A Study in Affliction: The Sufficiency of God’s Word in Psalm 119 for the Believer’s Affliction (Part 5)

Today something terrible happened to our family: my Maw Maw died.

We knew it was coming. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease almost four years ago. My Maw Maw was one of the most selfless, loving people I have ever met. We traveled down to my parents yesterday, and we enjoyed one brief visit with her before she went to heaven.

It is now 20:49, and as my brother, father, and I watch the Chargers and the Raiders play, I began researching for this post. I have been studying the verses with a form of afflicted. Today’s post focuses on Psalm 119:75.

David writes, “I know, O LORD, that Your judgments are righteous,
And that in faithfulness You have afflicted me.” (NASB)

GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY AND DAILY LIFE

There are times when I think on God’s sovereignty in the major events of the world. A certain president gets elected, a world leader passes away, or a enormous financial change occurs, and it is all attributed to God’s sovereign lead. But there are times when seemingly insignificant things seem completely driven by the hand of the sovereign God.

Today was one of those days. When my wife asked if we should head down to my parents, it seemed like a small push. But considering the events of today, it was all from God’s hand.

David, in considering his difficulties, acknowledged God’s sovereignty. This does not mean that God was guilty of sin, but that God allowed certain events to occur in his life. The afflictions David faced, though instigated by Saul, or Ahithophel, or whoever, all originated from the hand of the Almighty.

How this transforms our views of affliction! When we consider that God in His glorious sovereignty works all things, all things, for our good, we find ourselves realizing, like David, that “in faithfulness [God has] afflicted me.”

GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY AND RIGHTEOUSNESS

The basis for David’s realization is anchored in the righteousness of God. God’s acts are righteous. Because God is righteous, His acts are righteous. Everything God does stems from and is built upon His righteousness. There is nothing that occurs outside of His righteousness.

Study Psalm 119 and you will quickly see how God’s righteous helps David in his daily life. And when we begin to renew our minds (see Romans 12:1-2), our view of the afflictions of life come from the hands of the righteous God.

GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY AND AFFLICTION

The death of my Maw Maw is a terrible affliction. Our hearts are breaking, for a wonderful woman has departed this life. But it comes from the hands of a righteous God, and in that we can rejoice.

What afflictions do you find yourself in? Do you realize that God is righteous?

Pray to be like David, and view all things, all afflictions, as coming from the hands of a righteous God.

“I know, O LORD, that Your judgments are righteous,
And that in faithfulness You have afflicted me.” (Psalm 119:75, NASB)

A Study in Affliction: The Sufficiency of God’s Word in Psalm 119 for the Believer’s Affliction (Part 4)

Affliction is good. 

You may read those words and, like me, say “What?” The concept of affliction is one that immediately brings forth feelings of discomfort and dread. We are creatures that love our comfort.

We love for the comforts of a fire on a cold and wet day. We long for the warmth of our beds. We leap with joy when we can shed our work clothes and don our sweats. But affliction? It is the troll under the bridge, baring our way on the road to comfort and ease. It is the dragon guarding the gold of comfort hidden in the cave. We dislike comfort in the most intense way imaginable.

So how in the world can affliction be good? 

David pens this conundrum,

“It is good for me that I was afflicted, That I may learn your statutes.” (Psalm 119:71, NASB)

There are a few things that are important to note at the outset. These thoughts will then, I hope, help to provide an explanation of how affliction can be good.

IN THIS VERSE, AFFLICTION IS A PASSIVE EXPERIENCE

David states, “It is good for me that I was afflicted.” That is, he experienced affliction. He received it. He endured it. People and circumstances afflicted David. He was the receiver, not the instigator.

In our own lives, we do not willingly set out seeking affliction (those who do usually have other issues). It is thrust upon us, like the breaking waves crashing on the seashore. We receive the bad report from the doctor. Our employer gives us the pink slip. That one person continues to drive us crazy.

Our afflictions usually come to us, not the other way around. Why is this important? First, we must remember that God is sovereign. He is in control, and regardless of how deep the affliction may be, it comes from God’s hand. The unimaginable comfort brought by the truths of Romans 8:28-29 provide wells of encouragement. Secondly, it also helps us realize that there are times when we can do everything right and still experience affliction. It is a theological error to think right behavior will bring blessings (read through the book of Job to have this view corrected). However, when we experience trials, we can take comfort that it may not be from our own fault.

