Psalm 62:5-12 – Our Place of Safety

Psalm 62 by Christa Rosier (1960-2011)

Only God gives inward peace,
    and I depend on him.
God alone is the mighty rock
    that keeps me safe,
    and he is the fortress
    where I feel secure.
God saves me and honors me.
    He is that mighty rock
    where I find safety.

Trust God, my friends,
    and always tell him
each one of your concerns.
    God is our place of safety.

We humans are only a breath;
    none of us are truly great.
All of us together weigh less
    than a puff of air.
Don’t trust in violence
or depend on dishonesty
    or rely on great wealth.

I heard God say two things:
   “I am powerful,
    and I am very kind.”
The Lord rewards each of us
    according to what we do. (CEV)

My girls, now grown with families of their own, are wonderful mothers. Recently, I got to hold my newest grandson, which is wonderful! A close second to that experience is watching Mom hold her baby. The little guy has not a worry in the world when he is in her arms. For there is no doubt of perfect love and security.

God is our place of safety. For the believer, it is as if we are a baby having finished nursing, lying peacefully and contentedly in God’s loving and secure arms. There is complete trust because God is the one holding us. Our enemies are nothing but a puff of smoke – toothless lions who can make all the noise they want but will never get a bite on us with God around.

I was reminded of yet another truth as I watched my daughter and grandson. Although tired, both are genuinely happy. Neither riches nor fame can ever buy security and happiness. God, as the source of steadfast love and perfect safety, is our Rock. The Lord’s power and kindness meld together in a wondrous and active care for us.

God’s kingdom is constructed on solid rock, not sinking sand. Trusting in violent vengeance, deceitful scheming, or great wealth might build an impressive looking edifice, but will only be destroyed in the first big wind that comes along. Depending upon God as our refuge and strength is building a relationship which will last and stand the test of time and tribulation.

Jesus, aware of the Psalm’s theology, drew upon the image of the rock to impress on his listeners the need for making wise choices (Matthew 7:24-29). The foundation is the key element. The house built on the rock will withstand the storm; the foundation built on sand will not. The cornerstone of faith’s foundation for the Christian is Jesus. The way of Jesus is the entrance into the kingdom of heaven, and the stabilizing presence of peace our lives need. Christ is our place of safety.

May the risen and ascended Christ, mightier than the hordes of hell, more glorious than the heavenly hosts, be with you in all your ways.

May the cross of the Son of God protect you by day and by night, at morning and at evening, at all times and in all places.

May Christ Jesus guard and deliver you from the snares of the devil, from the assaults of evil spirits, from the wrath of the wicked, from all base passions and from the fear of the known and unknown.

And the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be upon you and remain with you always. Amen.

The Voice of the Lord and the Power of Words

The Power of Words by Tiffany Hagen, 2015

I have always felt comforted during thunderstorms. Having grown up in Iowa, strong thunderstorms are a given every summer. When my daughters were small children and frightened by the loud clap of thunder, I would say to them, “That’s just God letting us know he is powerful and watching over us.”

God spoke and stirred up a storm… So, they cried out to the Lord in their distress, and God brought them out safe from their desperate circumstances. God quieted the storm to a whisper; the sea’s waves were hushed. (Psalm 107:25, 29-30, CEB)

God’s very voice is the source of all power. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth – with words. The Lord Almighty spoke the entire world into existence. God’s words are generative, that is, the speech of God creates and gives life. When God’s voice goes forth, things happen:

God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light… (Genesis 1:3, NIV)

God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water….” And it was so. (Genesis 1:6-7, NIV)

God said, “Let the waters under the sky come together into one place so that the dry land can appear.” And that is what happened. (Genesis 1:9, CEB)

God said, “Let the earth produce plants—some to make grain for seeds and others to make fruits with seeds in them. Every seed will produce more of its own kind of plant.” And it happened. (Genesis 1:11, NCV)

God said, “Let lights appear in the sky to separate the day from the night. Let them be signs to mark the seasons, days, and years. Let these lights in the sky shine down on the earth.” And that is what happened. (Genesis 1:14-15, NLT)

God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. (Genesis 1:24, NIV)

God creates and gives through speech. Yes, the mechanism of God’s provision for us is words. This means language is vitally important. The Lord creates, gives, sustains, and blesses creation through language – with humans as the only creatures formed in the image and likeness of God.

