Two Ways to Live

Today’s reading: Psalm 62-64; Romans 1

5 My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
when I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
7 for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.                                      Psalm 63:5-7

21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.    Romans 1:21

Mankind is divided into two groups, those who find their satisfaction and joy in God and those who neither honor Him nor give thanks to Him. There are two ways to live and both are vividly contrasted in today’s readings.

The Psalmist opens his heart again and again showing us how much he longs for God. He is like one longing for water and air. He cannot live without his God. He finds his satisfaction in Him. He finds shelter and protection in Him. He praises God with joy. He sings of Him for joy. The worship of God is not a necessary but unpleasant discipline.   He finds delight in God.

By contrast, Paul describes people who take no interest in God. They have no time to praise Him. They give Him no thanks. They presumptuously go on their merry way in foolishness. They have no excuse for their negligence, because God’s invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature are clearly perceived in creation (vs. 19-20). Rather, than worship and thank God, however, they grow more foolish and exchange the glory of God for images of animals. They worship creatures, not the Creator.

Man is made to worship God and if he will not worship God he will worship something less than God for he must have an object of worship. It is common to call our celebrities “idols”. Why not? We worship them and they encourage it. The only problem is they are fallen humans, not worthy of worship. They, too, will be called to answer for their idolatry.

Find your satisfaction and joy in the eternal triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He is magnificent. He is worthy of all our praise and worship. There are only two ways to live and the choice is clear. [1]

[1] To see a presentation of the gospel go to: http://www.matthiasmedia.com.au/2wtl/

Flee to the Banner

Today’s reading: Psalm 59-61; Acts 28:16-31

4 You have set up a banner for those who fear you,
that they may flee to it from the bow.      Selah
5 That your beloved ones may be delivered,
give salvation by your right hand and answer us!                      Psalm 60:4-5

23 When they had appointed a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in greater numbers. From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. 24 And some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved.                                                                                  Acts 28:23-24

Those who fear God and who are His beloved, show it by fleeing to the banner He has raised, the gospel of Jesus Christ where they find salvation, but dulled hearts do not respond to the message despite its clarity.

David uses a military analogy to faith and salvation. The troops are scattered and about to die. The commander sets up a banner to rally them back. They see the banner and head for it. There they are saved from defeat and the tide of victory is turned in their favor.

Why would a soldier who is in dire straits not flee to the banner raised by his commander?

Paul raised the banner of the gospel among the Jews in Rome. He used their Scriptures in his efforts to convince them. Some believed and some did not. Why not? It was not that Paul had failed to be clear. He diagnosed their condition from the prophet Isaiah. Their hearts were dull, ears nearly deaf, and they closed their eyes. The banner was raised, but they refused to flee to it.

They had their opportunity but they did not grasp it. Paul told them the message had been sent to the Gentiles and they would listen.

The task of God’s believing people is to keep proclaiming the good news of life in Jesus Christ from the Bible, accurately and faithfully, as Paul modeled. Some will believe. Some will not. Do not be discouraged. Stay the course, because to everyone who flees to the banner, God will grant salvation.

God Is For Me

Today’s reading: Psalm 56-58; Acts 28:1-15

This I know, that God is for me.
10 In God, whose word I praise,
in the Lord, whose word I praise,
11 in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
What can man do to me?                                                                        Psalm 56:9b-11

And so we came to Rome. 15 And the brothers there, when they heard about us, came as far as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet us. On seeing them, Paul thanked God and took courage.                                                                           Acts 28:14b-15

There is no substitute for real life experience in knowing God. Biblical truth may be perceived with the mind and believed but it becomes reality in the actual rough and tumble of life where God shows Himself to be faithful to His people.

Throughout the Psalms we are told of the trials and afflictions that come to a believer. He may be unjustly treated, falsely accused, betrayed, ridiculed, and pursued by an army. The godly man or woman clings to the Lord, delights in His law, and trusts God no matter what. Through those trials the disciple learns that even when life is difficult, God is there. God is for me.

Paul went through months of trials as a prisoner, shipwrecked, and even snake-bitten. But everywhere he went the Lord was there keeping him and using his life to minister to others. Finally, he made it to Rome and, right away, he met brothers who were anticipating his arrival. All the stress of that trip melted away as, again, God showed that He had a purpose for Paul in Rome, a purpose which included service to the church in Rome.

