverty, or of sorrow, which should prevent anybody from making an open confession of allegiance to God when faith in the Lord Jesus Christ has been exercised. If that is your experience, then whoever you may be, you will find an opportunity, somewhere or other, of declaring that you are on the Lord’s side."

Heavenly Father, I thank You for the assurance that Your plans never fail. When everything around me seems hopeless, remind me that You have a hope, a plan and a future for me. Help me to see things from Your eternal perspective and to hold on to the reality that in spite of the way things look, You are in control. Indeed, You are still on the throne! Thank you for Your promises of deliverance and protection. Because You’ve said, “I will be with you,” what have I to fear? Help me to trust in You, not only in the small details or battles of life, but also in times of great trouble. You are my Lord, my God, my Savior. Help me to realize that You are everlastingly my Father, intimately acquainted with me and with every moment of my entire lifetime. Help me to rely on You through every season of my life and to rest in the knowledge that even when I am old, You will still be caring for me. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.

Look Up—meditate on Ruth 1:16… pray to see what it reveals about the character of God.

Look In—as you meditate on Ruth 1:16… pray to see how you might apply it to your life. Be propelled to ask galvanizing questions about your discoveries: "Because God is_________, I will_____________."

Look Out—as you meditate on Ruth 1:16…pray to see how you might apply it to your relationships with others. Let the nature of God impact on every relationship, for your good, and for His glory.

 * If you liked this post, you’ll love this book – Name Above All Names Devotional: Focusing on 26 Alphabetical Names of Christ

Weekly LinkUps…

Saturday, October 13, 2018

I cried unto the Lord and He heard me

artwork by Krista Hamrick

Krista Hamrick’s  beautiful artwork inspired me to do a study based on Jonah 2:2:

KJV: “I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the Lord, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice.”

ICB: “I was in danger. So I called to the Lord, and he answered me. I was about to die. So I cried to you, and you heard my voice.”

TLB: “In my great trouble I cried to the Lord and he answered me; from the depths of death I called, and Lord, you heard me!”

MSG: Then Jonah prayed to his God from the belly of the fish. He prayed: “In trouble, deep trouble, I prayed to God. He answered me. From the belly of the grave I cried, ‘Help!’ You heard my cry.”

NCV: “When I was in danger, I called to the Lord, and he answered me. I was about to die, so I cried to you, and you heard my voice.”

NIV: He said: “In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry.”

Pastor Charles H. Spurgeon writes: “What a strange place for prayer! Surely this is the only prayer that ever went up to God out of a fish’s belly. Jonah found himself alive—that was the surprising thing, that he was alive in the belly of a fish—and because he was alive, he began to pray. It is such a wonder that some people here should continue to live that they ought to begin to pray. If you live with death so near, and in so great peril, and yet you do not pray, what is to become of you? This prayer of Jonah is very remarkable because it is not a prayer at all in the sense in which we usually apply the word to petition and supplication. If you read the prayer through, you will see that it is almost all thanksgiving; and the best prayer in all the world is a prayer that is full of thankfulness. We praise the Lord for what he has done for us, and thus we do, in effect, ask him to perfect the work which he has begun. He has delivered us, so we bless his holy name, and by implication we beseech him still to deliver us. Notice that it says here, “Then Jonah prayed unto the Lord his God.” He was a runaway; he had tried to escape from the presence of God; yet the Lord was still his God. God will not lose any of his people, even if, like Jonah, they are in the belly of a fish, Jehovah is still their God: “Then Jonah prayed unto the Lord his God out of the fish’s belly.” You see that this is not praying, it is telling the Lord what he had done for his disobedient servant. Jonah had prayed, and the Lord had heard him, yet he was still in the fish’s belly. Unbelief would have said, “You have lived so long; Jonah; but you cannot expect to live to get out of this dreary, damp, prison.” Ah, but faith is out of prison even while she is in it. Faith begins to tell what God has done before the great work is actually accomplished; so Jonah said, “I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the Lord, and he heard me; Jonah 2:2, Out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice.” God has only to speak, and even sea-monsters obey him. I know not how he spoke to the fish; I do not know how to talk to a fish, but God does; and as the Lord could speak to that fish, he can speak to any sinner. However far you may have gone from all that is good, he who spoke to that great fish, and made it disgorge the prophet Jonah, can speak to you, and then you will give up your sins as the whale gave up Jonah. God grant that it may be so!”

