Typically the week between Christmas and New Year’s is quiet for me, and this year was no exception. This year I drank richly in the presence of all my family being together. In the last few days of the year, I usually begin to organize my receipts and records to compile on my schedule C for taxes and quietly take stock of the previous 12 months.
In this process, I will slowly read through my prayer journal from the last year and see prayers answered in amazing ways and lessons taught by God’s grace. Some I’m still chewing on. This year, I was able to recount a few truly miraculous answers from God’s loving providence. The landscape included such graces as the right medical provider coming on the scene at just the right time and family medical bills being forgiven.
Other touches from Heaven reminded me of God’s faithfulness and thus His calling us to rest in Him. As I reflected on these provisions this past week, I was reminded of God meeting the Hebrew’s daily needs in the history of Exodus as they wandered and waited upon Him in the wilderness.
Along with the events and answered prayers I recorded, it was interesting to review the scriptural passages that I had meditated on over the year. Some of these came to mind in prayer, daily life, or my yearly systematic reading of His word. Altogether, my quietness this past week reminded me of God’s faithfulness.
Below I’ve recorded a number of the verses that found their way into my prayer journal for 2022. Some of them were in application to something I was praying about at the time. Some caught me off guard and were out of nowhere. Some were not for me but an application for others, the church, and society. They are a reminder of God’s providence, Christ’s love, and the Spirit’s guidance. As we bring 2022 to a conclusion, they might be of encouragement to you as we move into 2023.
What about you? What are some lessons from the past year for you?
Some of the texts from my 2022 Prayer Journal.
1 John 4:18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
1 Peter 5:7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
1 Peter 2:24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”
2 Timothy 1:7 For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
Titus 1:8 Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, and who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.
Philippians 4:6-8 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.
Psalm 31:14-15 But I trust in you, Lord; I say, “You are my God.” 15 My times are in your hands; deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me.
Psalm 86:11 Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.
Psalm 90:17 May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us— yes, establish the work of our hands.
Isaiah 54:2 Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes.
Psalm 18:19 He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.
Isaiah 54:4 Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.
Psalm 131 My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. 2 But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content. 3 Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore.
Psalms 107:1-3 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. 2 Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story— those he redeemed from the hand of the foe, 3 those he gathered from the lands, from east and west, from north and south.
Romans 8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus
Romans 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Ezekiel 11:19 I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.
1 Chronicles 22:13 Then you will have success if you are careful to observe the decrees and laws that the Lord gave Moses for Israel. Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged.
Revelation 2:17 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.
Zephaniah 3:17 The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”
Zephaniah 3:20 At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home. I will give you honor and praise among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes before your very eyes,” says the Lord.
Psalm 68:28 Summon your power, God; show us your strength, our God, as you have done before.
Did any of these speak to you? Are there Biblical passages that ministered to you this past year?
I don’t think I’ve ever had a problem with the virgin birth as is recorded in the Bible. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a home with a Biblical worldview and have always had some experience with church and reverence for the Bible. I know others are skeptical, though. Sometimes the doubt of the virgin birth is slow and casual. For others, there is a harsh and blatant rejection. “It’s impossible and a stupid idea,” they say. Something akin to Greek mythology. For me, it’s simple. If there is a God, and most people believe in God in a general sense, then why would the Incarnation be an impossibility? I mean, God can do anything.
But I wonder if the wrong question is being asked. It’s not so much about the how as the why. Is the virgin birth of Jesus through Mary necessary? That depends on who we are and who God is. Often doubt of the Virgin birth is not as much about the physical but the spiritual. To accept the Virgin birth is to admit one’s need for the Incarnation.
The Incarnation is a theological term, taken from Latin, simply referring to God taking on flesh. The Incarnation is then a greater miracle than the virgin birth. The apostle John refers to this miraculous conception by noting, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
Because the man, Jesus, was not the product of natural conception, he was not marred by the sinful nature passed on from Joseph all the way back to Adam. Jesus went on to live a perfect life which none of us has done. This brings power to his death, burial, and resurrection 33 years later. Because Jesus was and is divine, he was the perfect sacrifice for our sins. Because he rose from the dead on the third day, he proved his power and divinity. The resurrection of Jesus also confirmed that his sacrifice was sufficient for our sins.
