Category Archives: Perspectives

Rich Fulfillment

Everyone has a story. You probably will have to ask. And you may need to ask some questions. But everyone who has lived for a reasonable time upon this earth has a story. All of us have endured heartache at some time. All of us have faced adversity. All of us have borne injustice in some way. All of us have had our trials. But when we see people for brief snapshots of their lives, we can make the mistake of assuming that they have had it easy—or at least easier than we have. We look at the person who has an advanced degree or successful business, or perhaps both, and we assume that they cannot understand suffering. Likewise, we sometimes see a person who is knowledgeable and forget the story of the work it took to accumulate that knowledge. We meet people who seem to have their lives together and presume that they have never faced a significant challenge. Upon reflection, we would likely recognize the folly of these passing thoughts. But in the moment, especially when we ourselves are dealing with trials, remembering others have a story can be particularly difficult.

The same principle holds true for groups of people—nations, businesses, congregations. It can be easy to forget the story of people who made our current situation even possible. How many people regularly cite their first amendment rights when burning a flag but remain completely ignorant of the people who designed that flag and wrote and voted for that amendment? How many employees have little appreciation for how much work it took for the business that pays them to get off the ground and succeed at all? And how many Christians appreciate previous generations who studied, evangelized, taught, took a stand, accepted ostracization from the world, established congregations, built buildings, and welcomed them in?

The sixty-sixth psalm is a call for joyous worship and praise to God for what He did to make their lives possible (Psa. 66:1-4). But in doing so, the psalmist recounts the challenges Israel faced as a people in the beginning (Psa. 66:5-7). For preserving them to that day, the psalmist gave thanks to the God “Who keeps our soul among the living” (Psa. 66:8-9). How did He do this and for what did the psalmist say He was worthy of praise? “For You, O God, have tested us; You have refined us as silver is refined. You brought us into the net; You laid affliction on our backs. You have caused men to ride over our heads; We went through fire and through water; But You brought us out to rich fulfillment” (Psa. 66:10-12, emphasis mine, KWR). Because of this, God more than deserved praise, worship, and thanksgiving (Psa. 66:13-20). Rich fulfillment. In the days of David, when Israel reached a high point, politically and spiritually, finally there was perspective. All of the trials existed to chasten them from their sin and error and prepare them for further growth. And in the end, when they persevered, there was rich fulfillment. But it was important for the people in the time of David to appreciate the past, Israel’s story, so that they never took for granted what was theirs to enjoy. This remains true for all of us. We will have trials in life. We will have challenges. We will have adversity. Therefore, we must persevere. And we can do it with confidence, because rich fulfillment awaits us when we come out of the desert, travel through the valley, and finally reach the mountaintop. You have a story, but the ending has yet to be written. But if you seek God and His will, and remain faithful to Him, whatever else you may face in life, you can indeed enjoy rich fulfillment.

Spiritual Maturity

Most of us have been there. Pushed to the edge of our ability to cope, emotionally and physically exhausted, and feeling overwhelmed from the pressure, we lose our cool and lash out. Or perhaps we just grow frustrated and impatient with the process. However, the self-control, perspective, and peace that spiritual maturity offer grow us beyond even these feelings when life is not going our way. David wrote many psalms where he acknowledged being overwhelmed, frustrated, impatient, and exhausted, though gradually turning to his faith to address these negative feelings. However, despite circumstances that mirrored many of his earlier challenging situations, in Psalm 63 David responded with positivity and faith from the very first line of the psalm. Written during his self-imposed exile following Absalom’s palace coup, David expressed a peace that many people long for in life but few find. And it demonstrates just how much David had grown spiritually throughout his life. Therefore, when we can develop the same spiritual perspective, we can handle anything that Satan sends our way.

Spiritual maturity begins with making God your priority. In everything. All the time. Learn to long for God and a deeper relationship with Him. It is when you know how much you need Him not only in times of trouble but also in times of plenty that you begin to appreciate Him properly. This is when we truly draw near to God (Jas. 4:8) and begin to think of Him as “my God” (Psa. 63:1-2). Spiritual maturity is content with the spiritual (Phil. 4:11). When you truly see the depth of God’s love, expressed in so many ways, as greater not only than anything in this life, but even “better than life” itself, then your relationship with Him and responding with love for Him takes on personal meaning and personal importance (Psa. 63:3-5). The spiritually mature meditate on God. They can spend hours counting up all the ways God has cared for them and blessed them. They do not doubt God is there to help because they have come to understand God so well (Psa. 63:6-8). The more you mature spiritually, the less concerned you become about what will happen to you in this life and what will happen in the world around you, including those set on evil, because you trust God’s justice to govern the world and to care for your soul (Psa. 63:9-10). Following this path, spiritual maturity leads you to find joy in God and have confidence that everything will turn out right in the end (Psa. 63:11).

