Repost: The Hope That Never Lets Us Down

HopeHave you noticed how often you use the word “hope,” and how wide-ranging hope is?  Examples: for good weather; that your spouse will remember to pick up milk on the way home; that your grades will get you into graduate school; for the healing of a relationship; for a better job, a good report from medical tests, a better yield on your investments.

Hope leans expectantly toward some unfulfilled desire or need, and this emotion/mental activity is unique to humans, since hope projects the mind to the future, and other creatures seem to be aware only of the present.

This human capacity for hope is a marvelous gift. “Hope springs eternal in the human breast,” wrote Alexander Pope. So it does, but hope must be exercised.

Again and again, the Scriptures exhort us to exercise hope to fend off despair. Here’s only one of many examples: “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 42:5).

The New Testament gives sharper focus to the eternal aspect of our hope. Hebrews 6:19 says that we  have hope in Christ for the world to come, and this particular hope serves as an anchor to stabilize our everyday life, to face whatever storms we may encounter (Hebrews 6:19).

And our hope in our eternal lives together with Christ is key. For, as St. Paul says, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men” (1 Corinthians 15:19). The fulness of our hope is in the world to come.

But what about those rugged places in life’s journey? The unanswered prayers? The broken hearts? The frustrated desires? The Apostle Paul writes that we are to learn to rejoice in the sufferings that come to us because these sufferings produce perseverance, character, and hope. He assures us that this hope does not disappoint.

The Apostle Paul, who knew disappointment, physical pain, and adversity to a degree few of us face, offers us a timeless benediction: “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” (Romans 15:13).

And, God’s love in our hearts testifies to those around us to the faith (hope and trust) he has given us (5:5).

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The Power of the Spirit in Our Life

Romans 8 has been called the most beautiful chapter in the New Testament, tremendously rich in spiritual understanding and resources. It explains what Christ has done for us on the cross (justification — see also Romans 5:1-2) and in us by his Spirit (sanctification — see Romans 8).

And there are at least ten references in this chapter to the Holy Spirit and His work in the lives of believers. The Spirit’s transforming work often begins with great rejoicing as He bears witness to forgiveness of sins and new life in Christ.

But, alas, new Christians may soon find impulses or habits they thought they had been delivered from — jealousies, bursts of bad temper, and lusts — roaring back. This can be baffling because the Apostle has told us at the beginning of the chapter that Christ “has set you free from the law of sin and death” (v. 2).

The Apostle explains that mystery as arising from “the flesh.” The primary meaning for this word in Scripture is the human body. The word also has theological meanings. It can describe the frailty or vulnerability of humanity, or false or evil impulses that lodge in us, or evil itself. All may fall under the term — often referred to as our carnal nature.

In the Roman letter the term is used mostly in this last sense. Paul takes note of this fact when he writes: “Therefore, brothers [and sisters], we have an obligation — but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the flesh you will live” (8:12-13).

At this point the Apostle widens his lens to show that the temptations we continue to experience in our new life are shared with all of the world, created by God but fallen and thus impaired. But, says the Apostle, even now the universe itself is groaning to be renewed (v. 22a). Something better is ahead.

In turning to this fresh thought of promised future renewal, Paul uses the imagery of childbirth (22b). Giving birth involves groaning pain but the end result brings great joy. So will the future renewal of our fallen world bring great rejoicing.

The Apostle makes clear that our new birth by the Spirit has already in some measure signaled the glorious future ahead for us. Yet, for now, we work out our faith in a fallen world.

Verse 23 says: “Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.”

Having been promised a further redemption to come, are we left then at what appears to be a halfway point? And what do we say of those in any Christian gathering who have a genuine faith yet inwardly groan from the burden of some weakness or calamity such as family strife, poor health, broken relationships, and even some issues too deep for words?

We do our part of course by bringing them before the Lord daily, seeking greater faith to endure. And in our struggle with fallenness, we know the Spirit is our ally. Verse 26a says: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.”

Here’s how the Holy Spirit comes to our aid: Even our praying may become confused over our struggles. As the Apostle says in verse 26: “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through prayers too deep for words.”

