42At daybreak, Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for Him and when they came to where He was, they tried to keep Him from leaving them. 43But He said, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” 44And He kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea. (Luke 4:42-44, NIV)
Jesus said that his purpose was to proclaim the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is not a place, an inner state of spiritual awareness, or life after death. Rather, the kingdom of God in the preaching of Jesus is God’s reign, God’s rule, God’s sovereignty.
As we reflect on Luke 4:42-44, I want to invite you to consider the way Jesus described His purpose and how this matters to us. Jesus turned down the invitation to remain in the region where He was popular because, as He said, “I must proclaim good news of the kingdom of God to other towns also; because that is why I was sent.” (Luke 4:43). This is the first time we encounter the phrase “kingdom of God” in Luke’s Gospel. It shows up another 31 times as a central theme in the preaching of Jesus.
What exactly is the kingdom of God? Here is a brief introduction to the kingdom of God in the preaching of Jesus.
First, it may be good to note what the kingdom of God is not. It’s not a particular place, like, for example, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – though, the kingdom of God is experienced in time and space. It’s not some inner state or spiritual awareness. Additionally, the kingdom of God is not the same thing as Heaven, the place of life beyond this life. Sure, the kingdom of God is closely related to the life in the age to come. But when Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God, He wasn’t just showing people how to get to Heaven after they died.
If the kingdom of God isn’t a place, or deep spiritual awareness, or Heaven, then what is it? To put it simply, the kingdom of God is God’s reign. It’s God’s sovereignty, God’s rule, God’s authority. The Greek word translated as “kingdom” refers to a physical kingdom, but it was also used for kingly authority. We see this clearly in the prayer Jesus taught His disciples, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). When God’s reign comes, God’s will is done on earth, just like in heaven.
So, Jesus was sent to proclaim the good news that God was coming to reign. Indeed, He preached that God’s reign had drawn near. Therefore, the prophecy of Isaiah was being fulfilled in Jesus’s own ministry: “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” (Isaiah 52:7). Jesus was this messenger. To be sure, He was more than just the messenger. He was also central to the message.
For us, followers of Jesus, the reign of God is something we can experience each day. When we acknowledge God as the sovereign over our lives, when we allow God to reign over everything we do and say, we experience what Jesus proclaimed. Each time we choose God’s justice over injustice, each time we offer God’s love rather than hate, each time we acknowledge God’s sovereignty, when we allow God to reign over every part of our lives, over every action and every word, we begin in this age to experience the reign of God. We celebrate the good news promised by Isaiah and fulfilled through Jesus “Our God reigns!”
As you reflect on the “kingdom of God,” think of the ways have you experienced God’s reign in your life. Can you intentionally find ways for you to live under the sovereignty of God each day? What can help you do that?
One day Jesus was teaching, and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there. They had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick. Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus. (Luke 5:17-19, NIV)
For countless people, the last four months have disrupted plans in nearly every area of life. Schools closed down, business opportunities lost, canceled trips and celebrations, and even loss of income and jobs. We have come to the realization that it is no longer possible for us to live the version of our lives that we had planned on living this year. There is just no way.
In Luke 5, we read that people are gathering because Jesus was healing the sick. Among those trying to make their way to Jesus was a man who was paralyzed. He was carried on a mat by a group of men. The men did their best to make their way to Jesus, but the crowd is just too thick. They couldn’t get in the house. There was just no way.
Luke, the author, does not go into all the details, but we can just imagine one of the friends saying something like, “Ok, so we can’t go in the front door. What if we got up onto the roof of the house, and lowered him in that way? We could set him right in front of the Healer! Jesus would have to help him then!”
Woven into the fabric of our humanity is an ability to find another way. We can think outside the box, we can come up with new ideas, we can suggest alternatives. Think of how many things we enjoy today came from that ability to innovate. Even when it’s hard, we can cope with change, adapt, and thrive in the midst of it. Our capacity to do this is one of my favorite parts of how God made us. I love that our hope and imagination can catalyze perseverance and resilience. As it turns out, much of the time, there is another way.
In quarantine, we can learn a new skill or read more. We can re-organize and clean our homes (who doesn’t need that?). Even though we’ve seen and talked with far fewer people, the conversations can be full and deeply meaningful. Even though this year has not been like you might have imagined, we can actually adapt, deal, and even enjoy aspects of this season.