God said, “Now we will make humans, and they will be like us. (Genesis 1:26, CEV)

People, then, are capable of speech. Even more, with our ability of language, we also have the capacity to form generative words. We have the God-given means to give life with our speech.

“Life and death lie in the power of language.”

helen keller

I believe we all intuitively know this is true. As we reminisce the history of our lives, we can observe events where another’s words impacted us so significantly that it was as if they gave us the gift of life. We never forget those words. We also have had times when another’s words cut us emotionally and it felt as if a part of us died. We tend to remember those as well, and they hold us back in our own life-giving speech to ourselves and others.

“The godless destroy their neighbors by their words, but the righteous are saved by their knowledge.” (Proverbs 11:9, CEB)

We must listen to the voice of the Lord. God’s speech does not disappoint or destroy. God’s Word is eternal life. The better we listen to God, the better we can have the generative power of words to provide life for others. It only takes a cursory look at Holy Scripture to realize that words are powerful and are to be used with great care. We are all to continually develop the craft of wordsmithing so that we might ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name as well as bless the world.

“As a tree gives fruit, healing words give life, but dishonest words crush the spirit.” (Proverbs 15:4, NCV)

The language we use—spoken and written words, sign language, facial expressions, bodily gestures, singing—helps us understand ourselves and lets us create relationships with others. Our words give us the power to describe our past, define our present, and dream of our future. 

“Words from wise people are like water bubbling up from a deep well—the well of wisdom.” (Proverbs 18:4, ERV)

“Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.”

Yehuda Berg

We need to speak mindfully, paying careful attention to give people words of encouragement and compassion. We must discipline ourselves to use our words in a way that conveys respect, gentleness, and humility.

We adults may balk at the notion that words are anything more than a creative expression. Yet, as I believe is typical with most things, children are closer to the kingdom of God. They effortlessly make connections between words and reality whereas us older folks barely have an idea this even occurs. My grandson once remarked when I was talking to him about being cautious at the playground, “How am I supposed to meet new people if I can’t talk to strangers?”

“When I asked my son (5 years old) how his day was, he said it was awesome. I asked him what made it so awesome – his response was ‘because I wanted it to be.’”

Tanya Niedzwiecki (Huffington Post, November 2015)

The voice of the Lord exhibits a mighty God who has the power to create, recreate, and renew with but a word. As people in God’s likeness, our words are powerful tools to be used with wisdom and care. Our speech allows us to praise God and encourage one another. Even more, the use of language enables us to speak into existence new realities for ourselves and others. May those words bring forth hope and blessing to a world in need of healing.

Proverbs 1:1-7 – Right, Just, and Fair

“Passing Wisdom, Planting Seeds,” building art in Brooklyn, New York City by artists Danielle McDonald and Jazmine Hayes

These are the proverbs of Solomon, David’s son, king of Israel.

Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline,
    to help them understand the insights of the wise.
Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives,
    to help them do what is right, just, and fair.
These proverbs will give insight to the simple,
    knowledge and discernment to the young.

Let the wise listen to these proverbs and become even wiser.
    Let those with understanding receive guidance
by exploring the meaning in these proverbs and parables,
    the words of the wise and their riddles.

Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge,
    but fools despise wisdom and discipline. (NLT)

The pursuit of wisdom is a noble aspiration for the New Year. One of the best places to go in that pursuit is the biblical book of Proverbs because it is all about living wisely and not foolishly.

To acquire and live by wisdom means learning to become right, just, and fair in all our interactions and dealings with others.

“Right” for the ancient King Solomon is a relational term – to be righteous, to have right relationships with God and other people. Righteousness involves experiencing peaceful, harmonious, and fruitful relations. For the Christian, right living is to know the wonderful freedom and joy of an unhindered relationship through Jesus Christ in dependence upon the Holy Spirit. 

When it comes to fellow human relations, a person characterized by righteousness does not, for example, let the sun go down on their anger. It is to know personal peace as well as to be a peacemaker so that relationships do not remain strained but enjoy harmony.

“Just” is closely related to “right.” We might tend toward primarily understanding justice as a punitive act – and that is certainly a part of the term. God punishes the wicked (not us!) with appropriate timing and wisdom; and deals with those who withhold righteousness and love through their uncaring, inattentive, or evil acts. 

Solomon understood justice as mostly concerned with providing a person with the necessities of life. So, for example, if someone is hungry and needs food, or does not have clean water to drink, it is a “just” act for us to provide those critical needs. God is deeply concerned for justice and expects people to act in this same manner.

“Fair” is to be egalitarian. Fairness and equity binds righteousness and peace together by avoiding prejudice toward others and their needs. It means to not show favoritism because there is an unshakable belief in the equality of all people, no matter where they are from, what they do, or who they are.

Therefore, if we exercise righteousness and justice exclusively with individuals and groups we like, but ignore others in need, there is no fairness. To give our love and service to all persons without strings attached, or without being concerned to get paid back, is the practice of being fair in all our affairs.

To live in the way of being right, just, and fair in all things is to be wise. Conversely, the classic fool is one who judges others, creates discord, and ranks persons according to their own personal standard of who deserves help, and who does not. Trying to have a useful and gracious conversation with a fool is like trying to reason with a toddler – you will get nowhere. 

A good place to start in pursuing the wise and biblical virtues of righteousness, justice, and fairness is to ask God to open our eyes to those within our sphere of influence who need both physical and relational needs met. Then, follow through with loving those persons for whom God brings into our lives.

Almighty God, the essence and source of wisdom, you are always right, just, and fair in all things, I praise you for your infinite and abundant wisdom. Whereas you abound in wisdom, I am lacking. Please help me to grow in wisdom as I increase in my knowledge and respect of your divine presence. By means of your Spirit, please increase my depth of insight as I study your Holy Word. Hold me back from leaning on my own understanding and enable me to wholeheartedly embrace the wisdom from above. Righteous God help me to grow in wisdom continually and consistently. Teach me your ways. Since you are a just God who shows no favoritism, lead me into being like you in my dealings with others through the example of Jesus Christ, in the strength of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-13 – What Time Is It?

There is a right time for everything, and everything on earth will happen at the right time.

There is a time to be born
    and a time to die.
There is a time to plant
    and a time to pull up plants.
There is a time to kill
    and a time to heal.
There is a time to destroy
    and a time to build.
There is a time to cry
    and a time to laugh.
There is a time to be sad
    and a time to dance with joy.
There is a time to throw weapons down
    and a time to pick them up.
There is a time to hug someone
    and a time to stop holding so tightly.
There is a time to look for something
    and a time to consider it lost.
There is a time to keep things
    and a time to throw things away.
There is a time to tear cloth
    and a time to sew it.
There is a time to be silent
    and a time to speak.
There is a time to love
    and a time to hate.
There is a time for war
    and a time for peace.

Do people really gain anything from their hard work? I saw all the hard work God gave us to do. God gave us the ability to think about his world, but we can never completely understand everything he does. And yet, he does everything at just the right time.

I learned that the best thing for people to do is to be happy and enjoy themselves, as long as they live. God wants everyone to eat, drink, and enjoy their work. These are gifts from God. (ERV)

Time is finite. We cannot get it back once we lose it. So, it is important to use our time in ways that reflect our most cherished values and commitments. For that, we need wisdom to know what to do, what not to do, and when to do it.