To summarize, even though we have already been assured of our salvation through faith in Christ and are being transformed / sanctified by his Spirit, we experience a deeper need, living as we do in a fallen world (v. 23).

And so God’s Spirit who is in us untangles our prayers at times and re-forms them into prayers the Father can answer. What a measureless investment God our Savior in Christ makes in us by redeeming us and giving us his Spirit to help us in our fallenness!

God is obviously interested in more than certifying our passage to heaven through Christ’s death and resurrection for us. We are also to embrace in faith the power of the Holy Spirit to live out the radiance of the Gospel here and now.

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Mending Relationships

In 1956, I was appointed pastor of a church in New Westminster, a suburb of Vancouver, British Columbia. Kathleen and I packed our belongings and four children into our turquoise Plymouth hitched to a springless trailer and drove all the way from Kentucky to our new assignment.

The Reverend C. W. Burbank was my conference superintendent. He was not a seminary-trained man; back then, many pastors got their theological training through substantial correspondence courses. He was an urgent preacher, well respected by his peers, and a man of down-to-earth common sense — derived, I was told, from his earlier years in the logging business in the Okanagan Valley of Washington State.

During one of my first conversations with him he shared a bit of wisdom. (It was intended for pastors, but seems to me applicable to everyone, especially in these days of strife.) He explained that some ministers are more skilled at mending fences than others. He meant that when a misunderstanding developed such pastors seemed to have a knack for promptly restoring trusting relationships.

Others, he said, leave the rift unaddressed and allow it to take on a certain permanence. If this happens with one family, and then another, Rev. Burbank explained, the sum of the misunderstandings destroys the trust of the congregation as a whole. This can end a pastor’s ministry in that church.

Rev. Burbank didn’t say exactly how to recover healthy relationships. Nor did he mention what to do if a pastor’s efforts to keep fences mended are rejected. Sadly, there are such situations.

Here are some practical relationship-mending comments for pastors to consider:

The greatest hindrance to correcting wounded relationships is a universal problem: pride that makes us overrate our worth or abilities. Wounded pride must be acknowledged, managed, and even repented before repair is possible.

Once a rift happens, anger destroys relationships. Anger must be faced and dissipated. Often only the indwelling Spirit of Christ, and the spirit of humility He gives, can save us from anger’s destruction. It may help to meditate on James 1:19: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.”

Wise pastors will know that, once in a while, a relationship may seem beyond repair despite their earnest attempts at restoration. Agreement may not be possible regarding a policy or board majority decision. In these cases, ministers should labor on in the hope that their continued faithful service will bear fruit and melt hearts.

We are much more likely to navigate rocky relationships if we remember that ultimate accountability is to God. The first impulse should be to please Him, since it is to Him all will finally answer.

Mending fences is not just a challenge for ministers. Broken relationships are a universal peril. Ministers and laymen alike need strength and grace to help in the arduous task of living openly and charitably — insofar as possible — with all. Praying for increased sensitivity to the opinions and needs of others for Christ’s sake is the starting point.

Many years after our conversation, Rev. Burbank’s counsel to keep fences mended remains current. His advice has been a lifelong gift to me, not always exercised to the greatest effectiveness, but always treasured.

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Finding a Love That Lasts a Lifetime

I visited Mrs. Faudi in her hospital room. Because she was in the first bed of two I stood with my back to the door. Our brief conversation was low-key and pleasant, but suddenly she looked past me and her eyes lit up. I turned to see that her husband had just entered the room. It was obvious that love still glowed in their hearts.

The Faudis were retired farmers who had recently moved to town. Mrs. Faudi looked frail and ashen in her hospital bed. Each of them had weather-beaten skin reflecting long years of toil on the land. But in that exchange of looks, I saw a bright and loving bond not really dimmed after more than fifty years of marriage.

In our fallen world there is no guarantee that a Christian marriage such as the Faudis had will be everything God intended it to be. But recalling that moment in the hospital room makes me want to point out to young people some ways to greatly increase the likelihood of success.