As you reflect over the last three or four months, where were you able to find another way? What did God teach you through that experience?
Think of a person or persons who have been in your heart during this quarantine. Send them a note or give them a call to encourage them through this season of “finding another way.”
Let us trust that God’s ways are good. Ask God to remind you that you were made to think and act imaginatively and creatively, and to be confident in God’s design of us. Let us thank God because He loves us and the road to Him is always open to us through Jesus Christ.
First Evangelical Church Association
A joint and integrative ministry of spirituality, mission and social concern
FECA Theme for 2020: “Church Renewal: Growing Young”
July 5, 2020
1. Social Concern and Global Missions
Thank you for your support. As of 6/30, $3,641.90 has been collected.
Fundraising goal: $25,000.00 from 6/21/2020 to 7/12/2020.
The world continues to face the challenges brought by COVID-19. Northern Iraq, a place in which we provide ongoing ministries, is particularly affected by the pandemic. Our FECA field workers are supplementing relief efforts to the area they are residing in. There is an overwhelming need for surgical and reusable cloth masks to be distributed to the refugees. Currently, there is an estimation of over one million registered internally displaced people (IDP) and refugees in the Northern Iraq camps.
To support - Please mail check to FECA, memo line: “COVID-19 relief – N. Iraq” (Mailing address: 2617 West Beverly Blvd., Montebello, CA 90640) or visit https://www.feca.org/donation online giving – COVID-19 relief – N. Iraq.
2. Spiritual Exercises in Daily Life (September 2020 to June 2021)
Spiritual Exercises include daily one-hour devotion, weekly one-hour spiritual direction, and monthly group meeting on Saturday, 9:00 - 10:15 a.m. Contact: email@example.com
Please pray for the possibility of joining the program.
3. Application for Financial Aid to Seminarians (for 2020-2021 school year)
This Financial Aid to Seminarians program was established to provide financial assistance to FECA church members, on the basis of real financial need, as they receive basic theological training to become Christian ministers or missionaries. The Financial Aid to Seminarians Policy and Procedure, and application form may be downloaded from FECA website (www.feca.org, click "Document Download" at the upper right corner for a list of documents available for download). All applicants should read through the Policy and Procedure before filling out the application form. Application deadlines: Fall admission and returning seminarians: 7/17/2020; Winter/Spring admission: 9/15/2020.
4. The FECA Governing Board Meeting
The meeting will be held on July 21 (Tuesday) in the evening via Zoom. Please pray for God's presence in the meeting.
Glendale SGV FECC Diamond Bar Arcadia
5/20 Sur./Def. (95,137) 93,858 16,997 10,017 43,704
01-05/20 Sur./Def. (145,442) 72,301 (142,410) (28,553) 74,092
Unrolling it, He found the place where it is written: 18“The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on Him. 21He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:17-21, NIV)
While attending synagogue in His hometown of Nazareth, Jesus read a passage from Isaiah 61. There, the prophet spoke as if he were the “anointed one” of Israel, the Messiah who would bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, healing to the blind, and freedom to the oppressed. After reading this prophecy, Jesus said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (v. 21). In other words, He said, “I am the One anointed by God to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy. I am the Messiah who will bring good news, release, healing, and freedom.”
Throughout history, followers of Jesus have tried to figure out exactly how Jesus fulfilled the messianic words of Isaiah and other Old Testament prophets. Jesus did not, after all, do what many expected Him to do: raise up an army to expel the Romans from Judea so that He might reign over God’s earthly kingdom. What, then, did He accomplish? How did He fulfill the messianic job description found in Isaiah?
Many have interpreted Jesus’s use of Isaiah in a metaphorical or spiritualized way. Jesus brings good news, not to the materially poor, but to the poor in spirit. He releases captives caught in sin and spiritual bondage. He heals those who are “blind” by revealing God’s truth. He frees all who are oppressed by the guilt that comes from sin. Many in the church were taught that this is what Jesus meant when He claimed to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah. That makes sense because many have experienced the salvation of Jesus in this non-literal mode.
