Daily Blessing (12) Monday 6th April 2020

Blessed are those who fear the LORD, who find great delight in His commands’ (Psalm 112:1)

Fear! The most crippling of human emotions.

Some of us are held in bondage all our lives by irrational fears.  The list of phobias is almost endless (they seem to keep inventing new ones)!

All of which is to say that the human heart is subject to many fears.

Fear can rob us of our hope, it can destroy our confidence and make us slaves.  Our hearts can be bound and restrained by the devil’s lies which seek to undermine and overwhelm us.

Of course some fears may be real and sensible.  Many of us are naturally fearful at the moment, for our own health, and for the lives of our family and friends, not to mention people’s job security at this time.

But if we are Christians, there is only one thing that we really need to fear.  And that not in the sense of dread or trepidation.

When we fear God (in the sense of revering Him with great awe and humility, trusting in Him, putting Him above all other things in our lives, recognising His holiness, and seeking to honour Him in our lives) then we don’t need to be governed by other fears.  Faith drives out fear.  If our confidence is in Christ we will not be dominated by fear.

‘Blessed are those who fear the LORD, who find great delight in His commands’ (Psalm 112:1)

When we fear God in this sense, and humbly reverence Him in our lives, we are blessed indeed.  The Bible tells us several times, ‘The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom’ (Proverbs 1:7; 9:10; Psalm111:10, etc)

This kind of godly fear and wisdom is expressed by delighting in God’s instruction in His word.  So let’s dig deep into His word, and be ready to allow it to transform us.  As one writer says, ‘Reverence for God and joy in Him flows into willing obedience.’[1]

Psalm 112 goes on to describe the character of the godly, reflecting the grace, kindness and generosity of God Himself.  May we endeavour to show God’s love and care to those around us in these trying times.

And verses 6-8 assure us that when we fear God we need fear nothing else:Surely the righteous will never be shaken; they will be remembered forever.  They have no fear of bad news; Their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the LORD.  Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear..’

If we are firmly trusting in Christ we should not be destabilised or terrified by challenging times. The psalmist is not saying that we will never receive bad news, but that our security is found in heartfelt trust.  When we steadfastly trust in the Lord, we will find that our hearts are also supported and established by Him (‘secure’).  He will uphold us in the midst of every trial.

So if we want to overcome our fears, look to God first.  As the writer of one old hymn says, ‘Fear Him you saints, and you will then/ Have nothing else to fear.’[2]

Remember what God says to His people in Isaiah 41:10:

‘So do not fear, for I am with you; Do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.’

May the Lord uphold us all, and make our hearts secure in Him.  Amen.

 

Daily Blessing (11) Saturday 4th April 2020

Blessed are those who act justly, who always do what is right’ (Psalm 106:3)

It’s an old illustration, but a good one.

A traveller is driving through the country lanes, when he spots a large barn with five archery targets painted along its side.  Each one has an arrow in the dead centre of the target.

The driver is so impressed that he stops the car, and seeks out the farmer.  ‘I just want to compliment you on your amazing shooting,’ he enthuses.

But the farmer is not impressed.

‘It’s not my shooting,’ he scowls, ‘it’s the village idiot – He shoots arrows at the barn wall, and then paints the targets around them!’

And we are the same.  We may think we do alright by our own standards (when we paint the targets), but judged by God’s perfect standard we all fall short.

So how is this morning’s blessing any good to us?

‘Blessed are those who act justly, who always do what is right’

Here the psalmist expresses the ideal of covenant faithfulness, which God’s people should live out always.  The only problem is that Israel have failed to live up to it again and again.

Psalm 106 is a catalogue of God’s faithfulness, and His people’s faithlessness.

‘Who can proclaim the mighty acts of the LORD or fully declare His praise?’ (v2) (No-one)!

By contrast the psalmist confesses, ‘We have sinned, even as our ancestors did, we have done wrong and acted wickedly’ (v6)

Over and over again God’s people forget what He has done for them, His mighty acts of salvation (v7,13,21).  Over and over they give way to foolish idolatry (v19,20,28,36,38), to disobedience (v14,16,25,29,33,34,43) and unbelief (v24).

Yet for all their rebellion, when they call out to Him in distress He hears their cry, and remembers His covenant ‘out of His great love’ (v44,45).  The only hope is in God’s amazing grace.

‘Blessed are those… who always do right.’  But the history of Israel shows that fallen humanity are unable to keep the law and God’s perfect standards of righteousness. ‘All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans3:23)

The psalmist looks to God to save His people (v6), but the full deliverance he longs for comes only in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Jesus came to set us free from sin’s power, and enable us to live for God.  He is the only one who could fulfil Psalm 106:3.  And we are saved through faith in Him, and His perfect righteousness.  Although He had no sin, He bore the penalty of our sins on the cross, for all who look to Him (Gal 3:13-14;2 Corinthians 5:21)

And in Jesus, the blessing of Psalm 106:3 is given to His people, as they are justified by faith and transformed by grace to live in ways pleasing to Him.  So let’s abound in good works, in kindness and generosity to those around us, bearing grateful witness to His goodness to us.

