A Place of Peace and Safety

“You are my hiding place; You will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.”

Psalm 32:7

 For as long as I can recall, even from childhood, I have been searching for a protector.  It seemed that the ones who were in a position to protect me ended up being the ones who hurt me, or just left me vulnerable and alone.  I wanted to know someone heard my fears and would “take up my cause.”  Through my adult years, I’ve more or less learned how to fend for myself.  But still, there is this ache to know that I can let my guard down for just a little while because someone is watching out for me.

So this morning, when I read this verse, it touched that vulnerable place deep in my heart.  I do have a protector.  It is my Heavenly Father.  When my weary heart cries out: “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest” (Psalm 36:7), I know that He will be my hiding place and I can “take refuge in the shadow of [His] wings” (Psalm 57:1). Nothing can touch me there, no foe can reach me, and no disaster can overtake me because [He] will protect me from trouble.

That is the sweetest word I have heard in a long time.  I am tired, my mind, body and spirit are weary.  My Father knows that and bids me come to that protected hiding place and to “lie down and sleep in peace, for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8). I do not have to climb high mountains or walk through burning deserts to reach my safe place.  I only have to cry out to Him and He will “come quickly to help me” (Psalm 22:19). Then I am to take refuge and rest; to lie down and sleep in peace, knowing that He is on guard, ever vigilant, with His wing tucked securely around me.

There is no greater refuge than this.  There is no greater peace than this.

Are you weary?  Do you also need a protector?  Have all the “safe places” of the world failed you?  Friend, seek the only place of true safety and peace.  Come and find rest in the shadow of His wing.  Let Him “quiet you with His love” (Zephaniah 3:17). Fall asleep amid the sound of Him “rejoicing over you with singing” (Zeph. 3:17).

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” Psalm 91:1

 Holy Father, I take refuge under Your wings; cover me with Your feathers, let me rest in the wonderful knowledge that Your faithfulness is my shield.  Oh how I need You. Amen

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Just One Little Lie

“David answered the priest and said to him, ‘Indeed women have been kept from us, as usual whenever I set out.  The men’s bodies are holy even on missions that are not holy.  How much more so today!’” 1 Samuel 21:5

 Have you ever told just a little lie?  One little fib that no one will ever discover.  No harm, no foul.  What’s the worst that can happen from one little lie?  I offer you the example of David in Nob.  Please take a few moments and read 1 Samuel 21:1-7.

Allow me to set the scene for you.  David is on the run from King Saul, who because of jealousy, is hunting him down like prey.  He goes to the city of Nob, to the priest, Ahimelech, there in the place of worship.  He is hungry and he knows that the Levites place fresh bread before the Lord as an offering every Sabbath, and the previous week’s bread is then theirs to eat.  He tells the priest that his men, who are camping in another location are hungry and he asks – almost demands – bread.  The priest is uncomfortable with the request, but this is David, the mighty commander of the King’s army.  His victories are the stuff of legend.  So, in an attempt to take some of the sting off of his conscience, he asks David if he and his men have remained pure.  David answers with a resounding yes, they have been sent by the king and theirs is a holy and secret mission.  Of course they have kept themselves pure!  Ahimelech acquiesces and surrenders the consecrated bread to David.

There are two big no-no’s here.  Ahimelech knew that because this bread had been offered to the Lord it is considered holy, and cannot be eaten by anyone except the Levites (think church staff) and must be eaten only in the holy place. (See Leviticus 24:5-9) God did not offer any exceptions.  By not standing on the Levitical law, the priest was wrong.

But David was also wrong, his entire story was a lie.  The Scripture indicates that he was alone, there is no mention of a company of men with him, as he told the priest.  He was not on a secret and holy mission for the king, he was running for his life from the king.  As to his declaration of purity, there is no indication one way or the other, but at this time he is married (to the king’s daughter!)so it is likely he may not be.  But he is far from home and no one knows him here.  What’s the worst that can happen with one little lie?

But someone was there who knew him.  One of the king’s servants, Doeg, was there in the tabernacle, and he witnessed the entire episode.  We don’t know if he realized David was lying, but the implication is that he did, because, knowing the king was hunting David down to kill him, he returned to report that he was in Nob and had gone to the priest there.  Now the little lie that David told morphs into a great tragedy.  1 Samuel 22:9-23 tells the rest of the story.  With Doeg’s report, Saul sends for Ahimelech and his entire family, who were all priests.  The king confronts the priest and accuses him of conspiring with his enemy, David.  Ahimelech pleads his innocence, saying he did not know David was lying.  But Saul ordered the entire company of priests – eighty-five men of God – be put to death.  Because of one little lie.  One man escapes and reports to David the slaughter of the priests, and he realizes he is to blame.  He says “I am responsible for the death of your father’s whole family.” (1 Samuel 22:22).