Pastor John MacArthur writes: “Jonah prayed an exemplary prayer from the most unnatural and unimaginable of settings—the belly of a fish. If you can picture the wet, suffocating darkness and discomfort of such a place, you might begin to have an idea of how desperate Jonah’s situation was at that moment. The whole second chapter of Jonah is devoted to the record of his prayer, and the entire prayer is a profound expression of worship. It reads like a psalm. In fact, it’s full of references and allusions to the Psalms—almost as if Jonah were singing His worship in phrases borrowed from Israel’s psalter while he languished inside that living tomb. The prayer is as passionate as you might expect from someone trapped inside a fish under the surface of the Mediterranean. Jonah begins: “I called out of my distress to the LORD, and He answered me” (Jonah 2:2)—not a plea to God for help, but an expression of praise and deliverance, mentioning God in the third person and speaking of deliverance as if it were an accomplished fact. The focus of Jonah’s prayer—like all great prayers—was the glory of God. Although no one, perhaps, has ever been in a situation where it would be appropriate to plead and beg God to answer more than Jonah was, there was none of that in his prayer. Jonah wasn’t under any illusion that his words could alter the reality of his plight. He was simply extolling the character of God. And that is precisely what our Lord was teaching when He gave the disciples that model prayer in Luke 11. It ought to be clear that when Jesus taught His disciples to regard prayer as worship, that wasn’t anything novel. The great prayers we read in the Old Testament were likewise expressions of worship—including those that were prayed in the most desperate situations. The parallelism between prayer and worship is no coincidence. Prayer is the distilled essence of worship. How much more, then, do you and I need to reevaluate our own priorities in prayer? Rather than paying momentary lip service to God before we get to our list of requests, we need to constantly examine our hearts in prayerful worship before the Lord, making sure we’re holding to the pattern Christ provided. Successful prayer isn’t about getting what you want from God. It’s about bending your will to His, recognizing His supremacy, and reflecting on His glory. It’s an act of worship—one that knits your heart and mind to the Lord in consistent communion with Him.”

Successful prayer isn’t about getting what you want from God. It’s about bending your will to His, recognizing His supremacy, and reflecting on His glory. It’s an act of worship—one that knits your heart and mind to the Lord in consistent communion with Him.

Pastor James H. McConkey writes: “Like Jonah in the belly of the great fish, we must turn to the Lord when our soul is fainting within us, trusting Him completely. What can you do when you are about to faint physically? You can’t DO anything! In your weakness you just fall upon the shoulders of some strong loved one, lean hard, and rest until your strength returns. The same is true when you are tempted to faint under adversity. The Lord’s message to us is ‘Be still, and know that I am God’ (Psalm 46:10). Hudson Taylor was so feeble in the closing months of his life that he said to a dear friend, ‘I’m so weak that I can’t work or read my Bible, and I can hardly pray. I can only lie still in God’s arms like a little child and trust.’ And that is all the Heavenly Father asks of you when you grow weary in the fierce fires of affliction.”

Pastor H.A. Ironside writes: “In his affliction Jonah cries to Him from whom he had been seeking to hide. Divine life, like water, seeks its proper level, or sphere. Because, whatever his failings, Jonah is a child of God still, he turns instinctively to the very One he had been grieving, in the hour that he is brought to realize that he is the subject of divine discipline. A man is a long way on the road to recovery when he is ready to own the righteousness of his chastening, and when he sees that he is under the hand of God. Having already acknowledged to the mariners that such is the case, he now cries to Him who hears him even “out of the belly of hell.”

