Bible Reading Blog

Bible Reading Blog

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Don't Be Afraid of Bad News

Monday, December 14, 2020

BIBLE READING: Psalm 112

“He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the LORD.” (Psalm 112.7)

I was at my aunt’s funeral when I got news of another friend’s death. We had talked recently about college and his future plans. The future was bright and promising for this young man. But he would not experience any of it. The news of his death was shocking and very close to home.

It seems like that’s been happening a lot this year, at least more noticeably. Freak accidents, pandemic related health issues, unexpected deaths. Things that feel so far removed from us are happening to the people that we know and love. Maybe this is something we all experience and it’s just a time of life that I’m in where I’m realizing it... but the reality is we just don’t know what the future will hold. Time and chance happen to us all (Ecclesiastes 9.11).

There’s no doubt that 2020 will go down as the year of bad news. However, as I read this verse, it teaches me that a righteous person does not need to be afraid to hear bad news. This is not because bad news never comes to believers. On the contrary, Job heard the news that his children had perished (Job 1.13-19), John the Baptist heard the news that he would lose his life (Matthew 14.1-12), and Paul heard the news that he would be sent to jail (Acts 16.19-24). The point of this verse is not that Christians are somehow immune from receiving bad news. The point is that they do not need to fear it when it comes!

There is a randomness we perceive in the events of life, but nothing is random to God. Everything happens on his timeline and under his watch. He knows when the beginning and end of a thing will be (Isaiah 46.10). He knows and sets the limits of suffering and prosperity.

Maybe 2020 has been God’s gracious way of letting us see we don’t have control of the future. Hopefully we’re growing in this understanding by experiencing the brevity of life and the need for hope in something better. It may not feel like it, but it is by God’s grace that we’re allowed moments where we see how little we actually trust him at times.

And so, instead of fearing the unknown, let’s take comfort in who God is every day. God is unmoved and unchanged by circumstances (Malachi 3.6). He is always working according to a timeline where all things will work together for good (Romans 8.28). God is always on time, intentional, and deliberate to give us confidence and hope. So, do not fear the bad news tomorrow might bring. Instead overcome fear by standing on what is true and not simply on what you can see and feel.

“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.” (Psalm 23.4)

Let The Redeemed of the LORD Say So

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

BIBLE READING: Psalm 107

“Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, who he has redeemed from trouble…” (Psalm 107.2)

Historically, redemption was used in reference to the purchase of a slave's freedom. A slave was "redeemed" when the price was paid for his freedom. God spoke of Israel's deliverance from slavery in Egypt in this way: "I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment" (Exodus 6.6). The use of redemption in the New Testament includes this same idea. Every person is a slave to sin; only through the price Jesus paid on the cross is a sinful person redeemed from sin and death.

Psalm 107 paints a clear picture of the redeemed by employing two distinct refrains:

  • “Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble and he delivered them from their distress.” (Psalm 107.6, 13, 19, 28)
  • “Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man!” (Psalm 107.8, 15, 21, 31)

The redeemed of the LORD come from all people and circumstances in life but share this common trait: they have been deeply affected by God’s prerogative and action. The word found in refrain throughout this psalm is praise for God’s chesed (Psalm 107.1. 8, 15, 21, 31, 43). This word is deeply rooted not only in God’s love and goodness, but his covenantal faithfulness to act in the best interest of his people. As shown in this psalm, sometimes that means supplying needs while other times it means allowing difficult circumstances to continue (Psalm 107.33-42). God behaves in a way that brings his people into closer covenantal relationship with him. The redeemed are God’s testimony to the world of his covenant faithfulness. As such, they are moved to praise him for ALL he has done.

We don’t often speak of ourselves as the redeemed but that’s exactly who we are in Christ. Bought at an outrageous price by the blood of Christ (1 Corinthians 6.20; 1 Peter 1.18-19), to become people for God’s own possession (1 Peter 2.9) – by grace we have been saved (Ephesians 2.8)! Consequently, grace (charis) is the new covenant form of chesed, but with greater and more perfect fulfilment through the completed work of Jesus.

