It was 3 a.m. and I
couldn’t sleep.A lonely darkness was
settling in over my soul as I tossed and turned in the bed.Uneasy feelings and vague fears drifted in
and out of my mind.Finally I got up and
paced the floor, shivering in the cold night air. The worlds’ sufferings, wrongs
and prejudices all seemed to be coming alive and haunting me. And my troubles seemed to be so close I could
feel them in my bones. I went back to bed and tried to sleep. Life’s’ disappointments seem worse in the
middle of the night.
I was tired when I
woke the next morning – Sunday morning - and got ready for church.Still a bit depressed I slowly settled into
the church pew with my husband and we waited for the service to begin.And then it happened!The Scripture reading for the day was Psalm
46 and it seemed that God was speaking directly to me through the words of this
Psalm.Speaking to my disappointments
and my disillusionments. Taking away my fears and my loneliness.Pouring living water out into my parched
soul.Let’s look at Psalm 46.
1) God is our refuge
A very present help in trouble.
2) Therefore we will
not fear, even though the earth be removed.
And though the mountains be carried into the
midst of the sea:
3) Though its waters
roar and be troubled.
Though the mountains shake with its
4) There is a river
whose streams shall make glad the city of God.
The holy place of the tabernacle of the
5) God is in the midst
of her, she shall not be moved:
God shall help her, just at the break of
6) The nations raged,
the kingdoms were moved:
He uttered His voice, the earth melted.
7) The Lord of hosts
is with us:
The God of Jacob is our fortress.
8) Come; behold the
works of the Lord,
Who has made desolations in the earth.
9) He makes wars
cease to the end of the earth:
He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in
He burns the chariot in the fire.
10) Be still and know
that I am God.
will be exalted among the nations.
I will be exalted in the earth:
11) The Lord of hosts
is with us.
The God of Jacob is our fortress.
In the dead of night
my problems seemed so big. But God is
bigger than all my problems and yours too. The God we worship has been a reliable
stronghold in the past. He has got us
covered in the present.God is present
no matter what the outward circumstances look like. Even if the earth is removed
and the mountains are carried into the middle of the sea –even if creation
itself seems to become uncreated –ruined –undone-God can put it back together. (Psalm
Even though I can’t
figure out how to untangle the wrongs in my world, I have a God who can do it.We will be victorious in the end. “Though the
waters roar and are troubled and though the mountains shake there is a river
whose streams shall make glad the city of God.”(Verse 4)In contrast to the raging environment that threatens death, there is a
peaceful river of supply from God that produces life.
“God is present and we
shall not be moved.”(Verse 5) (from our limited perspective we may feel like
we have been moved -or lost out – but from the perspective of eternity, God says
that we will not be moved) “God will help us just at the break of dawn.” (Verse
5)His help brings on the dawn of
deliverance, dispelling the night of danger.
“The nations raged, the kingdoms were
moved:He uttered His voice, the earth
melted.”(Verse 6)I interpret this verse to say that truth and
goodness will win out.The Psalm says:
“The kingdoms will be moved” – so human pride and greed and deception and
hatred will not stand.Evil will be
overcome with good.God will judge the
peoples of the world and all that is false and wrong will “melt” away – or be
destroyed.We can only have spiritual
health and life when the cancer and disease of evil is gone.“He uttered His voice, the earth
melted.”God will judge the earth and
evil will be removed or will “melt” away.
“The Lord of hosts is
with us: the God of Jacob is our fortress.”(Verse 7)We are reminded that
the God who blessed and protected Jacob so long ago is with us today.He was a fortress of protection for Jacob and
He will be a fortress of protection for us too.
“Come behold the
works of the Lord, Who has made desolations in the earth.He makes wars cease to the end of the
earth:He breaks the bow and cuts the
spear in two:He burns the chariot in
the fire.”(Verses 8-9) I believe these
verses speak of the day when God will restore universal peace.God will stop all wars – all misunderstandings
– hatreds- backbiting.No more isolation
or alienation.No more gossiping or
bullying or put downs.Everyone will
love each other. What a day!
