“Move Straight Ahead” – COVID Lockdown Devotion, Day 24

Brothers and Sisters,

Let’s continue in our devotional thoughts for this week to sit with the book of Joshua, once again building on yesterday.  Joshua chapters five and six recount Israel’s campaign against the city of Jericho, a “gateway” city, if you will, to the rest of the Promised Land.  In Joshua 5:13-6:5, Joshua encounters a messenger of Yahweh, described as “commander of the army of the LORD” (Joshua 5:14).  This angelic warrior (or, perhaps, maybe even a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus) gives Joshua the battle plan for taking Jericho.  That plan involves marching around the city once on each of six days, and then seven times on a seventh day.  At the end of the seventh circuit on the seventh day, God commanded the following: “And when they [the priests] make a long blast with the ram’s horn [their trumpets], when you hear the sound of the trumpet, then all the people shall shout with a great shout, and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and the people shall go up, everyone straight before him” (Joshua 6:5, ESV).  If you skip ahead to chapter six, verses 15-21, that’s exactly what happened!

There is much that is fascinating about the account of Jericho, but I’m struck particularly by the phrase straight before him.  A quick word study (tied to the English Standard Version translation) shows that the Hebrew term here refers generally to that which is “opposite” a person, that which is “before” someone, that which is right in front.  When the walls came down, God meant for each warrior to enter the city by moving straight ahead.  Why?  Well, I guess I don’t know for sure, though I could postulate some reasons for this command.  For instance, moving straight ahead when Jericho’s walls collapsed would demonstrate the utter sufficiency of God’s work in bringing those walls down.  There would be no need for Israel’s army to search out an access point into the city, because God intended to lay Jericho wide open.  Each warrior moving “straight before him” would visually display the totality and perfection of God’s work to judge Jericho and exalt Israel.  Perhaps that’s part of the “why.”

Now, as interesting as the “why” question might be, I’m struck much more by the results of God’s command, especially with respect to the experience of each individual Israelite warrior.  When God dropped the walls of Jericho, he required that each warrior move straight ahead into the city.  This means that whatever each warrior faced in the city was uniquely prepared for him by God.  While each soldier labored to obey God’s command to destroy everything and everyone inside Jericho (a grave task indeed, see Joshua 6:17a, 21), by moving straight ahead in obedience to Yahweh he would encounter only that which Yahweh meant for him to do.  His task would be his task, tailored to him by the sovereign Lord of the universe.  He would be prepared to accomplish it, not in his strength, but in the Lord’s, and he could trust that he would face nothing God did not intend for him to face…if only he would obey and move straight before him.

Jericho
A portion of Jericho’s ruins, circa 2016

Like yesterday, let’s bridge from the experience of an Israelite warrior assaulting Jericho to the experience of a Christian assaulting the gates of Hell.  To follow after Jesus is to walk a straight and narrow road (Matthew 7:13, Acts 13:10, Proverbs 3:5-6).  And, as we considered yesterday with Ephesians 6, that road often runs right into battle.  Yet, this need not be (should not be) any cause for fear on our part.  The God who commands us to go “straight before [us]” will not fail to prepare, in detail, for everything we’re going to face.  He will not leave us unequipped to victoriously encounter whatever lies ahead.  Consider how the Apostle Paul makes precisely this point in a slightly different context.  In Ephesians 2:8-10 (ESV), when writing of our salvation he says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  Following straight behind Jesus to assault the gates of Hell is a very good work indeed.  Let us then hear the charge given to Joshua by the commander of Yahweh’s hosts before the fortress of Jericho: “…the people shall go up, everyone straight before him.”

So, dear Christian, press on!  The battle lies ahead, and it is there that God means for you to be.  You have no armor on your back, only a breastplate, the breastplate of righteousness, the righteousness of Christ.  It will withstand any assault, and all the work that lies ahead is tailor-made for you by God himself.  The trumpet sounds…don’t stand waiting…

In Christ,

P.J.