Paul had written earlier to the Roman Christians telling them, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32). Might this have been Paul’s way of expressing the thought of Psalm 56? Paul was no novice when he wrote Romans 8, but God proved Himself in even more ways by the time he met the believers face to face in Rome.

Wherever you are in life, young, old, or in-between, seek to know God through His Word and to prove His promises through your experience of trusting Him. There is no way to learn how powerful and present God is other than daily faith and obedience.

Contagious Confidence

Today’s reading: Psalm 53-55; Acts 27:26-44

22 Cast your burden on the Lord,
and he will sustain you;
he will never permit
the righteous to be moved.                                                                Psalm 55:22

34 Therefore I urge you to take some food. For it will give you strength, for not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you.” 35 And when he had said these things, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat. 36 Then they all were encouraged and ate some food themselves.                    Acts 27:34-36

Confidence in the Lord in times of trial is contagious.

The Psalmist describes the pain of betrayal. His close friend has turned against him. The person whom he trusted and ate with is out to get him. The burden of this is enormous. It’s as if the person you counted on to help you carry a load, quit carrying it, and jumped on your back and added to your load. David says to cast that burden on the Lord. The result is confidence in God’s sustaining power. Nothing can occur without His permission and He will not permit the righteous to be moved.

Jesus, too, knew betrayal by His close friend and disciple, Judas Iscariot (Matthew 26:45-56). This psalm probably sustained the Lord who was the only Righteous One who could legitimately claim the promise that He would never be moved. Who are we to claim this promise, struggling sinners that we are? But by His suffering all who believe in Him are made righteous and, thus, Paul and all the saints down through history can cast their burdens on God expecting to be sustained and kept even in a time of betrayal, shipwreck, or other calamity (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Paul demonstrated his confidence in the Lord to sustain him by both his words and his actions. He reassured the crew and passengers and he ate a meal in front of them. They responded to him and did as he urged them. They gained strength for the impending shipwreck and the swim for shore. All were saved from the sea.

Have you seen how the godly spread confidence to others by their trust in the Lord? Consider how your words and actions today can be used by God to inspire others to trust Him and to cast their burdens on Him.

Sunless Days and Starless Nights

Today’s reading: Psalm 50-52; Acts 27:1-25

14 Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and perform your vows to the Most High,
15 and call upon me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” Psalm 50:14-15

23 For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, 24 and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ 25 So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told.                Acts 27:23-25

God is the rightful owner of all people and all things, so we belong to Him and He deserves our thankful worship no matter how bleak our circumstances.

The Psalmist makes a powerful statement about God. He needs nothing from us. He lacks nothing because all things are already His. We insult Him with our puny offerings given with an attitude of pride or duty. What does God want from us? Try making an offering of thanksgiving. Try using your mind and heart to reflect on all that He is and all that He has done for us. That is pleasing to God not mere outward actions of religious rituals.

Paul in his eventful voyage on a prison ship to Rome becomes the real leader despite his lowly status as a prisoner. His initial advice to winter over at Fair Havens was unheeded but was later proven to have been wise. As the ship is driven by a storm, the angel of God appears to Paul giving him a promise of deliverance. Paul identifies God as the One to whom he belongs and the One whom he worships. In the midst of a storm, which blocked out the sun by day and the stars by night for days and days, Paul was clear on who God is and who he was before Him. “I belong to Him and I worship Him,” Paul says.

Do desperate, life-threatening circumstances draw you closer to God? Do dark days and nights make you more certain of His ownership of you and of His worthiness of all your trust and thanksgiving? That was Paul’s experience. Nothing that happened to him could diminish his convictions about the reality of God’s existence and of His personal care for him.

How can you tell your faith is unshaken in the storm? Check the level of your thanksgiving. Be sure your praise of God is on the rise. God is pleased with a sacrifice of thanksgiving. Nothing is more glorifying to Him than genuine praise and thanks especially on sunless days and starless nights (Acts 27:20).

The Pompous Dead

Today’s reading: Psalm 47-49; Acts 26

20 Man in his pomp yet without understanding is like the beasts that perish.  Psalm 49:20

28 And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” 29 And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.”     Acts 26:28-29

A man who lacks understanding of who God is and how one is saved from sin is no better than an animal, even though he may rank high in the eyes of the world.