I’m all for romance, so long as when pondering the suitability of a mate, young people understand that powerful physical attraction is not enough. There is a “rational” aspect to choosing a life partner that should not be neglected. For example, as starters, it should be asked: Do we share a common faith in Jesus Christ and is it genuine for both?

Sometimes it is discovered after it is too late that one of the two “got religion” just so the nuptial event would happen. On this specific matter, counsel may be necessary to help one or the other to see a peril hidden beneath the romantic spell. The Bible clearly warns against an “unequal yoke” (2 Cor. 6:14).

Here are questions you can explore: Do mature mutual friends approve? Is the love we profess unconditional? That is, do we intend from the depths of our beings to make this an until-death-us-do-part marriage? Do we have reservations we are holding out of sight? God has endowed his creatures with a capacity for profound commitment which, when held by both partners, gives a basis for working through all sorts of struggles and reverses that arise along the path.

And do we share basic values regarding money, child-rearing, commitment to family connections, and would we work well together? Have we talked those important issues through before an initial commitment is made? Do we share a common Christian lifestyle? Potentially troubling issues are sometimes in full view but are pencilled out in the run-up to a wedding.

Issues may be left unaddressed because of pre-wedding dreaminess or excitement, or busyness. For such reasons, a potential bride or groom might see unaddressed issues but say: “I’ll fix that when we’re married.” Or, “I’m going ahead with this wedding because this may be my last chance.” Or even, “I see some developing storm clouds but they will go away once we’re married.” Or, “Right now I have to think about a great wedding; I’ll think about a great marriage later.”

I’ve heard them all but sometimes too long after the marriage has been sealed and, in some cases, too late. Pastoral counselors or professional Christian counselors are available to help in such situations. Couples like the Faudis — and I’ve known a few of them across a lifetime — stand as a constant testimony that in the realm of matrimony God provides a love that can last a lifetime.

But the success of the search requires the exercise of both head and heart. The bond is rooted not only in the feelings but also in the will. This kind of marriage doesn’t just happen. In my experience, the most successful marriages in Christian circles are characterized by a deep and mutual faith in God, a romantic flair that makes the very countenance glow, unwavering commitment to each other, and a grounding in judgment that launches the enterprise thoughtfully and with integrity.

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The North Star of Our Faith

The North Star holds a fixed place in the sky while the rest of the vast heavens move around it. Its fixed position in relation to the earth has made it a tool used by maritime navigators for millennia to find their way in uncharted seas.

Astronomers believe the North Star’s light will continue to shine and fulfill this function for centuries to come.

In similar fashion, the Bible, as read today by Christian believers, and by evangelical Protestants such as I, has a durable and unchanging message. That’s why I think of the Bible as the North Star of our faith.

This analogy came to me while Kathleen and I were reading the Scriptures together a few days ago. We closed our Bibles but two verses we had read, Hebrews 4:12-13, played in my mind for days afterwards. They read as follows:

For 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. Nothing in all creation is hidden from Gods sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

The first five books of the Old (some say “First”) Testament contain the Law of God as set before Israel at Mount Sinai. The ten commandments are given there, and of them Jesus said that God’s Law is fixed and will abide forever (Matthew 5:18). In the Old Testament section of the Bible, following the books of the law are historical accounts, timeless wisdom literature, and the proclamations of both divine judgment and blessing uttered by God’s chosen prophets.

The New (“Second”) Testament is no less remarkable. Many passages in it refer back to the prophecies found in the Old Testament, tying the two major sections of the Bible together.

By the fourth century AD formal councils of the rapidly growing church had decided on what writings were to be included in the Bible. Thus they canonized its content much as Christians know it now. It was called the Word of God.

The summit of Biblical writings are the four gospel accounts telling of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ while he lived on earth. The Old Testament had foretold his coming (Matthew 3:1-3). The four gospels announced that he had come. The aged Apostle John, in the preface to his gospel account, wrote of the Lord’s as the Word made flesh.

John declares about Jesus: He is eternal; he became man; we beheld his glory; he is to be trusted for our eternal salvation. Thus from that ancient time and across many centuries the Old Testament has been declared and regarded as the Word of God written. The New Testament has been known as the Word of God not only written but also made living. The two Testaments together are seen to complement each another.

