Kingdom People

Bible Reference: John 18:33-38

All who believe in Jesus Christ are part of the Kingdom of God. That kingdom is not a political entity nor a geographic turf of ground here on earth. The Kingdom of God is everywhere Jesus is allowed to rule.

Theologically we talk about God being omnipresent – everywhere present at the same time. But in Revelation 3:20, it says “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in.” The one place Jesus is present by invitation only is the sphere of the human heart.

Jesus expresses His love and devotion to us as the Savior who has come to rescue us and reunite us with our heavenly Father. He seeks access to our life through His presence in our lives. When we say, “Come in, Lord Jesus,” we are inviting Jesus as King to rule in us. So the Kingdom of God is an invisible kingdom embedded into the world everywhere a believer in Christ lives.

How does one enter this Kingdom of God? I am a grandpa, so I watch children’s movies. Recently I again watched C. S. Lewis’ tale from the classic series The Chronicles of Narnia. The first movie, based on the books he wrote in the series, is called, “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” It documents the story of four children in England who discover the Kingdom of Narnia. The port of entry is a wardrobe closet in a big, old, country house. They enter the Kingdom of Narnia where Aslan, the lion, rules, and they try to regain the kingdom from a witch who has kept the kingdom in continual winter for hundreds of years.

It is a fascinating story. We, however, do not enter a fantasy kingdom alluding to God’s power. We enter the reality of God’s kingdom through Jesus Christ Himself. Remember when Nicodemus came to Jesus at night and said, “We know you are from God for no one could do the extraordinary things you do except he’s from God. No one can speak with the eloquence you speak unless he has the wisdom of God. How does one enter the Kingdom of God?” Then Jesus told him, “You must be born again. . . . You must be born of water and the Spirit” (John 2:2-5).

By faith, the power of God births us into the kingdom of God in the name of Jesus. Christian baptism is an entrance into this grace by the initiative of God. Not unlike the incarnation of Jesus, God radically comes in His initiative to bring us into His kingdom. Perhaps the suitable analogy would be adoption. The power of God initiates the relationship, pays for the adoption, and binds the Father to the adopted child in a legal covenant.

Yet, even in this analogy of Christian baptism, the child can grow up to reject the Father and run from the privilege of all it means to be a part of that family. Romans chapter five tells us, “Having been justified by our faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, and in his name we have access to this grace in which we live.” So it is by faith in Jesus that we enter this kingdom of grace.

Jesus Himself said, “I am the door. Anyone who enters through me shall go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:9). Remember the thief who hung dying on the cross? He turned to Jesus and addressed Him as if He were a ruler for the future. Although he also was dying on the cross, the thief said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” And Jesus said to him, “Today, you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:42-43).

Luther said in the meaning of the Lord’s Prayer, “We pray, ‘thy kingdom come’ and God’s kingdom indeed comes without our praying. But in this prayer, we pray Jesus’ kingdom would come to us.’” The port of entry into the kingdom of God is the person of Jesus Himself, and our surrender to Jesus, receiving Jesus as the Son of God and our Savior.

What does it mean then for us to swear allegiance to Jesus as King, and what does it mean for us to be kingdom people in today’s world? I want to talk about three things that mark Jesus’ reign as King and have implications for us as kingdom people.

When we say Jesus is all-powerful as Lord, He is my King, and I am a part of His kingdom, we usually think of that as elevating our lives to a position of privilege. Indeed it is. But usually we define that full privilege in terms of earthly material goods or freedom from the difficulties of this world. What does it mean that Jesus ruled from a cross, what does it mean that Jesus rode a donkey, and what does it mean that Jesus as King washed dirty feet?

First, to say Jesus rules from a cross means we have placed our trust in the crucified Messiah. The whole of the kingdom of God is based on a foundation of forgiveness and grace. It is not on the basis of performance or perfection, but on the promise of the King. He forgives all His people. They belong to Him by virtue of His favor flowing from the heart of God.

A man came into my office one day with a great need to unburden himself. It was almost like a sick person emptying his stomach as he confessed. He was in deep trouble. His marriage was struggling, he was in danger of losing the family farm because of a number of flawed financial decisions, and recently he had gone on a fishing trip and ended up in bed with a woman. The stress of the farm finances had led him to get high on drugs a number of times.

In the midst of his confession of immoral choices and what he knew was wrong, he paused and looked at me. We locked eyes and he said, “Can Christ forgive me?” We talked then about how that was the reason the good Lord came. That is why Jesus, who was King, emptied Himself of His power and glory and became willing to be obedient to death on the cross – so sinners like you and I could gladly receive the promise of grace and new beginnings. So we could repent of our sins and walk fresh, hand-in-hand, with Jesus as our Lord.

The man got up from our prayer time believing Jesus had forgiven Him. Filled with hope in the kingdom of Jesus based on forgiving grace, he went home to work to repair his marriage and save his farm.

As we live with our hearts’ allegiance to Jesus as King, we lead with the same grace toward others that we have received from Christ. We lead with love, not judgment. We lead with love, not the law. It also means that, as God on the cross embraces us in our darkest moments of struggle and suffering, we should also offer grace, sensitivity, and compassion to people we encounter.

I’m struck with a phrase Bob Pierce, the founder of World Vision, wrote in the leaf of his Bible. “Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God.”

