Hiding in a Rock

Today’s Journey Through Scripture Readings: Psalm 18-19; Acts 20:17-38

He said: I love you, Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my solid rock,
    my fortress, my rescuer.
My God is my rock—
I take refuge in him!—
        he’s my shield,
        my salvation’s strength,
        my place of safety.
Because he is praiseworthy,
    I cried out to the Lord,
    and I was saved from my enemies.
Death’s cords were wrapped around me;
    rivers of wickedness terrified me.
The cords of the grave surrounded me;
    death’s traps held me tight.
In my distress I cried out to the Lord;
    I called to my God for help.
God heard my voice from his temple;
    I called to him for help,
    and my call reached his ears.

Psalm 18:1-6 Common English Bible

The hymnal of the Israelites, the Psalms. At one point in my life, when I heard someone say that the thing that went through my mind was, “How could anyone sing those lyrics?” What I didn’t know back then was, they lose something in translation.

I got to thinking about hymns that were inspired by the psalms yesterday. When I started working on today’s post I started thinking about how the Psalms in general and Psalm 18 in particular inspired hymns.  There are many. For Psalm 18 alone, according to the online hymn database Hymnary, here are 164 hymns and praise songs crediting Psalm 18 with some or all of that particular song or hymn’s lyrics. One song that inspired at least 164 more songs of faith.

According to the “instructions” at the beginning of the psalm (considered by most biblical scholars to be a later addition, not part of the original text), David is praising God for his delivery from the hands of Saul and other enemies. “The Lord is my Rock, my fortress, my Redeemer,” David says.

Reading that line brought to mind a particular hymn inspired by Psalm 18. The first verse of “Rock of Ages” reads,

 Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee;
let the water and the blood,
from thy wounded side which flowed,
be of sin the double cure;
save from wrath and make me pure.

The metaphors of the rock and the fortress show themselves here, though, in the case of the fortress, it is not in those specific words. Rock is used many times in Scripture as a descriptive word for God. It is also a metaphor and symbol for faith. The psalmist wants to hide in the fortress made of rock. In other words, David wants to hide in the fortress that is God.

My God is my rock—
I take refuge in him!—
        he’s my shield,
        my salvation’s strength,
        my place of safety.

David recognizes that without God, there is no place to hide from Saul and others who seek to destroy him. There is no place of protection, there is no strength, there is no safety. David knows, at least at this point in his life he knows, to be protected from all on earth that will destroy him, he needs God.

My prayer this day is, we have the same awareness to see that we too need protection from God.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

With Joy and Thankfulness,
Keith

Copyright 2018, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Time to Proceed with Care

Today’s Journey Through Scripture Readings: Psalm 16-17; Acts 20:1-16

You, Lord, are my portion, my cup;
    you control my destiny.
The property lines have fallen beautifully for me;
    yes, I have a lovely home.

I will bless the Lord who advises me;
    even at night I am instructed
    in the depths of my mind.
I always put the Lord in front of me;
    I will not stumble because he is on my right side.
That’s why my heart celebrates and my mood is joyous;
    yes, my whole body will rest in safety
10     because you won’t abandon my life to the grave;
    you won’t let your faithful follower see the pit.

11 You teach me the way of life.
    In your presence is total celebration.
Beautiful things are always in your right hand.

Psalm 16:5-11, Common English Bible

As I read Psalm 16, the thought occurred to me, we need to proceed with great care when we find ourselves in David’s position. Two thoughts occurred to me. First, the lesson David is saying to God that he is the only righteous person. Second, and probably more important, David himself admits, he has things good saying, “Yes I have a beautiful home.” If David had things worse, if he were, say, Job, would David be the only righteous person then? Based on what we know of David’s life, I tend to doubt it would be true.

As to David’s first claim, that he alone is righteous, prior to the death of King Saul, Saul’s son, and David’s closest friend shows himself righteous again and again. When King Saul would attempt to take David’s life, Jonathan comes to David’s aid and rescue more than once. When we look at David’s later life, the Prophet Nathan is the person who had the courage and the righteousness to stand and face a king who, in David, had lost his way and could no longer be, in any way considered righteous.

In the book of Job, God brags on Job at the beginning of the story saying, “My servant Job is righteous, nothing will pull him away from me.” Job loses his home, his family, and ultimately his health and though he questions why God would be angry with him and he struggles with his experience, he does remain faithful.

God didn’t make the same claim about David. Of course, we know David was far from righteous. He committed adultery. He was a murderer. In addition to all that, he wasn’t a very good parent either. It is enough to convince us that David wasn’t as righteous as he might want you and me to think.