Even more so in our day we must see God’s redemption is not bound by culture, space or even circumstances. It is controlled by God’s grace towards all men to bring us to obedience and salvation (Romans 1.5, 16.26). This can include both positive and negative circumstances but is ultimately positioning us for greater trust and thankfulness to God (Romans 8.28; Philippians 4.11-13). And so, in every circumstance, let the redeemed of the LORD say so!

“Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things; let them consider the steadfast love (chesed) of the LORD” (Psalm 107.43)

A People For His Own Possession

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

BIBLE READING: Psalm 105-106

Psalm 105 celebrates God’s faithful dealings with his people, particularly reflecting on episodes in which the people interacted with powerful foreigners who might have harmed them: Abimelech (Genesis 20), Potiphar (Genesis 39–41), and Pharaoh (Exodus 7–14). In every circumstance Israel faced, God proved to be the pivotal factor in their preservation.

The tone of Psalm 105 is one of gratitude (Psalm 105.1-6): each member of the singing congregation should recognize that he is an heir and beneficiary of all these great deeds that God has done, so that each one will embrace his calling to live as a member of God’s holy people (Psalm 105.43–45).

In similar fashion, psalm 106 recites a series of events from Israel’s history to illustrate God’s steadfast love but with one distinct difference: it is set in contrast with Israel’s rebellion and unfaithfulness. The events are selected from Israel’s time following Moses in the wilderness (Exodus and Numbers) and from the time when Israel repeatedly indulged in rebellion against the Lord after the death of Joshua (Judges). All of the episodes are instances of the whole people being unfaithful, and of God’s continuing commitment to maintain this people and to foster among them the conditions in which piety can flourish. The focus is therefore on corporate unfaithfulness and forgiveness.

A prominent theme of these psalms is God’s faithful provisions for his people. Whether they were helpless and hopeless (Psalm 105.12-14), or in direct rebellion to God (Psalm 106.7-8), God’s covenant promises constrain him to faithfulness. He will always make a way for his people to live in fellowship with him, even in the most hopeless circumstances (Ephesians 2.1-10). This sentiment is echoed by Paul in Romans 8.31-39: “I am sure that… nothing in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ…” This serves to demonstrate how seriously God takes his end of the covenant.

Having said that, we must see the effects of unfaithfulness on our part. When Israel forgot God’s faithfulness towards them, God was incited to anger (Psalm 106.40-42). Our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12.29), and we must not take his goodness for granted.

Although his work affects each person, we must see the collective nature of God’s plan. God’s covenant is with his people, not simply individuals. Although some stepped up who pleased God (106.23, 30), they were merely conduits of grace through which God preserved the nation. God’s plan has always been to have a people for his own possession who exist to the praise of his glory (Deuteronomy 7.6; Ephesians 1.3-14; 1 Peter 2.9-10). My personal salvation is not God’s ultimate plan. Instead, God’s wisdom is on display in the church, where the saved work together in love and harmony (Ephesians 4.15-16). May we be people who praise the faithfulness of God by serving our purpose in his body, to the praise of his glory.

“Save us, O LORD our God, and gather us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise.” (Psalm 106.47)

Extravagant and Bizarre

Monday, November 23, 2020

BIBLE READING: Song of Solomon – An Introduction

The Song of Solomon is a somewhat cryptic story of love and romance. Written in poetic form, you might not immediately catch the implications of the compliments as they are extravagant and often bizarre to our Western ears. For example, “Your hair is like a flock of goats leaping down the slopes of Gilead. Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes that have come up from the washing…” (Song of Solomon 4.1-2)

It is helpful to remember that the comparisons are figurative rather than literal, and what the person has in common with what he or she is compared with is a certain quality, usually the quality of excellence, or of being the best of its kind.