Second, we remember Jesus riding a donkey into Jerusalem. We, as kingdom people, are to likewise move through life in humility, the same humility Jesus showed when He lived in our world. Humility means we recognize our proper position in relation to God, and we submit to divine grace and power. We live with self-restraint from vanity or self absorption or arrogance. We realize our smallness in the presence of God’s greatness. That’s what Paul wrote about when he said, “Have the same love, being of the same spirit and purpose. Have the same mind as Jesus. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others before yourself. Look to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:1-4).

What does a life of humility look like? It means no task is too demeaning or beneath my dignity. It means I live with no notion of superiority over others. I lose all sense of entitlement. My life holds no place for arrogance, and I live in a continual awareness of my dependency upon Jesus’ grace. Meekness is not weakness; rather, it is strength under the control of Christ.

Thirdly, we follow Jesus the King, who washed His disciples’ feet. As kingdom people, we serve others in love as Jesus has served us.

My six-year-old granddaughter, Ruby, who plays summer baseball, recently got a hit. Her good friend was playing second base on the opposing team, so as she ran from first to second, Ruby paused to hug her friend before she continued to run the bases.

Maybe we’d do well to carry ourselves with the same kind of loving kindness instead of being so driven and competitive in how we live every day. We need to serve others in love. Henri Nouwen said, “Often we speak about love as if it is a feeling. But if we wait for a feeling of love before loving, we may never learn to love well. The feeling of love is beautiful and life-giving, but our loving cannot be based in that feeling. To love is to think, speak, and act according to the spiritual knowledge that we are infinitely loved by God and called to make that love visible in this world.”

We live in a world that says we only need to love people who have proven they are worthy of love or have enough value in our eyes that we would show them love. But Jesus says we should unconditionally show love to everybody in the same way God has loved us.

What does serving other people in love look like? It means we would pray for them, bear their burdens, listen with compassion and sensitivity, offer them encouragement, see the good in them and draw it out by our affirmation. Each day we ask the Holy Spirit to fill us so we shine with the love of Jesus as we relate to others.

Where should we show that love? I encourage you to begin by showing it to people who are closest to you in life. Often we can show kindness, patience, and forbearance to people we don’t even know, but then treat those with whom we share life – our family or spouse – surly and grumpy, not with kindness or respect, dignity or love.

I like what preacher Andy Stanley said, “Your greatest contribution to the kingdom of God may not be something you do but someone you raise.” Serving others in love and offering the same forgiving grace and reconciliation God has given us is a powerful way for us to live as kingdom people.

As you live day to day as people of King Jesus, never forget He lives to serve you. He rules from the cross to pour out grace greater than all your mistakes and failures. He lives in humility to serve your needs in love every day. Live with confidence as kingdom people that God would use your life to bless others, because you have a life bonded to Jesus Christ. Amen.

Rev. Lee Laaveg
Christian Crusaders

God’s Not Hiding

Bible Reference: Psalm 19

Within every human soul is a longing for God, a longing to get close to God, to know God, and to know of God and His will for one’s life. Augustine once eloquently said, “My soul is restless until it rests in Thee.”

So where can a person learn about God? How does God reveal Himself to us? We sing in a hymn that He’s immortal and invisible, God only wise whose light is inaccessible and hid from our eyes. He seems so hidden.

Psalm 19 tells us God is not hiding. He has made Himself known and continues to make Himself known to us. The writer, David, marvels and rejoices in Psalm 19 that God reveals Himself to us so we can get to know Him. This psalm has three stanzas.

In the first stanza, David points us to the beauty and wonder of nature. He says, The magnificent creation testifies of God who made it and continues to maintain it. The focus here is not on all of nature but on the heavens, the sky. He writes “The heavens declare the glory of the Lord (glory meaning His power, wisdom, and greatness) and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.”

God’s witness to Himself has three characteristics.
1. It is continual. Day after day, night after night, it gives its witness.
2. It is abundant. It pours out speech. The image of the word used here is an image of a gushing spring, fresh and new every day.
3. It is visual and universal. With sight instead of sound, its message penetrates to the very ends of the earth of the glory and reality of God. The sun is described as a major spokesman to the praise of God using dramatic imagery of a bridegroom leaving his chamber or an athlete running his daily course across the sky so nothing is hidden from its heat.

The first stanza has been described as a general revelation of God. Nature is telling the glory of God to all. It is giving praise and witness to the Designer so all can see. The Apostle Paul talks of this general revelation in Romans pointing out that human beings cannot plead ignorance of God since He never ceases to give revelation of Himself to all people everywhere in what He has made.

Sue Monk Kidd, a Christian writer tells this story: “One August night my children dragged me to the backyard to watch a meteor show in the sky. I reluctantly joined them thinking, ‘I have so many details to tend to before we leave on vacation. I don’t have time for such idleness.’ Suddenly a golden fireball streaked across the blackness. ‘God made this,’ I whispered. It was a rare moment, not because of the sight but because I stepped beyond my familiar world into one of wonder and described the Creator in the midst. Could it be God filled the world with such beauty to lift people like me away from our obsession with details to touch our lives with the magnificent awareness of Himself?”

Both David and Paul would say Amen! to that.

In the next stanza (verses 7 to 11), David moves from the beauty and wonder of nature to the beauty and wonder of Scripture. God’s supreme revelation of Himself is the Torah, the Law, the Old Testament Scripture, which reveals God’s greatness, goodness, His ways, and His will for His people. David tells us that it helps us to know what pleases this God who has rescued us. It expresses the will of the One we want to please so we know what to do for Him. Jesus, one time, said the same sort of thing as the disciples tried to give Him lunch. He said, “My food is to do the will of my Father, to live out the Word of God” (John 4:34). The songwriter says obedience is not about earning His favor, it is a way of expressing our love for the God who has shown us favor.

