From the Pastor

Psalm 91 - Moving from Fear to Faith

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Psalm 91 – A Prayer for Times of Fear and Exposure

 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

1. Read Psalm 91 again.[1] Focus on verses 3-13 this time. Listen carefully to all the arguments the Psalmist is throwing at you. This is what life is like with God as your Refuge and Fortress. What stands out to you today?

It’s helpful to begin your Scripture reading with what we call a prayer of illumination. We ask God’s help to understand His words and to see the truth. This one comes from Psalm 119:17-18:

Our Father in Heaven,

Deal bountifully with your servant, that I may live and keep your word. Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. Use this time to deepen my trust in You, my God, my Refuge and my Fortress in whom I trust.

 In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 2. You should be afraid. It is human.

I said that to get your attention of course. But we are going to work to connect our very real fears to our very real Refuge, our Lord Jesus Christ.

 Begin by looking all the frightening things listed in this Psalm. First up, we fear the snare of the fowler. We can walk into traps. Or fly into them. The image is of a bird happily soaring through the air, only to find themselves suddenly ensnared by trouble. That was the story of Namaan’s young slave girl (2 Kings 5:1-14). We all feel that way right now with the many changes caused by COVID-19.

 We are afraid of the deadly pestilence which stalks in the darkness. Disease, like a lion stalking its prey, hunts at night. We can’t see it coming.

 We are afraid of the terrors of the night. Are you afraid of the dark?  Listen to this old Scottish or Welsh prayer that describes terrors in the night, “From ghoulies and ghosties, and long-leggedy beasties, And things that go bump in the night, Good Lord, deliver us!”  The terror of the night taps into every human fear: the things we can’t control.

Pestilence and terrors of the night were real events in the history of God’s people. Pestilence fell on the livestock and God’s angel of death came on that first Passover night, taking the firstborn of Egypt. The Hebrew people, those loved and rescued from slavery in Egypt, are being reminded that they are safe from God’s judgement through their faith.

 We are afraid of violence. The arrows that fly by day. Thousands falling. These are vivid images of someone who has been in or around a battle. Lions & serpents. This can be literal and metaphorical. We were created to have dominion over the beasts (Genesis 1:26-28). Yet, now people act like beasts in frightening ways. Hurtful words and harmful actions.

We are afraid of evil. Adam and Eve, our first parents, ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We all now have firsthand, intimate knowledge of evil. Even in Genesis 3, knowing evil was more than our selfish deeds. Evil includes bodily harm, misery, and suffering. See evil, as the Bible describes it, is complex and a tragic part of our ordinary existence. “Lord deliver us from evil.”  Jesus’ prayer goes right after your fears. For we are scarred by the thorns and thistles of the curse of Genesis 3. These thorns infest our daily paths. 

Psalm 91 shows us this one big truth: We feel and fear the sting of death. This Psalm would have no power or comfort if we did not.

 3. Let’s move from Fear to Faith together. Hear God’s gracious command to move from trembling to trust (Psalm 91:2).

 I did a search for the Hebrew word for plagues and pestilence used in Psalm 91. It took me to Hosea 13:14. It’s also helpful to read that whole chapter if you have time. Let’s read vs. 14:

I shall ransom them from the power of Sheol; I shall redeem them from Death. O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your sting?

 Some translations turn God’s statement’s here into a question. “Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from Death?” It could go either way. See God is speaking to His people, Israel, who have abandoned the Lord. Their love for God is like the morning mist, like the dew that goes away early. And as a result, Israel is under God’s judgment. Their loving Lord is jealous and will become like a lion towards them. They will become like their love for God…like the morning mist. The question is not if God is able, but if He is willing.

Here’s the point of vs. 14, whether you take this as God declaring what He will do or as a question: God has the power to ransom and redeem His people from death itself. That good news is littered throughout the Old Testament:

 Isaiah 25:8 - “He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces.”

Job 19:25 – “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God.” (We shall see God after death will our own eyes)

 Psalm 23:6 –“ Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (God’s goodness and mercy pursues us even after death. We shall dwell with the Lord forever)

So, if God were to ransom us from death itself and take away the judgment we deserve, we could taunt pestilence and plagues! The thorns of death would hurt but not destroy. Death, what will your plagues do to me? O grave, where is your sting? That is the hope and longing of the Old Testament. Yet, Malachi ends without an answer to Hosea's question.

 But now, Christian friend, we can taunt this disease because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul calls Christians to stand firm, to be steadfast and immovable because Jesus will return and swallow up death forever (1 Corinthians 15:50-58) Disease itself will die. The sure and certain hope of resurrection from the dead for us has been accomplished in Jesus’ death and resurrection. It’s ours by faith. Any fear of judgment we have needs to look at Christ on the cross. If we get sick, it’s not God’s judgment. It can’t be. Jesus paid that price. That fear is gone. With God is forgiveness so that He may be feared and known and loved (Psalm 130).

Our fears are forcing us to ask that hard question: Do I really believe this? Do you? Do I believe that God will give back everything I’ve lost and more in the new heavens and new earth? Because of the sure and certain resurrection of Jesus Christ we see that He is willing and able to ransom us from death and pestilence. 