David learned the high cost of a lie.  Perhaps that is why, very shortly after this incident, he wrote, “Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies” (Psalm 34:13). And near the end of his life he prayed, “I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity” (1 Chronicles 29:17). Proverbs 12:22 says “The Lord detests lying lips, but He delights in men who are truthful.”

The God we love and serve is a God of truth. Numbers 23:19 tells us that God cannot lie.  It is completely counter to His perfect nature.  Jesus spoke only truth, and spoke of the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit of God who would reveal truth.  Followers of Christ should be known as people of truth.  In every aspect of our lives, we should be seen as people of integrity and honesty.  If I am known to tell lies, even “little white lies” and “innocent fibs,” how will anyone believe me when I tell them about Jesus?  What does a little lie do to my witness?  Here’s another thought: if my child hears me telling lies to others, will he believe me when I tell him “I love you”?

I am making a personal commitment to be a person of honesty and integrity.  I will follow the example of Christ Jesus who spoke the truth, acted in truth and walked in truth.  Will you make that commitment with me?  Let’s start a “truth revolution” together.

Holy Father, I am Your child, and I want to live like my Father and like my “big brother,” Jesus.  Purify my heart and my lips.  Teach me to be a person of integrity in all I say and do.  Amen.

Real Faith for Real Life

“Take your stand and see this great thing which the Lord will do before your eyes.”  1 Samuel 12:16, NASB

“You just need to have faith.”

“You just have to trust God.”

“Just let go and let God.”

I’m sure you have heard these well-intended statements before, and like me, you’ve probably thought “What does that even mean?” True, we know that when we are in the midst of a storm, dealing with struggles or grief or uncertainty, faith is vital to our survival. But what does “faith” really look like? How do you really trust God?

I believe it is something the contemporary church has forgotten how to do, particularly in countries with “religious freedom,” though that freedom is being eroded. From the days of Adam and Eve, faith has been refined and strengthened through struggles. Job was put through severe trials and he declared, “When He has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (Job 23:10)[1]. Abraham’s faith was tested, and he “was called God’s friend” (James 2:23). Moses’ faith was stretched by two million plus whiney Israelites, but God said he “would speak to Moses face to face as a man speaks to a friend” (Exodus 33:11). In studying recently the history of the church, it was the persecuted, the martyrs, and those who were forced to flee for their lives whose faith was the strongest. It is true today, as Christians around the world are being killed for their faith in Jesus Christ.

What does persecution have to do with faith? Everything, because when you lose everything else and your faith is all that is left, you learn to stand strong on the character and the Word of God. Without trials and struggles faith becomes soft and too weak to help us stand. It is in these difficult seasons that our faith, like a muscle, gets “a workout” and becomes stronger.

But back to our original question – What does faith look like? How can we learn to have real faith in a real world?  By focusing our hearts on a real God and our minds on a real Word. Let me give you an example from my own life.

I am in the middle of a difficult season in my life. I am confronted daily with a situation that breaks my heart and there is nothing I can do to change it. God knows I have tried. After several exhausting months, I’ve finally come to the point of understanding: this one is out of my control. All I have left now is my faith in God and His Word.   At first I begged and pleaded with God to make this problem go away. I knew this situation was not God’s will and I told Him so.   As it drug on and took many twists and turns, I began to have physical and emotional health issues from the stress. I was sorely distracted from the work God had called me to and thought about giving up.   Then I realized that is just what the devil was after – to make me abandon the kingdom work and run back into my protective shell. But God (oh, how I love those two words!) began to slowly turn my heart from desperation to dependence.   I started meditating more on God’s character and less on the problem at hand. I began searching the Scriptures so I could pray God’s Word over the matter.   I stopped telling God what I thought He should do and began telling Him that I trusted Him in whatever He chose to do. God gave me a phrase that has become almost a mantra whenever Satan starts to taunt me over the situation: “I have rested the matter in the hands of my Father.”  Mind you, the issue still isn’t resolved, it is ongoing and looks even bleaker than when it first began. The devil continues to hammer away at me, but I run that phrase over and over in my head, and often speak it out loud so that I know the enemy can hear me.  I cannot describe the peace that has come to me since.

That is real faith for real life. It is making the moment by moment determination to keep my focus on God’s power, faithfulness, strength and promises.  It is trusting in Him rather than trying to solve the problem on my own.  It is looking into the Word of God for a word for my soul, and praying His will through His Word. It is coming before Him in raw honesty and allowing Him to soothe my wounded heart and calm my frantic spirit. And most importantly it is holding up my shield of faith (Ephesians 6:16), remembering His character, remembering His Words and choosing to believe that He is with me in the battle; and God never loses a battle.