“Disheartened and Disarmed!” – COVID Lockdown Devotion, Day 23

Brothers and Sisters,

I’d like to return to yesterday’s devotional and the account of Joshua leading Israel into the conquest of Canaan.  You’ll recall that we heard then about one of God’s mighty acts in Joshua’s time, namely the drying up of the Jordan River as the Israelites walked across.  That act had an immediate and devastating effect on Israel’s enemies.  We read this in Joshua 5:1 (NASB):

Now it came about when all the kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan to the west, and all the kings of the Canaanites who were by the sea, heard how the LORD had dried up the waters of the Jordan before the sons of Israel until they crossed, that their hearts melted, and there was no spirit in them any longer because of the sons of Israel. 

Israel’s enemies – God’s enemies – grew fearful and dispirited when they heard about God’s mighty act at the Jordan River.  This was due in no small part to their prior knowledge of God’s work forty years earlier at the Red Sea with the Egyptians, and his work perhaps only months prior with the Amorite kings Sihon and Og (Joshua 2:8-11).  Now, with the Jordan drying up before Israel, the kings of the Amorites and the Canaanites saw that same hand of the Lord moving against them.  If you read the rest of Joshua, you’ll see how Israel is unstoppable (and unconquerable) when they walk in faithfulness after Yahweh according to his mighty acts.

What does this have to do with us?  Well, much, but only one point of which I’ll touch on here.  In yesterday’s devotional I likened the drying up of the Jordan to divine “child’s play” in comparison with God’s mighty act at the cross.  Consider then this thought: If God’s mighty act at the Jordan caused the hearts of Israel’s enemies to melt and their spirits to fail, then what must the far greater act at the cross do to the church’s enemies?  How must the cross affect the enemies who oppose Jesus’ followers?  Let’s be clear here.  When we say, “Enemies of the church,” we mean in particular Satan and his demons against whom we struggle.  Paul makes that quite apparent in Ephesians 6.  People may set themselves up as enemies of Christ, but we need not treat them as our own foes.  We can treat them (indeed, we must treat them) as precious creatures created in God’s image whose rebellion against their loving Creator desperately needs to end.  No, our struggle lies against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12b, NASB).  So, what must God’s mighty act at the cross do to such enemies?  The answer can only be that it does to them what God’s mighty act at the Jordan did to the pagan kings and peoples of Canaan.  The cross must melt the hearts of our spiritual foes and cause their wicked spirit to quail in fear.  In fact, it did (and does) that and more!  Here’s how Paul puts it, speaking of what God did in and through Jesus’ death on the cross: When He [God] had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him [Jesus](Colossians 2:15).  The words Paul uses here for “rulers” and “authorities” are the same terms that show up in Ephesians 6 when he speaks of demonic powers.  At the cross, God not only disheartened Satan and his minions, he disarmed them.

Heel Bone Picture
Remains found in a burial cave in north Jerusalem.  This is the right heel bone of a person killed by crucifixion.  Notice the iron nail that penetrates the bone.

So then, as followers of Jesus we battle a disheartened and disarmed enemy.  Praise God!  That doesn’t mean the battle isn’t and won’t be fierce.  Satan and his demons can still punch.  They can still deceive.  They can still bite, and claw, and kick.  But need that worry us?  We have access to God’s sword, his written Word, a double-edged sword that can meet any assault and expose any lie (Hebrews 4:12).  Like Israel of old, when we walk faithfully after Jesus according to God’s mighty acts, we are unbeatable.  Such confidence leaves us no excuse to not carry the fight into every dark corner of the globe, into every darkened heart, until everywhere God’s kingdom reigns supreme in the day of Christ Jesus.

Take up your sword this week, attentive first to your own heart, and battle well.

Love in Christ,

P.J.

“We Who Memorialize” – COVID Lockdown Devotion, Day 22

Brothers and Sisters,

As human beings, we are creatures drawn to memorial.  In all cultures we memorialize events, and people, and places, and even things (sadly so, at times).  Memorial ties to memory, and memory links to our search for meaning.  Memory is one of those capacities that marks us out from all the rest of creation as being formed imago dei, in the image of God himself.  Memorials abound in American culture and across our landscape, some of great fame, others of only passing notice.  From the Washington Memorial, to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, to Mount Rushmore, to the statue of John Greenleaf Whittier in my native town of Whittier, to the lowliest headstone in the local graveyard, we proliferate memorials.  In the aftermath of COVID-19, it’s a sure thing that we will memorialize this time, including with the sad gravestones necessary because of this pandemic.