Our next verse reads:
“Be still and know that I am God:I will
be exalted among the nations.I will be
exalted in the earth.”(Verse 10)In our prayers we talk to God.But we are encouraged here to wait quietly
(be still) and listen for God.All the
nations will recognize God’s mighty acts.God’s saving act for us in the birth, life, death and resurrection of
Christ will be brought to completion at His return.
And our Psalm closes
reminding us again that God is with us.“The Lord Almighty is with us: the God of Jacob is our fortress.”Martin Luther wrote his famous hymn, “A
Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” after reading this little psalm.
A fortress is a
walled barrier or building with armament – a bulwark to protect soldiers from
hostile enemies.And in this world we
have many hostile enemies that would threaten to undo us.So be on guard! And next time fears and doubts play with your
mind and depression is stealing your joy: and when your dreams have been
shattered and you don’t know where to go; then turn to God, your Father -your Protector-
your Savior – your mighty Fortress. “The
Lord of hosts is with us: the God of Jacob is our fortress.” (Psalm 46:11)
Lately, there has been a lot of talk about “Christian” values.Most of this translates into” believers” not
doing – or not allowing others to do things - that are thought to be abhorrent
to God.Somehow this translates into
being “christian.”This definition of
Christianity turns our faith into a system of belief based upon rules that have
to do with proscribed behavior.Believing in such a system can give one a sense of holiness, but is this
really what God wants of us?
Assuredly, God tells us “be Holy, because I am holy” I Peter 1:16 (see
also Leviticus 19:2), but what does this mean?The Christian pollster George Barna has indicated that the general
public, and most Christians, are very confused as to what it means to be holy
(Barna Group, 2006). About 25% of people in the U.S. think that they are
holy.To be holy, means to be set apart
for God’s purpose.For a follower of
Christ, it means allowing God’s Spirit to guide us and to convict us of our
The problem for “religiously oriented” people, including many
"christians," is that the pursuit of holiness can become an end in
itself. There is always a strong temptation to ignore grace and earn our
salvation by works righteousness.In
fact, this becomes a central issue in the dealing that Jesus’ had with the
pharisaical Jews.Consider His parable
of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).This parable illustrates what can go wrong when religious people make
holiness the primary goal of their faith.Many of us are familiar with this passage. “An expert in the law” (i.e.,
a “scribe”), attempting to test Jesus, asks what he has to do to obtain eternal
life. Note that he assumes that he has to do something.
Being a Jewish religious leader, he was involved in a system of works
that – he thought – made him holy and righteous, if he could but obey all the
sundry laws.Jesus turns his question
around and gets the scribe to quote the Hebrew scripture that is applicable.
The scribe correctly observers that we are to love God with our whole heart and
soul and to love our neighbor as we would love our self.Jesus then says, “You have answered correctly,
do this and you will live.
Rather than letting it go at that, the scribe tests The Lord further,
by asking “who is my neighbor?” To a Hebrew of that time, neighbor meant
‘someone you have an association with.” Jesus responds with the parable. A man
(we don’t know who he is) travels from Jerusalem to Jericho.This was on a sixteen mile, winding, road
that dropped three thousand feet to Jericho.It was also known to be infested by robbers. Sure enough, the traveler is
accosted by robbers who stole his clothes and belongings and severely beat him,
leaving him for dead by the side of the road.As he lies there naked and in a semi-comatose state, three other
travelers separately come by.Upon
seeing the victim, these travelers must have been very nervous, since they
realized the men who committed this crime might well be lurking nearby.
The first to encounter the victim are two religious folks, a priest and
a Levite.Upon seeing the victim the
priest warily walks past him on the other side of the road.The Levite goes by and does the same thing.
Jesus does not tell us why they did this. However, by the nature of their
status, we know that these two men were involved in temple worship activities.