At the same time, for evangelical Protestants such as I, the Bible stands forever fixed as the Christian church’s and individual Christian’s North Star — the Word of God. And in keeping with this belief, there are at least 100 places where our Scriptures are simply called the Word of God.

And the result? As Psalm 119:105 affirms: “Your word is a lamp for my feet; a light on my path.” And that assurance is proclaimed even more comprehensively in the passage of Hebrews (4:12) that caught my attention and held it for several days. I repeat them here:

For 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 intent of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from Gods sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

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How Should We Pray During Threatening Times?

In these days of moral and societal turmoil, many Christians are asking ultimate questions: When will the Kingdom of God come on earth? On one occasion, the Pharisees pressed this question on Jesus.

Jesus answered from Israel’s history. The Coming will be abrupt and unexpected, as the great flood was in the days of Noah, or Sodom’s sudden destruction due to her moral decay.

And so, Jesus said, in essence, get ready, and when the time comes, make no efforts to save personal valuables from your house. (Luke 17: 20-37)

Then, turning toward his disciples, Jesus used the following parable to show them what he expected them to do while awaiting his return. Luke says (18:1): “Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should pray and not give up.” (I take liberties in retelling the story.)

One person in Jesus’s parable is a godless, unfeeling judge. He was likely living in a fine home, giving access to his services only to those who could produce a fistful of coins.

The other person in Jesus’ story is a destitute widow. We may assume she is in crisis, such as at the hands of an unscrupulous wealthy person who is about to seize her cottage, putting her out on the street.

She has no husband to confront the ruthless fellow, and no sons to protect her. She is penniless. Her last and only resort is to win the judge’s favor by means of relentless pleading for a fair judgment.

And so she walks all the way across town. Upon ringing the bell at the judge’s gate a servant comes out and inspects her through a knothole in the gate.

One look and the servant announces, “The judge is not in.”  He turns and walks back into the house.

Since this judge is the widow’s only hope, the next day she knocks again. “The judge is sick today,” the servant at the gate announces.

Even so, the following day the widow appears yet again. “The judge will be busy all day with a merchant,” the servant says impatiently.

This drama is repeated for several more days. Her crisis is approaching. The unjust seizure of her humble dwelling is soon to happen. But she will not give up; she is determined.

Finally, the judge relents. It’s not that he repents of his indifference or feels any empathy. His heart remains cold. But, in exasperation, with both hands in the air, he says to his assistant: “She’s pestering me to death; here, prepare the written judgment I dictate.” The widow’s persistence had won her appeal when nothing else could.

The point of the parable is not that God is like that judge — cold and uncaring and only responsive to those who bruise their knuckles from knocking at his entrance. In fact, Jesus speaks often of a loving Father who hears those who call on him in humility.

But the parable does suggest that in very urgent times the prayers of his disciples should be like the appeals of the persistent widow.

In this time of family, national, and worldwide turmoil and even with some needing to flee from homes under attack, should we not be hearing with clarity Jesus’ cautionary call to persistence in prayer? When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith upon the earth?

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Repost: How Susanna Wesley Home-schooled Ten Children

For parents worried about their children’s education in the era of Covid-19, here is an encouraging story from more than 200 years ago.

Susanna Wesley home-schooled the surviving ten of her nineteen children, teaching them to read. The famed John and Charles Wesley, leaders of the Methodist movement of the eighteenth century, were among them. How did she go about this daunting task?

She had the background to be their teacher. She was the youngest of the learned Puritan minister Samuel Annesley’s twenty-five children. Before she was out of her teens she knew Greek, Latin, and French and was proficient in theology and philosophy.

She married Anglican clergyman Samuel Wesley when she was twenty and he twenty-seven. As children began to come along, she designated one room of the parsonage as the school room. In that room there was to be no loud talking, and no coming and going except for good cause. For Susanna and her brood, formal learning was scheduled to last six hours a day during weekdays and it was serious business.

The day before a child’s education was to begin, as Susanna described it to her son John years later, the house was set in order, his or her work appointed to them, and a charge given that none except the child involved should come into the room from nine till twelve and from two till five. These were the inviolate school hours.