By the way, God’s name changes in this section in the way in which David refers to Him. In the first stanza, He’s called El, which means God of Creation. In the second stanza, David uses the name YHWH (Yahweh). This is a covenant name meaning, God rescued His people, made Israel His own, and gave them His commandments. So in this second stanza, David describes the beauty of Yahweh’s Word – the Bible. It’s perfect, like God. It’s sure like God; it’s right like God; it’s pure like God; it’s clean like God; it’s enduring like God; it’s true like God.

Then David lists the wonderful things the Bible can do for a person. It revives the soul. It contains life-giving power and vitality for the individual. It makes the simple wise. It teaches us how life works best. It rejoices the heart as it reveals God and His love for us. It brings joy to our lives as we read of forgiveness and get direction. It cleanses us as it convicts us of our sinfulness, brings about repentance, and delivers God’s mercy. It enlightens the eyes. It helps us see the truth about God. By its commands we are warned and dangers are avoided. It brings reward, assurance, and character growth.

David then declares that the Bible is the most valuable thing a person could ever have. It is more desired than gold, even much fine gold. If you have a choice between the Word of God and gold, choose the Word of God! If you have a choice between fine gold and the Word of God, choose the Word of God. The benefits of knowing and doing the Word of God are greater than all that money can buy. It is sweeter than the finest honey in the world. It is something to be delighted in.

John Piper, a terrific Bible scholar and preacher of the gospel, once said something very profound about the value of God’s Word and how it can help us. He said, “God understands you better than anyone else. He knows how people get to the way they are, and how they are affected by their surroundings. God understands societies and groups perfectly. God knows all facts about how the world works. He knows the future and how everything will come out in the end. God is wiser than any wise writer. God is more caring than any counselor. God is more creative than any poet or artist. It simply stands to reason that what God says in His Word will be more useful to us than what anyone else in the universe has to say. Not to sit at His feet and soak our minds with His wisdom is sheer craziness, if not suicidal.”

I am reminded of the words of Jesus: “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31). In regard to the Old Testament, Jesus said, “I came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it” (Matt. 5:17). The Apostle Paul’s last instructions to Timothy were to keep reading and preaching the Word of God to the people. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (II Tim. 3:16).

The Word of God awakened Martin Luther and brought about the life-changing and history-changing Reformation. Luther was so convinced of its importance, he translated it from Latin into the vernacular of his day so the common person could read it.

The blood of many has been sacrificially poured out in history to get the Word of God into people’s hands. Why? Because it’s so valuable for the human soul. It revives it. It gives life and direction that we cannot find elsewhere. God reveals Himself and His will for us in His perfect Word. David is telling us in this Psalm that the Bible is not something to be treated as a trifle in our lives. It is to be opened, read, studied, meditated upon, and put to work in our daily living. It is valuable!

The Psalm ends with a prayer. The Psalmist gets personal. Some surmise this last stanza is about the Psalmist, having reflected upon the glory and perfection of God’s creation in His Word, seems to now have a sense of sinfulness. It’s been evoked in him. He is seeking forgiveness for his past sins and protection from future rebelliousness against God. Like the creation and the Word, David wants to stand before God without blemish. He desires to walk innocently before God.

Perhaps that is correct. Another thought, though, (keeping in line with the Psalm) is these are words of surrender as he submits himself to reading Scripture with a humble spirit. He humbles himself before God and says, God, show me my sins in your Word and forgive me. Show me Your ways in Your word so I can walk innocently before You. When push comes to shove, Lord, I want the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart to be acceptable in Your sight, for You are my Rock and my Redeemer.

David could be saying, As I study Your Word, may it come to pass that my words and thoughts from now on would forever be pleasing to you Lord. I want my life to give you glory.

It’s a great Psalm. Christian writer C. S. Lewis calls this Psalm the greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the greatest lyrics in the world.

Finally, had David been around long enough to see another revelation, he would have certainly added a fourth stanza. God ultimately revealed Himself in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. John announced in his Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1, 14).

The Gospel of Luke tells us that the multitude of angels in the heavens at Christ’s birth were declaring the glory of God as a witness to the shepherds in their fields. John ends chapter 1 by saying, “No one has ever seen God, but the only Son who is at the Father’s right hand, has made him known (John 1:18).” Jesus has made God known. He has made His redeeming love known as the Son of God who was born into this world, walked in perfect obedience to His heavenly Father, lived the perfect life, then gave His life up on a cross to pay for the sinfulness of you and me. He promised that all who place their trust in Him shall have eternal life, know God personally, and one day see Him face-to-face. This God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.

Friends, if you want to know God – the immortal, invisible God – He’s not hiding from us. He wants you to know Him. I encourage you, then, to not only enjoy the sunrises and the sunsets, but to allow God to show His unmerited favor. Ask Jesus Christ into your life to rescue you and lead you for the rest of your life. Then open His Word, which is much more valuable than the finest gold, and let Him speak into your life. You won’t regret this. You’ll be more than glad you opened your life to Him and His Word.

God bless you in your walk with Christ and His holy Word. May it speak loudly into your life and bless you. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

A Song for Travellers

Bible Reference: Psalm  121

A number of weeks ago, our church’s prayer team held a sendoff for a missionary from our congregation who was headed to the Congo to work with Gideons International. As he described the trip, it occurred to me that a lot of things could go wrong, not to mention the challenges of life in the Congo with poverty and politics that are awry. It’s quite tense, I am told.