IN THIS VERSE, AFFLICTION INCREASED LEARNING

I remember hearing in chapel this same thought. One of my professors would say, “You’ll learn more about God through conflict than you will from a systematic theology book!” I distinctly remember thinking to myself, “This guy is insane. There is no way that would happen.” Enter life and ministry, and the lesson holds true.

David realized that affliction brought a deeper intuition to God’s truth. The affliction David experienced enhanced his learning of God’s Word. He learned God’s statutes. Learning requires repetition and interaction. David’s love for God’s Word provided a rich environment in which affliction could yield positive fruits. But it was only enhanced by affliction.

This can help us endure affliction. Rather than dreading it, we can learn from it. We can grow through it. But only as we seek God’s Word. That is the key difference of Christian suffering. God’s Word is a unique tool, inspired by God, to provide growth toward Christlikeness. Affliction is an enhancer of growth. It is a growth activator, if you will.

IN THIS VERSE, AFFLICTION IS TEMPERED BY GOD’S WORD

The last point that stands out in this verse is the fact that God’s Word tempers our affliction. It is only by God’s Word that we understand that all things, including affliction and suffering, are used for good in the Christian’s life (Romans 8:28-29). Affliction turns us away from ourselves, our own accomplishments and abilities, toward God and His truth.

A Study in Affliction: The Sufficiency of God’s Word in Psalm 119 for the Believer’s Affliction (Part 3)

Psalm 119 has seven verses that mention the word affliction. These references help form a framework from which the believer, the child of God, can endure, learn from, and thrive in, affliction.

Of course this idea seems to be a complete contradiction. But as we mentioned before, God’s workings are quite beyond our ability to comprehend (see Isaiah 55:8-9). The fact that we can endure affliction and thrive and learn in it is astounding.

Our second verse is Psalm 119:67. David writes,

Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word. (KJV)

This single verse provides an interesting timeline of events. Like the Order of Service printed on a church bulletin, this verse shows the progression of David’s experiences in affliction and the result of facing them.

MISLEADING AND DECEPTION

David plainly states, “Before I was afflicted I went astray.” That is, before David experienced trouble, he went astray. The phrase went astray is an interesting one. It comes from one Hebrew word, and though there are several shades of meaning, the basic concept is one of deception.

Another was to describe this is misled. Misleading can come in a variety of ways. For example, David experiencing a form of misleading when he was transporting the Ark of the Covenant. In II Samuel 6, David decides to take a large number of people (30,000, according to 6:1), to retrieve the Ark. It must have been a thrilling experiencing! All of those people celebrating the return of the Ark, surrounded by music and joy (6:2-5)!

Then something terrible happened. Tragedy struck a man named Uzzah. As they (Uzzah and Ahio, brothers, 6:3) drove the cart, the Ark slipped and began to fall and “Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it…And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God” (6:6-7).

Can you imagine how David, and the people, felt? It seemed as if they were doing everything right and then tragedy struck.

MISLEADING AND US

Does that not happen to us? Do we not proceed with life thinking we are doing well, but like Uzzah we face some affliction? The question is, “Why?”

Why did God strike Uzzah down? After all, he was trying to save the Ark. Why would God do that?

Affliction was a tool used in Uzzah’s, the people’s, and David’s life to remove that misleading. We are human beings, prone to deception and faulty thinking (see Ephesians 2:3; 4:17-18, for example). We believe we are doing right. We may think our motives are right, and therefore justify the means. We may think the end is right, and therefore justify the means.

This is what happened during the transportation of the Ark. David, leading the people, thought that by bringing the Ark back to the land they were doing good. This affliction, no doubt, drove David to consider God’s truth about the Ark. He would have been sent to the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) in which he would have read Numbers 4:15, 16, and 20.

And this is what happens in our own lives. Far too often we justify unbiblical ways of doing deeds, thinking thoughts, or spreading speech by the motive, the ends, and even the means. And, perhaps unbeknownst to us, we sin.

MISLEADING AND CORRECTION

However, God in His infinite mercy and marvelous sovereignty, uses our failures and deceptions to conform us to the image of His dear Son and our Savior, Jesus (Romans 8:29; cf. Gen. 50:20). David, brokenhearted and confused, “was afraid of the LORD that day” (II Sam. 6:9). Before David experienced this affliction he went astray. He was deceived.

Like us, we often need affliction in order to be driven to the God we worship. Like bumper bars in a bowling lane, affliction keeps us, like it did David, from being misled into the gutters of sin.

MISLEADING AND GOD’S WORD

Affliction is a unique tool in the hand of our sovereign, good God. He uses it so that we, like David, can say, “now I have kept thy word.”