Maybe that’s the real reason people reject virgin birth. To accept it leads to the conclusion that we need the Incarnation; we need God’s forgiveness. Admitting that need means we are not as good as we think we are. We have sinned against a Holy God, and it is only through the grace of His Son, Jesus, born of a virgin, that we can find peace through his sacrifice.
Christmas is many things. Ultimately it is a reminder of the power of the Incarnation. It is a reminder that God, because of his immense love, took on flesh to dwell among us and save us.
The warm Christmas plays and children’s toys are always a good thing. But the real power comes in the reality of God breaking into humanity to save me and all who would come to Him.
That is Christmas, and that is the most excellent news of all.
I’m not a huge baseball fan and was never very good at the sport when I was a kid. But when your home team is in the playoffs and World Series, you’ve got to root for them. So, yes, I was pleased with the Astros’ win over Philadelphia last night. A vital component of the contest was, mostly unheard of, Cristian Javier, from the Dominican Republic, who threw a perfect no-hitter game.
Even while watching the game, I could see how calm and collected Javier was. I also noted that there seemed to be some element of genuine faith in God in his life.
In addition to calmness under fire, much of the commentary about Javier has been about his parents. Apparently, on Tuesday, his mother told Javier that he would throw a no-hitter in the game last night, which is what happened. So the media has picked up on his family commitment. But what was even more impressive, which the media is a bit slow to address, is his devotion to God in his actions and words.
In response to his parent’s proclamation, Javier noted, “I kept my faith in God, and obviously, I knew I had a big commitment today being down 2-1 in the series. And obviously, with my parents being here, I just tried to give my best. Give my family the best that I could.” He also admitted, “It’s funny, my parents told me I was going to throw a no-hitter . . . and, thanks to God, I was able to accomplish that.”
His faith seems to be more than a publicity stunt in the World Series, but something that permeates his whole life. Over a year ago, he was sent back to a practice site, away from the significant action, and instead of complaining, he trusted God. He stated then, “In reality, I didn’t expect it. But I felt everything was normal. I put everything in God my Father’s hands.”
What do I find in the scriptures? That it is God who gives us our ability, whether people admit that or not. For Javier, this is central to who he is, and I hope we can learn something from that young man from the D.R.
Note the number of times Javier references his praise to God.
As I stink at football, I don’t have many temptations to be an armchair quarterback. But sometimes, with self-assurance, I read the Bible and say, “I’d never do that.” When you think about it, the scriptures are full of examples of people doing dumb things and making horrible choices. Sometimes it’s a lack of knowledge or simple rebellion. Others stumble because of weak faith in the face of tremendous pressure to reject God’s plan.
The other day I was thinking about Jeroboam, the first king of divided Israel after God split it away from Judah, which Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, ruled. The inner cause of the kingdom’s breakup was the sin of Solomon in his later days of rule. So as God elevated Jeroboam to lead the northern kingdom of Israel, He made it clear that He would build an enduring dynasty for Jeroboam if he trusted and followed God.
Sounds excellent and straightforward. The problem arose when the king feared potential political ruin and attempted to fix things with his fleshly wisdom and strategy instead of trusting God.
The chronicler tells us that Jeroboam thought to himself, “The kingdom will now likely revert to the house of David. If these people go up to offer sacrifices at the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem, they will again give their allegiance to their lord, Rehoboam, king of Judah. They will kill me and return to King Rehoboam.” After seeking advice, the king made two golden calves. He said to the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” (1 Kings 12:26-28). Rehoboam knew the promise of God, but when the pressure was on, he thought he could do a better job.
