Yet I Will

Scripture speaks in a beautiful way to those who are hurting. A student of the Bible does not have to read far to recognize that there are men, faithful people of God who have gone through hardships that are difficult to fathom. And if the people of God were believers in the prosperity gospel, their faith would have crumbled.

Repeatedly in the psalms, we see David cry out to the Lord. He asks questions like, “How long O Lord,” and then lists calamity after calamity. AT the end of those psalms, however, we quite often hear David say something like, “Yet I will trust in the Lord.” David tells us how hard things are, how hopeless his situation looks, and yet he cries out to God in faith knowing that, in the end, God will do all things rightly.

WE see a similar prayer at the end of the book of Habakkuk. For some of you, these beautiful lines are familiar. To others, these need to be lines you memorize. The prophet has cried out to God. He knows that God is going to judge a wicked nation of Judah by bringing in another wicked nation, Babylon. Habakkuk is aware of calamity after calamity with still more to come. But Habakkuk expresses, at the end of his book, genuine hope in the Lord. Just take a peek at his closing proclamation.

Habakkuk 3:17-19

17 Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
19 God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places.

Habakkuk, in classic Hebrew poetry, comes up with six lines that express the potential misery that the nation faces. They may have no wine, no crops, no livestock, no real reason for hope that they can see. All has fallen down around Habakkuk, and God has let him know that it will continue that way for a while.

But look at the turn of faith. Habakkuk says, “yet I will rejoice in the LORD.” No matter the circumstances, Habakkuk makes a decision of faith. Habakkuk will rejoice in the Lord. HE will find hope and joy in the true character of God. Habakkuk acknowledges that the Lord is his strength. And no matter how painful is his life, no matter how bare the cupboard, Habakkuk will choose, in the face of pain, to rejoice in the Lord.

Christians, we may face pain like Habakkuk. WE may face worse. The nation may turn on us. Our friends or our families may betray us. Famous church leaders will fall short. Denominations will split. Once reliable church members will depart. We will hurt. If you think you will live without pain, you have not believed the words of the Savior who promised us that this world would be a hard one to live in.

What do you do when you hurt? Learn from Habakkuk. Make rejoicing in the Lord and hoping in his goodness your choice. You can weep and still declare God to be good. You can cry out in sorrow and find a sustaining joy in the true, revealed character of the God who made you. You can face a life of seeming emptiness and ruin knowing full well that the Savior who promises you forgiveness has also promised you that he will return, he will judge, he will do justice, he will bind up the broken-hearted, he will make all things new. Our hope is not in the ease of this life. Our hope is in eternity. While Jesus can, and often will, make this life happy for his followers, he promises us something better. Jesus promises us to sustain us through the hardships of this life and to grant us everlasting life in his presence forever.

So, when your life hurts, Christian, what should you say? Perhaps try, “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord.”

God Restores

Real people who live real lives have experienced real pain. There are pains that we face that feel to us as though we can never be whole again. The loss of a loved one, the experience of abuse, the humiliation of a failure, all these can leave a person feeling irreparably broken and hopeless.

In the days of the prophet Joel, the people of Judah may well have felt broken beyond repair. The southern kingdom had sinned against the Lord and experienced his judgment. They faced crop failure, locust plague, and enemy armies. Their land was desolate. Their hope seemed dashed.

But God called the nation to return to him. He invited confession and repentance. And God promised restoration. This is beautiful; don’t miss it.

Joel 2:25-27

25 I will restore to you the years
that the swarming locust has eaten,
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,
my great army, which I sent among you.
26 “You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
and praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has dealt wondrously with you.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.
27 You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,
and that I am the Lord your God and there is none else.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.

God promised to restore the years that the locusts had eaten. Sense the beauty there. The people were damaged. They were damaged from their own sin against the Lord. They were damaged by the cruel actions of others who hurt them. But God says that he will restore.

Can he? Of course God can. The Lord can heal a land. The Lord can grow crops where crops had failed. The Lord can bring a harvest that goes beyond the loss of the years. And the Lord can help the people worship him again.

The Lord also promises the people a future. Notice that twice in verses 26-27, God says that they will not experience this shame any longer. God not only can fix the land, he can bear away the shame from the people.

This is lovely in the context of Old Testament Judah. It is infinitely more lovely in the work of Jesus Christ. We, like Judah, have sinned against God. We, like Judah, have been sinned against by evil people and a hostile world. We have been hurt. We have experienced shame. We have lost days, months, even years.

But God can restore. He can take from us our guilt and shame. This is part of what Jesus came to do. Jesus bore the shame of the cross in order to cover our shame in his perfection. Jesus took the wrath of God for sin so that we could have our sins covered by his righteousness. Jesus rose from the grave to show us that there is life after shame, life after guilt, life after death in his perfect grace.