Having said that, this song is a vivacious story of human desire, love, marriage, and intimacy. It should be read and interpreted in this context. In many Christian circles, such terminology and themes are avoided altogether and seen as taboo. Yet gender, marriage, and human sexuality are all designed by God. These things should be seen as gifts and it is Godly to desire what God has created. The problem is not sexuality, but human sin and perversion. To properly enjoy what God has given, we must desire these gifts within the boundaries that God has set. The Song of Solomon helps us set the boundaries for these things to properly be enjoyed. Although this song is primarily a love story between a groom and his bride, the gospel will clearly be displayed. Jesus is a better groom, and we are His bride (Ephesians 5:29). All Scripture is ultimately about Jesus and we will see His pursuit of His people through this epic song of love (John 5:39).

There are two important points we can learn from this song of Solomon:

  1. God’s law commands sexual purity. There is a refrain, “I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, . . . that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases” (SOS 2.7; 3.5; 8.4; variation in 5.8), spoken by the shepherdess. This is understood as her urging the other women not to push this love too fast, in order to let it reach its consummation at the right time (the marriage bed, which seems to begin in SOS 8.5). Marriage provides the right framework within which his people may properly enjoy the gift of sexual intimacy (see Genesis 2.23-24). Thus God’s people honor him and commend him to the world when they demonstrate with their lives that obedience in such matters brings genuine delight.
  2. Marriage is a gift of God, and is to be founded on loyalty and commitment (see Genesis 2.24, “hold fast”), which allows delight to flourish. As a testament to the beauty of the marriage relationship in its fullness, Song of Solomon stands out with its uniquely detailed vision of this beautiful reality. As such, it is a fitting image for God’s relationship with his people.

God is Not That Way

Friday, November 13, 2020

BIBLE READING: Psalm 100

A nevous woman was on a long international flight. It was back in the days when meals were served with real silverware, not plastic. As she finished eating, the woman decided to keep the silverware. She wrapped it in a napkin and stuffed it into her purse. Not long afterward, the plane experience intense turbulence, causing the plane to bounce violently in the air. Afraid, the woman reached into her purse, put the silverware on the tray table and remarked, “Now I am right with God.” After a little while, the turbulence ceased, and it was smooth flying once again. At this point the woman quietly put the silverware back into her purse again.

Think of this story as a metaphor of how we sometimes bargain with God. On the one hand, we believe that he is all powerful, that he controls even the elements, that even the winds and the waves obey him. But on the other hand, we believe that we can get away with things and make a bargain with him when it goes wrong.

It would be interesting, to speculate how long the woman with the silverware would have stolen and retracted the silverware if the airplane had continued to pass in and out of storms over the next hour or so. That too could be a metaphor of our life. We promise God certain things, somewhat conditional upon his meeting our requests, then the cycle begins again. We are incredibly fickle sometimes, aren’t we?

But God is not that way. The writer of Psalm 100 tells us that the LORD is “steadfast” and “faithful to all generations” (Psalm 100.5). The nature of God is that He does not behave conditionally. Certainly, the faithful and righteous person can affect God’s attitude (Exodus 32.11-14; James 5.16), but at the end of the day, God is sovereign and good. He will work in a way that will be best for us (Romans 8.28) and will glorify His perfect nature. Regardless of what we think God is or isn’t doing in our lives, we have no place to put conditions on our thanksgiving to God.

Instead we must resolve to praise God for who he is (Psalm 100.3). In some situations, praise may not seem appropriate response, but as Job reminds us, “the Lord gives, and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1.21), and “Should we receive good from God and should we not receive evil?” (Job 2.10)

This resolution is challenging to say the least, but if we believe that the Lord is God; that He exists and He rewards those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11.6), then we must be people who give thanks in every circumstance. Have you given thanks to God today?

“Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” (Psalm 100.4-5).

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