Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15 – Just Like a Cedar of Lebanon

It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
    to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
to declare your steadfast love in the morning,
    and your faithfulness by night,
to the music of the lute and the harp,
    to the melody of the lyre.
For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work;
    at the works of your hands I sing for joy….

The righteous flourish like the palm tree,
    and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
They are planted in the house of the Lord;
    they flourish in the courts of our God.
In old age they still produce fruit;
    they are always green and full of sap,
showing that the Lord is upright;
    he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.
(New Revised Standard Version)

The Lebanon Cedar tree is the national symbol of the nation of Lebanon, displayed on their national flag. Throughout history, this massive tree has served as a positive image of strength, stability, and uprightness.

Although the tree grows to about eighty feet, what is most impressive about the Lebanon Cedar is it’s large canopy, with branches stretching out to fifty feet. Thus, we have an apt metaphor for the spiritual life.

Whenever we engage in consistent rhythms of giving thanks for God’s steadfast love in the morning and expressing gratitude for the Lord’s great faithfulness at night, we not only grow up in our faith – stretching vertically toward God – we also grow horizontally, reaching out and being a canopy of righteousness for those who need safety, security, and sameness.

Human flourishing occurs deliberately, not by happenstance. It takes intentional work in attending to the development of the soul, the needs of the body, educating the mind, and feeling deeply about things so that the whole person thrives and enjoys life.

Yes, the body grows old and we all must die. Yet, although we might physically waste away, our inner selves can continue growing strong and spreading a wide canopy of righteousness that branches out with grace.

Unfortunately, the great forests of cedars in Lebanon have dwindled over the centuries to 13% of what they once were, due to over-harvesting its wood for shipbuilding, furniture making, and other uses. Even old King Solomon used Lebanon Cedars as the timber for the original Temple to God. Today, the oldest trees still surviving are 3,000 years old – which makes them truly biblical trees.

Indeed, in old age they are still producing cones and sap. The cedars are a testament to strength, resilience, and staying power. And that is exactly what the Lord wants to produce in us – a massive testimony of faith and patience, rooted in the soil of God’s grace, slowly but surely growing for the benefit of others.

This growth is a direct result of God’s activity. The Lord nourishes and sustains humanity, providing the right conditions of righteous soil, living water from heaven, and the warm sun of grace and mercy. We are then able to stretch both tall and wide, becoming an earthly manifestation of God’s goodness.

The Lord doesn’t keep us down but extends abundant grace so that we can extend to others that which has been extended to us. And if we keep maintaining this divine/human rhythm of grace, there is an ongoing and seemingly endless process of growth, even across three millennia.

The Lebanon Cedar is one of the most hardy trees on the planet. It’s thick trunk, expansive branches, resistance to worms and insects, and fragrance make it an apt emblem for the spiritual life. The righteous person is like this majestic unwavering tree, standing as a testimony to longevity, strength, beauty, and usefulness in the world.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:16-21, NIV)

Revelation 7:13-17 – Your Tears Will Not Last Forever

One of the elders asked me, “Do you know who these people are that are dressed in white robes? Do you know where they come from?”

“Sir,” I answered, “you must know.”

Then he told me:

“These are the ones
who have gone through
    the great suffering.
They have washed their robes
in the blood of the Lamb
    and have made them white.
And so they stand
    before the throne of God
and worship him in his temple
    day and night.
The one who sits on the throne
will spread his tent
    over them.
They will never hunger
    or thirst again,
and they won’t be troubled
by the sun
    or any scorching heat.

The Lamb in the center
of the throne
    will be their shepherd.
He will lead them to streams
    of life-giving water,
and God will wipe all tears
    from their eyes.” (Contemporary English Version)

Suffering Before Glory

There is a day coming when followers of Jesus will come before the throne of God, serving the Lord day and night. And he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. It will be a glorious time of unending peace, harmony, and rest.

But first, before this permanent Sabbath rest, there will be trouble, hardship, trial, and even martyrdom.  There will be suffering before glory.  Sometimes the difficult circumstances of life seem to have no end.  Yet, they will eventually pass, and we must continually keep this in mind.  There is a day coming when God’s pastoral presence will forever guard and keep our lives if we endure to the end.

Running Before Finishing

Perseverance, endurance, and pushing through hard situations are necessary to realizing the finish line.  We cannot just sit here on earth in some sort of holding pattern waiting for the end.  Just as an athlete must go into strict training to run the race well, finish strong, and cross the line, so we as Christians are to be in training. Believers possess at their disposal an array of spiritual practices that will fortify their souls to keep going and finish the race. 