Because our instinct to memorialize derives from the fact that we bear God’s image, it shouldn’t surprise us that God himself values memorial.  I was reminded of this truth while reading Joshua 4, the account of Israel crossing the Jordan River into the conquest of Canaan.  As part of that event, God commanded Joshua that the people of Israel should construct a memorial of twelve stones in their camp on the western side of the Jordan.  They did so, and Joshua himself even constructed a second marker in the middle of the river before the waters came rushing back.  The purpose of Israel’s campsite memorial we learn in verses 6-7, and then again in verses 21-24:

He [Joshua] said to the sons of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, ‘What are these stones?’ then you shall inform your children, saying, ‘Israel crossed this Jordan on dry ground.’  For the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan before you until you had crossed, just as the LORD your God had done to the Red Sea, which He dried up before us until we had crossed; that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty, so that you may fear the LORD your God forever.” – Joshua 4:21-27 (NASB)

God commanded this memorial so that all the peoples of the earth might know his might, and so that his people would forever fear him.  To a secular, modern Western ear, that purpose sounds self-serving, arrogant, and abusive.  To minds trained by Scripture and providence to know a sovereign God of loving mercy, that purpose sounds absolutely glorious.  We need a mighty God whom we can fearfully worship.

Now, Joshua’s altar belonged to the children of Israel in the day of their conquest, but what about us?  What about we who are grafted into Israel (Romans 11:17) as adopted children of the living God through faith in Jesus Christ?  What about the church?  What should we memorialize and how?  How do we remember the mighty work of God so as to encourage our hearts to fear him?

You don’t have to dig far, even as an outsider looking in, to discover the particular event Jesus’ church memorializes.  Consider how ubiquitous (in a good sense) is the imagery of the cross in the life of the church.  We engrave crosses into all sorts of materials and display them publicly.  We hang them on buildings and place them at the front of sanctuary spaces.  Some of us even wear them around our necks.  In all this we rightly remember to memorialize God’s mightiest act, the act that ought to evoke from us the greatest fear of our God.  But, by God’s grace, Christians have something more than mere imagery as a memorial of the cross.  We do not stop with mere physical reminders of the cross that remain “distant” and “external” to us.  Instead, we regularly gather to undertake an event that brings us, symbolically, back, and even into, the event of the cross itself.  We personally participate in something that connects us personally with our personal God.  Of course, I’m speaking here of the Lord’s Supper, of Communion, of the Eucharist.

On the night before he was crucified, Jesus celebrated the Jewish Passover meal with his disciples.  In doing so, he reinterpreted the meal for them.  Or, rather, he opened their eyes to the true meaning of Passover, the fulfillment to which Passover was always meant to point.  Jesus took the Passover meal and centered its purpose and meaning on himself.  In days to come, Passover would be for the disciples not primarily about looking back to God’s protection and redemption in Egypt, although that event would never be forgotten.  Instead, Passover would take on its ultimate meaning in the cross of Christ.  It would remember Golgotha and then look forward to day of Golgotha’s manifest triumph when Jesus returns.  Thus, our Lord said to his disciples as they ate the bread (his body) and drank the wine (his blood), “…do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19b; see also 1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

For Jesus’ disciples this meal, what we now call the “Lord’s Supper,” became a memorial of his death, burial, and resurrection.  It became an event into which they would routinely enter so as to remember the great event of the cross.  It was, and is, no lifeless memorial, but a memorial that only exists when brought into being by living people acting out its patterns.  One does not point to the Lord’s Supper and say, “Look, there it is.  Remember.”  One acts the Lord’s Supper and says, “Come, eat, drink.  Remember!”  The bread and the wine (or juice…hey, after all, I’m a “low church” evangelical cut from teetotaling cloth) do not stand outside of us, they enter into us.  The memorial of the Lord’s Supper reminds us that faith in Jesus is not a corporate matter of being associated with the right group.  It is first a personal matter of the heart, from which membership in the church then flows.