Have you ever prayed a prayer
from an emergency room? Have you cried out from a broken relationship or a business failure? If so, you might identify with Jonah’s prayer from the belly of the fish. Instead of obeying God and warning the people of Ninevah of impending destruction, Jonah had tried to run from the Lord. But God was with Jonah when the crew threw him overboard. He was with Jonah in the belly of the fish he had prepared to swallow him. He was with him in his trouble and that trouble awakened Jonah to repentance and his need of God. Beneath the waves he lost all hope. But when he cried out in desperation and despair, God heard him and rescued him. There is no place where the Lord cannot hear and respond to us—no pit too deep, no trouble too terrible, no situation too difficult for God. When we cry out to him from whatever “belly” we find ourselves in, he will answer.

Heavenly Father, how I thank You that in the deepest trouble when I cry out to You, You hear and answer me just as You did Jonah. I am glad that there is no place so dark or situation so hopeless that you cannot bring deliverance. I will offer sacrifices to You with songs of praise, for my salvation comes from You alone! I give you all my fears today and look to You for help. Do a deep work in my heart concerning those things that strike fear in me. I know that Your perfect love will cast out all my fears. Thank You for Your promise to answer me when I call to You. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.

Look Up—meditate on
Jonah 2:2 … pray to see what it reveals about the character of God.

Look In—as you meditate on
Jonah 2:2 … pray to see how you might apply it to your life. Be propelled to ask galvanizing questions about your discoveries: "Because God is_________, I will_____________."

Look Out—as you meditate on
Jonah 2:2 …pray to see how you might apply it to your relationships with others. Let the nature of God impact on every relationship, for your good, and for His glory.

 * If you liked this post, you’ll love this bookName Above All Names Devotional: Focusing on 26 Alphabetical Names of Christ

Saturday, September 29, 2018

in the beginning

artwork by Krista Hamrick

As I pondered Krista Hamrick’s beautiful artwork, Genesis, I felt led to do a word study based on Genesis 1:1:

AMP:  In the beginning God (Elohim) created [by forming from nothing] the heavens and the earth.

EXB:  In the beginning [or In the beginning when] God created [C this Hebrew verb is used only when God is the one creating] the ·sky [heavens] and the earth.

MSG:  First this: God created the Heavens and Earth—all you see, all you don’t see. Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss.

NLV:  In the beginning God made from nothing the heavens and the earth.

OJB: In the beginning Elohim created hashomayim (the heavens, Himel) and haaretz (the earth).

WYC:  In the beginning God made of nought heaven and earth. (In the beginning God made out of nothing the heavens and the earth.)

Pastor John MacArthur writes: The English title, Genesis, comes from the Septuagint Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures, meaning “origins”; whereas, the Hebrew title is derived from the Bible’s very first word, translated “in the beginning.” Genesis serves to introduce the Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the Old Testament) and the entire Bible. The influence of Genesis in Scripture is demonstrated by its being quoted over 35 times in the New Testament and hundreds of allusions appearing in both Testaments. The story line of salvation which begins in Gen. 3 is not completed until Rev. 21, 22 where the eternal kingdom of redeemed believers is gloriously pictured. The initial setting for Genesis is eternity past. God then, by willful act and divine Word, spoke all creation into existence, furnished it, and finally breathed life into a lump of dirt which He fashioned in His image to become Adam. God made mankind the crowning point of His creation, i.e., His companions who would enjoy fellowship with Him and bring glory to His name. Genesis presents creation by divine fiat, ex nihilo, i.e., “out of nothing.” From Abraham on, the pattern is to focus on God’s redemption and blessing.

Pastor Adrian Rogers writes: “What do you think is the verse that is read more than any other verse in the entire Bible? Some will say it is John 3:16, and others will quote many other verses, but that's not the most read verse in the Bible. The most read verse in the Bible is Genesis 1:1. So many people have thought that they would like to read the Bible and they always open it and read that familiar verse, Genesis 1:1, "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." In fact, the golden key to the entire Bible is hanging right on the front door. When we try to truly comprehend how great the God of this one verse is, we are bringing a teacup mind to an ocean of truth! As we look around, we see He is a God of might and miracle and power. And in Genesis 1:1, we see He created it all.