The Psalmist exalts God at every turn and is not impressed with the things that society holds of great value: power, prestige, wealth, and knowledge. One does not need to read far in the Scripture before confronting this reality. One may be far up the ladder before discovering it is leaning against the wrong wall.

King Agrippa makes a perfect example of this truth. Luke’s account shows that he and his wife, Bernice, were held in high esteem. They entered the audience hall with great pomp (Acts 25:23). Paul is presented to them and he begins his defense describing his previous life and his conversion to Jesus Christ. Festus discounts the whole story as one of a mad man, deluded through too much education. Paul appeals to the king for confirmation of what he is saying. Agrippa, at least, does not call Paul crazy and admits that what he is saying is more than a mere defense. Agrippa understands that Paul is attempting to win the king to Christ!

What makes Paul so bold as to use his own trial as an opportunity to preach Christ to a king and queen? Paul was not intimidated by all the royal fanfare. Paul was enthralled with the glories of his Lord Jesus Christ. Whether he was consciously thinking about Psalm 49, it is safe to say that he was mindful that “man in his pomp yet without understanding is like the beasts that perish.”

Are you prepared to grasp even the difficult moments of your life to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ? Remember kings and queens and all other pompous humans without understanding of the gospel and faith in the Savior will perish just like beasts. Be ready to warn them.

God Will Be Glorified

Today’s reading: Psalm 44-46; Acts 25

10 “Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
11 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah                                                      Psalm 46:10-11

To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you yourself know very well. 11 If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death. But if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar.” 12 Then Festus, when he had conferred with his council, answered, “To Caesar you have appealed; to Caesar you shall go.”          Acts 25:10b-12

God rules over the whole earth and is with His people no matter what overtakes them. He is exalted over all.

Psalm 46 reminds us that whether there is chaos in the cosmos or bloodbaths on the battlefields, God still rules over all things. The believer is told not to fear but to be quiet and focus on the Lord who is over all the madness of men and the disintegration of the physical world. Nothing can stop Him, nor thwart His will, nor sever His people from Him.

Paul must have had a firm grasp on this truth as he was passed from one jurisdiction to another: from the Jews, to the Roman tribune, from Felix to Festus and from Festus to Agrippa and later to Caesar. Paul had stated his position, “not guilty.” The charges weren’t sticking, but he was still in custody as a favor to the Jews. Paul sought to maintain a clear conscience (Acts 24:16) and clearly states that he would accept any sentence which was just, even death. Festus shows confusion and ambivalence, offering to let Paul be tried in Jerusalem. Paul appeals to Caesar. The charges against him are not clear much less proven. But Paul remains steady, trusting that God is using his testimony to the gospel in this setting before governors and kings for His glory.

Do not be intimidated by the apparent powers of this world’s political systems. God still rules. Do not panic if it seems like the world may blow apart through some natural catastrophe. In the midst of these kinds of crises, God shows His power and sovereignty. Be still. Trust Him. He will be glorified.

Getting Around to It

Today’s reading: Psalm 41-43; Acts 24

11 By this I know that you delight in me:
my enemy will not shout in triumph over me.
12 But you have upheld me because of my integrity,
and set me in your presence forever.                                                      Psalm 41:11-12

24 After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. 25 And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, “Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you.”    Acts 24:24-25

Procrastination is not only the thief of time, but also the handiest and flimsiest excuse of those who have no desire or intention of taking some needed and radical course of action or making a difficult and important decision. My father used to carry around in his pocket a small wooden disk with the inscription “TUIT.” If I said to him, “I’ll do that when I get around to it,” he would smile, reach into his pocket, pull out the little disk and hand it to me saying, “Here, now you’ve got a round TUIT.” He finally let me keep the round TUIT permanently as I always seemed to need it.

Felix, the governor, had power over Paul, his prisoner, but not over the God of judgment of whom Paul spoke. That topic alarmed him, but, like so many others today and down through history, he deluded himself with the thought that he would think about it later, when he got around to it.

