“Trouble and distress have come upon me, but Your commands are my delight.” -Psalm 119:143
When I was a teenager, my depression was the darkest and most prolonged period I have ever known. The Psalms were especially comforting because emotions run high and low here. It showed me that God is not put off by feelings, they just need to align with His truth. What do I know about God to be true even when it doesn’t feel true? Looking back on that time, I remember the season as bittersweet. Depression is bitter, but I found God’s Word to be sweet. I was able to delight in my constant Friend in the midst of sorrow. On this particular verse Matthew Henry comments, “There are delights, variety of delights, in the word of God, which the saints have often the sweetest enjoyment of when they are in trouble and anguish.”
Those who endure trials, weaknesses or temptations might be disregarded by others. But I believe it is here in the valley that our faith is refined. A desert bloom is a wonder because something beautiful emerges under harsh conditions. Faith which perseveres in spite of the troubles of life is precious to our Father. He sees His children and has compassion on them. When our distresses threaten to overwhelm us, go to the greatness of God. Through His Word, He will tend to you as a Shepherd. He will gently lead His beloved children. You and I cannot fully understand the purpose in suffering, so here is where our faith must rest. We learn to trust our Father’s perfect sovereignty, power, goodness, wisdom and love, and that He is all of those things toward you personally. Dear Christian, whatever happens on your pilgrim journey will seem as feathers in light of the eternal weight of glory we will enjoy one day.
“There will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust.” -Acts 24:15
One of the reasons I like Christmas is the focus on Advent. Advent means “coming”. We know Jesus has come once to earth, born as a baby like the rest of mankind, except for our first parents Adam and Eve. He in every way knows what it is like to be human as we are. He grew up with parents and siblings. Jesus experienced temptation to sin just as we do, yet He never sinned. Only Jesus is worthy to be the Spotless Lamb of God for the sake of our souls. Yet the rest of the story still includes Advent. As Christians we know Jesus is coming again. His Second Advent will be different from the First, but it is the hope and glory for God’s people. We who know Christ and have made Him our Refuge wait for the blessed hope- the glorious appearing of our Great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
I want to share with you my devotional reading from this morning. It focuses on the Christian’s resurrection when Jesus comes again. This is worth meditating on as an encouragement to persevere in the temporary and wait in joyful expectation of what is to come. It is written by John Bunyan, also the author of the famous Pilgrim’s Progress. Bunyan writes,
When we rise and live we shall be changed into a far more glorious state than when we were sown in the grave. It will indeed be the same body though raised in great splendor. We will not change our nature, but our glory. Our earthly bodies without sin and infirmity shall inherit the kingdom of God. They will be raised with no weakness or sickness, but in glory. Glory is the sweetness, comeliness, purity and perfection of a thing. Light is the glory of the sun, strength is the glory of youth, and grey hair the glory of old age. To rise in glory is to rise in all the beauty and utmost completeness that is possible to possess as a human creature. Sin and corruption has made a mad work in our bodies and souls. But, in glory there shall be no lame legs, no crumpled shoulders, no bleared eyes, and no wrinkled faces- He will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body (Phil 3:21).
Souls now in Heaven will in a moment come into their bodies again and inhabit every member and vein just as they did before their departure. Their bodies will be raised in power. Death quakes, and destruction falls dead at our feet. We shall stand with grace and majesty and our countenances shall be like lightning. It will be raised a spiritual body. It is this body, and not another. We will have the same human nature in every way though changed into a far more glorious state. Otherwise, it cannot be us in Heaven, but something besides us. If we lose our proper human nature, we lose our being, and so are annihilated into nothing. Therefore, it, the same it, that is sown a natural body, will be raised a spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:44).
I have often pondered what my son Jesse will be like in Heaven. He has autism and developmental delay. What will his glorified state look like? I still believe Jesse will be Jesse, just without certain struggles he faces now. I have had people say they pray for my son to be normal. First of all, what is normal anyway? I know what they mean, but it isn’t a helpful comment. I pray for my son to be whole and complete one day. I look forward to the day when his disability does not hold him back but serves as an asset in Glory. But I believe his glorified body will not change his personality. I will still recognize him in Heaven and give him hugs and kisses. Ultimately, I trust God in how He has designed what Heaven will be like for His children. He loves Jesse better than I do. He loves each of His sons and daughters better. So this is where I rest. I hope for loved ones who have gone before you there is comfort in reading what we do know of Heaven and our resurrected bodies. Believers still grieve when we lose someone we love but we do not grieve as those without hope. There is brokenness in this world that also grieves us but it is not the end of the Story, praise God. As you close out this year and reflect, I pray you remember the Lord’s future graces. Meanwhile, there is strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow. Blessings all ours, with ten thousand beside. Great is His faithfulness.