For David, or for any of us, we step into real spiritual danger when we make ourselves better than everyone else. When David thinks of himself as being the world’s lone righteous person, he has become far from faithful.

The second danger David shows us we face is, having it all and that being evidence of God’s blessing. There are many in the world that have great physical wealth and are living, by their own admission, outside the faith. And, would we remain as faithful if all we have were somehow taken away?

I hope we would but in truth, I don’t know that we can truly answer that question. We still remain, however, living in the grace of God and in the end, that is all we need.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

With Joy and Thankfulness,
Keith

Copyright 2018, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Dwelling on God’s Mountain

Today’s Journey Through Scripture Readings: Psalm 13-15; Acts 19:21-41

15 Who can live in your tent, Lord?
    Who can dwell on your holy mountain?
The person who
    lives free of blame,
    does what is right,
        and speaks the truth sincerely;
    who does no damage with their talk,
    does no harm to a friend,
    doesn’t insult a neighbor;
    someone who despises
        those who act wickedly,
        but who honors those
        who honor the Lord;
    someone who keeps their promise even when it hurts;
    someone who doesn’t lend money with interest,
    who won’t accept a bribe against any innocent person.
Whoever does these things will never stumble.

Psalm 15:1-5, Common English Bible

Who can dwell on God’s holy mountain? Who can live in God’s tent? Both are questions David asks in Psalm 15, part of today’s Journey Through Scripture readings. For Christians, the quick and easy answer is, “Those who place their faith in Jesus Christ.” It is a reasonable assumption.

All too often, however, for Christians of the current era, we tend to read the Old Testament through the lens of Christian understanding and not in how it was written for a different group of people who lived centuries before Jesus was born.

Because the Jews of David’s era, didn’t have the one who is “the faith, the truth, and the life,” they needed another way to reach life with God, to live in God’s tent, to dwell on God’s holy mountain. David is telling them just what as necessary. David says, “The person who is blameless, does what is right, and speaks the truth sincerely.”

David’s words are hard to live by. We often say, “This person is a Godly person.” When we see such people, we see them as people who are blameless, who do what is right and who speak the truth.” But if we are speaking the truth, we also know that no one is truly blameless because we “all sin and fall short of the glory of God.”

We might be tempted to ask, “If such a person doesn’t receive eternity with God is there any hope for the rest of us?”  I am not sure how those of the Old Testament era like David would reconcile the sins existing in all their lives, (think David and Bathsheba), with being blameless.

That brings us back to the need for Jesus. For us, we know we are not blameless. We don’t always do what is right. We don’t always speak the truth. By David’s definition, we are unworthy of God’s mountain and/or God’s tent. And, because we are unworthy, we stand in need of God’s grace that comes through Jesus Christ.

Because we know David had a heart for God (that is, after all, the reason God picked David to be King) and yet we also know David, like any other human did sin. We know the story well. We do know David did live, does dwell on God’s mountain.

We receive the grace of God through Jesus Christ. David and others received grace in some other way. What we know beyond doubt, in David’s day and in ours, there is more grace in God than there is sin in us.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

With Joy and Thankfulness,
Keith

Copyright 2018, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

God Delivers on God’s Promises

Today’s Journey Through Scripture Readings: Psalm 10-12; Acts 19:1-20

12 Help, Lord, because the godly are all gone;
    the faithful have completely disappeared
    from the human race!
Everyone tells lies to everyone else;
    they talk with slick speech and divided hearts.
Let the Lord cut off all slick-talking lips
    and every tongue that brags and brags,
    that says, “We’re unbeatable with our tongues!
    Who could get the best of us with lips like ours?”

But the Lord says,
    “Because the poor are oppressed,
    because of the groans of the needy,
    I’m now standing up.
    I will provide the help they are gasping for.”
The Lord’s promises are pure,
    like silver that’s been refined in an oven,
    purified seven times over!

You, Lord, will keep us,
    protecting us from this generation forever.
The wicked roam all over the place,
    while depravity is praised by human beings.

Psalm 12:1-8, Common English Bible

We often hear talk these days that the ungodly have taken over our society. At times, we are at least a little bit right in our thinking. When we watch the evening news there is plenty of reason for us to think that is true. From those who want to remove the Ten Commandments from county courthouses all over the country to those who invade our schools and commit crimes that are so heinous we don’t even want to think about them, it is a short trip to think God isn’t around because the ungodly have taken over.