Formal learning began the day after each child’s fifth birthday. Each was then given one day to learn the alphabet. Susanna reported that two children, Molly and Nancy, took a day and a half before they knew the letters perfectly. In this she implied that they were slow, but she later revised this view when she saw how slowly children outside her family accomplished the same task.

She would have followed her start-at-age-five rule with Kezzy also, but she complained in her letter to John that her husband overruled her and insisted she be started earlier. She reported that Kezzy was more years learning than any of the rest had been months.

As soon as the children had learned the alphabet, they began in the first chapter of Genesis by spelling and reading a line, then a verse, then two verses, and so on.

They never left a lesson until they could do it perfectly. As Susanna wrote: “It is almost incredible, what a child may be taught in a quarter of a year, by a vigorous application, if [the child has] but a tolerable capacity, and good health.”

This kind of regimentation might make a modern educator groan in protest. And Susanna Wesley’s pedagogy might not work equally well with a random sample of twenty children today. After all, the Wesley children were extraordinarily bright. As well, it is worth noting that she was teaching them to read one at a time, not in a group as we tend to do in today’s classrooms.

In any event, at that time illiteracy was high among men and even higher among women — and close to universal in their village of Epworth. Susanna’s method is validated by the fact that her little flock all learned to read well and this gift was given them for a lifetime of usefulness and pleasure.

If this slice-of-life makes Susanna Wesley seem like a severe parent, consider one other aspect of her pedagogy. In a letter to her husband, Samuel, during one of his long absences in London, she gave this glimpse into her mentoring practices.

I take such a proportion of time as I can best spare every night to discuss with each child, by itself, on something that relates to its principal concerns. On Monday I talk with Molly; on Tuesday with Hetty; Wednesday with Nancy; Thursday with Jackie (John); Friday with Patty; Saturday with Charles; and with Emily and Sukey on Sunday.

Think of the emotional or intellectual enrichment that could be added to many an emotionally impoverished or neglected child today by a one-hour face-to-face with a parent genuinely interested in sharing the child’s agenda for that hour. It would be far more enriching than the time so commonly devoted by children and parents these days to the Internet and television.

Who can deny the wisdom of a Christian mother who insisted that her children master the objective tools of learning like words and numbers and facts and who also encouraged them to explore personal experiences of their choice during a dedicated time for each child?

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A Fire in an Old Parsonage: Who Saved John’s Life?

In 1709, at age six, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, came precariously close to losing his life in a raging parsonage fire.

That parsonage, Epworth rectory, was an old house. It appears that it was at least 200 years old when the Wesley family first occupied it near the beginning of the 1700s.

It was a three-story house constructed of ancient timbers, lath, and plaster, with a thatched roof. It was dusty and dry and in 1702 (the year before John Wesley’s birth) that same parsonage had been damaged by a mysterious fire, but had been saved and repaired.

Then came the raging fire of August 24, 1709. It could well have wiped out the whole family. It began near midnight. Susanna was ill and she and Samuel were sleeping in separate rooms. She had two boys with her. Samuel, hearing the cry of “fire” in the streets, ran to Susanna’s room but the door was locked and he could not break in.

Fortunately all the commotion awakened her and she and the two boys hurriedly walked through the flames on the front stairs. Only her hands and face were scorched. Samuel then raced to the nursery where the younger children were in the care of a maid and hurried all of them out through the back part of the house. But once he was outside he realized that Jackie (son John) was missing.

Just then John’s face appeared at the upstairs window of the room where he had been sleeping. He had been awakened by the fire that was already playing along the ceiling of his room. There was no time for the crowd to get a ladder. Samuel, sure his son would die, knelt and commended him to God.

But a strong man in the crowd stood against the wall beneath the window and another man was hoisted onto his shoulders, bringing him close enough to the height of the upstairs window to reach John.

The appearance of the man frightened John and he disappeared from the window to try the door of his room. It was already in flames. He returned to the window and fell into the arms of the man. At that very moment, the roof collapsed and the burning thatch dropped into his room. John was saved — but just in time.