Brothers and sisters, let us keep the Word of God! Let affliction be our guides to read, study, memorize, and meditate on God’s Word!

A Study in Affliction: The Sufficiency of God’s Word in Psalm 119 for the Believer’s Affliction (Part 2)

A NERDY INTRODUCTION

In our last post we began to examine Psalm 119:50. We used the ESV translation, which states, ” “This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.”

The ESV chose an interesting way to translate the word אמרתך. The word is translated promise. However, in the NASB and the NKJV, is is translated word.

According to Logos, the word  אמרתך (or its derivatives) is translated one of three ways: word(s), speech, and command.

Psalm 119_50_Word Graphic
The results from a word search on Logos 8, gathered from the NASB95. The graph represents the occurrences of each translation of the Hebrew word. The total amounts of translation are: word(s): 32; speech: 4; and command: 1.

Generally, then, the אמרתך is used to describe word, speech, or a command. In the case of Psalm 119, we can safely presume it refers to God’s Word. Almost every verse of Psalm 119 (176 in total) refer to God’s Word in one form or another. The next question is, How does God’s Word (or promise, as the ESV renders it), provide comfort in affliction?

A PROFOUND TRUTH

Books can be written to answer that question. To limit our discussion (and the length of this post), I want to focus on a few verses from this Psalm in particular.

To begin with, there is a specific happiness that accompanies biblical obedience. The psalmist begins the wonderful chapter with these words, “How blessed are those whose way is blameless, Who walk int he law of the LORD.” (Psalm 119:1, NASB) During times of affliction, whether spiritual or physical, comfort is gained from the joy of obedience (compare this with Hebrews 12:2).

Or take another verse, Psalm 119:6, “Then I shall not be ashamed When I look upon all Your commandments.” (NASB) When we look at God’s commands. Of course the word entails more than simply looking with one’s eyes. It involves observation, intent attentionprolonged and purposeful examination. Even during affliction, observance of God’s Word frees one from shame.

SO WHAT?

So what does this mean for you? Well, it depends upon the affliction facing you. What are you going through? What troubles are attacking your body or soul? What family members are experience tumultuous times?

Do you turn to the only place that can provide true help? As Dr. Berg bluntly states, “It is, rather, mutinous for created beings to turn to themselves for solutions when they were created to depend upon God Himself.” [Jim Berg, God Is More Than Enough: Foundations For a Quiet Soul (Greenville, SC: Journey Forth, 2010), 6.] We are so prone to turn to everything but God, and He has graciously provided His Word to help us during times of affliction. When dealing with anxiety, we can turn to the God Who holds everything together. When struggling with sexual temptation, we can find satisfaction in the wonders of Jesus Christ. The afflictions will vary in kind and intensity, but the answer is always the same: God’s Word.

As we continue to journey through these verses in Psalm 119, I hope that you realize that God’s Word is such a treasure-trove of comfort and delight.

 

OTHER POSTS IN THE SERIES

A Study in Affliction: An Introduction to Psalm 119 and the Believer’s Trials

A Study in Affliction: The Sufficiency of God’s Word in Psalm 119 for the Believer’s Affliction (Part 1)

In a previous post, we begin a brief overview of affliction as it appears in Psalm 119. The subject of affliction appears seven times in the mammoth psalm. We begin with the first appearance of affliction in Psalm 119:50.

David pens these words,

“This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.” (ESV)

A BRIEF DEFINITION

Affliction is translated from the Hebrew word עני, which, according to one lexicon, means “affliction, poverty.” Another possible definition is “misery.” No matter which one you choose, the picture is not pleasant.

The connection with affliction and the trials we face are obvious. We are all afflicted with a variety of problems. They vary in significance and intensity, but they afflict us all. This broad understanding helps us in every situation, and is another evidence of the complete sufficiency of God’s Word for all our problems.

CAN THERE BE COMFORT IN AFFLICTION?

If you are like me, you may find yourself asking the question, “Can there be comfort in affliction?” It would appear to be an oxymoron to many of us. Imagine finding comfort while mourning the loss of a spouse. Try to find comfort when the doctor informs you that you have six months to live. Look for comfort when your bills are more than your income.

These are all severe cases, but what about the “little things”? Can you find comfort when you are late to work? Is there comfort for your car breaking down once again? Does a severed relationship with a friend at school make room for comfort?

Can comfort be present in affliction, severe or little?

David’s answer is a resounding yes. Contrary to the marred thinking of sinful human beings (see Ephesians 4:17-18), Christians can find comfort during times of affliction.