I want to think I would have acted differently than Jeroboam, that I would have trusted God and remained faithful. But I’m not so sure. The truth is that while I am often clear on God’s promises and the reality of His kingdom and will, my flesh sometimes panics under worldly pressure. Therefore, I must remind myself and listen to the reminding of others of what is true about God and his promises. If Jesus is preeminent above everything and his eternal kingdom, though not completely fulfilled yet, is expanding today, then I ought to be able to trust him and live differently than the world around me.
Instead of “thinking to myself” about ways to control and fix life, I will live in hopeful trust and obedience. Trust and faith affect how I deal with money, work, and relationships. Faith and trust will govern my emotions when doubt closes in on my soul like a San Francisco fog. By conviction and obedience, I will stand steadfast with hope, knowing that God is in control even if I can’t see it.
We can learn from Jeroboam, and I hope we will. We can encourage each other in our walk. We must encourage each other in the fight. We can get back up, repent, press into His grace, and then go forward when we doubt and fall.
Yes, if Jesus is preeminent and his promises are true, if this is so, then we can, and we must live differently. We must live as though this is all so. Though this may force us to make decisions that seem odd to the world around us, the life of trust will pay off, and God always keeps his word, even if not on our timetable.
So be encouraged, my friend; God is trustworthy. It is so!
Honestly, his casual comment annoyed me. I’d expect that sort of quip from an angry atheist or, at best, an honest skeptic who was open to investigation. As we talked about God, the Christian life, and the Church, the man who had just come into my office for some advice blurted out, “The Bible has been translated so many times that you can’t know what God said.” This man is highly educated and trained as an engineer who understands the principle of research before drawing conclusions. But this man is not an atheist. He is a proclaimed Christian, and thus something was off here.
I started to engage him about his statement but quickly assessed that his mind was made up and was not open to other options than the one where he had comfortably arrived. So, I just left him in his quiet rant, knowing I could do no more. But if we’re intellectually honest, we must offer the same rigorous study of Biblical evidence as we do for every other area of exploration. The claims are either true or not. We cannot simply chuck them away with flippancy and still call ourselves serious thinkers.
But the issue is more than the integrity of the Bible; it is also the purpose of the Bible. The eternal transformation, wisdom, and life application for today are in the Bible. For years I have taught about the integrity of the Bible and how it applies to life. But yet, many Christians who intellectually would say they trust the Bible do not read it, or at least with any regularity. In thus neglecting the Bible, they miss out on God’s wisdom. I’ve observed that many questions that people often bring to me are ones they could have answered themselves if they had just systematically read their Bibles. Instead, their Bible sits quitely until it’s needed to prove or disprove a point they’ve already arrived at. In living this way, they miss out.
But the Bible is trustworthy and is practical for today and eternity. Therefore we should be in a regular rhythm of reading and meditating on the Bible. Greater still, we must read it. While there are more, here are six quick reasons why.
Textual Integrity. As I have taught numerous times and written about in the blog, there are solid, scholarly reasons to trust the Bible. In fact, there is more evidence for the veracity of the Bible than any other ancient literature. So we can know that it is reliable. One such post is here.
Availability of the Bible. In short, we CAN read it. I still remember the morning James walked into my dorm room years ago and yelled at me because I had laid my Bible on the floor next to my bed when I went to sleep the previous night. It’s no big deal, I thought. But then it was clear. James came from Southeast Asia, where finding a Bible is rare. Think of all the places on the globe today, like China, Saudi Arabia, or Cuba, where it is almost impossible to find a Bible. You will be imprisoned in some of these places if found with one. So I wonder if we take our Bibles for granted.
Obligation to the Past. We owe it to those who gave all that we might have the text in our native tongue. The New Testament was written in koine Greek, and the Old Testament was primarily written in Hebrew with a few portions in Aramaic. Serious translations are taken from the original languages and not the latest translation. The connection here is that over the ages, many highly intelligent scholars took the time to find the oldest manuscripts possible, do the hard work, and translate the ancient sacred text into the world’s mother tongues. Early translators often did this at their own risk, as the authorities wanted to control who had a Bible. One illustration is William Tyndale, who was burned at the stake for his work in 1536. I wonder if we’ve taken our Bibles for granted in considering the costs others paid that we might have the text in our language.