I stumbled upon a video the other day of something I have never seen before. It appears to be just one musician in a public square, playing for a little girl who places a coin in his hat. He begins to play Beethoven’s Ode to Joy and what happens in the next few minutes is beautiful. I won’t spoil it for you, except to say it reminds me a bit of what Heaven is like. The Christian hymn Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee, written by Henry Van Dyke, is set to the music from Ode to Joy. I couldn’t help but think of those words during this video. Think of it, one day thousands upon thousands of Christians will lift up our voices in song to praise our Heavenly Father. Heaven is not at all boring contrary to the lies we’ve been sold in our culture. We won’t be sitting on marshmallow clouds plucking harps, yawning away the day. Heaven is one big adventure without sin entangling us. Like Adam and Eve in the Garden, we too will enjoy sweet, unhindered fellowship with our Creator. I believe we will get to explore the new Heaven and new Earth, just as our first parents had free reign over God’s Creation except of the one tree. But I digress…
Even though this video is an orchestrated ad for a Spanish banking company, I was moved to tears nonetheless.
“My flesh trembles in fear of You; I stand in awe of Your laws.” -Psalm 119:120
In light of God’s coming judgment on the unrepentant, the psalmist lovingly fears the Lord. He is in awe of Who God is. Even though His wrath is fitted for unbelievers, the writer reverences God’s authority and power. It makes me question if I fear the Lord in this way? Yes I love Him, but how do I respect Him? Love and respect are two sides of the same coin. You cannot have one without the other in relationship to God. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15). We show our love for God by obeying His Word. Sincere obedience comes from a posture of submission to His authority over us. A good servant will respect their master by obeying His will. Children of God reverence Him by submission, born out of a love relationship with our Savior. It is not from compulsion or guilt, but a desire to give back the life we owe to Christ. Gratitude over God’s mercy, love over His grace toward undeserving rebels. This is our motivation in fearing God our Creator.
The more we know of Him the more our reverence for God Almighty grows. The Lord is our Shepherd and a Humble Warrior. He cannot be contained to one characteristic. Incomprehensible. Knowable but not fully known within our finite minds. In God there is Perfect Love, Perfect Justice, Perfect Mercy and Perfect Holiness. He is for His people and not against them. These truths should prompt every believer into worship because it isn’t a fairytale. God is present- the same yesterday, today and forever. His character nor have His promises changed.
One day we will all stand before His Throne. For those who already know Jesus as Savior, they are covered in His righteousness, justified forever. All our judgments were laid on Jesus at the cross. Dear Christian, your sins are paid for, the debt is cleared. You are free. What is our response then? Stand in awe of His mercy and grace and worship.
“If Your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.” -Psalm 119:92
The psalmist is honest with the two choices he saw before him: life or death. If he had not loved God and clung to His promises, the psalmist would have been crushed under heavy anguish. But Hope is his friend, faithfulness a companion. God has given us tools to combat spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:10-18). All affliction is a type of spiritual warfare, whether the battle rages in the dark places of the inner man or external circumstances threaten our firm foundation. We have means of grace to carry us through affliction such as fellowship with other believers, prayer, lifting our voices in songs of truth, baptism, the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, the Lord’s Supper, and the Bible. Scripture revives our weary hearts, becoming a delight because of Who these words speak of. The God of grace and mercy is found within these pages. Nothing else matters when we possess absolute truth, words of eternal life. The soul which cherishes the Word of God loves the Author, believing the Gospel to be true. The soul which believes, hopes, loves and obeys Jesus Christ will not perish but have everlasting life, dwelling in the house of the Lord forever.
“I am laid low in the dust; preserve my life according to Your Word.” -Psalm 119:25
We are made of dust and to dust we shall return. The psalmist is so low in spirit he feels as one already dead. Depression can feel like this. The intense pain or numbness makes one feel not fully alive, like the walking dead. He prays for the Lord to preserve him- to give him life to the full, not just a sad restless existence. The psalmist wants to truly live again.