A LIFE CHANGING TRUTH

Is this not wonderful news? Regardless of the scenario of affliction, the believer can receive comfort. Though the trials will vary in intensity and timing, we can find comfort, true and life-infusing comfort.

The idea is consolation. We all need to be comforted, to feel that everything will be alright. God’s Word comforts us. Like feasting on chicken noodle soup after a bout with sickness, God’s Word provides healing down to the very depths of our souls.

LIFE GIVING PROMISE

How does David find comfort during times of affliction? David says, “your promise gives me life” (Psalm 119:50, ESV). The promise found in the sacred Scriptures provide life-infusing comfort during those times of adversity.

The question remains, what promise?

For that, you will have to wait until the next post.

A Study in Affliction: An Introduction to Psalm 119 and the Believer’s Trials

Recently I have experienced some incredible times of God’s presence. I have been reminded of His powerful sovereignty. I am revived by the sufficiency of God’s Word for all of our problems.

What is the cause of these sweet times with my Father? I can answer that question with one word: affliction. I will not go into details, but the last few months have been incredibly difficult for our family. Now, I do not mean that every day has been a struggle. Quite the opposite, we have enjoyed many joyful times in our private and ministerial life. However, we have experienced an increase in affliction.

Shortly before these afflictions began, I started reading Psalm 119. The psalm is packed with references to God’s Word, and I desired to see how intricate His Word is for the life of the believer. This personal study has produced an incredible yield of fruit in my own life, and consequently, in the life of others. My hope and prayer is that this brief series would encourage you with the sufficiency of God’s Word, the sweetness of God’s sovereignty, and the all-sufficient supremacy of God above everything.

In my personal study, I focused on Psalm 119:92. David writes, “If Your law had not been my delight, Then I would have perished in my affliction.” (NASB) One afternoon I had some additional personal study time in which I jotted down just a few thoughts.

  • God’s Word must be meditated on because
    • Because it gives us a right perspective of God
    • Because it gives us a right perspective of ourselves
    • Because it gives us a right perspective of our successes and failures
  • God’s Word must be meditated on constantly
    • Because we often forget about God and ourselves
    • Because we are constantly beset with sin
    • Because our problems are new every day

After reading these thoughts to my wife, she asked if I was preparing a sermon. Though I usually am, it was meant simply for personal edification. However, it turned out that I was given an opportunity to preach, and so I set to work developing these points further.

After the sermon, I realized that there was much more contained in this psalm, and so I spent more time studying.  One goal I had was to develop the idea of affliction as it is used in Psalm 119.

I found seven uses of the English word affliction in the NASB. These are Psalm 119:50, 67, 71, 75, 92, 107, and 153. In my research I found that the word translated as affliction comes from two Hebrew words.

In the following posts, I hope to provide an overview of affliction as presented in Psalm 119. I am amazed at how God’s Word is always the answer to our afflictions. I hope that these tools will find their way in your tool box, for past, present, and future afflictions. I pray that you and I will, like David, cry out “If Your law had not been my delight, then I would have perished in my affliction.”

 

On the Meditation of Scripture

David declares, “O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day.” (Psalm 119:97, NASB)

As Christians, we should love God’s law. Peter says we desire it like new born babies desire milk (1 Peter 2:2). It should be our constant meditation. Unfortunately, many of us do not know how to meditate. Our impression of meditation is sitting with our legs crossed while humming.

Meditation is not that. The word used for meditation can also mean reflection, prayer, musing, and devotion. In other words, it is something you think about. Of course, there are a variety of ways to think about something. This word, however, gives the impression of eagerness and delight. For example, when I come home from work, my children run out shrieking with excitement. It is seriously one of my favorite parts of my day. I think about it throughout the day with increasing excitement. I imagine their smiling, fruit snack-covered faces giving me kisses. I muse on it. Or, to put it in a biblical way, I meditate on it.

That is the idea here. The question, then, is how do we do this?

As with many things in the Christian life, there are a variety of ways to meditate on Scripture. Depending upon your personality and way of learning, you may meditate differently. For some, meditation takes place with pen and paper (I am thinking of Jonathan Edwards here). For others, it may take the form of writing songs (perhaps an Isaac Watts?). The list could go on, but one thing I have found helpful is to briefly jot down some main thoughts.

In order to provide some structure for this, I created a little document I call “Personal Notes on Scripture Reading.” You are free to download it here: Personal Notes on Scripture Reading

I organized it in a way that suits my study habits and personal quirks. Let me breakdown what I have, and perhaps it will help you meditate on God’s Word.