Perhaps you have hurt. Perhaps you have guilt and shame. Perhaps you have done wrong. Perhaps you have wronged others. Run to Jesus. He is your only hope. He covers the guilt of those who come to him. He bears away the shame of those who come to him. He understands your pain more than you could ever imagine. He can heal. He can bring new growth. Jesus can restore the years the locusts have eaten.

Do Not Fear What They Fear

We live in a world of political intrigue and conspiracy theories. Some would tell us that the planet is doomed in just a few years because of climate change. Some would suggest that a faceless conglomerate of uber-rich and powerful people is running the nation from behind the scenes. The news media seems corrupt beyond repair. The nation is divided politically like we never imagined it would be. Families are foundering. And all sorts of isms, racism, classism, sexism, are tearing our world apart.

In truth, any number of the things listed above may be real problems. For sure, some are quite real and quite dangerous. But what is a Christian’s heart response to the messed-up world we live in?

In Isaiah 8, God is continuing a conversation with Judah through Isaiah. The northern kingdom has just about reached the end of its rope. God is about to allow the king of Assyria to sweep into the land and conquer. And that powerful ruler will threaten Judah as well, coming near to the city of Jerusalem itself. But God promises that he will deliver the people of Judah from this threat. They are to know, as God promised with the birth of a child who would be called Emmanuel, that God would be with them.

Isaiah 8:11-15 – 11 For the Lord spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: 12 “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. 13 But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. 14 And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 15 And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.”

This was the paragraph that started me down the road of considering the fears and conspiracy theories that are so prominent in our world today. Some of our fears and concerns are very real and right. Some are kooky. But all of our fears, if not checked, can lead us to look like the lost world and not like followers of the living God.

Our God would tell us not to fear what the rest of the world fears. God would say that there is not necessarily a conspiracy everywhere the world around us sees one. And even when there is a conspiracy, God would also remind us to fear him, obey him, shelter in him, and find life in him.

If we shelter in the Lord, will the world leave us alone? No, God did not say that. He said that he would be a shelter for us—that’s something we like. But he also said that he will be a stumbling block and offense to the world around us—that’s something we are not so fond of. Christians, grasp that both of these things are true. Trusting in and fearing the Lord means that your soul is finding real shelter under his wings. But to shelter in the Lord and love him and his word is to offend the world around us. There is no other way to be faithful to the Lord.

No, I’m not saying we go out and try to be annoying. Nor am I suggesting that we should not care about doing right by the environment, the oppressed, or the government. We should do all that we can do to live justly and righteously and mercifully in our world. But all that we can do is circumscribed by the commands of our God. And that same God is the One we actually fear. We do not tremble at the things the world around us says are big deals. We do not identify ourselves with worldly causes so much so that our identity as followers of Jesus takes a back seat.

God was offering comfort and counsel to Isaiah by reminding him that God was with him and would not ultimately let Jerusalem fall to
Assyria. God has given us his word to remind us of his eternal plan. We are to set our minds and hearts on eternity, on things above. We are to store up our treasure in heaven where moths and thieves are no problem. We are to find our hope in Jesus who lived, died, and lives again. We are to find our value, not in the opinions of the people around us, but in the approval of our Savior and our joy in his glory.

God Outlasts Creation

The world can be awfully depressing. Political discussions are discouraging. The character of the nation seems to be diving off a cliff. Rotten people try to do others harm. Even those who should be gracious to one another are nasty on social media. So much seems wrong.

What are things we should consider when all seems out-of-place? In Psalm 102, the psalmist was feeling the sorrow of a world gone wrong. He had suffered. He was mourning over his losses. He knew that his city had been hurt by enemies. And he desperately wanted the Lord to act.

After several verses expressing his concern and sorrow, the psalmist closes with the following words of confidence in the Lord.

Psalm 102:25-28

25 Of old you laid the foundation of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
26 They will perish, but you will remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away,
27 but you are the same, and your years have no end.
28 The children of your servants shall dwell secure;
their offspring shall be established before you.

God created. This is where the psalmist begins to find his hope. In a broken world that looks uglier and uglier, the psalmist takes his mind and heart back to the fact that God made the universe. God made the heavens. God made the earth. God is. While the universe came into being, God always is.

The psalmist also understood that God will be beyond the universe we can see. God may change the universe like we change clothing, but his eternal perfection will not change. Nothing changes the Lord. He might roll up the heavens like a scroll, but this will in no way impact him. Stars can die. Planets can crumble. Or galaxies can, at God’s will, wink out of existence. None of these things have the power to change the Lord.

Even when the Lord changes the entire universe around us, we can know that God is unchanging. And this fact leads the psalmist to confidence. The changelessness of God leads the psalmist to say, “The children of your servants shall dwell secure; their offspring shall be established before you.” Because God does not change, those who are under the grace of God may know that the Lord will keep us. If we are his children, if we have been adopted by him, we can know that he will establish us and not let us go. Even if the earth were to shatter around us, God would not lose us.