“I recounted my ways and You answered me; teach me Your decrees.” -Psalm 119:26
The psalmist has told God his heart- confession and repentance. Now he looks for renewed fellowship with the Lord. He wants God to teach him His commands so that he might not stumble in sin. The psalmist loves God and His holiness. He hates his sin and does not want to repeat an offense.
“Let me understand the teaching of Your precepts; then I will meditate on Your wonders.” -Psalm 119:27
Here the psalmist pleads for more insight into the knowledge of God. This is where love and belief will grow. The psalmist desires to go deeper in fellowship with His Father. The way to do this is for the Lord to help him see and understand. He must then respond with obedience to what he has been taught.
These verses show how the Christian life moves through mountains, valleys and the in-between. If our faith is stagnant we are not growing. Even down in the pit of despair, maybe especially so, our roots are given an opportunity to grow deeper. God is ever faithful to provide exactly what we need- whether that be a trial to cultivate spiritual maturity, grace to sustain us through it, or a humble spirit to show us we were never in control. The Lord will complete His work in every believer (Philippians 1:6). Although we may not understand our sorrows at times, like the psalmist, these seasons can be used for God’s Glory and our eternal good if we endure. Jesus is holding fast to His beloved. He is holding fast to you.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything […} Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.” -James 1:2-4; 12
Grace upon grace,
Further encouragement- This is one of my favorite hymns and appropriate with this post. I hope it blesses you as well. ‘He Will Hold Me Fast’ by Keith and Kristyn Getty
“I am laid low in the dust; preserve my life according to Your Word.
I recounted my ways and You answered me; teach me Your decrees.
Let me understand the teaching of Your precepts; then I will meditate on Your wonders.
My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to Your Word.
Keep me from deceitful ways; be gracious to me through Your law.
I have chosen the way of truth; I have set my heart on Your laws.
I hold fast to Your statutes, O Lord; do not let me be put to shame.
I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.”
This section is refreshingly honest. For those who struggle with depression or experience seasons of emotional turmoil, these words provide a voice to their pain. There are plenty of active verbs in this text which show us the rollercoaster of emotions the psalmist endured. It is also good to note how he takes action in the form of pleas and resolutions. He prays for God’s strength as he desires to take hold of the Scriptures and run- not limp along in life. God’s precious truth is restorative, reviving the weary soul, healing the sin-sick sinner. Redemption and perseverance is available to those who seek God. They will not be put to shame.
“Throughout the history of the Christian church, Christianity has always stood over against all forms of statism. Statism is the natural and ultimate enemy to Christianity because it involves a usurpation of the reign of God.” -R.C. Sproul
During the Covid lockdown in 2020, my husband and I began watching old episodes of ‘The Twilight Zone’. It seemed appropriate. The irony of some of them connected to our current events struck me. One in particular titled ‘The Eye of the Beholder’ is interesting. But the one that left us astonished is called ‘The Obsolete Man’. The main character in the story, Mr. Wordsworth, is a librarian and also a Christian. Books are no longer allowed by The State so his profession is “obsolete”. The fact that he is a Christian is also a crime, since Bibles are illegal to have and all truth is an enemy to The State. I was flabbergasted by some of the dialogue used because it unapologetically connects Christianity and God to truth which must be erased with an edict. The State has said there is no God, therefore all must conform to this idea. Favorably arguing there is a God and that He is Truth (like Mr. Wordsworth does) is not something you will likely see in mainstream entertainment today.
Sadly, we are seeing a tyrannical form of government at our doorstep, in similar fashion to the t.v. episode I just mentioned. If a citizen does not agree with the narrative of Critical Race Theory, Covid19, or comply with a vaccine mandate then you are in fact, obsolete. Or to use today’s term, “cancelled”. I don’t think we have to worry about being liquidated any time soon like in ‘The Obsolete Man’, but we may lose our livelihood because of a different belief system than The Government. This is happening now to a lot of responsible, thoughtful citizens who have weighed their decision to not get vaccinated. Lives are being ruined over matters of conscience. Isn’t it ironic that just last year at the beginning of this virus, the world told us who was “essential” in the workplace? Now some of those same people who have convictions over whether or not the vaccine is helpful to them are seen as expendable, promptly fired.