Lastly, consider again the purpose for which Joshua built the memorial at Gilgal: “…that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty, so that you may fear the LORD your God forever.”  God parting the waters of the Jordan was, in a sense, divine “child’s play” compared to what happened at the cross.  At the cross, God parted the waters of divine wrath as they crashed on Jesus instead of on those who deserved to be drowned.  At cross, God displayed himself a mighty Savior.  How can we not rejoice to fear this God, this Jesus Christ, this Yahweh, both now and forever more?

Oh Christian, look this week to the memorial that is the cross.  Remember the memorial meal that many of us will miss eating on Good Friday and let the enforced fast recall to mind the true depths of this feast.

Love in Christ,

P.J.

“Following the Messiah” Video Series – COVID Lockdown Devotion, Day 21

Brothers and Sisters,

Back in 2016, I had the fantastic opportunity to take a seminary course centered on a study trip to Israel.  One of our days traveling involved a stop at the site of Capernaum.  Our visit to Capernaum was great, except for the slight annoyance of some group trying to film onsite while we viewed the town’s synagogue.  In hindsight, I’m quite grateful for the minor inconvenience.  The group that we ran into that day is an organization known as Appian Media.  They’ve now produced two wonderful, multi-episode, video series shot in Israel.  The first traces the life and ministry of Jesus, while the second explores the archeological evidence for Israel’s United Monarchy (Israel under David and Solomon).  I’ve enjoyed watching both for free at the Appian Media website, and now I’m enjoying them again with my kids.  As we enter into the week before Easter, let me commend to you, in particular, the series titled, “Following the Messiah.”  I think this well-done video walk through the life of Jesus will edify you as we recall, in a special way, our Lord’s death, burial, and resurrection.  Take an hour tonight and get started with the first 2-3 episodes.  Enjoy!

In Christ,

P.J.

“Righteousness With Salvation?” – COVID Lockdown Devotion, Day 20

Brothers and Sisters,

As we come to the close of another Lord’s Day, it’s been good to give attention to the Word of our God and to fellowship with one another virtually.  If you missed it this morning, you can view our virtual service on Facebook, or listen to just the sermon on the Felton Bible Church webpage.

Before we call our day “closed,” consider with me for a moment Psalm 65.  In verse five, David says something that really should cause us to wonder and give thanks.  He writes (ESV): “By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness, O God of our salvation…”  The same statement in the NASB translation reads: “By awesome deeds you answer us in righteousness, O God of our salvation…”  Regardless which English preposition you use (“with” vs. “in”), pairing God’s righteousness with our salvation shouldn’t make any sense at all, humanly speaking.  In fact, humanly speaking, to think that God answers us with, or in, righteousness should be profoundly frightening!

God is righteous (meaning he is without sin; he is altogether perfect; he is the definition of good, and right, and just, and holy), yes, but we are not.  We enter this world with a nature bent against God, one defined by, and corrupted by, sin.  Sin is anything that stands contrary to the character and commands of God.  Sin marks us from birth, not only in what we do, but in our very being.  Romans tells us that the wages (the payment) of sin is death (Romans 6:23).  When righteousness encounters sin, sin dies.  So how is it that God’s awesome deeds, which answer our sin in (or with) righteousness, result in salvation for his children?  The answer is simply this: The most awesome deed God ever performed was the crucifixion of his son, Jesus Christ, on a cross.  Jesus died to deal with the sin – to pay for the sin; to become the propitiation (Romans 3:25) for the sin; to soak up and consume, once and for all, God’s wrath because of sin – of all those he means to save, all those who by faith follow Christ as Lord and Savior (Romans 10:9-10).  Jesus Christ is God’s righteousness embodied.  At the cross, God answers our need with (or in) righteousness, and we are saved!  God is the God of our salvation, at the cross!