We can see from our lesson today that the thoughts of the ungodly being in control are nothing new. King David, who is credited with writing Psalm 12, is asking God for help because the godly are gone. Faithful people have disappeared. Everybody lies to everybody. Perhaps David was speaking to our time.

David does tell us of God’s good news. “But the Lord says, ‘Because the poor are oppressed, because of the groans of the needy, I’m now standing up. I will provide the help they are gasping for.’ The Lord’s promises are pure, like silver that’s been refined in an oven, purified seven times over!”

I can’t help but think David isn’t speaking of the literal poor and oppressed. If that were the case David himself would have been in trouble. David, as King of Israel, would have been one of the most wealthy in all the land. Could David be speaking of the poor in Spirit? Was David speaking those who are oppressed in Spirit? So much of the Bible uses these terms. And, yes, the Bible does speak of those who are monetarily poor and those who are politically oppressed. Still, it is difficult to imagine the King would feel this was him. But, David tells us God promises to bring help and that God’s promises are pure.

The good news of these words is as great today as they were in David’s day. How do we know? We can have faith that God will fulfill the promises made to us because we can look at history, from Scripture and at various times since, and see that God delivers on the things God promises. That seems to me to be pretty good news all by itself.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

With Joy and Thankfulness,
Keith

Copyright 2018, J. Keith Broyles, All RIghts Reserved

The Work of God’s Fingers

Today’s Journey Through Scripture Readings: Psalm 7-9; Acts 18

Lord, our Lord, how majestic
    is your name throughout the earth!
    You made your glory higher than heaven!
From the mouths of nursing babies
    you have laid a strong foundation
    because of your foes,
    in order to stop vengeful enemies.
When I look up at your skies,
    at what your fingers made—
    the moon and the stars
    that you set firmly in place—
        what are human beings
            that you think about them;
        what are human beings
            that you pay attention to them?
You’ve made them only slightly less than divine,
    crowning them with glory and grandeur.
You’ve let them rule over your handiwork,
    putting everything under their feet—
        all sheep and all cattle,
        the wild animals too,
        the birds in the sky,
        the fish of the ocean,
        everything that travels the pathways of the sea.
Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name throughout the earth!

Psalm 8:1-9, Common English Bible

I love Psalm 8. I think it is my favorite of all the psalms. In this psalm, the psalmist praises God for the greatness of creation. Even more, the psalmist praises God for humanity’s role in the Creation. God’s providence and God’s wisdom are so present in the words of the psalmist.

“When I look up in the sky, the works of your fingers…” Imagine as you read this, being in a light poor area during the darkest hours of the night. Look at the stars. Even if we are looking at a small part of the sky, the stars are so numerous there is no way to count them all. Or, the vastness of the oceans and all the oceans hold can seem overwhelming. Back looking at the night sky, have you ever been in one of the meteor showers? Sometimes, those come faster and more numerous than we can count as well.

The psalmist asks a really good question, “What are human beings that you think about them, what are human beings that you pay attention to them?” My answer to the psalmist’s question is, “It’s not about us. God isn’t mindful of us because of who we are. God is mindful of us because of the nature of God. God is mindful of us because God loves us. God is mindful of us because God wants a relationship with us.”

It isn’t about you and me. This is all about the love of God. What are we, humans? We are a bunch of people, who are sinful creatures and who fall short of the glory of God. And, God loves us anyway. There is a word for that, GRACE. And praise God, there is more grace in God than there is sin in us.

As I read the psalm, particularly the last few verses, “You let them rule over your handiwork, putting everything under their feet…” When I hear the environmental news, I can’t help but think God might want to rethink the dominion over all the earth God entrusts to us. Quite frankly, we aren’t doing a very good job.

But then again, the psalmist reminds us of the goodness of God and the love we should have for God… “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

With Joy and thankfulness,
Keith

Copyright 2018, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

On Being in Righteousness

Today’s Journey Through Scripture Readings: Psalm 4-6; Acts 17:16-34

Hear my words, Lord!
    Consider my groans!
    Pay attention to the sound of my cries, my king and my God,
        because I am praying to you!
Lord, in the morning you hear my voice.
    In the morning I lay it all out before you.
    Then I wait expectantly.
Because you aren’t a God
    who enjoys wickedness;
    evil doesn’t live with you.
Arrogant people won’t last long
in your sight;
    you hate all evildoers;
    you destroy liars.
    The Lord despises people who are violent and dishonest.