But as we study Scripture more carefully, especially the Old Testament prophets, and as we examine closely the teachings and works of Jesus, we see that the non-literal understanding of Jesus’s mission was too narrow. Yes, He surely offers salvation to those who are spiritually poor, captive, blind, and oppressed. But Jesus also proclaimed and inaugurated the reign of God on earth. He came to offer deliverance to those who were literally poor, captive, blind, and oppressed. His messianic work was not limited in the non-literal mode. It was far more widespread and far deeper. Ultimately, as Jesus broke the power of sin through His death on the cross, He brought not only individual salvation, but also the full peace of God, including justice, reconciliation, and restoration. (See, for example, Ephesians 2:1-22.)
The world-changing work of Jesus has begun, to be sure. In this we rejoice, but there is still much more to be done as Jesus works today through those who follow Him. The complete reign of God will come only through God’s own effort. We don’t make God’s kingdom come. But, as we wait for the fullness of the kingdom, we can and should join in the life-changing, world-changing, kingdom-extending mission of Jesus today.
The holiday known as Juneteenth is a fitting illustration of the “already here and not yet” work of Jesus. On June Nineteenth of every year (hence “Juneteenth”), many people celebrate the emancipation of black Americans from slavery. Though the Emancipation Proclamation, which officially ended slavery, became effective on January 1, 1863, many parts of the country did not know this, including Texas. But on June 19, 1865, the people of Texas were officially informed that all slaves were free. Several years later, black people and others in Texas began celebrating “Juneteenth” as a day of freedom. In 1979, Texas made Juneteenth a state holiday. Since then, almost all other states have followed suit.
Juneteenth is, of course, particularly relevant in our present day, when issues of racial justice are rightly and excruciatingly on the forefront of our consciousness. But this example is not only timely, but it also helps us understand the work of Jesus in at least two ways. First, Juneteenth reminds us that the mission of Jesus has everything to do with the liberation of people in today’s world. Wherever people are victims of prejudice, held down by racism, and/or oppressed by unjust systems, Jesus and those who follow Him faithfully are working for their liberation and flourishing. There are still poor who need good news, captives who need release, blind who need to see, and oppressed who need freedom.
Second, Juneteenth also helps us celebrate even when the work before us isn’t finished. After all, Juneteenth is a celebration of liberation. But this celebration does not imply that liberation for black Americans has been fully accomplished. Yes, the flagrant evil of slavery was abolished, but “liberty and justice for all” is still very much a work in progress. Recent events, protests, and prayer meetings in our country have pointed out just how far we have to go when it comes to defeating racism and its permeating implications.
Through His death on the cross, Jesus conquered sin and brought us into new life. Individually, we are saved by God’s grace given through Christ and received in faith. Yet the death of Christ also brought peace to a broken world. It forged reconciliation between divided and hostile peoples. It made possible the experience of God’s peace in this world, a peace infused by justice, shaped by love, and embodied in unity. We who follow Jesus celebrate what He accomplished on the cross. And we also commit ourselves to joining His mission on earth until that day when God’s kingdom is complete and all things and all peoples are united in Christ (see Ephesians 1:10; 2:1-22). Today, we follow Jesus both in our celebrating and in our laboring.
How are you participating in Jesus’s work in the world today?
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 2where for forty days He was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them He was hungry.
(Luke 5:27-28, NIV)
After Jesus was baptized and the Holy Spirit came upon him, the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness, “where for forty days he was tempted by the devil” (Luke 4:2). The following verses describe the specific temptations Jesus faced and how he overcame them by drawing strength and guidance from Scripture. In each of the temptations, the devil tried to get Jesus to use his unique identity as the Son of God for his own benefit. Yet Jesus refused, remaining committed to the mission to which God had called him.
When we read this story, we may be surprisingly unimpressed. Of course, Jesus didn’t give in to the devil’s illicit invitations. He was the Son of God, after all, God in human flesh. He had superhuman strength to defeat the devil’s schemes. Some don’t even really believe that Jesus was truly tempted. His temptations seemed formal or formulaic, not genuine and heartfelt. What we need to understand, however, is that Jesus was actually wrestling with the meaning of His messianic calling. He was rejecting the obvious and expected path of glorious kingship, choosing instead the enigmatic and unexpected way of sacrificial servanthood. For Jesus, this wasn’t merely a thought experiment. It was a heartfelt, gut-wrenching challenge.