PASSAGE READ

This would be the Scripture you read. It may be several chapters, a chapter, or a section of verses. It simply depends upon your time and ability to consume Scripture. Don’t worry about the amount you read, focus on the content of what you read.

MAIN THOUGHTS

What are the main thoughts of the passage? Is is a story? Is it a letter? The literary genres in Scripture are vast. The different people and points are also expansive. The idea here is to capture the main points (or thoughts) of the passage. This will help you remember what you read throughout the day. (For a little more treatment on this, check out this post.) Besides help in remembering what you read, this also helps in writing the thoughts in your own words. In other words, it helps with retention.

THOUGHTS FOR FURTHER INQUIRY

The third section is for questions that come up during your reading. In my example, my question for Psalm 119:71 is, “Why does affliction bring about greater learning of God’s

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Word?”

When reading Scripture, we need to be asking questions. Will this create more work? Yes, it will. However, it will yield fruit lasting for years. Imagine if you took a few more minutes each day to read Scripture in this way. The gems mined from your daily readings would invigorate your love for God’s Word. It would provide a feast for you for years to come. It would help you understand God, His ways, and our purpose, with ever-increasing clarity. 

 

PRAYER POINTS

The last section of my “Personal Notes on Scripture Reading” is called prayer points. What I am looking for here is how can this shape my prayer life. Using Psalm 119:71 as an example, I wrote, “Rather than praying for the removal from affliction, I should pray for learning during affliction.” This is a personal application. I can easily turn that to a prayer for my family, friends, my students, their families, our church, etc.

Every verse or passage may not lend itself to easy application. It may take more work to fill in this chart for a narrative than for an epistle. But you know what? As I continue to learn and apply God’s Word, I find myself, more and more, crying out “O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day.”

 

How do you meditate on God’s Word? I would love to hear about it!

 

3 Reasons Genealogies Are In the Bible

We all wonder why God allowed genealogies in the Bible. If you find yourself reading through the Bible in a year (or any other length of time), you may even dread it! The endless list of names you can barely spell, the mountains of individuals whose pronunciation you will butcher, and the disconnect from little to no knowledge about the individual causes genealogies to leave a bad taste in our mouths (think of burnt popcorn).

But Paul writes that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (II Timothy 3:16-17, ESV) This means that, yes, even genealogies are profitable. We are like children taking medicine. It tastes horrible, and our little brains cannot imagine how something so gross could possibly help us.

So, how do genealogies help us? How are they profitable? This list is certainly not exhaustive, nor is it original. I have read different commentaries, articles, and journals over the years. (If one of them sticks out, please send me the source so I can properly cite it!) The thoughts I am sharing this morning stem from that research. However, I want to offer three reasons why genealogies are in the Bible. My hope is to inspire you to cling to the truths of Scripture (see II Timothy 3:16-17), and to build your confidence in God’s wisdom.

Genealogies teach us that God works with individuals in His plan of redemption

One of the benefits of genealogies is that it shows us that God works with individuals. We tend to think of groups such as Israel, Judah, or the Levites. Or, when we do think of individuals, we think only of the big whigs: David, John the Baptist, or Paul. But what about the Loises and Eunices of the Bible (see II Timothy 1:5)? Even “insignificant” people have profound impacts in God’s plan of redemption. No one knows the names of the pit crew members (unless you are a fan of Nascar), but without them the racers would never be known. Genealogies teach us that God works with individuals, many of whom we will never really know, in His plan of redemption. What is your part in this plan? Perhaps you have thought your own life too common to make any significant impact in God’s work of redemption. Take encouragement from the genealogies. They show us that God works with individuals like you and like me.

Genealogies teach us that God works in the mundane

The second reason genealogies are in the Bible, though not second in order or significance, is that they teach us that God works in the mundane. Now, don’t get me wrong, the birth of the child is a miracle. Besides my salvation and marriage, the most exciting moments in my life we’re meeting three of our four children. There is nothing mundane about the birth of a precious baby. At the same time, however, it is mundane, at least in the broad sense. Parents have children, those children grow up, get married, and have children. It is mundane. Genealogies are not unlike this. After the tenth “And (insert name you cannot pronounce) begat (insert second but equally un-pronounceable name)…” you realize just how mundane genealogies truly are. The glaze over your eyes and the blank stare bring you back to fourth grade. But an amazing truth lies underneath the common experiences of life: God works in them. Have you ever stopped and considered that for rough thirty years Jesus did the mundane elements of life? He would wake up, eat, work, come home, attend synagogue, and repeat. Day after day. Year after year. Yet, this was part of God’s redemptive plan to save countless numbers of people. Genealogies are an expression of God’s work in the mundane. How do you view the mundane of life? Did you ever stop to consider that the mundane of life my be God’s way of using you in His plan of redemption?