The book of Revelation was a vision of the Apostle John given to suffering Christians in grinding hardship. Those ancient followers of Jesus had a great need of patience and perseverance. God graciously gave the believers a glimpse of the glorious ending to come. It was one way of helping them endure their present adversity and live for Jesus Christ.

Indeed, it is future hope which gives shape to the Christian’s life in the immediate here and now. Hope is what sustains us and helps us move through the difficulties of our current existence. Knowing there is a time coming when our tears will be personally wiped away by a loving God enables us to endure our griefs and sorrows.

Partial Before Total

God is with us. What we must continually keep in mind is that our salvation is assured – yet will not come in its fullness until the end of the age. So, we read Scripture portions like Psalm 91 with the understanding that ultimate safety and security is not found in this life but in the life to come…

Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
    will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
This I declare about the Lord:
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
    he is my God, and I trust him.
For he will rescue you from every trap
    and protect you from deadly disease.
He will cover you with his feathers.
    He will shelter you with his wings.
    His faithful promises are your armor and protection.
Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night,
    nor the arrow that flies in the day.
Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness,
    nor the disaster that strikes at midday.
Though a thousand fall at your side,
    though ten thousand are dying around you,
    these evils will not touch you.
Just open your eyes,
    and see how the wicked are punished.

If you make the Lord your refuge,
    if you make the Most High your shelter,
no evil will conquer you;
    no plague will come near your home.
For he will order his angels
    to protect you wherever you go.
They will hold you up with their hands
    so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.
You will trample upon lions and cobras;
    you will crush fierce lions and serpents under your feet!

The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me.
    I will protect those who trust in my name.
When they call on me, I will answer;
    I will be with them in trouble.
    I will rescue and honor them.
I will reward them with a long life
    and give them my salvation.” (New Living Translation)

May God’s peace and hope fill you with inexpressible joy at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Patient God, you tediously work until your plans and purposes are accomplished.  As you are slowly bringing your kingdom to the world, strengthen me so that I do not give up.  Help me to persevere, living and loving like Jesus, to his glory.  Amen.

Psalm 23 – God Is Bigger Than Your Valley

Photo by Temo Berishvili on Pexels.com

You, Lord, are my shepherd.
    I will never be in need.
     You let me rest in fields
    of green grass.
You lead me to streams
of peaceful water,
    and you refresh my life.

You are true to your name,
    and you lead me
    along the right paths.
 I may walk through valleys
as dark as death,
    but I won’t be afraid.
You are with me,
    and your shepherd’s rod
    makes me feel safe.

 You treat me to a feast,
    while my enemies watch.
You honor me as your guest,
    and you fill my cup
    until it overflows.
Your kindness and love
will always be with me
    each day of my life,
    and I will live forever
    in your house, Lord. (CEV)

Psalm 23 is a familiar place in Holy Scripture, even for many who are not followers of God.  Far from just a funeral prayer, this psalm contains a singular and timeless message:

No matter the circumstance, nor whatever the need, God is enough. The Lord of all creation is bigger than your darkest valley.

That’s what I remind myself every time life hands me a knuckle-sandwich. God is here. God is with me. Despite all that is wrong, unjust, and askew in this old fallen world, the Lord’s will and way overcomes everything.

Divine beauty has a way of breaking through to the most challenging and desperate of experiences. We have everything we need with God. Spring reminds us there is always the hope of new life. The anticipation of trees budding and flowers blooming help us remember that the dull hibernation of winter shall break out with glorious warmth and color. Everything will change, even if it doesn’t seem like it, at the time.

The Lord provides no matter the need.

God protects despite the overwhelming dilemma. Divine power overshadows the darkest of valleys. The presence of God is everywhere. Even though we sometimes sit flummoxed about how our financial budget is going to budge or whether we have the continued energy to deal with that person or situation, with the God of the Bible, we shall never be in want of anything.

Today is a good day to punctuate your schedule with a prayerful reading of Psalm 23. As you can well see, it only takes a minute to read, maybe a few to read carefully and slowly. Use your cellphone alarm or some other means for some set times today. When the alarm goes off, take a few minutes for Psalm 23 to decenter your thoughts from worry, anxiety, and the fatigue of the day. Let it center you in the sovereignty and grace of God. Maybe use a different translation each time you read.  Here is Psalm 23 again in another version of the Bible:

The Lord is my shepherd;
    I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
    he leads me beside peaceful streams.