For now we still struggle with our old nature, but the day will come when we will act justly and do what is right always and forevermore.  Till then we look to the Spirit’s power to help us live for God in the present, confessing our sins when we fail.

So let’s be thankful as God’s people.  In Jesus we see God’s faithfulness and perfect righteousness supremely demonstrated.  Despite our failures, He has fully delivered us, and by His grace we enter into this blessing.  May we always live to please Him!

‘Praise the LORD.  Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever’ (v1)

‘Let all the people say Amen!  Praise the Lord.’ (v48)

 

 

With grateful thanks to R. P. Belcher who helped me to understand this verse, in his excellent book, ‘The Messiah and the Psalms.’ Also helpful was the puritan commentator John Gill.)

Daily Blessing (10) Friday 3rd April 2020

‘Blessed is the one you discipline, LORD, the one you teach from Your law’ (Psalm 94:12)

You have got to be joking!  How is being disciplined a blessing?

I’m sure we have all known cases where those in authority (parents, teachers, bosses, the law, etc) have gone over the top.  They have not used their authority in love, and the end result has certainly not felt like a blessing.

At other times, we have all suffered where some parents have failed to exercise any discipline with their children.  ‘I’m glad he’s your problem, and not mine,’ said one parent to me about their unruly child in my class.

Yet loving discipline builds good character.  I remember when my father caught me smoking as a teenager.  He made his displeasure very clear.  It was not something I relished at the time.  But I never smoked again, which has to be s good result.

And God’s discipline is perfect.  He never behaves unjustly.  At the same time, He will not just leave those He loves to their own devices.  He cares far too much about us for that.  Those of us who are parents will know that there are times when we have failed to get it right.  But God is the perfect loving Father, and when He disciplines us it is always for our good.

Psalm 94 speaks of God’s judgement on the wicked, those who are arrogant (v4) enough to think that God does not see, or care about their actions (v7). Will these arrogant fools ever learn wisdom? (v8) The LORD sees everything (v11), and ultimately He will repay the actions of the proud (v2) and destroy them in their wickedness v23)

By contrast, those who belong to the LORD recognise the blessing of His instruction.  ‘Blessed is the one You discipline, LORD, the one You teach from Your Law.’ Psalm 94:12

Sometimes Christians believe that God must be punishing them for something that has happened in their past.  But if we are true believers, He will never stop loving us, because we are in Christ.

Psalm 94:14 ‘For the LORD will not reject His people; He will never forsake His inheritance.’

Elsewhere, the book of Hebrews makes it clear that when God disciplines believers, it is always in love, and designed to be fruitful in our lives.  Hebrews 12:6 ‘My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and He chastens everyone He accepts as His son.’

Sometimes God allows times of hardship and trials in our lives to teach us wisdom and dependence on Him.  And of course His word corrects and instructs us in how we should live.  May we never despise His loving and wise instruction in Christ.

‘No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it produces a harvest of rightousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.’ Hebrews 12:11

It is often said that children feel secure where there is firm but fair discipline, because they know where they stand, and where the boundaries are.  In the same way, the LORD’s presence can bring consolation and joy even in the midst of great anxiety (Psalm 94:19).  Those who learn to trust the LORD, and accept His discipline and instruction, know that they are supported by His unfailing love (v18).  They can say with the psalmist,

‘…the LORD has become my fortress, and my God the rock in whom I take refuge.’ (v22)

Daily Blessing (8) Friday 27th March 2020

Blessed are those whose strength is in You, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage’ (Psalm 84:5)

What a blessing it is to be on pilgrimage!

A few weeks ago I stood in Capernaum, where so much of Jesus’ ministry happened, staring out across the sea of Galilee.  For me it was an overwhelming experience.  ‘I can’t believe I am here,’ I kept thinking, here in this place I have read and heard about all my life, here in this place where my Saviour stood.

And that was only the start of our journey.  As the days went on, and we travelled to the old city of Jerusalem, the feeling of blessing grew and grew.

Along the way we passed through some dry and arid places.  At other times we passed through the rugged, barren hills which formed a backdrop to Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan.  You could just imagine bandits lurking in the hills, waiting to prey on vulnerable travellers.

At a place called Wadi Celt we looked down across a desolate landscape and remembered Psalm 23:4 ‘Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and staff they comfort me.’

But our ultimate destiny was never in doubt.  Jerusalem, the Holy City.  King David’s capital, and the place where my Saviour bore the weight of a cross through the narrow streets, on his way to die for all our sins.  The place where a few days later he rose to glorious life and changed the world forever.