Genealogies teach us humility

The final reason genealogies are in the Bible is to teach us humility. There are several ways this is observed. First, it shows us some of the great people of the Bible and some of the worst. It’s The Incredibles and the Malcoms in the Middles thrown together. It’s the Uncle Bobs the mean grannies. Our humility comes from the fact that God uses both. Second, genealogies teach us humility because it shows us that it is not all about us. We come, and we go. We do not live for ever. But God’s work does not stop with us. It goes on and will go on. Does that not humble us?

Conclusion

Let’s face it: genealogies are not the most exciting part of our Scripture reading. They can be a little boring. But, if we take the time to consider a few reasons God gave them to us, it may, like the redemption of sinners by the grace of God, transform something boring into a reminder of God’s Grace.

Unexpected Benefits of Memorials

“What do these stones mean? On the Importance of Memorials”

I delivered this sermon on 11 June 2017 in honor and recognition of our graduates. The wording will be slightly different for ease of reading, but for the most parts the points are consistent. I read an article in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society by Daniel I. Block entitled, “What Do These Stones Mean” The Riddle of Deuteronomy 27 (JETS, Vol. 56, No. 1, March 2013). About the same time my pastor asked me to preach and prepare for the graduation service, and God reminded me of the importance of memorials, and from this and the passage in Joshua chapters 3-4, the sermon was born.

Begin by reading Joshua 3:7-17,

The LORD said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. 8 And as for you, command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, ‘When you come to the brink of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.'” 9 And Joshua said to the people of Israel, “Come here and listen to the words of the LORD your God.” 10 And Joshua said, “Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites. 11 Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is passing over before you into the Jordan. 12 Now therefore take twelve men from the tribes of Israel, from each tribe a man. 13 And when the soles of the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the LORD, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off from flowing, and the waters coming down from above shall stand in one heap.” 14 So when the people set out from their tents to pass over the Jordan with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, 15 and as soon as those bearing the ark had come as far as the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest), 16 the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away, at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, and those flowing down toward the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. And the people passed over opposite Jericho. 17 Now the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firmly on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, and all Israel was passing over on dry ground until all the nation finished passing over the Jordan.

 

This passage sets the stage for one of the more remarkable events in the history of Israel. Similarly, graduation is a significant accomplishment. It is one of the greatest achievements one can make in one’s life. In Scripture, we see similar accomplishments in the lives of God’s people. We see the deliverance of Israel from Egyptian slavery and we see the crossing of the Jordan River. In both of these amazing events, the Israelites are instructed to construct or observe some type of memorial. In the Exodus the establishment of the Passover meal began, see Exodus 12:14. In Joshua 4, shortly after the crossing over the Jordan river the Israelites were to have twelve leaders (one from each tribe) and build a monument to be a reminder that God had been with them and will continue to be. Perhaps the greatest memorial we observe is Communion, the bread and the cup, where we celebrate the death of Jesus and our deliverance from sin and death, see 1 Corinthians 11. The purpose of these memorials was to remind God’s people of the victory He provides, Exodus 13:8-9.

To begin with, we must note that:

1. An amazing accomplishment has just taken place

The children of Israel spent 40 years in the wilderness, wandering around in a bleak desert.

desert pic
Can you imagine walking around this for forty years?

After the death of Moses, Israel, under the leadership of Joshua, begins to embark on their journey to the Promised Land. The first obstacle they approach is the Jordan River. The timing of this crossing could not have been worse, from a human perspective. Our writer informs us that “the Jordan…overflows all its banks during the entire season of the harvest” (Joshua 3.15). To Israel, it seemed they had reached an impasse.

I imagine that looking back on your schooling you probably thought that graduating was an impasse, a river overflowing its banks, impossible to pass. By the grace of God, even when it seemed you would be washed away, you made it! This goal is seriously one that has taken almost your entire life to complete, and you have finished it. The same thing could be said about our struggles at work, striving for promotions, the accolade we desire.

I want us to think for a moment, what accomplishments have we been a part of? What has God brought you through? What seemingly unconquerable moment has Jesus granted you victory over? You have two spaces to write where God has given you victory. “In you” is where God has provided deliverance from a sin, or helped you progress on your way to deeper intimacy with Him. “Through you” is where God is working in other’s lives through you.