     He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
    bringing honor to his name.
 Even when I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid,
    for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
    protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast for me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
    My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
    all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord
    forever. (NLT)

Amen.

Genesis 22:1-19 – The Lord Will Provide

God decided to test Abraham, so he spoke to him.

Abraham answered, “Here I am, Lord.”

The Lord said, “Go get Isaac, your only son, the one you dearly love! Take him to the land of Moriah, and I will show you a mountain where you must sacrifice him to me on the fires of an altar.” So, Abraham got up early the next morning and chopped wood for the fire. He put a saddle on his donkey and left with Isaac and two servants for the place where God had told him to go.

Three days later Abraham looked off in the distance and saw the place. He told his servants, “Stay here with the donkey, while my son and I go over there to worship. We will come back.”

Abraham put the wood on Isaac’s shoulder, but he carried the hot coals and the knife. As the two of them walked along, Isaac said, “Father, we have the coals and the wood, but where is the lamb for the sacrifice?”

“My son,” Abraham answered, “God will provide the lamb.”

The two of them walked on, and when they reached the place that God had told him about, Abraham built an altar and placed the wood on it. Next, he tied up his son and put him on the wood. He then took the knife and got ready to kill his son. But the Lord’s angel shouted from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am!” he answered.

“Don’t hurt the boy or harm him in any way!” the angel said. “Now I know that you truly obey God, because you were willing to offer him your only son.”

Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in the bushes. So, he took the ram and sacrificed it in place of his son.

Abraham named that place “The Lord Will Provide.” And even now people say, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

The Lord’s angel called out from heaven a second time:

You were willing to offer the Lord your only son, and so he makes you this solemn promise, “I will bless you and give you such a large family, that someday your descendants will be more numerous than the stars in the sky or the grains of sand along the beach. They will defeat their enemies and take over the cities where their enemies live. You have obeyed me, and so you and your descendants will be a blessing to all nations on earth.”

Abraham and Isaac went back to the servants who had come with him, and they returned to Abraham’s home in Beersheba. (CEV)

The biblical character of Abraham is synonymous with faith. And for good reason. God had told Abraham he would have a son with his wife Sarah. This would not be unusual except for the fact the couple were well advanced in age, and Sarah was incapable of having children. Infertility is not just a modern problem; it has always existed. Yet, despite the overwhelming odds, Abraham believed God. Years later and with a mix of patience and impatience from the would-be parents, the promise from God was realized. Abraham and Sarah had a son, Isaac.

“Child of the promise.” That was Isaac’s moniker – which makes the command coming from God so incredibly perplexing: Take your son, the child of the promise, and go to the mountain and sacrifice him there. Huh? What the…!  But it only seems strange and super-weird to us. We get no reaction from Abraham, no questioning, no talk back. He simply went about the business of saddling up the donkey, chopping some wood for the sacrifice, and took his only son with him on the journey to the mountain.

We might wonder what was going through Abraham’s mind through all of this. While you and I might try and figure out if we really heard God or not, Abraham had a history of talking with God. He knew God’s voice as well as he knew his own. Abraham was well down the road of relationship with the God he served. We get an insight from the author of Hebrews into Abraham’s thought process, a line of thinking consistent with a person who has a regular habit of talking with God:

“Abraham had been promised that Isaac, his only son, would continue his family. But when Abraham was tested, he had faith and was willing to sacrifice Isaac, because he was sure that God could raise people to life. This was just like getting Isaac back from death.” (Hebrews 11:17-18, CEV)

Abraham did not try and figure out God’s mind. He didn’t get into a debate with God about the contradiction of ethics he was being asked to do. He just obeyed. Abraham reasoned that it didn’t matter if Isaac were killed because God could raise him from death. This, of course, is not what happened. It was all a test of faith. Abraham knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is the Lord who provides.

You and I rarely know why we are facing the unwanted and unasked for circumstances we are enduring. We don’t always know what in the world God is thinking. Yet, like Abraham, if we have a spiritual history of walking with God and hearing the Lord’s voice, we don’t hesitate to respond. We are convinced God will provide. Obedience for the follower of Christ is not a burden but a privilege, even when we are being tested beyond our seeming emotional ability to do it.

Sovereign Lord, your ways are sometimes strange and confusing. Yet, I know that everything you do is always right, just, and good. It is to your gracious and merciful character that I know you will provide. My allegiance is to you, in the Name of Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.