I had been asked to give a devotion before the prayers for this faithful servant of Christ, and after hearing what he was facing on his trip, I decided at the last moment to read Psalm 121. The reason is it is a Traveller’s Psalm and was written for anxious servants of God who are on the road.

Heaven knows, we’ve all experienced an anxious moment or two when we’re on a trip, haven’t we? As you get into the car, fasten your seatbelt and get ready to turn on the ignition, you wonder, Will we get there safely and on time? Did I shut all the windows in the house? Is the car going to hold up? What’s that funny noise under the hood? I’ve never noticed it before. What kind of weather will be traveling in? What will traffic be like? One can have a little anxiety.

Our Psalm for today is called a “Psalm of Ascent.” It was a song the Israelites sang as they set off for their annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem, which was the high point of the country for the worship festivals.

I invite you to use your imagination as we look at this Psalm today. Picture a family gathered around the outside of their home with their relatives. They are about to leave on a trip, their pilgrimage. The father of this departing family says, “I lift my eyes to the hills – where does my hope come from?”

A bit of anxiety is being expressed in this first verse. They had to go through hill country, which had its dangers and various potholes so to speak along the way. Jesus talked about the Jericho Road, for instance, in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Those hills were filled with robbers. They also had pagan shrines on top of them where nonbelievers would turn to for help and good luck along life’s way. These pilgrims who were headed to Jerusalem might be tempted when troubles hit to turn to those idols for extra good luck just in case of trouble. And so the singer asks, Who is going to help them along the way? “Where does my hope come from?”

Then he makes this marvelous faith statement: “My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

The Lord is going to help me, of course! He made the heavens and the earth. The One who made everything in the world and in the heavens is able to watch over me and care about me. The all-powerful Lord is so big, I can count on Him.

Perhaps, as he thinks of the Lord, He is remembering amazing stories from the Torah he learned as a child, such as the Exodus when God rescued His people from slavery in Egypt against all odds. Or perhaps he’s thinking of the Israelites traveling forty years in the wilderness toward the Promised Land. God watched over their Hebrew ancestors as He led them, provided for them, and protected them along the way.

Of course, you and I, as followers of Jesus, remember the rescue Jesus carried out for us at the cross to save us from sin and death and the power of the devil. We also look at His continuing provision and His presence in our lives as the Holy Spirit provides us with what we need along the way.

The lines that follow the opening are words of assurance. They were probably spoken by someone else standing in that crowd like the grandfather or an elder. Maybe even the family as a whole recited it. As they are seeing them off, in answer to that question, they say, “He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who watches over Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps.”

Where is the confidence to be found? God! He . . . He . . . He.
He will not – He who keeps – He who watches.

This is a job description of God’s tireless care: He watches. He keeps. It is used six times. This all-powerful God is not just our Creator, He is ever watching over us. God never sleeps. The One who has had His eye on His people Israel over history, never, ever sleeps.

I am reminded of Elijah, the prophet, at his showdown at Mt. Carmel with the priests of the Baal gods. And they’re trying to get their gods to light the sacrificial fire to prove their reality. Of course, the fire’s not getting lit. What does Elijah say to them? Huh! Your gods must be asleep. You see Israel’s God never sleeps. He’s always at full attention!

Then our singers move to the thought, The Lord is your keeper. He moves us from the nation (the keeper of Israel), to the person (the individual). The One who watches Israel and never sleeps is your keeper. Therefore I, belonging to God, can sleep knowing God never does. I am never out of His sight. I can rest in God’s tireless care, because He never rests.

The song moves on. “The Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.” This describes God as our protector. As you walk through the heat of the desert, the cold of the night in the desert, I will be your shade at your right hand, God promises.

The right hand is a phrase that’s used to describe the champion who comes alongside you. I will be there for you; I will be your shade.

I was recently on a walk with my new grandson, Henry, who is nine months now. He was in a stroller and mom was pushing him along. It was a nice Sunday afternoon. On the way home, the sun started beating down on that little guy, so I came along his right side providing him shade the rest of the way so he wouldn’t get sunburned or be uncomfortable.

The songwriter tells us our heavenly Father is willing to do that for us. The song says He is there to come alongside us as our champion, through any danger we may face.

I am reminded of a familiar line from Amazing Grace. “Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come. ‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.” He is there with His grace.

The singer finishes by expanding the picture a bit in the last two lines of the Psalm. He’s not talking just about this particular journey but all of life’s journey. In fact, the Lord will keep you from all evil. Does that mean life will be trouble-free along the way? No, of course not. You and I know some days are dark. We need to lay Psalm 121 alongside the psalms of lament, when life is tough and we cry out. Remember that line in Psalm 23: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with me . . .”

Life has its shadowy moments, its valleys. Jesus taught us to pray, “Deliver us from evil.” We, as followers of Jesus, know that the life of faith does not exempt us from stubbing our toes along the way, or injuries, or illnesses, or accidents, or distress. But we have the assurance that none of these things can separate us from God’s purposes in our lives, God’s care for us.

I like what Eugene Peterson wrote about this Psalm in his book, “A Long Obedience.” He writes, “All the water in all the oceans cannot sink a ship unless it gets inside. Nor can all the trouble in the world harm us unless it gets within us.” That is the promise of this Psalm. The Lord will keep you from all evil means none of the trouble you encounter has the power to get between you and God. He will keep your life.