There is a wonderful fellowship in pilgrimage.  I wish you could have heard us singing Amazing Grace together in the old crusader church next to the pool of Bethesda.  Our hearts were as one, united together, as our voices soared heavenwards in joyful praise.  Or again, as we sat in the quiet of the Garden Tomb area and shared communion together.  The Lord was blessing my heart and strengthening my faith in a very special way.

‘Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.  As they pass through the valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs…. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion’ (v5-7)

Here the psalmist takes us on a journey with the pilgrims travelling towards Jerusalem.  Along the way they pass through some dry places, (or maybe places of weeping), but their shared faith makes them a place of springs, and the early rains send additional pools of blessing.

Their way would have been hard, (they were not travelling by luxury coach, as we were), but their faith strengthens them as they draw nearer to their heart’s desire.

Of course as Christians we don’t need to go to the Holy land to draw near to God.  But we are all on a pilgrimage through this life, as John Bunyan so brilliantly depicted.

When we pass through difficult patches and times of sorrow, let’s allow our faith to turn them into springs and pools of blessing, as we look to God and recognise that He has His purposes in all that we face.  Let’s support one another in the journey.  And when the road gets tough, let’s draw our strength from Him.  Indeed, as we draw nearer to our destination, let’s renew our faith, and press on, going ‘from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.’

When we see Him face to face, at the end of our journey, that will be our ultimate joy!

Daily Blessing (7) Thursday 26th March 2020

‘Blessed are those who dwell in Your house; they are ever praising You’ (Psalm 84:4)

I have been going to church most of my life.

My mum was a vicar’s daughter, so we had to go.  And in those days it was still fairly respectable.  Later, in the early 70s we would all traipse down to the local Anglican church along with the kids from my father’s children’s home.  I’m afraid to say, when the collection plate was passed round, a lot more money was taken out than was put in!

In my teenage years, my brother and I were choirboys in the village church.  My brother made a seraphic choirboy, I can tell you!  But I became increasingly disillusioned with church at this time.  It seemed as if the minister was just rattling through the liturgy and the Lord’s prayer as fast as He could go, without giving it any real meaning.

When pressure was put on me to be confirmed, I declined.  I didn’t believe in all that stuff.

Not that I had anything against Jesus.  I reckoned he was the wisest, most loving person who had ever lived (true as far as it goes), but nothing more.

It was when I was at university that I met real believers, who invited me along to their church, and eventually I discovered that their God was real.

On my way to a packed student church one evening, I stopped and prayed, ‘God, please show me if you’re real.’

Let me tell you, don’t pray that prayer if you don’t want to meet with the living God!

And you know, the answer to that prayer stopped me in my tracks and turned my whole life around (I’ll tell the full story another day).

From that time on I’ve been a Bible-believing Christian, and I’ve come to see that true faith is nothing to do with ‘churchianity.’  It has nothing to do with tired old rituals and a respectability cult.  It’s all about knowing God through faith in Jesus Christ, who is truly the Saviour of the world.  There is no greater joy than worshipping the living God in the midst of His people.

God is real!  And knowing and loving Him is the greatest thing you will ever experience.  There is nothing greater than the Father’s love, the grace of Christ and the life of the Spirit in our lives as we worship together.

‘Blessed are those who dwell in Your house; they are ever praising You.’

For the psalmist, writing in the Old Testament era, God’s house was the Temple, the place where God was especially present for His people.  And the writer yearns for the presence of the Living God.

‘How lovely is Your dwelling place, LORD Almighty.  My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God’ (v1-2).

Surely this is the longing of every believing heart, to know the radiant blessing of God’s presence, and to bring Him our praise.

Here, the psalmist so longs for His God that he even envies the birds that have found a way into the sanctuary, and made a nest near the altar (v3).  This is the place of sacrifice (in New Testament terms it represents the cross where Jesus Christ died for us).

May we also look to remain near to the cross, and delight in God’s presence in our lives.

‘..a place near your altar, LORD Almighty, my King and God.’ (v3)

But unlike the psalmist we don’t have to go to the Temple to meet with God.  Indeed, we are the Temple, both together and individually (1 Cor 3:16; 2 Cor 6:16,etc).  The living God lives in us by His Spirit, because of what Christ has done for us.  Each one of us can come into His presence freely through prayer (Ephesians 3:12).  So it may be sad that we can’t meet together in the same building at the moment.  But it doesn’t matter.  We can still worship Him together where we are.

For the last 15 years I’ve been serving as a minister in the church. It’s an immense privilege, serving God and His people in this way.  But the real privilege is still the same, knowing God and loving Him as my heavenly Father, through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and the power of His Spirit in my life.  May I always praise Him, ‘my King and my God.’

And all of us who know and love the Lord can do the same.  We are all priests in His house, called to offer ‘spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ’ (1 Peter 2:5).

May we always live to praise Him!