This means, of course, that you ought not to seek God except through the cross.  It is not safe to encounter the righteousness of God except through the cross of Christ.  To borrow an image from C.S. Lewis in the Chronicles of Narnia, he (God) is not a “tame lion.”  But, through the cross, God’s righteousness becomes our life.  It is the only life that is truly life, and the only life that will, forever, outlast what we know as death.  Eternal life with God in heaven awaits those who meet God at the cross.

I’ll end by pointing us further into Psalm 65, where David paints an agricultural image of divine blessing poured out on the earth.  As you read these words, put Jesus’ church in the place of earth, and consider how God works for the good of his people whom he has saved:

“You visit the earth and water it; you greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water; you provide their grain, for so you have prepared it.  You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers, and blessing its growth.  You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with abundance.  The pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy, the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy.” – Psalm 65:9-13 (ESV)

Thus, and more is how God blesses the disciples of Jesus Christ.  As we enter into a week where we recall in a special way Jesus death, burial, and resurrection, may you encounter the God of all righteousness through the cross of Jesus Christ.  As that happens, may you rejoice – whether for the first time, or once again – in the God who answers you with salvation.

“Blessed [oh God] is the one you choose and bring near, to dwell in your courts!” – Psalm 65:4b.

In Christ,

P.J.

“Glorious Routine” – COVID Lockdown Devotion, Day 19

Brothers and Sisters,

Routine sometimes gets a bad rap, especially when it involves any flavor of discipline.  Popular culture can often glorify the “spontaneous” or the “innovative,” the “fresh” and the “unprecedented.”  No one wants to be “stuck in a rut.”  And yet, wouldn’t we all appreciate some well-worn ruts at the moment?  Like, for instance, the “rut” of open schools, or thriving businesses, or just a simple handshake.  When everything is thrown “out-of-whack,” suddenly routine seems rather glorious.

My point here isn’t to downplay the beauty of spontaneity, or the importance of innovation, or the wonder of that which is fresh and unprecedented.  But, perhaps we should pause for a moment and simply appreciate routine.  Consider that God built routine (or, should we say, “regularity”) into the fabric of the universe, and our life depends on it!  The earth turns according to a 24-hour routine.  We routinely orbit the Sun every 365 days or so.  The seasons change with predictable routine (despite whatever may or may not be the case with global warming).  Not only in creation, but also in worship, God demonstrates the purpose and value of routine.  Read the Old Testament Pentateuch (Genesis – Deuteronomy), and you’ll find awesome “routine” patterns of worship that God commands Israel to remember and enjoy.  Finally, consider Jesus himself.  He was, if anything, incredibly innovative, and yet he was a man of holy routine.  He taught regularly in the Jews’ synagogues (not to mention gathering there for worship as a God-honoring Jew himself).  Each year he routinely visited Jerusalem for the feasts prescribed in the Law of Moses.  Perhaps most importantly, Jesus was a man of routine prayer.  Luke 5:16 (ESV) says, “But he [Jesus] would withdraw to desolate places and pray.”  The same verse in the NASB reads, “But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.”  For Jesus, life involved life-giving routine.

Tomorrow is Sunday.  Sunday is a day for God’s people, followers of Jesus Christ, Christians, to routinely gather together for worship.  Such gatherings are one of the great, holy, irreplaceable, life-bringing routines of living this side of heaven.  We’re walking through a moment of great upheaval, with strange realties and unprecedented new norms.  In the middle of it all, we’re reminded about the necessary beauty of holy repetition, sanctified regularity, glorious routine.  While we cannot meet as is our practice, we’re nonetheless thankful for the gift of technology that allows us a measure of Christian routine even in the midst of COVID-19.  Please, avail yourself of Sunday routine tomorrow.  Do so with your Felton Bible Church brothers and sisters, most especially through our Facebook Live broadcast at 9:30 am.  Our innovative God calls us to routine worship.  Let us delight in hearing that call!

In Christ,

P.J.