Spiritual maturity manifests itself in many ways. It will exhibit itself in consistent and heartfelt worship (Jn. 4:23-24), in dedicated and sincere service (Rom. 12:1), and in passionate morality and holiness (Eph. 4:17-24). Such maturity will hold itself far away from the works of the flesh and cling to the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:19-24). Without a doubt, love for God and for others will dominate the heart, life, and motivation of the spiritually mature (Matt. 22:37-40). However, the true test of maturity in one’s spirituality comes when conflict, pressure, and even pain confront the spiritual heart to provoke a response. Thus, our goal in maturing spiritually must center on handling a crisis in the world well—not sitting amongst the saints contentedly. Jesus displayed spiritual maturity in many ways throughout His life, but nowhere was it tested as it was when He was beaten, humiliated, and crucified. The love shown on the cross is the height of spiritual maturity, and it is this to which we should all aspire.

Through No Fault of Mine

In the Alfred Hitchcock classic North by Northwest, starring Cary Grant, Grant plays an advertising executive who is mistaken for a government agent by a group of foreign spies. As a result, Grant finds himself trying to escape one attempt on his life after another—all because of a case of mistaken identity. I doubt that anyone would find himself in a situation so complicated and convoluted as Grant’s character; however, the righteous can find themselves treated as enemies without having done anything whatsoever to deserve it. David had served King Saul admirably, bringing him great victories for Israel and honoring him in the process. Unfortunately, Saul’s jealousy of David’s exploits led the king to become openly hostile toward David, though David had done absolutely nothing wrong. Reflecting on an instance where he found himself on the run and hiding from Saul’s men, David wrote, “They run and prepare themselves through no fault of mine. Awake to help me, and behold!” (Psa. 59:4). David felt the pressure, the fear, and the sadness that came with this situation, but he trusted God through it all. And that must be our approach to any similar circumstance as well.

It can be difficult to understand why people would spew hatred toward someone who has never wronged them, yet Jesus suffered from this throughout His ministry, even dying as a direct result of this attitude. In fact, sometimes people simply find the existence of righteousness—and even peace and happiness—a threat because they do not enjoy them themselves. As a result, they attempt to even the score—not by seeking peace and happiness, but by trying to ruin the lives of others. This is the nature of evil. It is destructive and vindictive. And the people who fall into these patterns are victims of Satan’s devices even as they make the righteous their enemies. Even in the church, Christians who find their faults exposed often lash out to destroy those who have figured them out. For the guilty Christian, their motive is a sad type of self-preservation—seeking to preserve the myth of their godliness and their “territory,” much like the chief priests and scribes in the time of Jesus. A Christian caught in such circumstances will feel isolated, betrayed, and confused, just trying to grasp what the motives could be of the hatred, lies, and contempt expressed by their own brethren. It is a mournful plight, to be sure, and yet it has occurred far too frequently.

Whether at school, at work, at home, or in the church, it is possible to find yourself spiritually “on the run,” trying to defend yourself against a flurry of attacks that you do not deserve and probably do not even understand. It can be easy to allow your attackers to become your enemies, to induce you into returning the hate and losing sight of the righteousness that indirectly played a role in your situation. But we must rise above this, as David did and as Jesus did, and accept that being reviled does not justify reviling in return. Instead, we should heed the inspired words of Peter, “But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter” (1 Pet. 4:15-16).

No Fear

Fear has become a mainstay of political propaganda. According to a wide array of websites, the election of the candidate they oppose would lead to consequences so severe and catastrophic that the very fabric of society and life itself might hang in the balance. The hyperbole used by the candidates and political parties themselves has made fear-mongering an art form—a grotesque, misshapen, perverted form of art. As the chasm between world-views deepens, the clashing rhetoric of these world-views has created an all-too-real fear among the people who listen. In a way, this makes sense. Those who came of age during the threat of nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the United States rarely fell into a constant state of fear; it was instead a kind of steady tension. However, the rise of terrorism as a constant threat in the new millennium has raised a very different prospect. People are uneasy in general because so much of the world they knew appears under threat. They feel threatened by the influx of immigrants from places known to harbor terrorists. They feel threatened by the upheaval of social mores foisted upon them by elitist judges ruling from afar with a disdain for both morality and history but with great confidence in the power of a black robe. They feel threatened by the economic changes created by an unbalanced playing field in the workplace and the monetary policies of nations. They feel threatened by the skyrocketing cost of healthcare along with its retreating coverage. People carry all of these fears with them constantly in addition to the regular challenges of daily life.