4. How does God then take care of us between now and our death, now called sleep in Christ? Reread Psalm 91:4.

 “God’s care provides the warm protectiveness of a mother bird and the hard-unyielding strength of armor.”[2]

Those who take refuge in the shadow of the Almighty God, who live their lives by faith in Jesus Christ, have God’s tender and warm protection close by as He is with us in our trouble (91:15). We are also followed everywhere we go with a moving fortress and a mobile shield. You can hear where Martin Luther got his hymn lyrics, when we sing, “We have a bulwark, never failing.”[3]

This is the reality you live in when you turn in faith to Jesus Christ, crucified for your sins, and resurrected on the third day.

I’ll leave you with these words of hope from a great hymn, “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks We Stand.”  

No chilling winds nor poisonous breath can reach that healthful shore; Sickness, sorrow, pain and death, are felt and feared no more.

 I am bound for the Promised Land.

 When shall I reach that happy place and be forever blessed? When shall I see my Father’s face and in His bosom rest?

 You can give it a listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0J2hXjflmuw

 Take time now to tell God you are anxious as you look at His warm protective care for you and His hard unyielding strength in Jesus’s love, mercy, death and resurrection. His faithfulness will protect you forever.

 

[1] A helpful reminder: The Psalms are prayers and songs. They are the place we learn to say and sing our faith back to God in the midst of our joys and sorrows. This God-breathed poetry speaks peace to our anxious hearts and calls us to trust the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and Earth.

 [2] Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150, p. 364.

[3] Martin Luther, A Mighty Fortress is our God.

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Taking the Pressure off Marriage

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"15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
18 Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” 19 Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. 21 So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said,

                  “This at last is bone of my bones
      and flesh of my flesh;
                  she shall be called Woman,
      because she was taken out of Man.”

24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed." 

~Genesis 2:15-25

Here we have the first wedding in human history.  God walks Adam and Eve down the aisle.  He gives Adam a 'helper', who is like Adam but different.  They share the same nature, being human, but are different persons. 

Sinclair Ferguson comments: 

Adam's "instinctive response to his first sight of Eve was to recognize that she was someone different from him (she was another person and a woman!).  yet she was someone in whom he could see himself - in distinction from all the other life forms in creation she was 'fit for' or 'corresponding to' him (Genesis 2:18-20).  In this sense Eve was the one companion fully suited to him, who would turn the 'not good' of his being alone into the 'very good' of a new, covenant relationship in which he would discover at a new depth what it meant to be the image of God, sharing now - as his Triune Creator had done from all eternity - in a world of intimate fellowship with another who shared his nature."1

  "...[Adam] would discover at a new depth what it meant to be the image of God, sharing now...in a world of intimate fellowship with another who shared his nature."

Here's what Ferguson is saying:  Marriage, a one-flesh relationship between a man and a woman, was intended to give us a taste of God's love, experienced as intimate fellowship.  God is love (1 John 4:7-12).  The Bible's teaching is that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  They are the same in substance, all God.  They are of the same nature.  But God is three persons.  For all of eternity God has been in a loving intimate fellowship with another who is of the same nature.  The Father loving the Son and the Son loving the Father and the Spirit binding them together in love. 

Therefore, marriage is a gift from God designed to bring two different persons (a man and a woman) together who are similar (both image bearers of God) to be an image of God's self-less love.  Marriage is a good thing, but not a god thing. 

The apostle Paul tells us more in Ephesians 5:31-32.  He quotes Genesis, "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh," and then drops a bombshell: 

Adam and Eve's marriage and intimacy refers to Christ and the Church!

God created marriage to show us how Jesus loves His people, the church.  Eve was given to Adam to picture God giving Jesus the Church.  Jesus looks at the church, His bride, with a married kind of love.  Paul calls it a mystery, even as He tells us why Jesus died.  Jesus' sacrificial love is ours in order to make His bride:  holy and without blemish.  He loved us so much that he became like us (flesh of my flesh) so that we might become like Him (righteous). 

"For our sake [God] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin so that in him, we might become the righteousness of God"

2 Corinthians 5:21

Do you hear the similarities?  Jesus, someone of another nature (God) became like us on the cross, so that we might become one (in Him), being like Him.

This takes the pressure off marriage because Your spouse is not Your reason for living.  He or she cannot give you the affection that our hearts crave because we were made to find marital satisfaction in relationship to Jesus Christ.  Which means we can be married or single and find a deep satisfaction in Christ's covenant love for the Church, His bride.  This makes us unusual because we can say that it is not good for anyone to be alone.  We are made to be in relationships.  But we can also say that it is good to be single in Christ because Jesus died to make us His spouse.  And it is good to be married in Christ because Jesus died to make us His spouse. 

Do you know how to experience this kind of satisfaction in Christ?

 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.    ~Ephesians 2:8

 

 1Sinclair Fergusion, Faithful God: An Exposition of the Book of Ruth, 90.

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