Answers for the Questions. We will find answers to give to those who ask. I’ve often heard Christians speak of fearing to share their faith because they may be unable to answer the questions. I get that, and quite honestly, we will never have it all figured out. However, the more time we spend in the Bible, the more we will be able to retain the Bible and give its blessings to others with questions.
Divine Connection. We will come to know God more. It’s like any other relationship. The more we spend time with people, the more we know them. The most significant way to spend time with God is to read His Word.
Life Application and Spiritual Formation. Reading the Bible will change us. The author of Hebrews, writing under divine inspiration, noted that “the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
Maybe the last one is why this man chooses not to put much stock in the Bible. Yes, while the Bible will lead us to God, comfort, and guide us, it will also convict us of sin. In those moments when our spirit and conscience are convicted, we have two options or responses. One is to bow under the conviction, acknowledge and repent of our sin, and follow Christ anew. The other option is to try to eradicate the conviction. Thus, if the Bible convicts us, the easiest option is to attack the credibility of the Bible, and then one can continue to live in rebellion, having thought to secure control and lordship of their life.
Maybe that was the issue for the highly educated man who entered my office looking for advice. The problem wasn’t so much his not knowing the credibility of the Bible but rather his unwillingness to humble himself under the Bible. What about you? If you have a Bible, have you examined the evidence for the sacred text, and are you reading it regularly? What have been some transformative times in your life in connection to the Bible?
I’m back. Recently I finished a Summer Social Media Sabbatical and am returning to the blog. So how was the break, Steve? Well, I’m glad you asked. The first few weeks were hard. However, the disconnect soon became a healthy flow of life. Now, as I’m back in the regular rhythms, I’m finding that my distractions, especially seasons of getting hot and bothered by politics, have simmered down quite a bit. It’s freeing. I can focus more easily.
I know some are called to the political arena. In the Bible, we see this of Joseph in Genesis and of Daniel, the prophet. But I don’t believe I’m either equipped or called personally to politics. More importantly, this unplugged season reminded me of what I know internally; the Kingdom of God rules above the realms of humanity, and there will indeed be a day of reckoning.
The Kingdom of God? It’s something quite mysterious and profound. Indeed, it’s more than casual Christianity. Clearly, it is beyond a religion of mere sin management. It is infinitely more. Jesus used this terminology as a central building block in his teaching. Yes, he came deliberately to give his life as a ransom for many. However, his preeminent proclamation is a wholly transformed reality.
In his first public teaching, Jesus declared with authority: “The time has come the kingdom of God is at hand, Repent and Believe the Good News.” (Mark 1:15). The original grammar of that statement is in the perfect tense, implying something that has happened and is continuing to happen. The title, Kingdom of God, is used some 75 times in the New Testament with the highest concentration being in Luke, who wrote to Gentiles. The secondary term, the Kingdom of Heaven, is only used 34 times in the New Testament, with 31 of those occasions being in Matthew, who wrote to Hebrews, showing them that Jesus was the prophesized Messiah.
Is there more than a history lesson here? There is more than you can imagine. Yes, this mysterious Kingdom that Jesus spoke of is a present reality and a future hope. The Kingdom is not one of flesh and blood or the politics of Jerusalem. It is a current reality wherever his children work his will out today. In Luke 17:21, Jesus described it as being within you. There is also the reality of the future, fulfilled Kingdom of his second coming.