The early martyrs found the faith they needed the same way, remembering God’s promises, looking to Him for strength and holding out hope – not in a solution to their problems – but in the steadfast character of their God. Like Peter, we must keep our eyes on the Savior in the storm. And thankfully, like Peter, we can trust that He will grab onto us when we lose our focus. He is forever faithful. He is a real God for real life.

Holy Father, platitudes will not sustain my faith, but keeping my mind and heart focused on Your character and Your Word always will. Help me Lord to have real faith in a real God as I live this real life in a real world. Amen.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all scripture references are taken from the New International Version of the Bible.

How to be Perfect

“Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:48

I never thought of myself as a perfectionist. The truth is, I knew “perfect” was so far out of my league, I didn’t expect it. I was just pleased if my mistakes were few and not too glaring. When I worked as a church secretary I used to say “If there wasn’t a mistake in the bulletin, people would think someone else did it.” I didn’t expect perfection from myself – that is until I started back to school, and perfection became the goal. Not for my sake mind you, for my grades became my expression of gratitude to God for the opportunity to go to seminary. But my friends noticed how discouraged I became when I didn’t get an A on an assignment or missed even one question on a test. I wanted to be perfect – after all, isn’t that what God expects of me? Isn’t that what Jesus said?

Let’s get this right out on the table. God is perfect, and we are not. The Bible is replete with God’s perfection: His works are perfect (Deut. 32:4), His knowledge is perfect (Job 37:16), His ways are perfect (2 Sam. 22:31; Ps. 18:30), His law is perfect (Ps. 19:7; James 1:25), His beauty is perfect (Ps. 50:2), His faithfulness is perfect (Is. 25:1), His peace is perfect (Is. 26:3), His will is perfect (Rom. 12:2), His power is perfect (2 Cor. 12:9); and we can give thanks that He gives perfect gifts (Jas. 1:17), and that His love is perfect (1Joh n 4:18).

But you and I? We are from perfection with no ladder tall enough to reach it. We are flawed, we are weak, we have tempers and attitudes and prejudices; we are selfish and self-centered. We are human, with all that our humanness entails. And we are sinful. God knows all this. So why, then does Jesus tell us “Be perfect.”? Why throw out a command He knows we will never achieve?

There are two points we need to consider in this impossible quest for perfection.

In the Greek, the word “perfect” means “perfect, complete, mature, finished.” Jesus is using both meanings to speak of our lives here on earth – and our lives in heaven. First, He is expressing what James echoes with the same Greek word, teleios, when he says “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:4-emphasis added). Modern translators have Jesus saying “perfect” and James saying “mature,” but the word in the Greek is exactly the same. And both are saying that we are to work towards maturity in our Christian lives. Listen to Paul’s words, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” This “perfection” is the life-long process of growing and becoming mature believers, and it doesn’t happen overnight. It is a day-by-day, choice-by-choice walk – the walk of faith. It is also the perfecting work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, as He leads and guides us on to this maturity. Knowing that I am “a work in progress” frees me from the burden of perfectionism.

Jesus also uses the word to express our future state, when we are complete – in Him. You see, the root word for “perfect” and “mature” is telos, which means “end result, outcome, goal. This is the work of Christ that achieves the end result of perfection.  The writer of Hebrews expresses it beautifully: “By one sacrifice He (Christ) has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Hebrews 10:14).   Christ has made us perfect before the Father through His sacrifice on the cross.  This verse also encompasses both expressions of perfection in heaven and the perfecting work in this life.  Want to dig a little deeper? Look again at James 1:4. We examined the word “mature,” but let’s look at the word “complete.” The combined root definitions of “complete” mean “whole, entire” with “share, place, inheritance.” Oh, this is so exciting! We will be made perfect, as Christ is perfect, when we have come into the entirety of our inheritance, our share of eternity – HEAVEN! The perfect place for perfect people!

Jesus is giving us both the perfect way to walk in this life as His followers and the promise of a perfect eternal home as His perfected saints.

So why does Jesus command us to “Be perfect, therefore as your Father in heaven is perfect.”? I think Charles Spurgeon expresses it very well: “The youthful artist as he grasps his newly sharpened pencil can hardly hope to equal Raphael or Michelangelo; but still, if he did not have a noble ideal before his mind, he would only attain to something very mean and ordinary.”

Perfection is the aim, it is the picture God paints in our minds, not as an unrealistic goal, but as a promise and a vision. Certainly we will stumble and fail, and for that He sent us a Savior – a Savior who makes us perfect in every way.

Holy Father, I cannot achieve perfect grades, be a perfect parent or live a perfect life; but I can look to my perfect Savior and know that I am perfect in Him. Amen.