“Waiting for Rescue” – COVID Lockdown Devotion, Day 18

Brothers and Sisters,

Tonight’s devotional is quite simple (and coming in just under the wire still on April 3rd!), since I’m writing only to cue you to another article.  Click here to read a post from March 11th by Alasdair Groves, the Executive Director of the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation.  I trust you’ll find it encouraging.  I’ve been helped today by the reminder that God’s rescue (in whatever difficulty we face) often comes through waiting.  Give this a read, and let your heart be helped.

In Christ,
P.J.

“Beware the Lion!” – COVID Lockdown Devotion, Day 17

Brothers and Sisters,

I begin tonight with a story.  It’s a story that came to mind today while I ran on the trail behind our church property which leads down into Henry Cowell State Park.  I recalled an incident while running on the same trail last year when I came upon a small furry creature making its way across the path.  It was, I believe, a mole, though a mole curiously out of place on a relatively exposed trail.  I stopped while the little animal finished its course, if for no other reason than to prevent it being eaten by any lurking bird of prey.  Fast-forward maybe a week later, and I’m running back toward church along the same trail.  Suddenly, out of the sky (or some overhead tree branch) an object falls right in front of me, narrowly missing my head in fact.  I looked down to find the front portion of a half-eaten mole lying on the trail at my feet.  Perhaps that strikes you as a bit sad.  Truth-be-told, I found it rather amusing.  I imagined the mafia-like raptor whose meal I spoiled the week previous leaving me a none-to-subtle message: “Here’s to you, you do-gooder…I got him in the end all the same!  Signed…Hawk.”

While I recalled this dubiously amusing episode, my thoughts also went to a much less amusing – in fact a deadly serious – portion of Scripture.  In 1 Peter 5:8 (ESV), Peter writes a solemn warning to believers: Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”  It’s no mole-eating hawk we face, but rather a true spiritual adversary – the devil – who’s better described like a deadly, opportunistic, and cruel lion.

Now, why would it be apropos for us to specifically hear Peter’s warning tonight and take heed.  Well, consider this.  In the last two weeks or more, we have all shifted much of our life to the virtual “world.”  It’s not that we weren’t there in days prior, but now we’re all much more present in cyberspace than in the past.  So are our kids, or grandkids.  As we’ve made this shift, have we remembered that cyberspace is not neutral space?  Do we recall that Satan has special tactics and special temptations which face us through a series of encoded ones and zeros?  Are we alert to the devil prowling via the internet?  Some of his tactics are well-known, though still deadly – pornography for one, or the social media “comparison game” for another.  But there are others; others like a constant stream of non-neutral, unedifying news primed to discourage; or even otherwise accurate news, but news in such quantity that we can’t possibly process it all accurately and well (we’re not God after all); or even just the ever-present temptation to waste time on nothing of substance (e.g. Should Christians ever “binge watch” anything, if by “binge” we mean a gluttonous unthinking consumption of so-called entertainment?).  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a Luddite.  I’m also not talking down the wise use of something like Amazon Prime video (not Netflix…you should ditch Netflix…click here to read why).  But, in the middle of it all, do we remember there’s a lion who prowls?

As we learn to live wisely under “shelter-in-place,” let’s keep what Peter writes next in mind with reference to our lion-like adversary, Satan (1 Peter 5:9-11): Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.  And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.  To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

Amen indeed…sleep well.

In Christ,

P.J.

“Back to the Rock” – COVID Lockdown Devotion, Day 16

Brothers and Sisters,

Well, “perseverance” was the right word for yesterday (Day 15’s devotion).  If you aren’t already aware, the shelter-in-place order for Santa Cruz County has been extended to May 3rd.  We’re in a marathon, and that’s okay.  As we find our stride for the middle portion of the race, let me briefly return to the image of God as our Rock.  We last considered this image on March 25th, with the Day 9 devotional.  I was reminded and encouraged again this morning (and I needed the encouragement) to remember God as my Rock by the words of Psalm 62:1-2, 5-7 (ESV):

“For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.  He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken…For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.  He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.  On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God.”

 After reading this I went and dug a rock out of the dirt behind our church facilities.  It’s now sitting on my desk inscribed as you see here:

 

IMG_1849 2

 

May the Lord be a Rock for you tonight as you head to bed!