Fear has become natural to us. But that is all the more reason to turn to the comforting words of the psalms and to gain perspective, for in them we are reminded that “God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble” (Psa. 46:1), and that this alone is the reason not to fear—no matter what (Psa. 46:2-3). God does not promise to remove all trouble. He does not promise to relieve all our pain. He does not promise there will be no trials. He promises something more important than these things. He promises He will be with us (Psa. 46:7). All that man does poses no threat to Him (Psa. 46:8-9), and that is why, when we have Him with us, we need not fear.

Regardless of who is in power in this country or any other, the LORD is God, and that is what really matters. When a terrorist strikes, the LORD is still in heaven. When the Supreme Court issues a ruling, God has still spoken. When tragedy strikes, God is still love. Therefore, rather than allowing the challenges and heartaches of life to let fear enter your heart, fill it with faith instead. “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (Psa. 46:10). “The LORD of hosts is with us” (Psa. 46:11a), but we must first determine to be with Him.

Sheep for the Slaughter

Every once in a while you go through a period of time when you are afraid to ask what might happen next because of how much bad news you have received. Not that long ago, it seemed like members of the congregation were passing away at an unprecedented rate. The heartache and sorrow this brings can lead to despair rather quickly. At other times, serious illness and injury step in, so much so that attendance seems to drop in chunks and the work to care for others increases dramatically. Then there are those times when every stressful thing that can happen seems to happen almost simultaneously. The car needs new tires. The house needs a new air conditioner. The children need braces. And insurance rates just went up. Regardless of which one of these scenarios—or all of them—describe some aspect of your life, it can seem like you have a target on your back. However, God’s people must also endure the challenges presented by Satan’s relentless pressure in pursuit of their souls (1 Pet. 5:8). It can be hard to express the frustration and difficulty that all these things can create in life.

In Psalm 44 the sons of Korah wrote from this very perspective, expressing dismay because they found themselves in great difficulty without understanding why. The psalm begins by recounting the many times that God had delivered Israel from difficulty and secured victory over a mighty foe (Psa. 44:1-7). In fact, this history formed the foundation of national pride (Psa. 44:8). However, the sons of Korah found that they did not enjoy this same kind of experience, suffering shame and dishonor among the nations instead of victory and honor (Psa. 44:9-17). What makes their case more disconcerting is that they remained true to God through it all (Psa. 44:21). However, even then, this did not assure them of victory in the field or deliverance from their foes. Instead, they bemoaned,  “Yet for Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter” (Psa. 44:22). The psalm closes with a poignant cry asking for an explanation.

They felt as if they existed just to suffer. And this is why Paul quoted it in Romans 8:36 at the close of a passage explaining that, yes indeed, mankind’s very nature is designed to suffer. The writer of Hebrews, however, is the one that explains why: for the suffering of death and the deliverance that ultimately makes victory possible (Heb. 2:5-18). However, both in this psalm and in Paul’s conclusion in Romans, there is a reminder of why we can and should persevere. The first is found in the determination expressed by the sons of Korah and the second in the assurance offered by the apostle Paul. This life is indeed fraught with difficulty, filled with heartache, and characterized by suffering. But no matter how much Satan works to fill our lives with sorrow, to cause our bodies pain, and to create hardship in life itself, there is absolutely nothing he can do to separate us from God’s love. The nature of this life requires that we prepare ourselves to endure and persevere faithfully to the very end, but through it all—and especially at that end—God’s love is there for us. We will all face challenges throughout our lives—and not just small ones. But God offers assurance that despite the necessity of this in the nature of life, He is still with us and will deliver us beyond this life. Suffering is real in this life, but hope is real in the next. It is this perspective that will get us through, and keeping ever focused on the example of Jesus provides the way.

Hope in God

Rampant immorality and anti-Christian hostility dominate the news media in America today, and sadly the culture in general as well. The promotion of the homosexual agenda—and other similar perversions—that in previous generations would have received practically universal censure now enjoy legal protection, while the rights ensuring the freedom to criticize and condemn such behavior has eroded before our very eyes. Christians in America now face circumstances similar to our brethren throughout the rest of the world. We are coming to understand and appreciate more each day Peter’s description of God’s people as “sojourners and pilgrims” (1 Pet. 2:11). Nevertheless, however sad America’s moral decline might be, it has helped us more easily identify with godly people in past generations who found themselves overwhelmed by a wicked society.