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
No light. No sky. No land. It’s incomprehensible to our finite thinking—the barren nothingness that existed before Genesis 1:1. Then suddenly, through the work of the Almighty, God supplanted nothingness with “the heavens and the earth.” The divine hand reached through the void and produced a place, a world, a universe. Through the magnificent convergence of the workings of the Godhead—with the Son enacting the will of the Father as the Agent of creation, and the Holy Spirit as the hovering Presence—nothing became something. History began its long march toward today. The first verse of Genesis provides us with sufficient concepts to contemplate for a lifetime. That introductory statement speaks of enough glory, enough majesty, enough awe to leave us speechless before God. Just as today we would have no life, no breath, no existence without His sustaining action, neither would we have the cosmos without His mighty act at the moment of creation. In awe we wonder what went on before “the beginning.” With breathless praise we marvel at the words “God created the heavens and the earth.” We read—and we stand in adoration. “Nothing” has never been so fascinating!”

Genesis 1
is the first mention of Elohim. Most authorities agree that "Elohim" is derived from "El" meaning "mighty (one), strong (strength)." The Hebrew ending "-im" added to "El" indicates plurality. The use of the plural "Elohim" with the third person singular masculine form of the verb created suggests plurality in the Godhead.

Pastor Adam Clarke writes: “The original word אלהים  Elohim, God, is certainly the plural form of אל  El, or אלה  Eloah, and has long been supposed, by the most eminently learned and pious men, to imply a plurality of Persons in the Divine nature. As this plurality appears in so many parts of the sacred writings to be confined to three Persons, hence the doctrine of the Trinity, which has formed a part of the creed of all those who have been deemed sound in the faith, from the earliest ages of Christianity.

In the beginning - Before the creative acts mentioned in this chapter all was Eternity. Time signifies duration measured by the revolutions of the heavenly bodies: but prior to the creation of these bodies there could be no measurement of duration, and consequently no time; therefore in the beginning must necessarily mean the commencement of time which followed, or rather was produced by, God's creative acts, as an effect follows or is produced by a cause.

Created - Caused existence where previously to this moment there was no being. The rabbis, who are legitimate judges in a case of verbal criticism on their own language, are unanimous in asserting that the word ברא  bara expresses the commencement of the existence of a thing, or egression from nonentity to entity.

The heavens and the earth - As the word שמים  shamayim is plural, we may rest assured that it means more than the atmosphere, to express which some have endeavored to restrict its meaning. As the design of the inspired penman was to relate what especially belonged to our world and its inhabitants, therefore he passes by the rest of the planetary system, leaving it simply included in the plural word heavens.

And God saw that it was good - This is the judgment which God pronounced on his own works. They were beautiful and perfect in their kind, for such is the import of the word טוב  tob. They were in weight and measure perfect and entire, lacking nothing.”

Spend time contemplating the awesome majesty and splendor of our Creator and sustainer of the universe, Who has spared nothing to reveal His Father’s heart. Recommit yourself to Him and to living according to His ways. Ask for the empowering of his Spirit to delight in doing what God commands. In prayer, lift your voice in extravagant worship of our Lord Jesus Christ, singing praises to His name. Worship Him because He is the perfect, holy, almighty Creator and king of the universe and yet calls you into intimate relationship with Him. Jesus has opened the way for us to experience communion and harmony with our Creator. This is what we were made for! The majesty and brilliance of our God fills the earth. The glory of God is higher than the heavens. Even children and infants give him praise. He set the sky, the moon and the stars, and all the galaxies in place. He is truly an awesome God! From the time we were conceived and born into this world to the very end of our lives, our Creator, who knitted us together in our mother’s womb, the same eternal, unchanging One who created the heavens and the earth, is the One who has been caring for us all along, through the hands of parents and others who have loved, nurtured, and taught us. And it is He who will sustain us—throughout our childhood and youth, in our active years of working or parenting, and into the elder years when our hair is white with age and we can no longer care for ourselves but are dependent on the care of others. Our Creator, our Heavenly Father is our God of everlasting care.