OF course this does not mean that we know that our lives will be painless. God is sovereign over all things, and sometimes he leads his children through the valley of the shadow of death. But God wants his children to remember that he is eternal, he is unchanging, and he will never let his people go.

So, Christian, think about the universe. Think about how stable it seems. You cannot imagine it going anywhere. You cannot imagine the earth not being. You cannot imagine the sun ceasing to rise or shine. You cannot imagine galaxies beyond your vision fading away. All seems too big, too steady, too unchanging. But God wants you to know that he is before these things, he is beyond these things, and he will keep you in his eternal life even when he changes the stars like a man changes his clothes. Let this lead you to worship the Lord. Let it remind you to be confident that, regardless of how easy or hard your life on this earth goes, there is something infinite beyond it. And let this all give you hope when the world seems too hard to handle.

Solomon Found Despair So We Don’t Have To

One of the things that makes the book of Ecclesiastes so difficult for some to understand is the way that Solomon allows himself to think. Solomon was looking at life to see meaning and purpose. He wanted to be able to show what is right and wrong, good and evil, worthwhile and worthless.

What you might miss is that Solomon accomplishes his task in this book by, at points, examining life from a this-worldly point of view. He looks at life, all our pleasures and pains, and he thinks about what would matter if indeed there was no future for mankind after death. What Solomon concludes, what we see in his examples, is that without an afterlife, it is hard to see why anything in this life matters.

Here is a simple example of how this reasoning goes.

Ecclesiastes 9:1-6 – 1 But all this I laid to heart, examining it all, how the righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God. Whether it is love or hate, man does not know; both are before him. 2 It is the same for all, since the same event happens to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil, to the clean and the unclean, to him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice. As the good one is, so is the sinner, and he who swears is as he who shuns an oath. 3 This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all. Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead. 4 But he who is joined with all the living has hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion. 5 For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. 6 Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and forever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun.

If you were to read this without context, without knowing what is happening in Ecclesiastes, you might think this to be unbiblical thinking. Solomon is not an atheist. Even in his greatest despair, he never would pretend like there is no God. Instead, what Solomon did here was to look at human circumstances with the assumption that this life is all there is. And this led him in place after place to declare that all we do is in vain, it is meaningless.

In verse 2, as an example, Solomon says that being good or being bad is irrelevant. After all, good people and bad people all die. Sometimes bad people live longer and happier lives. Sometimes good people live longer and happier lives. But either way, the same thing happens, all end up in the grave.

In verse 5, Solomon points out that, if this life is all there is, the only thing we know is that it is better to be alive than to be dead. After all, if this life is all there is, the dead know and think nothing. There is no justice. There is no reward for righteousness. There is no punishment for evil. Without a life to come, Solomon sees that the only good is to live; and even there, living is a vanity, because life leads to death.

Now, to stop us from really not liking this little book, let’s remember that Solomon will draw the perfect conclusion. Solomon, in chapter 12, will remind us that God does bring deeds into judgment. There is a life beyond this one. Solomon knows all this. He is just taking us through a teaching exercise that shows us how empty life is when one has no hope beyond their 80 years or so.

But we should be learning that there is a genuine emptiness to naturalistic worldviews. Solomon, even three millennia ago, understood that a person who views this life as all there is has no basis for either morality or hope. Even if we know our actions are evil, if we see this life as all there is, so what? Why would we care if we have been good or evil? Solomon shows that, in the end, all we do is live and die and return to dust. There is no hope and no meaning in such a worldview. And thus, such a worldview is unsatisfying and untenable. A this-life-only view offers no basis for morality, no reason for morality, no rational explanation for limiting aggression, no reason to value human beings over animals, no incentive for right behavior, and no deterrent for great evil.

Ecclesiastes is valuable for us because we need somebody to be honest with us about what happens when we see ourselves from a this-world-only view. Solomon was intellectually brighter than all his peers. He did the study. He showed us that naturalism leads to despair. But he did not lose his faith. In the end, he expresses confidence that God is, that God is good, and that God will judge. God will reward those under his favor. God will judge those who have opposed him and his ways. And we can be grateful that Solomon worked through this exercise and wrote it down for us under the inspiration of God. That should keep us from having to walk the same ugly path.

Moses and Eternal Mindset

Mindset matters. When life is hard, when circumstances are frightening, mindset matters. And God’s word regularly reminds us of where to place our thoughts so as to be able to survive in a broken world.

Psalm 90:12

So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom.