We can often use our time in strange ways. For example, Rafael Antonio Lozano of Plano, Texas has been on a quest to visit every company-owned Starbucks on the planet. He began his mission in 1997, when there were 1,304 Starbucks stores worldwide. Currently, there are 31,256 stores. As of September 2019, Lozano reported having visited over 15,000 global locations. 

Despite his impressive pace, Lozano is realistic about the nature of his quest, saying, “As long as they keep building Starbucks, I’ll never be finished.” He is also realistic about the importance of his mission. “Every time I reach a Starbucks, I feel like I’ve accomplished something,” he said, “when actually I’ve accomplished nothing.”

The book of Ecclesiastes would say, “There is a time to drink coffee, and a time to stay home.” Certainly, Lozano’s personal mission is extreme. But before we get too hard on Rafael, do we have a personal mission?  Does it reflect the stewardship of time God has given us?  When we get to the end of our lives, will we feel like we have accomplished something only to discover that we have accomplished nothing?

Time is a gift from God, and a temporary commodity to be used for God before the end of time comes.

One of the realities of time is that our lives are full of seasonal rhythms and change over time. These are built into the life God has given us. The book of Ecclesiastes is one that, throughout its contents, explains that nothing we pursue has any permanence to it. We throw ourselves into some work or activity, but what does that activity really do for us in the end?

Time is our master, and we must respect it.

When I was twenty years old, I thought nothing of playing a round of golf in the morning and three sets of tennis in the afternoon, then staying up late at night with friends. If I did that same thing today, I would have a team of doctors attending me in the hospital. We all, at some point, try to defy time and act like we can do the things we once did in the past. Sometimes it takes a lot for us to accept our limitations, whether it is our play or our work. Ecclesiastes teaches us that forces from the outside seem to always dictate what we can do and not do.

Time can be a harsh taskmaster.

The clock relentlessly and inexorably moves forward with the cycles and rhythms of life offering only meaninglessness, as we discover we are prisoners of time. But for the believer, time can be redeemed with godly purpose and meaning, no matter what the season of life is. Because there is time, and all things will someday come to an end – all activity, or the lack of it, will be judged according to how we denied or accepted our limitations due to time. 

Ecclesiastes also offers to us what seems a subversive perspective that is counter-cultural to our society. Whereas many Americans believe that if we work hard and do the right thing we can shape our own lives and our own prosperity, the Teacher of Ecclesiastes insists on submitting and moving with the events, rhythms, and seasons of God.  

Apart from God, time is futile and meaningless. In our denial, it is no wonder so many persons are so unhappy with their lives.

In the seasons of life and experiences we have from birth to death, the conclusion of Ecclesiastes is that everything is out of our control. Too many of us try to exert control over events, people, and circumstances when, in truth, any control we have is an illusion. I call this the “c-clamp syndrome,” trying to clamp down on others to get them to submit to our agenda.

Instead, Holy Scripture directs us to practice self-control – to focus on myself and my own actions:

Moderation is better than muscle, self-control better than political power. (Proverbs 16:32, MSG)

Prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. (1 Peter 1:13, NLT)

The end of everything has come. Therefore, be self-controlled and clearheaded so you can pray. (1 Peter 4:7, CEB)

Do your best to improve your faith. You can do this by adding goodness, understanding, self-control, patience, devotion to God, concern for others, and love. If you keep growing in this way, it will show that what you know about our Lord Jesus Christ has made your lives useful and meaningful. (2 Peter 1:5-7, CEV)

We cannot make time stand still. So, we must focus on how we spend our time now. It is time for us to lay aside lesser pursuits and diligently pursue God. We each must give ourselves to the unforced rhythms of grace and let God redeem the time. What time is it?  It is time to live in harmony with God in all we say and do.

God of all time help us to know ourselves. Teach us to recognize our weaknesses and work to walk in holiness. Let us follow you in all things, submitting to the times you have for us. Thank you for your unending grace and mercy toward us when we need it most. Help us to trust you with our lives through Jesus Christ our Lord in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.