Lord Jesus, help me to realize that You are everlastingly my Father, intimately acquainted with me and with every moment of my entire lifetime. Help me to rely on You through every season of my life and to rest in the knowledge that even when I am old, You will still be caring for me. Grant me the grace to enter into true praise and to experience Your delight in me. I want to be lost in wonder, love, and praise. I want to sing songs that lift Your name high. Give me fresh revelation today, Lord, of who you are. Inspire me so that I will sing of your greatness and glory forever! You are the king over all the earth. I love you, Lord. We praise You for who You are. Your glory is higher than the heavens. Your majesty fills the earth. We worship and adore You. Help us to walk as Your children, giving honor and glory to you and never losing sight of Your power or Your love. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

Look Up—meditate on Genesis 1:1… pray to see what it reveals about the character of God.

Look In—as you meditate on Genesis 1:1… pray to see how you might apply it to your life. Be propelled to ask galvanizing questions about your discoveries: "Because God is_________, I will_____________."

Look Out—as you meditate on Genesis 1:1…pray to see how you might apply it to your relationships with others. Let the nature of God impact on every relationship, for your good, and for His glory.

 * If you liked this post, you’ll love this book – Name Above All Names Devotional: Focusing on 26 Alphabetical Names of Christ

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Speak, Lord, Your servant hears

artwork by Krista Hamrick

When I saw Krista Hamrick’s beautiful artwork depicting young Samuel’s response to the Lord, I felt led to do a word study based on I Samuel 3:10:

AMPC: And the Lord came and stood and called as at other times, Samuel! Samuel! Then Samuel answered, Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.

ICB: The Lord came and stood there. He called as he had before. He said, “Samuel, Samuel!” Samuel said, “Speak, Lord. I am your servant, and I am listening.”

NCV: The Lord came and stood there and called as he had before, “Samuel, Samuel!” Samuel said, “Speak, Lord. I am your servant and I am listening.”

WYC: And the Lord came, and stood, and called as he had called the second time (and called to him as he had called the other times, saying), Samuel, Samuel. And Samuel said, Speak thou, Lord, for thy servant heareth.

Hear (shama) means to hear, to listen. Webster's on "listen" = to hearken; to give ear; to attend closely with a view to hear. To obey; to yield to advice; to follow admonition. Since hearing/listening are often closely linked to obedience, shama is translated obey or to understand. KJV translates shama "hearken" a word which means to give respectful attention. Shama means “to hear intelligently and attentively and respond appropriately." The most famous use is the so-called "Shema" in Dt 6:4 “Hear, (a command, in the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures, the Septuagint states, "present imperative - habitually, continually.") O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!"  “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

The greatest significance of the use of shama is that of relation of man to God, especially where the context speaks of obedience. Obedience is the supreme test of faith and reverence for God. The Old Testament conception of obedience was vital. It was the one important relationship which must not be broken. While sometimes this relation may have been formal and cold, it nevertheless was the one strong tie which held the people close to God.  

Pastor Charles W. Spurgeon writes: “The child Samuel was favored above all the family in which he dwelt. The Lord did not speak by night to Eli, or to any of Eli’s sons. In all that house, in all the rows of rooms that were round about the tabernacle where the ark of the Lord was kept, there was not one except Samuel to whom Jehovah spoke! The fact that the Lord should choose a child out of all that household, and that He should speak to him, ought to be very encouraging to you who think yourself to be the least likely to be recognized by God. Are you so young? Yet, probably, you are not younger than Samuel was at this time. Do you seem to be very insignificant? Yet you can hardly be more so than was this child of Hannah’s love! Have you many troubles? Yet you have not more, I daresay, than rested on young Samuel, for it must have been very hard for him while so young a child, to part from his dear mother, to be so soon sent away from his father’s house, and so early made to do a servant’s work, even though it was in the house of the Lord!

“Speak, Lord.” Oh, how often has our heartfelt this desire in the form of a groaning that cannot be uttered! “Lord, I want to know You! You are behind a veil, and I cannot come to You. I know that You are, for I see Your works, but, oh, that I could get some token from Yourself, if not for my eyesight, yet at least for my heart!” When the Lord said to the child, “Samuel, Samuel,” it was a distinct, personal call. All who have heard the gospel preached have been called to some extent. The Word of God calls every sinner to repent and trust the Savior, but that call brings nobody to Christ unless it is accompanied by the special effectual call of the Holy Spirit! When that call is heard in the heart, then the heart responds! The general call of the gospel is like the common “cluck” of the hen which she is always giving when her chickens are around her. But if there is any danger impending, then she gives a very peculiar call—quite different from the ordinary one—and the little chicks come running as fast as ever they can, and hide for safety under her wings! That is the call we need—God’s peculiar and effectual call to His own! And I would, if I could, put into the heart and mouth of each person now present this prayer, “Speak, Lord, speak to me. Call me. When You are calling this one and that, Lord, call me with the effectual call of Your Holy Spirit! Be pleased so to call me that, when I hear You saying, ‘Seek you My face,’ my heart may say unto You, ‘Your face, Lord, will I seek.’”

Do pray this prayer—“Speak, Lord.” If you will not, it shall always be my prayer. I would seek the presence of my God and cry, “As the heart pants after the water brooks, so pants my soul after You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God! When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my meat day and night, while they continually say to me, Where is your God?” But when my heart can answer, “Here He is! He is with me.”

“Speak, Lord.” I have known the time—and so have some of you—when one word of His has saved us from a grievous fall. A text of Scripture has stopped us when our feet had almost slipped. A precious thought has helped us when we were ready to despair, and when we could not tell what to do. One word out of the inspired Book, applied to the soul by the Holy Spirit, has made a plain path before us, and we have been delivered from all our difficulties! I commend to you, then, very earnestly, the personal prayer of the soul desiring: “Speak, Lord.”

“But how does the Lord speak?” someone asks. That is a very important question. I know that He has many ways of speaking to the hearts of His people. We do not expect to hear audible words. It is not by sense that we live—not even by the sense of hearing—but by faith. We believe, and so we apprehend God!

God often speaks to His children through His works. Are there not days when the mountains and the hills break forth before us into singing, and the trees of the field clap their hands because God is speaking by them? Do you not lift up your eyes to the heavens at night and watch the stars, and seem to hear God speaking to you in the solemn silence? That man who never hears God speak through His works is, I think, hardly in a healthy state of mind. Why, the very beauty of spring with its promise, the fullness of summer, the ripeness of autumn, and even the chilly blasts of winter are all vocal if we have but ears to hear what they say!

God also speaks to His children very loudly by His providence. Is there no voice in affliction? Has pain no tongue? Has the bed of languishing no eloquence? The Lord speaks to us, sometimes, by bereavement—when one after another has been taken away, God has spoken to us. The deaths of others are for our spiritual life—sharp medicine for our soul’s health. God has spoken to many a mother by the dear babe she has had to lay in the grave. And many a man has, for the first time, listened to God’s voice when he has heard the passing bell that spoke of the departure of one dearer to him than life itself. God speaks to us, if we will but hear, in all the arrangements of providence both pleasant and painful. Whether He caresses or chastises, there is a voice in all that He does.

The Lord speaks to us chiefly through His Word. Oh, what converse God has with His people when they are quietly reading their Bibles! There, in your still room, as you have been reading a chapter, have you not felt as if God spoke those words straight to your heart then and there? Has not Christ Himself said to you, while you have been reading His Word, “Let not your heart be troubled: you believe in God, believe also in Me”? The text does not seem to be like an old letter in a book, rather is it like a fresh speech, newly spoken from the mouth of the Lord to you. It has been so, dear friends, has it not?

Then there is His Word as it is preached. It is delightful to notice how God speaks to the heart while the sermon is being heard—yes, and when the sermon is being read. I am almost, every day, made to sing inwardly as I hear of those to whom I have been the messenger of God. And my Lord has many messengers, and He is speaking by them all! There was one man, who had lived a life of drunkenness and impurity, and had even shed human blood with his bowie knife, or his revolver, yet he found the Savior, and became a new man! And when he died, he charged one who was with him to tell me that my sermon had brought him to Christ! “I shall never tell him on earth,” he said, “but I shall tell the Lord Jesus Christ about him when I get to heaven.” It was by a sermon, read far away in the backwoods, that this great sinner was brought to Christ! But it is not only in the backwoods that the Lord blesses the preached Word, it is here, it is everywhere where Christ is proclaimed! If we preach the gospel, God gives a voice to it, and speaks through it. There is a kind of incarnation of the Spirit of God in every true preacher—God speaks through him. Oh, that men had but ears to hear! But, alas, alas, too often they hear as if it were of no importance! And the Lord has to say to His servant as He said to Ezekiel, “Lo, you are unto them as a very lovely song of one that has a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument: for they hear your words, but they do them not.” Oh, that each one of our hearers always came up to the sanctuary with this prayer in his heart, and on his lips, “Speak, Lord, by Your servant; speak right down into my soul.”

The Lord has a way of sometimes speaking to the heart by His Spirit—I think not usually apart from His Word—but yet there are feelings and emotions, tenderness and trembling, joys and delights which we cannot quite link with any special portion of Scripture laid home to the heart, but which seem to steal upon us unawares by the direct operation of the Spirit of God upon the heart. You who know the Lord must sometimes have felt a strange delight which had no earthly origin. You have, perhaps, awakened in the morning with it, and it has remained with you. A little while after, you have had some severe trial, and you realize that the Lord had spoken to you to strengthen you to bear the affliction! At other times you have felt great tenderness about some one individual, and you have felt compelled to pray, and perhaps to go for some miles to speak a word to that individual. And it turned out that God meant to save that person through you, and He did! I think we are not half as mindful as we ought to be of the secret working of the Holy Spirit upon the mind.

I remember George Muller sweetly saying, “When you come to your time for devotion, if you cannot pray, do not try. If you cannot speak with God, do not try. Let God speak with you. Open your Bible and read a passage.” If you cannot speak to God, let God speak to you. It is also true communion with the Lord, sometimes, just to sit still, look up and say nothing. But just, “in solemn silence of the mind,” find your heaven and your God. “Speak, Lord; for Your servant hears. I have prayed to You; I have told You my grief, and now I am just sitting still to hear if You have anything to say to me. I am all ears and all heart. If You will command me, I will obey. If You will comfort me, I will believe. If You will reprove me, I will meekly bow my head. If You will give me the assurance of Your love, my heart shall dance at every sound of Your voice. Only speak, Lord; for Your servant hears.”

Listening does not come as naturally to many of us as it did to young Samuel. In fact, listening isn’t what we do best. We much prefer to do the talking! It has been estimated that the average woman spends one-fifth of her life talking and speaks about three thousand words a day. For men, the number is less, but not significantly. Yet if we want miracles in our lives and in our loved ones’ lives, if we want God to direct our steps, we need to listen to God’s leading and follow it. The good news is that hearing God isn’t a special privilege reserved only for pastors, priests, or seminary graduates. It’s not just for those who are highly intelligent or especially gifted. You don’t even have to be a grown-up to hear God. Even children, such as Samuel was, can hear the voice of the Lord if their hearts are willing, humble, and receptive. God has many things to say to you and wants to bless your life with direction and purpose as you hear his voice and follow. All it takes is a listening heart. Ask God to help you tune in to his Spirit’s leading today.

Lord Jesus, quiet my heart so that I can hear you. Remove any distractions that would keep me from being open and attentive to what your Spirit might be impressing on my heart and mind. Please make me humble and receptive and willing to answer obediently when you call on me. Your servant is listening. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen

Take a few moments to listen to his beautiful rendition of Amazing Love/Word of God Speak by Guy Penrod.

Look Up—meditate on I Samuel 3:10 … pray to see what it reveals about the character of God.

Look In—as you meditate on I Samuel 3:10 … pray to see how you might apply it to your life. Be propelled to ask galvanizing questions about your discoveries: "Because God is_________, I will_____________."

Look Out—as you meditate on I Samuel 3:10 …pray to see how you might apply it to your relationships with others. Let the nature of God impact on every relationship, for your good, and for His glory.

 * If you liked this post, you’ll love this book – Name Above All Names Devotional: Focusing on 26 Alphabetical Names of Christ


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