Psalm 90 is the only Psalm I know of that is attributed to Moses. In it, that great man of God talks about the brevity of human life and its hardships. Of course, who in the Old Testament would know of this more. Moses saw so very much death in his days. An entire generation, millions of people, died in the wilderness over the 40 years of wandering. And it had to get to Moses as it would get to any caring person trying to survive this world.

In his prayer, Moses recognizes that there is wisdom in asking the Lord to help us to number our days rightly. That is, Moses is asking that he and those around him would understand the shortness of human life in comparison to the eternity that stretches before us all. Whether a person lives a hundred days or a hundred years, his or her life is but a blip on the radar when we consider a million years and beyond.

In Colossians 3, Paul reminded Christians to set our minds on things above. It is the same principle. We live in a hard world. We do all that we can to see God glorified in this life. We try to care for our family, our church, our friends. We do what we can to make ends meet, to provide for our loved ones, to give to the needy. We try to fix broken political systems, institute just laws, and battle for the lives of the defenseless. But we are living in a fallen world where our best efforts can seem to be insufficient.

Biblical counsel calls us to, in dimes of fear or discouragement especially, number our days rightly. We need to remember that the 80 years that we may live are but a drop in the bucket of our existence. We are barely on the first step of the front porch of our real lives. The door beyond that will open when this life is at an end is where we will truly live. Yes, our lives here matter as we have the opportunity to glorify God in the here and now. But what will matter even more is the forever that is to follow.

Christian, as you think about your life, do not forget forever. When things are hard or scary, think eternally. When you feel disappointed that you may never afford that sweet European vacation, remember that you will have eternity with Christ after his return to see sights that would make the grandest vistas of this age seem as nothing. Whenever you feel that your health has let you down, remember that all who are in Christ have life promised us, life and brand new, never-wearing-out, resurrection bodies. Whenever you think that the things you do today are irrelevant to a big world that will not listen, remember that we live for the God who made us and who sees us inside and out. Remember forever in Christ, and you will walk stronger through the ugly of the here and now.

Then I Looked

There is a recurring theme in the book of Revelation that you do not want to miss. The author will tell you about one thing that he sees or hears about. He will paint a picture, but then he will turn, and he will see something else. For example, in chapter 5, John hears that the lion of the tribe of Judah will take the scroll from the hand of God. But when John turns, he sees a lamb that appeared slain taking the scroll.

We see something like this at the beginning of chapter 14. Revelation 13 is a frightening chapter. There we see the dragon and the beast. We see the beast rise with the power of empire. And we see the mark of the beast, the 666 that has fascinated the world for so very long.

That mark indicates a name, though you will certainly hear much debate as to how that all works. The mark also apes the marking of the Lord. Back in chapter 7, God sealed people who belong to him, identifying them as his and under his protection.

Thus, another point behind that number of the beast is simply an identification that the people who hold that mark are identifiable as owned by the devil and by the rebellious, anti-God world system. Chapter 13 talks of people not being allowed to buy or sell without the mark. That, of course, reminds me of parts of our modern culture where people who do not mark themselves as standing with the world against the ways of the Lord are ostracized, ridiculed, or even fired for their refusal to applaud what God calls evil.

Chapter 13 ends ugly. It is scary. It looks like, with that beast and his mark, the devil is winning in the world. And then comes chapter 14.

Revelation 14:1 – Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.

Then John looked. As the scene got ugly, John turned, and God showed him something else, something deeper, something better. Yes the devil looked like he was winning. Yes, the devil looked like he had the world in the palm of his hand. But when John looked, he saw that the ugliness of sin was not the only thing to be seen.

Here in the beginning of chapter 14, John reminds us that God has sealed his own. The people of God bear the mark of the Lord. And even in the face of a corrupted, tainted, violent world system, the people of God are still able to stand with the Lamb. No matter how dark and how wicked the world gets, the Lord will not lose his own. And no matter how powerful it appears the beast gets, the Lord will not allow the world to finally fall to the enemy.

The world we live in right now can look ugly. Perhaps it will get worse. But the truth beneath it all is something we need to see from Revelation. You may look and see the messed-up system around you, but that is not the final truth. The final truth is that God knows his own. God marks his own. God keeps his own. And the Lord God will preserve his own. This world may hate us. It may even kill us. But God will keep us. The Lord Jesus will return. We will have, in Christ, victory and resurrection life. The evil will not win. The Savior will be victorious. And Jesus will reign with those who are marked as his own forever.

Do not let the darkness of this world make you lose hope. Even now, we still carry the gospel to the nations and watch our sovereign God make disciples. Even now, we stand in opposition to the world that marks itself as following anything but the word of God. Even now we call people to repent. Even now we push back the darkness. WE see victory. We see setbacks. And we live in true hope, true knowledge that, at the end of it all, Jesus will reign. So, yes, we see ugliness. But then we look, just like John did, and we see the Lord still standing and still holding firm to his own.