Beyond the reality of God’s will being executed by his people in the here and now, the Kingdom also demonstrates the truth that God is still moving in His sovereign providence above the affairs of humanity. Even this morning, in my regular Bible reading, I noted that “the Lord had determined to frustrate the good advice” of the enemies of King David, and thus they failed to overthrow God’s plan. There is a mysterious ebb and flow of our free will and God’s providential path toward the fulfillment of everything. Daniel observes that God “deposes kings and raises up others” while Jesus confronted Pilate, who thought he had charge over him, that he “would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”
There is hope because God is still on the throne today. Yes, on the one hand, I live as a responsible citizen, as Romans 13 teaches me. But, on the other, I know my higher allegiance is above, and it is from there that my ultimate redemption comes. This dual existence calls me to stand for Jesus regardless of what earthly and temporal authorities do. It also comforts me to know God will have the final say when the curtain of eternity falls upon all.
I am not the first in history to wrestle with this reality and often think of the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was hung at Flossenbuerg concentration camp just a month before the conclusion of World War II in Europe. Scripture does teach us that we are to obey the laws of the land unless they specifically contradict God’s will. However, I am rarely forced to disobey God in the West and in America. While governance has and may oppose Christ, I am not prohibited from preaching Christ.
The answer is to remember what I say I believe. The call, above worldly citizenship, is living out the Kingdom of God in the here and now. While it’s easy to type this today, I know there will be occasions when I am tempted to lose focus. I may need the help and prayers of friends. I may need your help. But I know this Kingdom is true. That’s why I named this blog kingdomology back in 2009, and I hope this will be a challenge and encouragement to you as well.
That’s right! I’m heading into an extended summer media fast and thus will be taking a break from the blog. This time of stepping away is not a retreat in the woods, which would be nice, but rather one of setting aside and not engaging in the constant media drama of our day to let my head and heart rest. In addition, I plan to temporarily delete my Facebook app from my cell phone to eliminate any temptation to “check in on things.”
Throughout scripture, we see God’s people deliberately engaging in purposeful sabbath and rest, and Jesus commanded his disciples to cross to the other side of the lake for rest.
While I see social media as a fantastic tool for good, and I try to use it that way, it is clear that far too many of us pick up more stress than needed by worrying about the tensions of humanity rather than resting on the promises of God.
So, I plan to take this time away and use that time for more direct prayer and planning for the fall.
What about you? Where is your heart and head in the mix of our constant 24/7 media craze of the day? How will you respond?
Be blessed, everyone, and I hope you enjoy the rest of this hot summer.
I was just under four years old in 1973 when the US Supreme Court ruled on Roe v Wade mandating the legality of abortion in all 50 states. Since that landmark decision, the American landscape and culture have witnessed over 63 million reported abortion cases. Yet, during that same time, countless followers of Christ have been praying and working to help women with unplanned pregnancies find a better option than the termination of their child. They have worked for hope.
Today the High Court has reversed this ruling. Since a politically motivated leak of the initial decision last month, we have experienced a tsunami of media outpouring and emotion. I, too, have had to sit with my thoughts and feelings and the surrounding ramifications. Yes, the emotions are high right now. But what are the simple facts when we take a deep breath and calm down to think through the issues rationally? One thing is clear; the ultimate answer is much deeper than the legal opinion of nine human judges. So while I could write a tome on today’s announcement, here are six quick truths below the media hype.
1. The Legal Truth.
Despite the avalanche of liberal media, the overturning of Roe v Wade will not outlaw abortion in the land but instead send the issue back to the states. I won’t get bogged down in legal discussion here as others who are more versed in this area have already done so, and those looking for honest research can find them.
2. The Scientific Truth.
The crux of the matter is defining the object of abortion. While many proponents of abortion will refer to the baby as a mere fetus, the basic science dictates that this is a human being. Several years ago, I came across the work of Dr. Jerome Lejeune of France, an expert in genetics. In 1959 he discovered the genetic cause of Downs Syndrome and was hailed for his work early on. However, once Dr. Legeune furthered the conclusions of his findings, that the logical progression is that life begins at conception, he began to experience a cold shoulder from his colleagues because of the implications of what abortion truly is. The simple reality is that the object of abortion is not the mere excising of tissue but the termination of a living human being. With advances in ultrasound technology and other science, the evidence is clear. This is life.
3. The Moral Truth.
If the science is evident in the data that this is life, we are forced to move into the moral category. What we know of God is that we are created in His image. David affirms that it was God that “formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:13-14 ESV) Without trying to be harsh purposefully, the reality is that abortion is the taking of innocent life. The Biblical and legal term for this act is murder. I will unpack this a bit more in point 6 below. But part of the issue here is how our present culture looks at children and humanity in general. We no longer see people as being created in the image of God but rather as property to be arranged for convenience.
4. The Grace Truth.
Grace is something that I sorely need in my life and continue, and will always, praise God for his grace on me. Jesus died on the cross for my sin and rose again. I need HIS grace. We need to know that this same grace is available to women who have had abortions and to men who have been involved in decisions for abortion. David repented of his murder of Uriah to cover up the affair with Bathsheba and received grace and restoration. Paul repented of his murder of Stephen for preaching the gospel and not only received grace and restoration but a new call on his life.
5. The Hope Truth.
HOPE is the operative word here. One reason women go into an abortion clinic is that they feel cornered and without hope. But there is hope. There is hope for the baby and hope for the mother. Care-Net is one such ministry of hope that Debi and I, along with our local church, support regularly. It is one thing to speak against abortion. It is another to get involved in loving these women and their babies and helping them find hope and purpose at this unexpected fork in the road. This message of hope is not something new but found back in the early church and seen in the times of the Roman Empire when followers of Christ would rescue unwanted babies who were left in trash heaps.
6. The Heart Truth.
The mere changing of legal structures will not alter a nation’s makeup in the immediacy any more than Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, or the conclusion of the Civil War changed the hearts of racists in 1865. In short, slavery was abolished, but some white people still cursed black people and hated those who supported the freedom of blacks. In our present debate, the struggle is spiritual, as it was then and always will be at the root. It is a spiritual wrestling match to see that every human has value. But this reality is not easily seen by those with an atheistic and humanistic worldview who do not believe that these unborn children are human. The core cause for this blindness is a hard heart. Thus the real issue is one of a heart awakening and revival.
We need more than righteous laws of the land; we need the mending of broken hearts that can only come through Jesus Christ. In describing this eternal struggle, Jesus stated that: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
Jesus has healed, changed, and continues to change my heart. That is the answer that I continue to pray toward. Yes, I believe that this is a good day in the ongoing history of the United States. However, I firmly believe that we must do more; we must acknowledge our sin and repent, walk in His grace, and love and pray for those who continue to see no evil in abortion. The answer is in Real Revival, which first begins in me and then spreads to the hearts of those around me.
What is it about Psalm 23? The emotion of the ancient text is somewhat like the old hymn, Amazing Grace, written by a former slave trader, John Newton, in 1772. Amazing Grace, or at least the last the first stanza, tends to show up in movies and television programs during a funeral scene even when there is absolutely no other overt Christian theme at all in the storyline. The old hymn conveys hope in death and dire situations. So, what is it about Psalm 23? It conveys hope in dire and hopeless situations.
Few can quote the entire psalm. Yet many have heard how the prayer opens with the emotional outpouring, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want.” Then, near the psalm’s conclusion, we are taken through the painful feelings of “walking through the shadow of death.” But yet, we begin to rise a bit with confidence, declaring that we will “fear no evil.” Finally, with a crescendo of hope, the psalm concludes with our eyes turned heavenward in the affirmation that “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Psalm 23 is a prayer song of King David from some very dark days where he owned his ragged emotions, yet he was able to find Hope in God and then press forward.
Recently I officiated a funeral service in which Amazing Grace was sung and I, at the request of a family member, centered on Psalm 23 in my sermon. After addressing some of the ever-present soul questions that quietly rise to the surface of people’s minds at a funeral, I was able to point to the work of Christ on the Cross and his resurrection, which gives assurance of where we will be on the other side of eternity.
Then I was able to share this ancient prayer of hope for those left behind until they, too, step into eternity.
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. 3 He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 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.”
Notice the offer of rest from a chaotic world and media that never shuts off. See the hope of renewal for the depleted soul. Feel the relief offered to those oppressed and told that there would be a day of judgment when all things would be made right. Hear the offer of reliance from a God who comes through in a world where trust is in short order. Yes, Psalm 23 conveys the truth of a God that can be trusted even when we feel like all of creation has fallen apart – that somehow, God is faithful at the end of the day.
Though this is all encouraging, which it should be, the greatest fulfillment of Psalm 23 is found in Jesus Christ, who in John 10 noted that “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Jesus accomplished the greatest hope of all. He died for my sin and rose again, defeating the greatest enemy of all, the grave. Sin and death destroy, but for those who know Jesus, the most excellent shepherd, there is hope.
John Newton found hope and grace in Jesus despite his former sinful life as a slave trader. David sought and found hope and recorded his prayer journey in Psalm 23. Yes, even today, this hope can be realized for you. The author of Hebrews declares to all creation that the ultimate shepherd, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Are you looking around at our present world and wondering if there is hope? Yes, there is hope, and this is the greatest message from Psalm 23. Today, this is the psalm and song of hope we need.
Evangelical, Evangelist, and Evangelism. They are words with mixed emotions today, yet they may be precisely what the world needs at their root meaning. In its worst usage, the term evangelical is often hurled by the political left to depict a category of white males with a Christian background who voted for President Trump. Of interest, though, one Gallup study found that 61% of Non-Hispanic Blacks identified as Evangelical compared to only 38% of Non-Hispanic Whites. So an honest consideration of these terms must press further down than surface political rhetoric.
But even within professed general Christian subgroups, there appears to be debate over the help or hindrance of evangelicals. In one recent high profile podcast, the host rightly pointed out the problems with some specific individuals wearing the name evangelical. However, he was slow, even avoidant at times, to shine the light on the glory of these ancient terms. It seemed that he was not only cautious toward the title in question but also conveyed the idea that those who walked with evangelism as a priority in their lives were somehow less enlightened than more advanced thinking Christians. On a personal note, a few months ago, I was criticized by someone in this progressive camp as being a mere evangelical because I was not cheering for his chosen social issue of the day. Because I refused to jump on his societal bandwagon, I was labeled among the problems of America and the world today. For him, my prioritizing evangelical above social was a profound problem.
But maybe without straying too much, it would seem logical to step back and calmly research academically what these terms mean instead of allowing the latest social talking head to define them. In short and at root, the terms combine two Greek words conveying the idea of good news. Thus, an evangelical believes and stands on this good news. An evangelist is someone who announces this good news, and evangelism is the act of announcing that good news.
Religion brings a burden. Jesus and his work bring hope. This hope is precisely what all these words convey. On a very primordial level, all of our issues are connected to a brokenness in our hearts, our lives. The answer to that is somehow found in God and not us. The answer is found in the good news of what God did for our hearts in Jesus Christ. The hope is found in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which brings forgiveness and healing for our sins. The good news is that we can be healed from the brokenness of sin. Then, the picture gets better. Because I can have peace with God and myself, I can also have peace with the world around me. Is that not what we are looking for?
In one of the earliest occasions of this word, the Apostle Paul noted that he was not “not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” Here, the gospel is simply the English compound of the two Greek words depicting Good News or (Yuanghelidzo) – or Evangelism. The power of that statement is seen in the mysterious reality that somehow, the Jews and Gentiles of the first century were united and found peace with God and among themselves.
Their peace came not from politics, more excellent education, more money, or social enlightenment. Instead, the change in their heart came because of the transformative power of Jesus Christ. That was the good news, the gospel, the evangelism. That is what changed them and can change the human heart today.
So, yes, I am an evangelical and hope you will be one someday yourself.