Believers in Jesus Christ are not alarmed by the thought of standing before the God of judgment. Like the Psalmist, we know that the Lord delights in us and that, rather than be swept away in condemnation, we will stand accepted before Him forever. The true believer has a desire for God not unlike the desperate need for air and water, so we say,

As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God. (Psalm 42:1-2)

Is that your mindset, that you must know more of God? Do you crave His presence, His Word, His will in your life? Beware of the Felix mentality of saying, “when I get around to it.” Now is the time to seek the Lord, to study His word, to pray, to obey, to be in worship with His people, and to make diligent use of the means of grace.

God’s Providential Care

Today’s reading: Psalm 38-40; Acts 23:12-35

13 Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me!
O Lord, make haste to help me!
14 Let those be put to shame and disappointed altogether
who seek to snatch away my life;
let those be turned back and brought to dishonor
who delight in my hurt!
15 Let those be appalled because of their shame
who say to me, “Aha, Aha!”                                                           Psalm 40:13-15

31 So the soldiers, according to their instructions, took Paul and brought him by night to Antipatris.                                                                                             Acts 23:31

Those who know the Lord may suffer intense, unjust opposition or they may suffer for their foolishness and sin, but they trust in Him and He providentially cares for them whether to deliver them for further service or take them home to glory.

The Psalmist endured much pain partly from his own sin and partly from the severe oppression that was mounted against him unjustly. There is a difference between suffering due to our own sin and suffering due to being God’s servant. [See 1 Peter 2:18-25]. But it is often not easy to separate our suffering into such neat, clean categories. The Psalmist was suffering and in these laments he mixes the two causes and appeals to the Lord for forgiveness and deliverance. Unlike Job, he recognizes some responsibility for what he is having to endure but also cries out for relief from those who plot against him unjustly (Psalm 38:3-4,11-12, 17-20; 40:12).

The events of Paul’s life show the power of God working providentially to preserve him from unjust suffering and for further service. A plot is hatched with 40 men conspiring to kill him. His nephew overhears the plot and reports it to Paul. Paul wisely asks the centurion to take his nephew to the tribune. The tribune takes immediate action and Paul is rescued and sent to the governor for trial, and, let us add, to witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. We can only imagine that the 40 conspirators were completely “put to shame and disappointed altogether.”

Most of us do not suffer such opposition as Paul did, but we do suffer in smaller ways. Do you know that He watches over you? Do you know that while you may feel that your iniquities are more than the hairs of your head (40:12) God’s care for you is such that He has the hairs of your head numbered and your iniquities covered by the blood of Christ (Luke 12:4-7; 24:44-47)? Trust His providential care. His plan for you cannot be thwarted by any person, even yourself.

Paul’s Tweet

Today’s reading: Psalm 36-37; Acts 23:1-11

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
8 They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
9 For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light do we see light.                                             Psalm 36:7-9

“…It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.”                                                                                       Acts 23:6b

The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. [1] I need to remember this frequently when the circumstances of life are at best monotonous and at worst terrifying. The godly believer keeps this perspective with the help of God’s Word.

The Psalms offer an antidote for the tendency to complain, to be bored, restless, overwhelmed, or impatient. This antidote is to meditate on the Lord, His Word, His steadfast love, and His constant providential care. On the flip side, the antidote includes a healthy dose of fear of the Lord knowing that He will destroy the wicked. Do not “flatter” yourself that He can’t see you and bring you to account for your sin. Instead, run to Him for mercy. Fear Him. Praise Him. Love Him. Delight in Him.

Paul must have understood this as his difficulties grew more and more serious. He used wisdom, even shrewdness, in addressing the Sanhedrin, the Jewish court composed of members with severe theological differences. In what we would call today a “sound bite” or “tweet”, he summarized the problem, “It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.” Paul, by this statement, showed that, despite his imprisonment and the constant threats to his life, his hope was undiminished and his focus on the gospel was undistracted. His trust in the historic resurrection of Jesus Christ was the basis for his life and ministry. His words set off an intense and disorderly debate in the court. He was no longer the focus of their attention, but the subject of hope and the resurrection of the dead took center stage.

Are you prepared for this day with its foreseeable monotony or terrifying trials or, most likely, its predictable sameness? Whatever may come, seek to drink from the river of God’s delights. You are given the task of enjoying Him, today and forever.

[1] Westminster Shorter Catechism, question 1.