If they were to touch a dead body, or to come in contact with blood, they would
immediately become ritually unclean.This would force them to suspend their religious duties and undergo a
prolonged period of purification.In
other words, it would temporarily take away their holiness. In the Jewish
religious system, this was no small matter. Given the hassle involved, it is
not surprising that they ignored the potential problem.
The next fellow to appear in this first century version of “caught on
camera,” is a Samaritan. The Samaritans were half-breed Jews (they had
intermarried with non-Jews during the Babylonian captivity), who did not
worship the Yahweh of the Hebrews.They
were despised by the Jews: the feeling was mutual. Jesus then tells us that the
Samaritan has compassion on the victim, binds up the victim’s wounds, clothes
him and sets him upon his donkey.He
then takes him to an inn keeper, pays for his expense and promises to pay any
additional charges upon his return.Certainly, the despised Samaritan has gone the extra mile. This must
have astounded Jesus’s audience. He turned a hated person into a hero and
radically expanded the notion of who our neighbor is.
Jesus then asks the scribe who started this magnificent teaching
incident, “which of the three was a neighbor to the victim?”He replied “the one who had mercy on
him.”Notice that this guy can’t even
bring himself to say “the Samaritan,” because his dislike is still so
intense.Jesus then told him – and is
telling us –“go and do likewise.”
This is one of those episodes that allows one to differentiate between
who is a “christian,” and who is a Follower of Jesus.The Lord wants us to turn from being a
“religious” believer to a compassionate follower of His. He wants us to put the
rules into perspective; If we fall back to rules alone, we will lose compassion
– we will lose our sense of agape love.We are to keep God’s commandments because we love Him, not because we
are trying to work our way to salvation by being holy. Remember that Jesus
says, “If you love Me you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).Coupled to our loving obedience to God, we
also extend compassion to those we come into contact with.May we all go and do so.
Scripture says that we are in a battle – a spiritual
battle.Even though we know that we live
in a very troubled world, we still don’t like to believe that there are evil
powers lurking around every corner.And
we wonder if it isn’t a bit paranoid to
worry about such things!
Our ancestors didn’t
worry about such things as germs!Just a
couple hundred years ago people saw no need to wash their hands or cover their
sneezes or sterilize anything.But then Louis
Pasteur looked through his microscope and saw a whole world that nobody had
ever seen before. A world of germs moving around under his microscope, so tiny
that no one could see them with the naked eye!Pasteur was shocked and startled! When the news got out that he had discovered
a world of microscopic germs that could cause sickness, and that they were
everywhere, folks didn’t want to believe it.
But this discovery
eventually led the medical profession to announce that germs are very real and they
are indeed all around us!And germs can
bring disease and even kill us!And of
course that changed everything. In the
hospitals doctors began washing their dirty bloody gowns between operations and
sterilizing their surgical instruments.And the population was encouraged to wash their hands with soap and
water. And the death rate from infectious diseases began dropping so much that
people began to actually believe that germs were real. And this knowledge changed their behavior.
Perhaps it’s the same
in the spiritual realm.Even though we
can’t see “evil powers” as we go through our daily life, the Bible tells us
that evil powers are very real. And our protection and our victory over evil is
our position in Christ because He has us covered. But we also have a part. The
Bible says our job is to believe the truth and try to live a good life.– try to obey God’s commands.
You may ask, “If my protection is found in Christ, then why
do I have to get involved?”Scripture
tells us that we are in a spiritual battle and that God has provided everything
we need to be victorious over the evil forces, but we have to believe what He
has said and use what He has given us.Each Christian has been given a set of armor and a sword but we need to
put the armor on and use the sword.Let’s
read about what we have been given - our armor.
“Stand firm, having put on the belt of truth, and having put
on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the
preparation of the gospel of peace: in addition to all, taking up the shield of
faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming missiles of the
evil one.And take the helmet of
salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.(Ephesians 6:14-17)
First of all we are to put on and wear the belt of “truth”.Jesus said, “I am…the truth” (John 14:6) And
because Christ is in you, the truth is in you. The belt of truth is our first
line of defense against Satan’s main weapon- that of deceiving and lying.Jesus prayed this prayer for us:“Sanctify them in the truth: Thy Word is
truth.”(John 17:17)The Word of God (the Bible) is truth and we
should not wander away from it or open ourselves up in any way to false
doctrines. Also we should always speak the truth.Lying even when we think it is for a good
cause is wrong.