One more brief note.  You may be aware of Keith and Kristyn Getty and their outstanding ministry of profound Christian music.  Did you know that you can join their family live every Tuesday evening at 5:15 pm (our time on the Pacific Coast) for a hymn sing?  You can see the details and a link to Facebook Live on their webpage here.  Perhaps this can become part of your regular engagement with Jesus’ people until we emerge from this COVID moment.

Rest well…

In Christ,

P.J.

“To Persevere!” – COVID Lockdown Devotion, Day 15

Brother and Sisters,

This evening it seems “perseverance” is an appropriate word for us to reflect on.  I say this as current guidelines suggest a continuance of our “shelter-in-place” and social distancing needs through April at least.  We pray that the Lord’s mercy will bring an earlier end to this pandemic and these extraordinary measures, but if he does not, does he cease to be merciful in our sight?  As the Apostle Paul cries out, “May it never be!”  Our merciful God knows exactly what we need, and we can trust him.  Now for perseverance…

It seems, if we believe God’s Word, that perseverance is an essential component to Christ-like character.  God perseveres, which means to know him we too must know something of holy perseverance.  There is a word in Greek – hypomone (if you care to read the transliterated original) – variously translated in the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible as, “steadfastness,” “patient,” “patience,” “patiently,” or “endurance.”  On two occasions the New American Standard Bible renders the same word as “perseverance.”  This term hypomone appears thirty-two times in the New Testament.  Let me share a sample of four such instances with you now:

Romans 5:1-5 (ESV) – “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.  Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

[Notice the absolutely necessary link between endurance and hope, and between hope and the glory of God – the glory of God that brings us life!  We do not truly enjoy the glory of God if we have not learned endurance.]

Romans 15:4 (ESV) – For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

[Notice once again the link between endurance and hope.  Also, did you catch how the Scriptures fit into this process?  Endurance for endurance-sake alone is of limited value only.  But endurance paired with, grounded in, God’s Word yields hope!]

2 Thessalonians 3:5 (ESV) – May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ

[Ah!  So, this perseverance thing is a Jesus thing; it’s about the character of Christ.  No wonder we need to learn perseverance as his followers.]

2 Peter 1:3-8 (ESV) – His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.  For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.  For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

[Perseverance is not a matter of self-enabled “boot-strapping.”  Rather, it is the product having been laid hold of by Jesus Christ for salvation by grace through faith.  Perseverance is the outworking of faith, and it is itself a builder of faith. Perseverance is essential to being a fruitful Christian; someone for whom the knowledge of Christ shapes their heart.]

Now, in many ways we’re not all that excited about the word perseverance.  It tends to make us think of long, arduous, painful endeavors, and rightly so at times!  But, once again, notice how much Scripture pairs perseverance with things like joy, hope, glory, usefulness, fruitfulness, and faith.  If those words ring with a beautiful, positive note in our ears, so also should the word, “perseverance!”  It may help us to hear “perseverance” in a positive way if we add two more words into the mix: Perspective and Creativity.

Perspective reminds us that our in-the-moment feelings do not define reality.  Indeed, what we experience as a period of “persevering” may in truth be a mere blip of an instant – not only in God’s history-spanning view, but even in the time-bound existence we live.  Hebrews 12:3-4 (ESV) exhorts us to perspective: “Consider him [Jesus] who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.  In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”  Here’s a bit of helpful perspective related to our COVID-19 “shelter-in-place” crisis…we’re not even a month-in yet.  This too shall pass, all in God’s good time.

And lastly, creativity.  Perseverance need not be a slog if we engage the need to persevere with God-given creativity.  Every moment God affords us is a moment of opportunity.  What are the opportunities in front of us should we find ourselves living the COVID-19 lifestyle through April or beyond?

So, what will we do if on April 30th, a month from now, we find ourselves still facing the difficulties we’re experiencing in the moment?  We’ll simply put one foot in front of the other, thankful for each moment, and continue persevering with hope until the Lord brings us into a new day.

Love in Christ,

P.J.