In the letter to the Hebrews, we find theological reflection on the temptation of Jesus: “Therefore, since we have a great High Priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have One who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet He did not sin. 16Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16). The NRSV uses the word “tested” where other translations (NIV, KJV, CEB) go with “tempted.” Either way, the point is that Jesus was tempted/tested “in every respect . . . as we are,” though He never sinned. Whether in the wilderness or the workshop, whether alone or with others, Jesus was truly tempted. He felt the conflict of desires we know so well. He felt the temptations that are so familiar to us.
This means, according to Hebrews, that Jesus can “empathize with our weaknesses” (v. 15). He really understands what it’s like to be us when we are tempted. For this reason, when we are tempted, we don’t have to hide from Jesus in shame. Rather, we can “approach the throne of grace with boldness” (v. 16). We can tell Jesus what’s really going on with us without holding back. As we do, we will “receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (v. 16). Jesus not only understands, but He also supplies what we need to say “No” to temptation and “Yes” to God’s kingdom.
How free are you to let the Lord know when you are tempted? What might help you to become even freer to do this in the future? The fact that Jesus experienced genuine temptation means that he sympathizes with us when we are tempted. We don’t have to hide in shame. Rather, Scripture invites us to speak openly of our struggles so that we might be helped by God’s mercy and grace given through Jesus.
After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow Me,” Jesus said to him, 28and Levi got up, left everything and followed Him. (Luke 5:27-28, NIV)
In a time of uncertainty, when we we’re not sure quite what to do, it’s good to follow Jesus. When we wonder where our lives are headed and what they’ll be like when we get there, it’s good to follow Jesus. When you’re not quite sure what to think or how to live, here’s something you can hang onto: When at a loss for what to do, follow Jesus!
In our present crises, I want to invite you to ponder on what it means to follow Jesus in our world at this time of history. Following Jesus is not only timely but also timeless. No matter the context, no matter the challenge, no matter the confusion engulfing us, it’s always good to turn our attention back to Jesus. I don’t know what will be expected of me in the future. I don’t know the challenges I’ll face or the opportunities that will be presented to me. But I do know this: When in doubt, follow Jesus!
Of course, for us, following Jesus today isn’t exactly like what it was for people who encountered Jesus in the flesh. when Jesus approached Levi the tax collector and said to him, “Follow Me,” Levi “got up, left everything, and followed Him” (Luke 5:28). He literally went after Jesus, walking along as Jesus led. Later, Levi threw a great party for Jesus so that he might introduce Him to his friends and associates (Luke 5:29).
You and I don’t have the chance to follow Jesus in that way. So, what does it mean for us to follow Jesus today? There are several passages in the Gospel of Luke that show us something about Jesus and what it means for us to follow Him. Though we can’t actually walk behind Him, going wherever He goes, we can follow Jesus by heeding His call, listening to His teachings, believing and doing what He says, getting to know Him personally, learning His way of life, being formed in the image of His character, praying as He teaches us, and joining in His kingdom-centered mission. I think I just described the process of fellowship.
In the 1300’s, a man living in a small village in southern England offered a simple, heartfelt prayer: “Thanks be to Thee, my Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits Thou hast given me, for all the pains and insults which Thou hast borne for me. O most merciful Redeemer, Friend, and Brother, may I know Thee more clearly, love Thee more dearly, follow Thee more nearly, day by day. Amen.” This prayer of St. Richard of Chichester has resonated in the hearts of Christians around the world, echoing throughout the centuries, and it is my prayer for you and me during this time. Indeed, in this particular time of history, with so many challenges and opportunities before us, may we know Jesus more clearly, love Him more dearly, and follow Him more nearly, day by day, even today!
Pause for a moment to take inventory of your daily life. Do you think of yourself as following Jesus in your everyday life? At work? In your community? With your family and friends? With your church? Do you know someone in today’s world who is following Jesus? If so, what are they doing?
Use St. Richard’s prayer as a way turning your mind and heart to Jesus. For the next several days, pray this prayer, either silently or out loud, a few times throughout your day.
… and she gave birth to her firstborn, a Son. She wrapped Him in cloths and placed Him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
As He [Jesus] approached Jerusalem and saw the city, He wept over it …
(Luke 2:7; 19:41, NIV)
The beloved Christmas carol, “Away in a Manager” have some believing that Jesus did not cry. When “the little Lord Jesus” is awakened by the lowing of the cattle, “no crying He makes.” This verse, however, is way out of line with Scripture. If Jesus was truly the incarnation of the Word of God, if He was fully human in addition to being fully divine, then He surely participated in normal human behavior, like crying when He was a baby.
In fact, the Gospels actually depict the crying of Jesus, not as an infant, but as a grown man. Perhaps the most familiar example is in John 11, where Jesus weeps along with those who are grieving over the death of Lazarus. Another example is Luke 19, where Jesus approaches the city of Jerusalem. “As He came near and saw the city,” Luke tells us, “He wept over it” (v. 41). In fact, the original word in Greek is a powerful verb that could even be translated as “wailed.” We’re not talking about a modest sniffle, but a strong, gut-wrenching, public expression of grief.
Why did Jesus weep in this dramatic way? Jesus explains His sadness over Jerusalem. The city had had a chance to embrace the peace that Jesus offered, but they rejected it even as they rejected Him. The salvation of God was now hidden from Jerusalem, which, in time, they would be crushed to the ground because they failed to recognize “God’s coming” to them (v. 44). Jesus felt tremendous grief as He gazed upon the broken city. He wept, much as the prophet Jeremiah once wept over Judah and Jerusalem (Jer. 9:1-11).
The example of Jesus gives us permission to grieve over the brokenness and pain of our cities today. It invites us to feel and express our sadness and anger over suffering and injustice. In this time of history in our nation, perhaps more than ever, we need this permission and invitation to weep. Over 108,000 Americans have now died from COVID-19, devastating families and communities. Over 40 million people have lost their jobs and now face extreme economic hardships.
As if that was not enough, adding to this horror, we learn of the senseless killings of African-Americans, culminating in the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer. The pain and rage of millions of people of color and their allies is expressed in fervent prayer meetings and peaceful protests, which some people exploit as an occasion for acts of violence. Yet, these acts must not take our attention away from the injustice of racism that continues to plague our society, systems, and even our own hearts. We rightly grieve over the mistreatment of people created in God’s image. We rightly repent over our own participation in unjust structures. We, who seek to follow Jesus, have every reason to weep over our own cities much as Jesus once did over Jerusalem.
Of course, Jesus didn’t stop there and neither should we. After weeping, He also acted decisively and sacrificially to bring a more far reaching peace than anyone could have imagined. Grief over injustice and suffering is just the beginning, and we should not stop there. As we take our grief to the Lord, we also ask what He would have us do. We offer ourselves as instruments of His peace, as seekers of His justice in every part of life, and as people who love in deed and not only in word. Weeping opens us up to feel God’s heart, receive God’s direction, and join in His kingdom mission. What this means for each one of us will be distinctive, given our situation in life and our particular callings. But we can all do something to advance the cause of justice in our part of the world and to stand in solidarity with the African American community in the midst of our current crisis.
How do you feel about what’s happening not only in our nation right now, but throughout the world? I encourage you to honestly and openly express your feelings and thoughts to the Lord, for He knows what it is like to weep over a city.
Ask God to give you His heart for what’s happening in our cities and
in our world today.
… being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of His holy people in the kingdom of light. 13For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, 14in Whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:11-14, NIV)
Some Christians can confuse genuine gratitude to God with denial of life’s challenges and pains. They subscribe to this “always look on the bright side of life” philosophy that minimizes or ignores the hardships we all experience. They think this sort of denial is required of Christians.
But this philosophy of life and faith is not what we see in Scripture. Take Col. 1:11-12, for example. Paul prays that the Colossians may be “joyfully giving thanks to the Father.” Notice the surprising context for this prayer. Verse 11 and 12a read: “being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12and giving joyful thanks to the Father.” Observe that joyful thanks happen as the Colossians are “enduring everything with patience.” From Paul’s letter we do not know much about what exactly they have to endure. But endurance goes hand in hand with hard things, including suffering. Either in their present experience or in the near future, the Colossian believers will have to struggle. Even so, they should be joyfully giving thanks to God.
How is this possible that we can be thankful, even joyfully thankful, when life is hard? Paul helps answers us with what comes next. We are to be thankful for the big things, for major expressions of God’s grace: including heavenly inheritance, rescue from darkness, citizenship in Christ’s kingdom, redemption from bondage, and forgiveness of sins (vv. 12b-14). The more we focus on the gifts of God to us, the more we’ll be able to give thanks, even with joy, when life is hard.
When I go through hard, challenging times, I am helped to be thankful by my Christian community. When brothers and sisters in Christ lift up my concerns and struggles in prayer, I am comforted. When they offer thanks for God’s gifts, they shine God’s light into the dark cave of my own pain. I can rejoice in gratitude along with others even when my own situation feels dire. This does not mean I have to pretend that life is all rosy. Far from it! But doing life with other believers enables us to be honest about our afflictions and to give thanks for God’s gifts (see 2 Cor. 1:8-11).
Allow me to encourage you to consider the following questions.
1. Are you able to give thanks when life is hard? If so, why? If not, why not?
2. What helps you to be thankful even when dealing with grief or suffering?
Share your struggles with your brothers and sisters in Christ,
so that they might pray for you.
Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations He has brought on the earth. 9He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; He burns the shields with fire. (Psalm 46:8-9, NRSV)
With the novel coronavirus pandemic, we worry about what might happen to our families and friends, our workplaces and churches, our cities and countries. We fear the desolations that might come as this virus continues to wreak havoc in our world.
In Psalm 46, God visits desolations on the earth, desolations of a most astounding and shocking kind. God’s desolations fill us, not with fear, but with hope. The first two verses of Psalm 46 state, “God is our refuge and strength . . . . Therefore we will not fear.” This beloved psalm has so much to say to us in this historic calamity we are facing together. It speaks to all of us at work, church, community, and family.
Psalm 46:8 invites us: “Come, behold the works of the LORD; see what desolations He has brought on the earth.” We are to examine, not just God’s works, but also His desolations. This sounds rather unsettling, doesn’t it? We’d rather focus on God’s healings and blessings, not on His desolations. What do these desolations include? Perhaps God’s judgments on those who disobey Him? His punishments for sin? A giant flood? Or . . . ?
The Hebrew word translated as “desolation” can mean “waste, desolation, horrific or atrocious event.” In Isaiah 64:10, we read: “Your holy cities have become a wilderness, Zion has become a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation.” Jeremiah 5:30 uses the word with emphasis on how it makes us feel to see such devastation, “An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land.” So talk of God’s desolations rightly makes us distressed, at first. We might even be horrified.
But as we continue on in Psalm 46 to see just what devastations the psalmist has in mind: “[The LORD] makes wars cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; He burns the shields with fire” (v. 9). The things that usually bring devastation to the earth – war and its weapons – are the things devastated by the hand of God. We might say that God desolates the desolations. God destroys destruction and wages war on warfare, thus bringing God’s true peace to the whole earth.
Behind Psalm 46 lies a vision of God’s coming kingdom, a day when peace and justice will fill the earth (for example, see Isaiah 9:7). In that day, human violence will cease. Under God’s reign, people “shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks” (Isaiah 2:4). Deathly weapons will become tools for life-promoting food production. Moreover, human beings will be healed of “all” our diseases (Psalm 103:3). As we read in the prophet Malachi, “But for you who revere My Name, the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall” (Malachi 4:2).
Thus, Psalm 46 reminds us that disease, including COVID-19, is not what God ultimately intends for our world. The future peace of God includes both health and flourishing. We should at all times be strengthened and moved by a vision of God’s kingdom. During a crisis, we need this vision even more than usual because it’s so easy to become focused only on our challenges, disappointments, griefs, and fears. We can lose sight of what God is doing and will do in the world. Yet, when we keep this vision in mind and heart, when it animates our lives, then we’ll be able to act both wisely and resiliently.
Psalm 46 also reminds us that God is at work in the world right now. We can behold God’s work – including His ironic desolations – not only in our vision of the future, but also in our current reality. In fact, God often uses what we perceive in the moment as desolations to advance His Kingdom. In this time of history, it’s hard to know exactly how God will use our current pandemic for good. Yet, we can be confident that the God who is with us now is also at work in us, through us, and around us. We hold tightly to the promise found in Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (NIV). “In all things” God is at work for good. With this confidence we live, trusting that God is at work in us for His purposes and glory. As we read in Philippians, “For it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).
I want to invite you to behold God’s works this week. What do you see?
Think of a time God was at work in your life in hard and difficult things. Can you think of a time or two when God worked redemptively in a situation that seemed to be hopeless?
How might the vision of God’s peaceful kingdom make a difference in your life right now?
As you think of God’s working in your life, thank Him for His love, grace and goodness. May those memories give you confidence in God’s sovereignty today.
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light. 10Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10)
Growing up in church, people would talk about the importance of having a “life verse.” A life verse is some passage from the Bible which seizes your imagination and spiritual life and, in some way, becomes a mission statement and guide verse on your road of discipleship.
When I was younger, I remember a season of a very dark night of the soul, a time in my life when I felt very much not-chosen, not-royal, and not-holy. Into that time, a wise friend shared with me this scripture, and it spoke into my heart in just the right way, bringing healing and a renewed sense of calling. It became my “life verse” for that season.
Peter is encouraging his readers to keep making progress along the discipleship journey – to leave behind malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander and crave the “pure, spiritual milk” given to babies to help them grow (1 Pet. 2:1-2). The author goes on to explain where this will lead:
As you come to Him, the living Stone – rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to Him – 5you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4-5).
Throughout 1 Peter 2, Peter uses OT prophetic passages which were addressed to God’s chosen people as a whole (1 Peter 2:10 is a very direct echo of God’s words to His people in Hosea 2:23). Peter’s calling in this passage is a calling for all disciples. No matter who we are, when we follow Jesus, we are chosen and precious in His sight and we are called to proclaim His mighty acts.
Right now, right here, whether you are sheltered in place, working as an essential employee, trying to get unemployment payments, seeking discernment for next steps, or wherever you might be at this moment; it might not feel like the best place or time to proclaim God’s mighty acts. Remember this, though: in your daily life you are sustained by the God who calls you and chooses you and reminds you that you are precious in His sight. His mercy is everlasting, and His love is sure.
Take some time to reflect on where you have seen God’s mercy in the last few weeks. Where do you wish you could see His mercy? How do you think you are called to share His mercy with others at this moment? How can you share an encouraging word with someone around you who is in need of encouragement right now?
“LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, You alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. 17Give ear, Lord, and hear; open Your eyes, Lord, and see; listen to all the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God. (Isaiah 37:16-17)
In Isaiah 36, we see God’s people in a dire situation. King Sennacherib and his menacing Assyrian army threatened to consume Jerusalem, taunting both God’s people and God himself.
In Isaiah 37, King Hezekiah of Judah turns to the Lord in prayer. Though he would ask the Lord to rescue Judah (36:20), he didn’t begin with this plea. Rather, Hezekiah focused, first of all, on God’s unique and powerful nature, praising Him as the only true God and creator of all things. He prayed, “LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, You alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth” (36:16).
Why did Hezekiah begin his prayer with such praise? To be sure, it is always right to praise God. You don’t need a special reason to speak of God’s glories. The fact that God deserves our praise always provides a strong rationale for honoring Him in this way. But I expect that Hezekiah began his prayer with praise for another reason. It strengthened his own confidence in the Lord. When faced with apparently invincible Assyrian power, Hezekiah needed to remember who was the true King of the universe, who in fact created all things. In human terms, Sennacherib’s power appeared to be unmatched. But it was nothing compared to the all-surpassing power of God.
The present challenges of our lives may not be quite as dire as those of Hezekiah, but we all face apparently invincible problems in our lives. There are times when these challenges – at work, at home, in our relationships, in our own hearts – seem overwhelming. In such circumstances, we are certainly free to pour out our fears and needs to the Lord. Yet, sometimes we need to do more than ask for God’s help. Sometimes we need to focus on God’s glory and power. We need to magnify the LORD. By drawing our attention to God’s nature through giving Him praise, our hearts are encouraged. Our minds are uplifted. We remember that no problem is too great for God and that He is with us to help and comfort us.
Moreover, when we praise God as king over all other powers in the universe, we are reminded that God is also king over us. God is sovereign over our lives, our families, our workplaces, our communities, and our leaders. When we praise God as “King of kings and Lord of lords,” we surrender our presumption, our assumption that we can control our lives. As we offer ourselves to God as His servants, we are embraced as His beloved children.
When life is hard, be encouraged by praising God!