The second piece of armor we need to fight the battles in
life is the “breastplate of righteousness.”This righteousness isn’t your righteousness or mine otherwise we would
all be in trouble!The righteousness is
Corinthians1:30; Philippians 3:8-9)When
we believe in Jesus as Savior we put on Christ’s righteousness. And since we
are covered by Christ’s righteousness, we are justified before God.(Romans 5:1)So when we worry that we aren’t good enough to go to heaven we need to
remember that it isn’t our goodness that saved us but Christ’s.“Who will bring a charge against God’s
elect?God is the one who justifies.”(Romans 8:33) And even though we stand on our
righteous position in Jesus, we need to try to obey His commandments.
And then we are to put on the “shoes of peace”.Scripture says: “Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called sons of God.”(Matthew 5:9)Jesus prayed that
believers might be united and He calls us to forgive those we don’t agree with
or those who have harmed us. Christians are called to be ministers of
reconciliation.We are to bring people
together and encourage fellowship.A
joyful but often difficult ministry!
The “Shield of faith” is the forth piece of armor that we
have been given.The object of our faith
is God and His Word.Scripture says that
God gives each of us a measure of faith. But we can build up the faith we have
by worshiping God and reading the Word. “For then faith comes by hearing, and
hearing by the Word of God.”(Romans
Scripture says: “take up the shield of faith with which you
will be able to extinguish all the flaming missiles from the evil one.” (Ephesians
6:16)These “flaming missiles from the
evil one” are nothing more than lies or temptations or fears that bombard our
When Jesus was
tempted by the devil He answered the temptations by quoting Scripture (the Word
of God).And we can do the same.If we are attacked by fear we can meet the
fear with God’s Word.“Fear thou not for
I am with you, be not dismayed for I am thy God, I will strengthen you yes I
will help you, I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness.”(Isaiah 42:10) And if we are attacked with the temptation to
lie (bear false witness) we can pray and ask for God’s help and again counter
with Scripture.“Thou shall not bear
false witness” (Exodus 20:16) God also includes our prayers as part of His
strategy to help us win the spiritual battle.
The fifth piece of armor is the “helmet of salvation.”Sometimes we may be tempted to doubt our
salvation. We may think that we have to do a lot of “things” to receive
salvation. But Scripture says that all we need to do is believe that Jesus is
our Savior and try to follow Him. Jesus
has won our victory and we are to stand firm in Him.God has “delivered us from the domain of
darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.”(Col.1:13)
And the last piece of armor is the “sword of the
Spirit.”The Bible says that the sword
of the Spirit is the Word of God.It is
the only weapon we are given to actively fight with.The other pieces of armor are for our
spiritual protection.Scripture says:
“The Word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword,
piercing even to the division of soul and spirit …” (Hebrews 4:12) We can use
the sword of the Spirit (the Bible) along with the shield of faith to fight
this spiritual battle that we find ourselves in.
We each have a purpose and a mission to accomplish here on
earth.But if we love God, Satan, the
enemy of our soul, is there to oppose us – to undermine all our hopes and
dreams and to tear apart all of the good that we would do. We are in a battle
–the battle between good and evil – between the kingdom of God
and the kingdom of this world! But God promises to be with us and He has given
us everything we need for the fight. We
have already been promised the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord. So let’s
put on the armor and dress for battle. Stand
firm and fight the good fight.
Some ideas have been taken from Neil T. Anderson’s book “The
Bondage Breaker” pages 95-102
It’s a short little
Bible story, but one that we may have overlooked.An Old Testament story (1 Samuel 7) about one
of the many battles fought so long ago between the Israelites and the Philistines.
And a strange story because when the battle
ends, Samuel sets up a stone and names the stone “Ebenezer.”Could this story from antiquity have anything
to say to us today?
The date was around
1,000 B.C. and the nation of Israel
had no king and no human ruler.Every other
nation in the area had a king to rule and lead them.And every other nation back then worshipped idols.It was the thing to do!All of Israel’s neighbors sacrificed
animals and sometimes humans to their gods. And carving idols (gods) out of stone and
building elaborate temples and altars to the idols was a money making business
in the ancient world.
But the nation of Israel was different.Different from every other nation in the
world! God was the ruler of Israel and He
ruled the Jewish people by speaking to them and leading them through their
prophets and judges. Through visions or
dreams God would raise up a prophet or judge to give His message to Israel.
The Spirit of God would come onto this willing person and he (or she) would
speak God’s words to the people of Israel. The Jews were used to receiving Gods’ guidance
through their prophets and judges.
Moses was one of the prophets that God used to
lead the Jewish people. God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses to give to the
nation of Israel.The first commandment of the Ten Commandments
(and us) to worship God only.(Exodus
20:3)And the lucrative business of
carving idols and worshiping other gods was strictly forbidden by God in the
Second Commandment.A Jewish person was commanded
never to bow before an idol.(Exodus
20:4-6) God promised the Jewish people
that He would protect them from their enemies and heal their diseases if they
would worship and obey Him. And Him
Earlier God had
instructed the Jewish people to build the Ark of the Covenant and He told them
just how to build it.After the Ark of
the Covenant was built, Gods’ holy presence came and rested over the Mercy Seat
on the Ark.And the Jewish priests could only come into
the presence of God when they brought a sacrifice for the people’s sins.The sacrifice was a perfect lamb without any
blemishes or diseases.If a priest would
come before the Ark of the Covenant (where God’s presence was) without the blood
of the lamb he would die. The Jewish nation learned that their God was holy and
they couldn’t enter His presence on their own.
None of Israel’s
neighbors worshipped like they did – the Jews worshipped an invisible God who
spoke to them through a prophet.The
Jews followed their God by faith. Their neighbor’s gods were often gigantic
stone idols covered in gold or silver and placed in a grotto or an impressive
temple up on a hill.And some of their
idols were small so they could keep them at home. Exciting ceremonies and
sacrifices took place in front of their idol gods. Weren’t the Jewish people missing out on all
the fan fare?Why did they have to be so
different from all of their neighbors? Why couldn’t they see their God and even carry
him around like their neighbors did their gods? Since they had been forbidden
to worship idols, would you like to guess what so many of the Jewish people
wanted to do?
You guessed it.In 1,000 B.C. many of the Jewish people worshipped
idols along with worshipping their God. Just worshipping one invisible God was too
simple!Couldn’t they add some extra
work of their own? Follow the
crowd?Two of the popular Canaanite gods
were Baal and Ashtoreth.These were attractive
nature gods; Baal being a fertility god, and Ashtoreth being the goddess of
love and war.Such pressure to join the
crowd and purchase small replicas of these cool gods that one could carry
around! So many Israelites were rushing
in to buy these small statues of Baal and Ashtoreth for themselves.How could they go wrong?
We read in 1 Samuel
that around the year 1,000 B.C. Samuel,
a Godly man, had become God’s judge to the nation of Israel and he traveled from town to
town judging the people and giving them God’s message. And Scripture says that at
this same time the priest’s sons were corrupt and were making a nice profit off
of the animal sacrifices that the Jewish people were offering to God.
During this time frame
the Jewish people were under constant attack from their neighbors the
Philistines, who were raiding their land and driving them out of their villages.
When the Philistines showed up for yet another
battle someone suggested carrying the Ark of the Covenant out into battle for
protection.No need to follow the
commandments God had given them as to how to handle the Ark of the Covenant. They could do it their own way. Several of their
priests for profit grabbed the Ark of the Covenant and rushed out into the raging
battle with it. (1 Samuel 4:1-9) It was nice to carry God around for an
emergency like this one!
“When the Ark of the
Covenant of the Lord came into the camp, all Israel shouted so loudly that the
earth shook.” (1 Sam.4:5)Even the
Philistine soldiers were worried.But
the battle raged on and thirty thousand Jewish soldiers were killed.The Philistines captured the Ark of the
Covenant and killed the corrupt priests.Things had not gone the way the Israelites had expected!Where was God when they needed Him?
The Philistines were
overjoyed with their victory. They carried the Ark of the Covenant back to
their land and put it in one of their temples next to their god Dagon.But the next day Dagon fell over and broke
into many pieces.And then soon after
that the Philistines began developing tumors all over their bodies with
thousands dying.It seems that keeping the
Ark of the Covenant wasn’t working out so well for the Philistines!
The Philistines sent
the Ark of the Covenant back to Israel
but the Israelites still hadn’t learned their lesson. Thinking of the Ark of
the Covenant as a magic talisman instead of it being a place where God’s
presence was, the Israelites again didn’t follow God’s commands concerning how
the Ark was
to be handled and they played around with the Ark of the Covenant.And again many Jewish people died and again the
sound of wailing and mourning could be heard throughout the land.
Finally Samuel, the
man of God, called the Jewish people together and begged them to remember that
God was holy and put away all of their idols and return to the Lord with all of
their hearts.And this time all of Israel
agreed.Samuel asked them to gather
together at a place called “Mizpah” (which means “watch”).The whole Jewish nation traveled to Mizpah
and cried and fasted together.They all
threw away their idols and they “drew and poured out water before the Lord” –
an ancient sign showing sorrow for their sins.(1Sam.4:6)And Samuel made a
sacrifice and asked God to forgive the Jewish people for worshipping idols
while all of the Israelites cried and fasted.
When the Philistines
heard that all of Israel
was fasting and praying at Mizpah they decided that this would be a good time
for a surprise attack! As all of the Jewish people were praying to God the
Philistines came near.Samuel prayed for
God’s help and this time God came in like a storm. “But the Lord thundered with
a loud thunder upon the Philistines and so confused them that they were
overcome before Israel.”(1 Sam.4:10b) The Jewish soldiers pursued the
Philistines and drove them back beyond their borders.And Scripture says that of the cities the
Philistines had taken from Israel
were all given back that day.There were
no more battles for many decades and Israel finally enjoyed peace.
And Samuel took a
stone and set it up near Mizpah and named the stone “Ebenezer”.The name “Ebenezer” means “God is our help”. The “Ebenezer” stone or memorial would help
the nation of Israel
to remember that God was with them and that God would protect them if they
followed Him, and Him only.
But why hadn’t God
protected the Israelites in their other battles with the Philistines?And why had God allowed the Ark of the Covenant
to be stolen? Could it be because the Israelites did not obey God’s commands
concerning the handling of the Ark.They blasphemed the holiness of God. The
holy presence of God over the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant could not
be approached without the priest reverently bringing a sacrifice as a
covering.(our covering and sacrifice is
Jesus – the perfect Lamb. We can only
come to God through Jesus- the Lamb that was slain for us)
God is not an accessory to our battles and His
presence is not a piece of magic to be carried around and used for good luck!God is holy and we are to come before Him
with reverence. He commands us to love Him with all our hearts, to trust Him
only, and to live by faith.“You shall
have no other gods before Me.” (Exodus 20:3)He wants our whole hearts and He will not put up with our spiritual
unfaithfulness.We are to be led by the
Spirit and trust in our invisible God (like Israel).And we, like Israel, are not to run after the
idols that the world follows.
As long as the Jewish
people were worshipping their idols along with worshipping God, they kept
losing their battles with the Philistines. They kept losing more livestock and losing more
ground.God will not share His glory.He wanted to be first in the lives of the
Jewish people three thousand years ago.And He wants to be first in our lives today. It’s that simple.