The cause of the fire was never established. Someone blamed it on Samuel’s carelessness. There were also hints of arson. Ruffians in the town of Epworth had often threatened the rector and his family. Samuel’s cows had been stabbed, his dog lost a leg, and the children, while at play in the yard, had been menaced by men who came by.

John’s amazing rescue registered deeply with the parents. All the children had been saved, but Susanna was particularly grateful for the mercy shown to John.      Two years later, May 17, 1711, she wrote a prayer, saying she intended “to be more particularly careful of the soul of this child that thou hast so mercifully provided for, than ever I have been, that I may do my endeavours to instill into his mind the disciplines of thy true religion and virtue.”

In his adulthood, John Wesley himself saw his great deliverance as an expression of God’s providence — his governance of the affairs of all mankind — and was convinced that he had been spared for a special reason. This event had a profound effect on his ministry.

In 1737, at age 34, he began to ascribe to the event the biblical expression “a brand plucked from the burning” (Zechariah 3:2). A modern version (NIV) says: “Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?” Wesley came to believe he was saved from a fiery death by the Divine Hand so he could carry out a special ministry at God’s behest.

We all have had such providences. For some, they are obvious — a reprieve from cancer or financial ruin — for others, they are not as dramatic but equally real.  After all, our very lives and the breath we breathe day after day are the result of God’s provide-ence. And therefore should we not, as did John Wesley, reflect on them as evidence of God’s immeasurable mercies toward us to serve His purpose?

In the light of God’s daily mercies, dare we take lightly His call to salvation in Christ Jesus, and then to lives of committed service?

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Repost: Should Christians Make Sunday a Holy Day?

Our culture as a whole has clearly embraced secularism and the absolute autonomy of the individual as the credo for living. In keeping with this change, over the past several decades former societal practices that put God collectively above the individual, such as Sunday store closings for family, worship, and rest, have vanished.

Many Christians appear to have followed this change. Rather than making Sunday a true Lord’s Day for worship and rest, Sunday might include any-day tasks such as laundry, shopping for groceries, washing the car, mowing the lawn, cleaning house, or spending hours in hard study.

The question to a believer such as I is whether we give up something precious when Sunday becomes like any other day of the week.

The Sabbath originally referred to Saturday, but for the largest part of Christendom it has become Sunday. That’s because Sunday is the day of Christ’s resurrection and is therefore “the Lord’s Day.”

Consider as well that on the Sunday of his resurrection, Jesus also appeared to his followers that morning (John 20:1-19), afternoon (Luke 24:13-32), and evening (36-49). These meetings set the stage for the weekly celebration on Sunday of our Lord’s resurrection and the promise of our salvation and eternal life with Him!

For further support of Sunday observance, note Luke’s documentation that a generation after Christ’s resurrection, when he and Paul were in Troas (now Western Turkey), “On the first day of the week we came together to break bread” (Acts 20:7). And as well, Paul instructs the Corinthians to set aside their special offerings “on the first day of the week” (1 Corinthians 16: 1-2).

The Sabbath principle really begins with the account of creation. The Book of Genesis tells us that after six days of creation, “on the seventh day God rested [ceased] from all the work of creation that he had done” (Genesis 2:2-3). This “rest” is sometimes referred to as a Sabbath rite, a standard to be observed by God’s creatures.

Then, in Exodus, the second book of the Bible, we learn that during Israel’s wilderness wanderings, God gave the miraculous gift of manna as daily food (16:12). Each morning the Israelites were to go out and collect enough for the family for only that day. But, on the morning of the sixth day, they were to gather enough for two days so they would not need to gather on the Sabbath (16:29).

Again, this arrangement reflected God’s merciful call for them to desist one day out of seven from their weekly labors in order to rest in his mercy and celebrate his care.

Then, later came the giving of the Ten Commandments. The fourth (20:8) said, “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy” (setting it apart, sanctifying it).

The first three commandments all start with the phrase “You shall not…” Commandment four begins with “You shall” — it is a positive command to remember and observe the special day.