But me? I will enter your house
    because of your abundant, faithful love;
    I will bow down at your holy temple,
        honoring you.
Lord, because of many enemies,
    please lead me in your righteousness.
    Make your way clear,
        right in front of me.
Because there’s no truth in my enemies’ mouths,
    all they have inside them is destruction.
    Their throats are open graves;
    their tongues slick with talk.
10 Condemn them, God!
    Let them fail by their own plans.
Throw them out for their many sins
    because they’ve rebelled against you.
11 But let all who take refuge in you celebrate.
    Let them sing out loud forever!
Protect them
    so that all who love your name
    can rejoice in you.
12 Because you, Lord, bless the righteous.
    You cover them with favor like a shield.

(Psalm 5:1-5, Common English Bible)

Jonah could have fit in really well with the psalmist. No, not the part of Jonah’s life where he runs from where God wants him to go. And no, not the part of Jonah’s life he spent in the belly of a giant fish. We aren’t even talking about Jonah when he went around Ninevah saying “Repent” to anyone who would listen. No, where I see Jonah in the Psalm is when Jonah is having a temper-tantrum or at the very least a pity-party. “I didn’t want to go to Ninevah because I know you and I knew you would cave as soon as they said, “Oh God, we messed up and we are soooo sorry.” And sure enough, that is just what God did. Jonah wanted God to go into Ninevah and go around town and put a good old-fashioned whipping on them.

Jonah’s story reminds me of the parable Jesus told about the man who hired workers all day long and then paid the people all the same, regardless of how long they worked. When those who had worked all day got paid the same as those who worked only an hour, the boss man said, can’t I do what I want with my money? I would tend to agree with him but it seems obvious to me that he never had to deal with the National Labor Relations Board.

The psalmist, Jonah and the workers who had been working all day are all suits cut from the same cloth. They wanted what was fair. They had no interest in grace. What many never stop to realize is, giving the people more than they had coming to them, not giving them what they deserve, regardless of the story, everyone is getting one thing, they don’t deserve it and they can’t go out and buy it. It is called grace. We can’t buy it or earn it. It only comes as a free gift from God.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

With Joy and Thankfulness,
Keith

Copyright 2018, J. Keith Broyles, ALL Rights Reserved

Greek God-Worshippers

Today’s Journey Through Scripture Readings: Psalm 1-3; Acts 17:1-15

17 Paul and Silas journeyed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. As was Paul’s custom, he entered the synagogue and for three Sabbaths interacted with them on the basis of the scriptures. Through his interpretation of the scriptures, he demonstrated that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. He declared, “This Jesus whom I proclaim to you is the Christ.” Some were convinced and joined Paul and Silas, including a larger number of Greek God-worshippers and quite a few prominent women. (Acts 17:1-4, Common English Bible)

“Greek God-worshippers” is how the Common English Bible says it. In the New Revised Standard Version, it is “devout Greeks.” Then there is the New International Version which uses the term, “God-fearing Greeks.” Who are these Greeks?

In the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), God-Fearers (or the other names above) were Gentiles who, to varying degrees, embraced Judaism but never actually converted to the faith. They were nominal men and women of faith.

As for the early Christian Church, in the Book of Acts (our lesson for today), it was much the same. The chief difference being, the God-fearers followed many of the teachings of the Jews or Christians. They had not converted to the Christian faith, until this story.

Paul and Silas, as they often did, visited the local synagogue. Changes in the hearts of the people there didn’t change, at least not immediately. The lesson tells us that Paul and Silas did this, interacting with the God-fearers, and I would assume Jews as well, for three Sabbaths. They continued to minister to and share the faith with those gathered for three weeks. Their faithfulness made a difference as “…a larger number of Greek God-worshippers and quite a few prominent women…” became convinced that Jesus is the Messiah.

“Pastor, I have talked with my friends and neighbors. If they aren’t already Christians, I don’t want to nag them.” There is obviously a fine-line we must walk if we are to make disciples of Jesus Christ as Jesus himself commissioned those who were already disciples in every age (that would be us) to do.

There are people around us who are already disposed to the faith. They are similar to the God-fearers. They understand something of the love God has for them but they don’t get it in full. It is not yet a full understanding.

I would challenge you as well to remember the story we read just a short time ago about Phillip and the Ethiopian eunuch. Phillip asks the eunuch if he understands what he is reading. The eunuch says, “How can I if I have no one to explain it to me.”

If the God-fearers of the New Testament era were to understand, Paul and Silas had to explain it. If those who seek more knowledge before becoming disciples are to understand, that job is up to us. How will we respond?

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

With joy and thankfulness,
Keith

Copyright 2018, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved