Saturday, April 28, 2012

Psalms: My Hero

What does a hero look like? Some may say tall, dark, and handsome. Others may picture a knight clad in armor, or envision a modern day soldier fighting in another country. We have many heroes among us. But what does the best hero of all time look like? I would say—God!

I love action movies and adventure stories, especially the ones that happen in a medieval setting. The hero of the story has to be courageous and daring against a fierce enemy, and win a glorious victory. I think my love for a good heroic tale caused me to love the book of Psalms all the more. God is often pictured as the hero, delivering His beloveds from fierce enemies and defeating formidable adversaries. I also love this picture of God because I have needed Him as a hero.

My favorite Bible verse is found in a chapter that portrays God as a hero four times. Four scenarios caused people in distress to cry out to God for help, and each time He acted. The reaction of the psalmist? A call to praise. “Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!” (Psalm 107:8,15,21,31).* God tailors His goodness to the needs in our lives. Do we need deliverance? Healing? A home? A satisfied heart? He provides it. Our part is to turn to Him.

The difficulties that the people in Psalm 107 faced illustrate the spiritual needs we have today. The deliverance God gave them He gives today to those who cry out to Him. In the first scenario, the people “wandered in the wilderness in a desolate way” (Ps 107:4) with nowhere to call home. They were hungry and thirsty with weary souls. Today so many people wander in desolation with empty souls, needing something, or Someone, to fill them. God rescues us by saving us and giving us a “home” to rest in—a relationship with Himself. That is where we can find a place of peace and rest, a place of contentment and satisfaction for our souls.

In the next scenario, the people “sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, bound in affliction and irons” (Ps 107:10). They had rebelled against God’s words, and had brought misery on themselves. What was God’s rescue?  He delivered them from darkness and death, and freed them from bondage. God rescues us even when we have rebelled against Him. When we turn to Him, He frees us from the bondage we are caught in, and turns our darkness into light.

The third set of people also needed to be rescued from the consequences of sin. Their transgressions afflicted their souls, and they were near death. Here God sent His word to heal them. God delivers us from the affliction sin brings by healing us with His word. His truth restores our spiritual health and strength, and shapes our hearts to be Godly like His.

In the fourth scenario, the people faced a storm which God had allowed to come. They could do nothing to stop the storm. They were “at their wits’ end” (Ps 107:27). How often have you felt like that in the middle of a spiritual storm? When there seems to be no end to the tumult that has overtaken us, we can look to the One who controls all wind” and waves.” We can take hope in this truth: “He calms the storm, so that its waves are still” (Ps 107:29). God knows how to quiet every storm and bring peace to our hearts.

When our need to be rescued is great, God’s ability to rescue us is always greater. He hears those who cry out to Him. His love moves Him to come to our aid, and His power provides for us and delivers us like no one else can. He is our Hero in every trial and in every trouble. “Whoever is wise will observe these things, and understand the lovingkindness of the LORD” (Ps 107:43).

*All Scripture quotations taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Psalms: My Shepherd

When I was in the second grade, my teacher gave each of us a charcoal-sketched picture of a man holding a lamb. This picture was special to me, not just because of the teacher who gave it or because the lamb looked so content in the man’s arms. What made it special was the man holding the lamb. He had nail-scarred hands, and the look on His face matched the look on the lamb’s face. Both had their eyes closed, and the embrace they shared was one of love and contentment.
In John 10, Jesus is pictured as our good shepherd. But the image of a shepherd used to describe God came long before this in the Old Testament—in Isaiah, Ezekiel, Micah, Zechariah, and of course, Psalms.  Psalm 23, one of the most beloved psalms, describes the LORD as “my shepherd” (Psalm 23:1 NKJV). He is a personal shepherd, a personal guide who leads us through “green pastures” and by “still waters” (Psalm 23:2 NKJV). He nourishes us and restores our souls. Even when we have to walk through the valleys, we have reason not to be afraid. He is with us. The rod of His power and the staff of His protection keep us safe on treacherous paths and in uncertain times. He abundantly provides for our needs even when the enemy threatens us, and He brings us joy when we could have despaired. The LORD’s goodness and His mercy pursue us all of our days, and we can find no greater contentment than to dwell in His presence forever.

The God of all creation, the Lord over all things, is our shepherd. My shepherd. Your shepherd. All those who follow Him find Someone who will love them, cherish them, and take care of them forever. The lamb in my charcoal-sketched picture is each of us. With our God as our shepherd, we don’t have to be afraid of what life holds for us. We don’t have to be anxious when we walk through dark valleys. The shepherd who holds us is the God who cares for us perfectly. We are safe with Him, and free to pursue all the good things He has for us. “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1 NKJV).

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Psalms: God is Personal

What I love the most about Psalms is that it showed me God is a personal God. He didn’t make all things and then leave us to fend for ourselves. He is real, He is involved in our lives, and He loves us with a deep, abiding love. Whatever David and the other psalmists needed, God was there for them—whether it was protection, mercy, wisdom, or justice. God cared about what they were going through and intervened on their behalf. He is a personal God, the one and only personal God. And He is still personal today.

I found that the Psalms themselves were beautiful, in how they were written and how they talked about God. But they became even more precious to me when I experienced God in those ways. When He rescued me from enemies of fear, anxiety, and hopelessness. When He "held" me close when all I could do was cry. When He gave joy for sorrow, healing for hurts, and peace for restlessness. He has been exactly what I’ve needed again and again. He has given me adventures to share with Him and opportunities to tell others about Him. I am so grateful.

How is God real and personal in our lives? Here are some of the passages that have spoken the most to me. I hope that in your daily life you see God doing some of these things—rescuing you, teaching you, protecting you, strengthening you, and filling your heart with His joy and peace.

“I waited patiently for the LORD; and He inclined to me, and heard my cry. He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my steps” (Psalm 40:1-2 NKJV).*

“Teach me Your way, O LORD; I will walk in Your truth; unite my heart to fear Your name” (Psalm 86:11).

“My flesh and my heart fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26).

“Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us. Selah” (Psalm 62:8).

“I sought the LORD, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears” (Psalm 34:4).

“For You have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, and my feet from falling” (Psalm 116:8).

“You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).

*All Scripture quotations taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Because Jesus is Alive

Because Jesus is alive…

Life with God is possible.
Salvation is secure.
Death has no victory.
Sin has lost its power over us.
Joy is eternal.
Love is evident.
Peace is enduring.

Because Jesus is alive…

We don’t have to live burdened by sin and guilt.
We have purpose and meaning in life.
We have a Savior to proclaim and a gospel to share.
We have a Hero who defeats every foe and wins every victory.

Because Jesus is alive…

Every word He spoke is confirmed, and every promise is real.
We come to God “by a new and living way” (Heb 10:20 NKJV).
We have a faithful High Priest who ministers to us and intercedes for us (Heb 2:17, 4:15-16, 7:25).

Because Jesus is alive, we can be free from sin and eternal death, we can know and cherish the eternal God, and we can flourish in His eternal love.

Dear Lord Jesus,

Thank You for giving Your life for us. Thank You for winning the victory over sin and death and Satan. You are the living Savior! When we believe in You, You come to live in our hearts, never to leave. Thank You for Your grace and love. You are our Hero.

Thank You for giving me life. I know of no greater gift than to be able to spend forever with You. I celebrate You this Easter, and I love You. In Your name I pray, Amen.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Psalm 22: Jesus

It’s hard for me to hear about the suffering of Christ and all of the events that led to the cross. Just a couple of weeks ago, I asked for a volunteer in my ESL (English as a Second Language) class to read Psalm 22:1, which says, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (NKJV).* The first volunteer read it in English. The second volunteer began to read it in Spanish, but couldn’t finish. Emotion overtook her, and tears began to swell. I could relate.

Written about a thousand years before Jesus’ crucifixion, Psalm 22 is the only psalm that is entirely devoted to describing Jesus’ death for us. His physical, emotional, and spiritual agony is hard to imagine. The cruel nature of Jesus’ enemies and His pain is described here with picturesque language. This chapter was written by the psalmist David, yet God inspired him to show what His Son would go through on the cross. Verse six foretells that Jesus would be despised by men: “I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men and despised by the people.” Jesus’ enemies would encircle Him like wild, savage animals: “Many bulls have surrounded Me; strong bulls of Bashan have encircled Me. They gape at Me … like a raging and roaring lion” (Ps 22:12-13). The physical and emotional toll on Jesus would “melt” Him: “I am poured out like water … My heart is like wax; it has melted within Me” (Ps 22:14). Verse 16 foreshadows the brutality of this form of execution: “They pierced My hands and My feet.”

Yet I would think that the most intense form of agony is found in Psalm 22:1: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” In order for Jesus to bear our sin, He had to be separated from God—from the Father and the Spirit with whom He had always been united. Was this separation the reason Jesus asked three times if the Father would take “this cup,” this suffering, from Him (Matt 26:39 NKJV)? But each time Jesus prayed that the Father’s will would be done. Jesus understood that He was the only one who could drink that cup—who could die for our sin—and He was willing to do it because of His great love for us (Romans 5:8).

The resurrection of our Lord from the grave is the Easter story that we celebrate every spring. Sin and death couldn’t hold Him. No “bull” (fierce person) or “dog” (malicious person) could take His life. He willingly laid it down for love’s sake and because it was the Father’s will. Because of His sinless life, His spotless sacrifice, God raised Jesus from the dead as proof of who He was and what He did. He is the Son of God, and He sacrificially gave His life so that we could have life forever with God. What a Savior!

Praise is the heartfelt response we can have to Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus won the victory over sin and death for us. We can turn to Him and worship Him (Ps 22:27); we can serve Him and tell others what He has done for us (Ps 22:31). This Easter, let’s praise God for giving us His Son, and look for opportunities to tell others what great things the Lord has done!

*All Scripture quotations taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.