Jesus said one time, “Nothing can snatch you from the hand of the good Shepherd.” He was talking about more than a little journey, now. He was talking about your whole life in Him.

The last line is a wonderful statement. “The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and for evermore.” In all your daily comings and goings, God is keeping watch over you. You have His attention. Pious Jews, even today, as they leave or enter their house or a room in the house, touch a little box called the Mezuzah. Inside of it is a piece of paper inscribed with Deuteronomy 6:4-9, the great Shema, and they recite the last line of Psalm 121 as they depart from the room. “The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and for evermore.” Words of reassurance. God is watching; God is keeping me. Nothing will snatch me from His hand. All the way to forevermore into eternity.

It reminds me of another sojourner named Paul, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, who did a lot of traveling as a missionary for Jesus. He said that no perils that we face along the way – neither death, nor life, nor powers . . . nor anything else in all creation – will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. That is our good news.

Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord who is the Creator, who was watching over me, who keeps me.

Now how does this apply to our lives? Well first of all, it’s a nice Psalm to read before you go on a trip or before the plane takes off. In fact, I encourage you to memorize this Psalm. Keep it tucked away in your heart for those times when you don’t have a Bible with you. When faced with a personal crisis and you need a reassuring word from God, call on this one.

This Psalm also moves us toward a wider application, the whole lifetime of a person. The life journey we’re on is talked about in the movement of this Psalm. In Christ, we are sojourners on our way toward our heavenly home, to our Father. And this Psalm serves as good news words of encouragement as we follow Jesus along the way.

The church has picked up on this throughout its history. Interestingly, the church used this Psalm at baptisms in our Lutheran liturgies of the past as the journey begins with Jesus. In The Lutheran Occasional Services Book, it is also used when ministering to those who are addicted. We are told to use this Psalm for people who need assurance on the road to sobriety, or when facing any struggle for that matter and need a reassuring reminder that God is watching over you.

For the final part of our life, it’s of great use and comfort for us. In my research and study of this Psalm, I came across a story told by Dr. James Limburg. He writes about another way in which this Psalm has functioned in the lives of God’s people, a final scene. It was told by a woman and her son. “Her father, his grandfather, lay dying, full of years after months of illness. They all knew the end was near. There was some anxiety as this aged traveller was about to set out on the final stretch of his journey. In that moment of anxiety, like an Israelite anticipating the journey to Jerusalem, like countless brothers and sisters in the faith about to set out for somewhere, his daughter and grandson heard him repeat the Traveller’s Psalm, which he knew by heart: ‘I will lift mine eyes unto the hills – from whence cometh my help? My help comes from the Lord.’

We use this Psalm at funeral services as we’re reminded of the resurrection hope. I use the final line – He watches over our comings and goings for evermore – to reassure, encourage, and remind the widow or widower that, as they continue life without that spouse at their side, they are not alone as they continue their own life pilgrimage.

Dear friend, life has its challenges as we take the trip through it. It has peaks and valleys; it is smooth and it has potholes along the way. Where are you looking for help in your journey? That’s my question for you today. This Traveller’s Psalm says there is but one sure place to find help. It’s the Lord. Trust in God; He’s watching over you. Turn to Him. Surrender to His care.

As I consider the opening question of the Psalm 121 – looking to the hills, where does my hope come from – I can’t help but think of another hill in particular where an old rugged cross stands, reminding us that this God loves us so much that He gave His Son, Jesus Christ, to die for us and save us from our sins. On the other side of another hill stands an empty tomb with the stone rolled away where God raised Jesus from the dead so we might have eternal life with Him. He is faithful! Amen?

My help comes from the Lord who made the heavens and the earth and rescued me through His Son, Jesus Christ, so that I might walk with Him and seek His help along the way toward my promised eternal home.

He is with you, watching over you, holding you forever. Trust Him. If you need help, help is here. He’s got His eye on you, so keep your eye on Him. Amen.

Rev. Steve Kramer

 

A Song for When You Are Tempted

Bible Reference: Psalm 16

If someone were to ask you why you stick with God and keep following Jesus, how would you respond? This is a question I believe Satan loves to throw at each one of us now and then. His mission is to destroy our relationship with God in Christ, and he has a variety of tricks to chip away at it. Sometimes he throws diversions our way. Why don’t you pursue other things? Success, pleasures, prosperity – there’s nothing wrong with that. They will make you very happy.

Satan is right, in a way – these are good things God has given us. But Satan knows we as human beings have a tendency to make idols of good things, which can take over our lives. For instance, work and success. Work is good, but it can easily take over life and push God out to the periphery. Or money. There is nothing wrong with money; it provides us with a good standard of living. However, Scripture points out that the love of money is very dangerous and can pull us away from God as it becomes our idol.

Sometimes Satan uses pleasurable alternatives. He makes sin look attractive. For instance, when Eve in the Garden of Eden said, “God said we can’t eat of this fruit; it’ll be our death,” Satan replied, That won’t happen. God’s just holding out on you. You can be like God. Go ahead; take a bite.

Or when Jesus told His disciples on the road to Jerusalem that He was going to die a horrific death on a cross, Peter objected. Jesus then said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” What an interesting thing to say to His friend! Jesus heard the voice of the Temper in Peter’s voice saying, Take the easy way, Jesus. Try doing things my way. Don’t go to the cross. Don’t fulfill God’s plan. Turn away from God’s way. It could be so much easier for you.

Another tool Satan uses is adversity. When a tragedy or miserable situation strikes in your life, he whispers, What’s the point of sticking with God now? He has disappointed you, hasn’t He? Why waste any further time with Him? I suggest looking for help elsewhere. He’s not the real deal. I think of the misery that hit Job, and his wife then telling him to curse God.

I’ve watched people struggle with God when tragedy hits. People say things to them like, I can’t believe you’re hanging onto your faith after all this has happened to you!

Such was the case with the writer of Psalm 16, David. I believe this Psalm has something to teach us for when we’re tempted to turn away from God. It can serve as a shield, a cover. It can be a refuge from trusting in anything other than the God who loves us. It reminds us where real joy and pleasure is to be found.

Psalm 16 begins as a petition. “Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.” A crisis is happening. Some scholars surmise that the story behind this Psalm is found in First Samuel 26. David has been under attack by King Saul, who has been insanely jealous of David’s popularity ever since he killed the giant, Goliath. Saul has been trying to kill David, and has chased him around in the wilderness for years. This had to have been a miserable life for David.

In the book of First Samuel chapter 26, we see an episode where David has an opportunity to kill Saul in his sleep, but he doesn’t. What a temptation it must’ve been as David’s partner encouraged him, Come on. Take his life now. Get this over with and stop running. It’s a shortcut. But because David wanted to remain obedient to God and not harm the Lord’s Anointed, the King, he lets him live. He believes God will take care of Saul in the end.

So David takes Saul’s spear and a jar of water sitting next to Saul’s head as he slept. Then he went a distance away from the camp and shouts to Saul’s general and the troops from atop a hill, “You are terrible watchmen and guards of the King! Where is the king’s spear and water jar? I had the opportunity to kill Saul, but I didn’t.”

Saul then asks, “Is that you, David?”

David answers, “Saul, why are you so set on killing me? Why are you chasing me around? Your own men have driven me out into the wilderness that I should have no share in the Lord’s heritage, and they’ve told me to go, serve other gods.”

Notice the words – Go serve other gods. Maybe these words were spoken by his enemies or by people on his side. They must have been quite tempting to David. Life hadn’t exactly worked out as God promised when David was secretly anointed to be the next King of Israel. He had spent years living as a fugitive and was tired of dodging Saul and his army. It had to have crossed his mind to just give up on God and worship other gods.

David is not only under a physical attack by Saul as he prays, “Preserve me,” but also under spiritual attack by Satan who is saying, Why do you insist on sticking with God? Look elsewhere to the other gods for building your life. For David, it meant idol worship. In our day, idols include money, possessions, people, power, and pleasure.

This was a critical juncture in David’s life. He has two paths to choose from – God or elsewhere. Maybe you’ve been at a critical juncture like that in your own life. In this Psalm, though, we see David standing firm as he says, I won’t have anything to do with that sort of thing. I won’t join those who run after other gods. It is nothing but trouble and sorrow. It’s a dead end. David is sticking with God. You are my Lord. You are my Lord, my boss, my leader, my God. Why can he say that? Because God has stuck with him.

David then proceeds to count the blessings of life he has experienced with God. “I have no good apart from you.” He enumerates. In you I have the delight of being part of your community. The holy ones who follow you are my inspiration, my supporters, my encouragement. It could be just like someone said to me not too long ago, “I just don’t know where I’d be without my church. I love my church. It’s been such a support to me.”

When push comes to shove, David says he will choose God every time. “The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup.” And he says to God, “You hold my lot,” meaning my lot in life. You take care of my welfare. You are the source of my contentment. “In you I have a goodly heritage.”

I’m reminded of Martin Luther’s words in his first article to the Small Catechism: “God has given me all that I have – food and clothing, home and family, daily work, all I need from day-to-day. He protects me. All this He does out of fatherly and divine goodness and mercy.” This is what David is saying. God has not only provided me with what I need for daily life, but when I am mixed up and confused, God blesses me with good counsel. He shows me His way and how to live life His way.

He instructs me through His Word. At night, even my heart instructs me. The picture we have is of David as he meditates upon the Word. He is lying in bed with the Word – the promises of God – rolling around. He hands all his fears and concerns from the day over to God and says, I am going to rest in the Lord.

What you do before you go to bed at night, folks? David says, “I keep the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.” Being at His right hand means He’s my advocate, my champion, the warrior who comes alongside of me and defends me in the battles of life. That’s why you can rest sleep at night. That’s why your body can rest, and your heart and your soul are glad.

On top of all this, David has a great promise. He says, “You do not abandon my soul to Sheol or let your faithful one see corruption.”

Does David believe in the Resurrection? Some scholars argue over this line. Yet we see the Apostle Peter using this verse in Acts 2:25-28, his first sermon on Pentecost. Peter called this verse a prophecy of King David. Jesus, the son of David as people called Him, fulfilled this prophecy by being raised victoriously from death, the first fruits of the resurrection. By trusting in Jesus Christ, we have the promise of eternal life. With David in this Psalm, we say, You will not abandon my soul to Sheol, to death! You have defeated death. You hold me in the palm of Your hand for eternity! In Christ, I have a life that is eternal. Amen to that!

“You show me the path of life.” You give me your wisdom, O God, and you reveal what’s good for me and what’s not good for me. You’ve made it very clear in your Word, and in your presence, as I live with you on a daily basis, Lord, there is fullness of joy. Walking with you, I’ve received the joy of knowing you and being known by you, and it’s nothing but joy.

Then David sums it up, “In your right hand are pleasures for evermore” because I have You to thank for these blessings.

These words are illustrated in a story I came across a while back. Christopher Parkening is considered to be the world’s greatest classical guitarist. He achieved his musical dreams by the age of 30, and by then he was a world-class fly-fishing champion. However, his success failed to bring him happiness. Weary of performing and recording sessions, Parkening bought a ranch out in Montana and gave up the guitar.

However, instead of finding happiness after getting away from it all, his life became increasingly empty. He wrote, “If you arrive at a point in your life where you have everything you’ve ever wanted and thought it would make you happy, and it still doesn’t, then you begin to question things. It’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. And I thought, That is what’s left? What’s left?”

While visiting friends, Parkening attended church with them. He put his faith in Jesus Christ and developed a hunger for the Scriptures. He struck by I Corinthians 10:31, “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” Now he explains, “I realized I could only do two things: fly-fish for trout and play the guitar. Well, I am playing the guitar today absolutely by the grace of God.” And he is playing for God. “I have a joy, a peace, and a deep down fulfillment in my life I’ve never had before. My life has a purpose. I’ve learned firsthand the true secret of genuine happiness.” That’s what David seems to be saying in this Psalm. I’ve learned firsthand the secret of true happiness.

I love this Psalm, because it reminds me of the blessings I’ve receive through walking in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Why stick with God? If this question is ever rolling around in your head – maybe when times are bad or you’re being tempted to pursue other things in life – turn to Psalm 16 first. Read it, and review the blessings David lays out for us as followers of God in Christ. Better yet, do what Jesus did: pray this Psalm on a regular basis.

I encourage you to count your own blessings. Maybe even write your own Psalm. You could do that. Begin it by saying, “Lord, I’m sticking with you because . . .” and then list your blessings.

Maybe someone is listening today who is not connected to Jesus Christ. You have not tasted the grace of God in your life. This Psalm, I hope, serves as an attraction for you. I encourage you to take a step toward Christ. Ask Him into your life, to take over. He is waiting to give you these blessings I have just described from David’s mouth. Experience firsthand the secret of true happiness – being in a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Amen!

Rev. Steve Kramer
Christian Crusaders

A Battle Song

Bible Reference: Psalm 27

Sometimes life can feel like a real battleground. We may even ask each other, So how goes the battle? The battle may be health related, such as cancer or a chronic disease or a mental affliction like depression. Sometimes the battle is people related: a battle of wills between child and parents, employer and employee, teacher and student, handling critics, or facing opposition. The battle may even be spiritual. You are attempting to serve the Lord where He has placed you, and you are struggling. Maybe your battles are with temptations; You are under spiritual attack from Satan. Sometimes it’s life’s circumstances that have been thrown our way. These battles can wear us out and cause us great anxiety and fear, and we find ourselves wondering where we can turn for help.

Two years ago, Scott Stossel wrote an article in The Atlantic magazine in which he openly shared his lifelong attempts to deal with the anguish of anxiety. From an early age, he’s been what he calls “a twitchy bundle of phobias, fears and neuroses.” He writes, “Even when I’m not actively afflicted by acute episodes of anxiety, I am buffeted by worry. . . . Here’s what I’ve tried to deal with my anxiety: individual psychotherapy (three decades of it); family therapy, group therapy, cognitive- behavioral therapy, and fifteen other therapies. And medication. Lots of medication. Thorazine. Imipramine. Desipramine. Chlorpheniramine. Nardil. And twenty others. Also: beer, wine, gin, bourbon, vodka, and scotch. . . . Here’s what worked: NOTHING.”

Today we’re looking at an Old Testament battle song for times when we feel anxious and afraid. Described by many as one of the best known and comforting Psalms in the Bible, it is a song attributed to King David, the warrior king of Israel who faced many battles and threats in his life.

In Psalm 27, David shows us he has some real reasons for being afraid. His life was being threatened; he talks of evildoers who want to devour him and wreak havoc on his life. He talks of adversaries and foes – people who are opposed to him. He talks of an army encamped against him wanting to make war on him and take his life. He talks of feeling as if his mother and father have forsaken him. I am alone, he saying.

False witnesses say bad things about him, wrecking his reputation, making accusations against him. Perhaps even his own men were questioning him or passing on rumors that ruined his leadership credibility.

David had plenty of negatives to cause him great anxiety. Yet in the midst of this, he says I will not fear. I will not be afraid. I will be confident. Where does one find confidence to say that? Is his confidence in himself and his strength as a leader? Is it confidence in his abilities? No. It comes from confidence in the Lord – faith!

The first few verses of this Psalm actually sound like self talk. He is speaking the truth to himself, cultivating confidence as he readies himself to pray in the last half of this song. It is David’s picture of God, and we get to see it as he opens.

Note the personal pronouns. The Lord is my light; the Lord is my salvation; the Lord is the stronghold of my life. It’s all very personal! A relationship with God is meant to be personal. One of the metaphors he uses is light. The image of light is very positive in Scripture. Light illuminates the darkness of trouble or danger. It is associated with truth, power, goodness, and vitality in the Old and New Testaments. Jesus called Himself the Light of the world. “Darkness has not overcome it,” the Gospel writer John tells us.

David goes on – My salvation. Salvation meaning He who gives me victory, my Rescuer, the One who delivers me. I’m reminded of Luther’s second article to the small catechism as he talks about Jesus. “He has rescued me from sin and death and the power of the devil.” And then David says, He is the stronghold of my life, which means my refuge, my fortress, my mighty Fortress to whom I can run for shelter.