This is a time of celebration! A time of rejoicing! Be excited at the journey, but relish in the victory. Graduation has been reached, this chapter has ended, the goal has been reached, the river has been crossed.

Can you imagine the excitement of Israel as they crossed? Finally, after hearing about this land they are finally entering it. Think about Abraham in Genesis 12:1 where God promised him this land, around 500 years! But before they left the river bed they did something quirky. They had twelve men, one from each tribe; grab a stone on their way out.

2. A special monument is established to help remind us of it

The consistent focus is on God’s Word (Torah). Moses was instructed by God to build a memorial of large stones in Deuteronomy 27.2-3. Joshua fulfilled this in Joshua 8:30 on Mt Ebal. God then instructed Joshua to give himself entirely to the reading and meditating of the Torah (see Joshua 1.8), which would have included this command to build a monument. Now, honestly, after going through that amazing miracle, stopping and building a monument seems a little anti-climactic.

I think, however, if we stop to glean from this it can help you graduates, but also us as a faith family. God is constantly at work in our lives. I love how the author of Hebrews puts it, “May the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great shepherd of the sheep by the blood of the eternal covenant, Jesus our Lord, furnish you with all that is good, that you may do His will. May he carry out in you what is pleasing to him through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” God works in us to bring about good in our world. There are many times that we get caught up in life, in high school, in projects, in kids, in careers, and we, to our own detriment, fail to see God’s work in our lives. Or, on the chance that we do recognize God’s hand, we do not make a note of it (literally or metaphorically) and we easily forget it. One of the reasons God required this monument was to provide future generations of evidences of God’s works (Joshua 4.6-7).

We set aside today to honor our graduates. They have spent years working toward this goal. They have been tested, they have completed exams and projects, and as a result they are bestowed the honors and recognition of completing the high school degree. They ‘graduate’ which comes from the Latin word gradus, meaning step. This step is complete. The river has been crossed, the monument raised. The course is complete, the diploma given.

The monument, though certainly a recognition of a great accomplishment, is not only that. It is also a look forward to what is next.

3. A past reminder with a future look

The stones were not only meant to remind them of a past action. Certainly they reminded the children of those who crossed the Jordan River of this momentous event. But that is not all it was.

Interestingly, these stones were still standing at the time that writer recorded the events that took place in Joshua chapter four. We don’t know how long, but it was still standing to that day.

Now, you may be wondering, how does this reminder give us a look to the future? This is where an event such as the crossing of the Jordan River, or graduation, brings on another level of significance. The goal has been achieved, success is enjoyed, but it is not the end itself. It is a point on an incredible journey in which our lives grow and experience life. The children of Israel would look back at this monument and remember what God had done in their lives. Then, after remembering what he did, they could look forward and press on into the future.

Romans 8:31 “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?”

I love how the Apostle Paul puts it in Philippians 3.13-16, “Brothers, I for my part do not consider myself to have taken possession. Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus. Let us, then, who are perfectly mature adopt this attitude. And if you have a different attitude, this too God will reveal to you. Only, with regard to what we have attained, continue on the same course.”

As graduates, this monumental moment is a testament to your own determination, hard work, and willingness to work toward completing a goal. You know that it took the combined effort of friends, family, and teachers to help complete this task. And so it was with Israel. They worked hard in the desert, and with God’s help they achieved the goal: entrance into the promised land. But they did not stop there. They looked out onto a new horizon, one filled with possibilities and excitement. The monument reminded them of what God had done in the past, and it is from a place of confidence that the children of Israel would march forth into this new frontier.

And so it is with you, graduates, your accomplishments are a monument to what you have accomplished, how far your drive and desire can take you. And it also reminds you that God was with you every step of the way. Looking to this monument, you can take courage and forge ahead into the new field to which God is calling you.

Congregation, your past accomplishments, your victories, are meant to help remind you of what God has done in your own life. They are meant to encourage you to push forward, to stand up to the tasks because you know God has delivered you in the past you will be delivered in the future.
Application and Closing Thoughts:

We honor our graduates today for the achievements they have made. We recognize that the diploma is a monument to their hard work and effort. We have seen in our own lives monuments to God’s work. We rejoice over the victories that God has provided. We, from the view point of history, saw how Israel built monuments.

With Israel, we look and rejoice over our accomplishments, astounded at how God moved and worked in and through us. With a bright hope, the graduates, our faith family, you and I, can look to the future with an expectancy and joy.