Many centuries later, the Israelites were well settled in the Holy Land and had become prosperous. As so often happens when people feel wealthy and secure, their sense of self-sufficiency had led them to neglect God’s laws. Prophets like Isaiah prophesied against their disobedience, pinpointing as one major piece of evidence their disregard of the Sabbath. To speak to their offense Isaiah prophesies:

“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” The mouth of the Lord has spoken. (Isaiah 58:13-14)

Do New Testament teachings agree with these examples from the Old Testament? In the four Gospels there are at least 58 references to the Sabbath. However, the problem with Sabbath observance then was that several generations of rabbis had embellished the basic Sabbath laws with all sorts of picky regulations, making the special day burdensome rather than renewing. In response, the Gospels do not cancel the Sabbath principle. Instead, Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man.” He humanized it as the Father intended for creaturely renewal — a day to throw off the labors of the week, worship God among his people, and launch the new work week refreshed in body and soul.

Wise and devout Christians to the present see the wisdom of making Sunday a special day of worship and a day of rest from the ordinary labors of the week. They find joy in meeting with a company of Christians for the worship of the resurrected Christ, to renew faith and clear their perspective on life through the living Christ. In this way, we acknowledge God’s merciful provision. As well, we bless ourselves and our families by turning our thoughts heavenward and consciously resting in God’s faithfulness.

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What to Do When Falsely Judged

While still a young shepherd from Bethlehem, David came to the attention of Saul, King of Israel, when he offered, in the name of God, to fight Goliath, the Philistine warrior-giant. He proved both his faith in God and his unusual skill with his sling when the first stone he released brought the giant crashing to the ground, killing him (1 Samuel 17:48-53).

Israel’s soldiers were ecstatic. The Philistine army panicked and fled. Even the dwellings of the Philistine soldiers were plundered.

David came later into King Saul’s service at the palace. There, he saw that Saul was given to dark moods and murderous impulses. Twice the king tried to pin David to the wall with his spear.

As a loyal servant of the king, David could not understand. Why would the king want him dead? In it all he became a fast friend with the king’s son, Jonathan. David told Jonathan: “… there is only a step between me and death” (20:3). Jonathan attempted to protect David from his father’s rages.

David fled the palace to live as a fugitive throughout the land. A natural leader, he gathered a defensive band of followers, up to 600 in number. They hid in wilderness areas from Saul’s armed forces.

It is easy to imagine that such constant flight prompted an intense debate between David and some of his followers. That debate may well be reflected in the three parts of Psalm 11. In the first section, David declares his intention to be courageous in the face of undeserved hatred. In the second section he summarizes what some of his more timid followers were apparently advising. And in the third, he gives reasons for being steady under false charges and perils.

David declares: “In the Lord I take refuge” (Psalm 11:1a). Coming before all other declarations this is David’s bottom-line understanding of how he must gain strength to survive his predicament.

The reader can speculate that the timid and hopeless in his band may have said something like: “For look, the wicked bend their bows; they set their arrows against the strings to shoot from the shadows at the upright in heart. When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (11:2-3). That’s how they saw the situation.

He chides such fearful followers with a metaphor: “How then can you say to me: Flee like a bird to your mountain?” (11:1b) Living in the outdoors as he and his men were doing, David had seen little birds fleeing a bird of prey. Such a little bird might eventually flee to the mountains where there is the protection of solitude.

We may rise to the challenge of lesser threats, but when life’s foundations seem about to crumble we become vulnerable to the temptation to fly to a safe hiding place in the mountains.

With every reason to descend into helplessness, David declares: “In the Lord I take refuge.” And in answer to a feeling of victimization he elaborates: “The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord is on his heavenly throne” (4a). The worship center of the Holy City is intact; heaven is not under attack.

Psalm 11 also tells us that the Lord observes everyone on earth (4b); his eyes examine not only the righteous, whom he allows in this life to be tested; the Lord also sees (and despises) those who love violence. That God sees, and knows, and will judge righteously, encourages us, too.

David’s final reason to be courageous tops them all: “For the Lord is righteous, he loves justice; the upright will see his face” (7). The hidden jealousy of a close associate can create a storm in one’s life, but a steady faith in God will bring a believer safely through the storm.

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