When confronted with the bullying mob who wield the club of governmental power in the face of the godly, we should well understand the psalmist’s request, “Vindicate me, O God, And plead my cause against an ungodly nation; Oh, deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man!” (Psa. 43:1). When Supreme Court decisions defy morality, history, and logic, and when voters seem intent on rewarding coarse and illegal behavior, we surely consider asking God, “Why do You cast me off? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” (Psa. 43:2b). But just as we have every reason to recognize the psalmist’s concern, so also should we align ourselves with his confidence in the request: “Oh, send out Your light and Your truth!” (Psa. 43:3a). We should long for our homeland and long for our God (Psa. 43:3b-4). Indeed, the trials of this life should remind us that we have a greater citizenship by far (Phil. 3:20)! And this is why we too must regain our strength and strengthen our faith to ask ourselves and answer in accordance with the psalmist’s words, “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; For I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God” (Psa. 43:5).

The last several years have been a challenge to the heart. Satan’s advances have seized much ground, but it can never seize the high ground. Therefore, I plead with you not to dwell on the din of the news or the venting found in other media. These too easily lead to dark places unbecoming for a child of God. Why, I ask you, should we hang our heads in despair when we serve the King of kings? No matter what choices others around us may make and no matter what circumstances we may ourselves face, we have every reason, always, to hope in God, to praise God, and turn to Him in faith, because—no matter what—He still reigns over all. Satan may have temporary victories in this world, but we have the hope of an eternal victory in heaven (1 Jn. 5:4).

My Own Familiar Friend

The emotional and poetic nature of the psalms both highlight the true meaning of a relationship with God and make them more difficult to interpret. This is especially true of psalms applied in some way to the Messiah while other portions of the psalm make it quite impossible to refer to Jesus completely. David’s reflection on God’s having come to his aid, recorded in Psalm 41, falls into this category. Jesus’ own quotation of Psalm 41:9 in John 13:18 demands a Messianic meaning, and yet clearly Psalm 41:4, “I said, ‘LORD, be merciful to me; Heal my soul, for I have sinned against You,’” does not apply to Jesus. So how are we to understand this beautiful psalm?

The Jews themselves recognized the close tie between David and the Messiah, so much so that they assumed the Messiah’s kingdom would be identical to David’s kingdom. However, in this they failed to appreciate the most important element of the relationship between that two that the Holy Spirit provided in scripture: the Messiah would be better than David—in every way. Jesus Himself pointed to a psalm of David to make this point to the Jewish leadership, “He said to them, ‘How can they say that the Christ is the Son of David? Now David himself said in the Book of Psalms: “The LORD said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool’”’ Therefore David calls Him “Lord”; how is He then his Son?’” (Luke 20:41-44). Therefore, while the life of the Messiah would have many parallels to David, both the highs and lows in David’s life were a mere shadow of what we find in Jesus.

Therefore, when David reflects on how God cares for those in trouble and preserves them alive, he referred to a deliverance that kept him from death, but in Jesus these are heightened to refer to victory over death (Psa. 41:1-3). David indeed had sinned and felt it in times when his enemies gathered against Him, but Jesus never sinned; nevertheless, He still had enemies who hated Him, wanted to hurt Him, and wished to end all memory of Him (Psa. 41:4-8). However, it is in verse nine where Jesus pulls the parallels together to highlight a place where David’s situation so mirrored His own: “Even my own familiar friend in whom I trusted, Who ate my bread, Has lifted up his heel against me” (Psa. 41:9). During the rebellion led by Absalom, David’s trusted advisor, Athithophel left David to give advice to his rebellious son (2 Sam. 15:12, 31). He knew what it was to be betrayed by a close associate, and in this Jesus found a parallel practically identical to His own situation.

Therefore, having drawn our attention to this psalm and having established Himself as greater than David, the fulfillment of the rest of the psalm promised greater things too. Jesus was indeed raised up, but in a very different manner than David (Psa. 41:10), and His enemy did not end up triumphing over Him (Psa. 41:11; Heb. 2:14-15). Instead, not only was it possible for Him to face God with integrity, but through His integrity He was able to be face to face with God once more (Psa. 41:12). This victory of the Messiah is thus the victory of the LORD, and the plan that made it possible is a reason to give Him thanks forever (Psa. 41:13).