3 Steps to Understand the Bible Better

How do I understand the Bible? It’s a book that was written many years ago by people of a completely different culture. On top of that, the world has changed drastically. Just think of communication. During biblical times letters were carried by some type of animal or ship. The process was tedious and time-consuming. Today we can call, text, or have a face-to-face discussion via services such as Skype.
With all of these challenges, the question seems to change from, ‘How did I understand the Bible?’ to ‘Can I understand the Bible?’. And rightly so! Rest assured, you can understand the Bible. God has revealed his love for us through his Scriptures. I want to share with you three steps to help you understand the Bible more.
You can understand the Bible…
From the beginning it is important that you understand this is a journey. After reading this, you will still have more to learn. I have been reading the Bible since I was fourteen, and even after all this time I am still learning. It is one of the amazing truths about God’s Word. It is an inexhaustible mine of spiritual gems, all waiting to be gathered and taken into our hearts.
These steps are in no order of importance, although I do believe them to be foundational to our overall understanding of the Bible. So grab your Bible, and let’s dive in!
Step One: Understand the world in which it was written.
 
I cannot stress this one enough. There is an abundance of bad commentaries, sermons, devotionals, and Christian-mindsets as a result of simply not understanding the world in which the Bible was written.
Let me give you one example. The world of the Bible was predominately a patriarchal society. (You can check out the Christians for Biblical Equality for a fair treatment on the topic of the patriarchal world.) When reading through the Old Testament, particularly, one can be amazed at the treatment of women. Granted, the laws and rules laid out in the Torah were extraordinarily better than surrounding nations. (Rob Bell book reference) Still, it is helpful to understand that women were seen as less than man, to put it nicely. So when reading through a passage about the selling of a daughter, one is able to understand that the world in which those books were written had a much lower view of women than many cultures do today.
Or how about another one. The Bible constantly uses the shepherd as a picture of God’s dealings with humanity (for a few references, check out: Isaiah 40:11; Psalm 78:52; John 10:11; Hebrews 13:20; and 1 Peter 2:25). But why? I mean, I have never met a shepherd.patrick-schneider-213969
Now, understanding the world of the Old and New Testaments, we see how important shepherds were. They helped raise animals that would have provided milk, materials for clothing, and food. Of course, there were also the sacrifices! So they were vitally important to the biblical writers. It was an easy way for God to point to something they knew well to picture his desire to be with and take care of them.
Without at least a basic knowledge of this, the imagery may be lost. There are other variants to consider, but this is more of an overview.
Step Two: Get an idea of what the meaning looks like today.
Once you have an idea of what is going on, then begin to visualize how that looks today. This step is a little more difficult, because while some resources are out there for this (devotional commentaries seem to be the best for this step), there are often few that convey the meaning in today’s terms. For example, Ephesians 5:22-28 address the husband and wife relationship within a first century, Roman household. (For a more thorough treatment of this passage, see Rachel Held Evan‘s help overview of various literature.) With that understanding, it is helpful to realize the relationship of headship of the husband over the wife was customary. Paul’s key point, however, is mutual submission, which he uses to begin the entire passage. Taking this understanding, then, we can begin to see that for today, in which an equality exists between husbands and wives, the idea of mutual submission is the focus.
Step Three: Make a personal application to your own life.
This is where reading Scripture begins to be awesome. Because this is where Scripture meets your life.
When Scripture teaches either a direct point (see Hebrews 3:1 in which we are commanded to consider Jesus), indirect point (such as are found in narratives, see 1 Samuel 15:22-23), or simply a story in which no apparent point is made (see the graphic events in Judges chapter 19), the whole purpose of it is to apply to your life (see 2 Peter 1:3).
The whole purpose of Scripture is to apply to your life.
Once we get to this point, it is time to get personal. What do I mean? I mean that when you come across Scripture, it is time to figure out how it can apply to your life. Perhaps an example would prove helpful. Psalm 1:1 says, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sit in company with scoffers.” (NAB) This will look different for each one of us. For me, however, it might look like this: in order to be happy (which includes a spiritual sense) I must avoid the company of bad people. Oh, in case you were wondering, this isn’t speaking about just being around people. Paul covers that in 1 Corinthians 5:11. The picture is the gate of a city, where government and social outings occurred. This is an intimate gathering, not simply an association. My application would be: I must consciously avoid building intimate relationships with people who are actively opposing God. I may take it a step further and say that I need to avoid a certain coffee shop where I am tempted to be around such individuals. But I think that gives you the gist of it.
Wrapping it Up
These steps will take time and effort. It is worth it! Push past the steps that may not suit your particularly personality and gifts. Personally, I love the first step and struggle with the second and third steps. What do you struggle with? How can I help you?