The late R.C. Sproul had thoughts on government that steps outside it’s God given jurisdiction. He wrote an article back in 2008 on Statism, when another reality (like the government) becomes supreme, replacing the authority of God. It’s a helpful article as Christians hopefully think through what our response should be in these times. I don’t believe all will come to the same conclusion either, which is not necessarily sinful as long as we each understand the responsibility we have as pilgrims on Earth. Those convictions will vary, but I don’t think it is helpful to separate us into camps, unwilling to speak about or help a brother or sister in Christ who feels equally as strong in their convictions. We divide ourselves even further into groups of vaccinated vs. unvaccinated. Sproul gave wisdom concerning the relationship between the Church and government. It is worth regarding.
Christians who defy a government not operating within their lane and consequently, causing some to sin because of personal convictions are not wrong to push back. A helpful example would be to consider the authority given to a husband over his wife. If the husband decides to abuse his God given responsibility and cause his wife to somehow sin, then she must submit to the Lord instead, not her husband. Likewise, when a tyrannical government oversteps its jurisdiction to dictate what a citizen injects into their bodies, you and I have a right to call out abuse of power. Not only is it a sin for us to operate against personal conscience, but the government is sinning against the people they were meant to serve and help. If a Christian is fully convinced in his or her mind that taking a Covid vaccine cannot be done in faith then it should be honored, not questioned or condemned (Romans 14:23). Christians take submission seriously, which is why when a power like the government does not submit to its own rules of authority, then Christians may act (with a clear conscience) in civil disobedience. Owen Strachan has a much more helpful and thorough podcast episode related to this subject called ‘Biblical Truth for Bad Times: Seven Realities of Christian Citizenship in a Fallen World’.
If you are interested in watching ‘The Obsolete Man’, you can find the whole episode here. If you don’t have a lot of time, I would encourage you to watch until minute 7:07. I appreciate how on occasion the entertainment world can provide insight to a deeper truth. The dramatic, outrageous and sometimes sarcastic, can have a useful function in making a point that serves the audience.
This is a helpful article regarding the heated debate: To take the Covid vaccine or not? I think it is a balanced and charitable argument regarding a Christian’s liberty of conscience. There are other issues where my convictions differ from my brother or sister in Christ. It does not dissolve our bond, but gives each an opportunity to exercise grace. God does deal with His Church corporately, but He also addresses us individually. When areas of this kind are difficult to navigate, we always go to God’s Word and remain vigilant in prayer. It is not my desire to wrongfully judge another Christian who arrives at a different conclusion than me on matters of conscience. My hope is wherever you land on this issue, we will not shame or bully one another to “our side”. That is sinful, for, “anything not done in faith is sin” (Romans 14:23) for the person whose conscience it violates. May God’s tender mercies and lovingkindness be over each of us, quickening our hearts according to His love.
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:21
I’d like to offer encouragement to those who are angry, scared, depressed, hopeless or all the above. This has been a weary year and a half. On top of normal life events, one crisis after another on a global scale has added even more stress. Now the totalitarian power grab hits home with President Biden’s vaccine mandate. Christians do not need to lie down now and wait until this blows over. I don’t think it will anytime soon. Furthermore, haven’t we learned not to put our hope in any one person or political party?
Owen Strachan has a helpful podcast episode on the Christian reaction for these dark days. In short, he looks to Jeremiah’s message to the exiles in Babylon. What does Jeremiah tell the displaced Israelites to do? Build houses and settle down; plant gardens; marry; have sons and daughters; seek peace and prosperity in the city where God has exiled them (Jeremiah 29:1-14). They were going to be in a foreign land under foreign rule for seventy years. Most would spend their whole life in Babylon, never to see their homeland again. I admit that I sometimes live my daily routine in a state of crisis mode. That is not a long term solution. The physical body will break down under constant stress, emotions run high all the time, mentally and spiritually we eventually wear out, run dry or just quit. This was not the life God wanted for His people in exile and it is not the life He desires for His people now.
The other thing I would say is, do not seek revenge (Romans 12:17-19). This is not the same as standing up for what is right, even if that includes filing a law suit, peacefully protesting, leaving a place of employment, switching churches, moving, or taking your child out of the public school system to homeschool. I would submit to you that the Leftist oligarchy is picking a fight, encouraging the other side to create another attack on the Capital blunder. That is not how we are to behave in the first place, but anger and fear make us do regrettable things. In the words of Douglas Wilson, “Don’t take the bait”. A lot of what comes out of the White House seems to divide the people in this country on purpose. Why? Could they be hoping for some mini revolt among conservatives to justify even more repressive measures? It would definitely help them in the mid-term elections as to why we should keep this disaster of a party in power. Just food for thought.