What’s behind this confident proclamation about God? It’s past help David has received from God. He is speaking from personal experience. Maybe his match with the giant Goliath was in the back of his mind as he wrote this, or his escapes from King Saul’s assassination attempts with the help of Saul’s son, Jonathan. David’s trust in God is battle tested.

Verse four of the song gives us a roadmap for navigating through our own fears. It is David’s secret, so to speak, of confidence in the face of fear. He shows a single-minded devotion as he says, “One thing have I asked, that I will seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord, and inquire in his temple.”

If you could ask God for any one thing, what would it be? David says it’s being with God. As he talks about dwelling in God’s house, he’s not talking about residing so much in the Temple but to live constantly in God’s presence. He wants God to be with him. To David, access to God’s presence is the best of all the gifts a person can receive. He is saying, God, I want you. He is seeking God’s face, which means His presence. He wants to have an intimate time with God face-to-face and dwell in God’s presence all the time. David wants to know God personally, intimately. If you have God, you have everything. All else is temporary. God is eternal, and nothing can snatch you from His hand. Nothing can distract you or take you from the hand of God. David knew that. He said, I want to be in the presence of God, and I want to be gazing at His beauty.

What does David mean? When we gaze at something, we’re contemplating it, enjoying it. We are caught up as we delight in God’s attributes as a way of life. It’s what we do as we read, study, and meditate on God’s Word, as we spend time in solitude with God, as we seek His presence, talk to Him in prayer, and enter the sanctuary for worship.

By the way, in regard to worship, when David went to worship at the temple in the tent, it wasn’t really a temple at David’s time. What he saw were the rituals of bloody sacrifices in the Temple. Those bloody sacrifices of animals reminded him that God is holy and great, but He is also gracious.

Years later, Jesus the Christ would announce, Destroy this temple; Tear it down, and in three days, I will raise it up. The gospel writer John says Jesus was talking about Himself, His body. For us, Christ is our temple. We behold the beauty of the Lord in the face of Jesus Christ. As we turn our eyes upon Jesus and gaze at Him, we see a sacrifice on the cross for our sinfulness. We see Jesus losing His beauty so we can have beauty. This is beauty that will still the rumble of panic in your heart as it reassures you, You are loved.

David also says, I don’t want to just behold the beauty of God, I want to inquire of Him. I want to seek God’s will. I have a willing, obedient heart. I want to do what God wants me to do, because He knows what’s going to work best for my life. David wants to never be separated from the Lord. Having God with me is enough; to gaze upon His beauty and have Him teach me His ways; to follow Him.

David then continues by saying, I know God will take care of me. In the day of trouble, God will shelter me and lift me up when life is pulling me down. He will give me reason to joyfully shout praises to Him.

When I read Psalm 27, I can’t help but be reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words at the end of Romans chapter 8. “If God is for us, who is against us? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress or persecution or famine or danger or nakedness or sword? No! We are more than conquerors through him who loved us. I am sure that neither life nor death, angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor power nor height nor depth nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord.”

I’ve experienced the comfort and the strength that comes in this Psalm and those words of Paul. When I face obstacles in my own life, I turn to that Psalm. It’s a strengthener. It cultivates confidence.

The second half of this Psalm is a sample, confident prayer for continued favor as David readies himself for the present battle he is facing. He’s moving from meditation upon the greatness of God, to conversation with the Lord with a prayer for deliverance. First he seeks God’s face, His presence. “Lord, you’ve told me to seek your face; I’m seeking your face. Just don’t turn away from me. Don’t turn your back on me.”

I’m reminded of the benediction found in the book of Numbers. “May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and give you peace.” It means, May God smile upon you. Lord, I’m seeking Your face. I want to gaze at Your beauty.

And then David says, Lord, teach me and lead me. Show me what manner of life pleases you, the moral virtues you want me to take in for the circumstances I am in. I want to do things Your way, Lord. I will follow. Just don’t give me up to my adversaries who are slandering me.

David ends the whole song with an expression of trust and confidence. He says, “I believe I will look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” In other words, I believe God will see me through this. I will see the goodness of God at work all around me and in me. God will not let me go. I am His forever.

Then David gives us his testimony. He says, “Wait for the Lord. Be strong. Let your heart take courage. Wait for the Lord.” That last verse pretty much sums up the whole Psalm right there. Life gives us many reasons for fear and anxiety. The battle rages. Here’s the answer: Wait for the Lord, which means seek the Lord. Depend on Him. Pray, worship, meditate on His beauty in the word. Wait upon the Lord.

Years ago, a number of people in the jungles of central Africa responded to the gospel of Christ. Since they had no church building to gather for prayer, they cleared a central spot in the jungle for that purpose. Soon individual trails from many different directions converged as believers walked through the grass to that place of meeting with God. Whenever a Christian seemed to be losing his first love, the others would admonish him by saying, “Brother, the grass is growing on your path. It’s time to turn to the Lord.”

What about your path? My dear brothers and sisters, are you seeking the Lord and His face each day? Are you gazing at His beauty and seeking His will for your life as you face your various life situations? Are you waiting upon the Lord, for that is God’s way for those of us who are in battle to overcome our fears? He has given us this formula. Let’s use it. Let’s seek the Lord in a daily way.

I invite you to use Psalm 27 the next time you’re facing a battle. In fact, I challenge you to memorize the first part of that Psalm. “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear. The Lord is the stronghold of my life. I shall not be afraid.” Carry that one in your heart. Amen.

Rev. Steve Kramer
Christian Crusaders