Hopefully Joe Biden’s stunt has pulled the scales off our eyes to see this administration for what it is. They have lied so much to the public is it any wonder that some citizens are hesitant to take a rushed vaccine? Most vaccines take years to develop and test before it is safely released to the general public. We aren’t allowed to question or choose for ourselves what is best. We must follow the script or be blackballed from society. Now is the time for resisting in civil disobedience. Even though (mercifully) Biden’s term cannot last forever, there are more like him waiting in the shadows, already in positions of power. We must first of all be a people of prayer, then act. Are there like minded people you can link arm and arm with at work or in your community? Do you feel led to run for government office on a local, state or national level? Perhaps volunteering at a voting poll could be a possibility. If more conservative or just plain patriotic, democratic honoring citizens helped in voting centers we might actually have fair elections.
My hope is you find fellowship in your church home also. It has been an answer to prayer to see and hear how the numbers in churches are growing. More than godly leaders in government, we need discerning and courageous pastors in pulpits. There is a great need for culture equipping churches. Christians should not have to turn on Fox News or look to their favorite political analyst to figure out what to do in these times. Believers are hungry for practical wisdom in responding to the godless zeitgeist. Especially as the Church has been under attack for trying to keep their doors open for worship since Covid. Pastors are arrested and sent to jail for standing firm in their responsibility to faithfully preach. Someone or something is shaping our thinking, evangelizing the masses, discipling our children- is it the Church body or pagan ideas? Most lies are subtle, mixed with just enough truth, to appear harmless.
How we view faith and politics as either intertwined or as two separate entities matters. I will submit to you that because politics forms policies which affect people then our faith is indeed part of the equation. Not just on moral issues regarding abortion or same sex marriage but even how our taxes are spent is a moral issue. Where does that money go? What is it funding? Planned Parenthood? LBGTQ organizations? Public education which promotes CRT? Our faith is not compartmentalized to Sundays only in church. Part of the disconnect from the Church and secularism is the lack of forming a Biblical worldview. We have not done a good job of training up the next generation so that they are prepared in the college classroom, or in a work environment, or how to live in Babylon, to use that metaphor once more. Do we have more ill equipped, cultural Christian chameleons than set apart humble warriors? Sometimes a resurgence in the Church will result from a shared crisis. My prayer is that a spiritual awakening will occur from what Satan has meant to destroy. Remember Christ is King, even in the chaos.
The most basic way to resist lies is to not live by them. If you haven’t read Rod Dreher’s ‘Live Not By Lies’ I encourage you to run, don’t walk, to the nearest store and get a copy. Some of the ways we live by the truth are surprisingly ordinary. This should be a great comfort to us. Jeremiah listed a number of ways believers honor God with their lives even in times of distress (Jeremiah 29:1-14). I would add: attend a theologically sound, God fearing church where you can be refreshed, your spiritual vision sharpened. Learn a new skill, read good books to your children, go on a date with your spouse, send a note of encouragement to someone the Spirit brings to mind, help with a bridal or baby shower, celebrate special occasions, pray with and for others, talk about your faith and the Lord openly with family, friends and strangers. Right now we have the freedom to do these things. Some saints of the past had to go underground in order to be in fellowship with believers. We aren’t there yet but must certainly see it as a possibility with the direction things are going. First we demonize those who choose to not be vaccinated, and other specific groups thanks to Critical race theory, segregating people in categories based on race, religion, political views or matters of conscience. Next is an effort to dehumanize those who do not comply with the narrative. Last will be persecution. This isn’t conspiracy theory, but has been played out through every Communist, Marxist, Nazi regime. Our response as believers is to continue doing good in the face of evil. God wins, we know this. This world is merely our sanctifier. Refining happens through fire, but God promises it will only burn away the dross (Isaiah 43:1-7). The Lord will one day shake everything in Heaven and on Earth. What is left will only be what could not be shaken, meaning, His Kingdom- His Church (Hebrews 12:18-29). The apostle Paul ends his letter to the Romans this way:
“Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.” (Romans 16:19-20)