True Blessedness

How would you describe “true blessedness”?  What is it about life that makes you truly happy and fulfilled?

The older I have become, the more my family rises in importance for me.  I can say that I am truly blessed to have the family I do. Even though this may be the case, is that where true blessedness is found?

I was struck this morning by something in Luke 11:27-28, which says,

“As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!’ But he said, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!’”

As Jesus was teaching the crowds, a woman cries out how blessed it must have been to be in the family of Jesus.  This anonymous woman is commending the son of Mary.  What a fantastic place to have grown up! 

Do you see the response of Jesus?  He does not say, “yes, I was so fortunate!”  Instead, he says the real blessing is for anyone who hears and obeys God’s Word!  He does not deny that he may have had a great family, but he is saying, in comparison to hearing and following God’s Word, the blessing one receives through being relationally connected to God is not even in the same league! This type of blessing is available to all!

Notice how Darrell Bock summarizes this scene,

“The woman’s blessing of Jesus’ mother attempts to honor his family. It was not unusual to honor a mother in that culture by the accomplishments of her sons (Gen. 49:25; Prov. 23:24–25). But Jesus transforms the remark into another opportunity to declare where real blessing in life resides—in those who hear and obey God’s Word. Like the previous illustration, Jesus is focusing on the cruciality of receiving that Word. Richness and fullness of life are not a matter of biological or social origin, but relating well to the Lord of the universe (cf. 8:19–21).”[1]

Father, I am so thankful for my family and friends.  You have truly blessed me.  But, in comparison to knowing you and being in your family through faith in Christ alone who died for my sin, it doesn’t even compare!  Help me enjoy the friends and family you have given me but keep me laser-focused on where true blessing is found. It is in hearing and obeying your Word which allows me to enjoy my relationship with you.

Following Jesus with you,

 

Jeff

 

[1] Darrell L. Bock, Luke, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996), 324.

Abuse of Power

The word “power” can be defined as the authority, or influence over others.” In the encounter of David and Bathsheba, we see “power” in action.

As I was reading through this familiar story today in my reading plan, I was impressed by the use of the word “sent.” This word is showing the “power” of an individual with authority over others.

At first, in 2 Sam. 11:3, David does the “sending.”  He, in his kingly authority, “sent” and inquired about Bathsheba after noticing her.  He learned some essential information about her, as summarized by Robert Bergren,

“The messenger reported that the woman was “Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite”; thus, she was the daughter of one of David’s best fighters (cf. 23:34), the granddaughter of his most trusted counselor (cf. 16:23; 23:34), and the wife of one of his inner circle of honored soldiers (cf. 23:39). Since David was properly informed of this latter fact, for him to pursue Bathsheba further was already to commit adultery with her in his heart (cf. Matt 5:28).[1]

This vital information did not stop David from abusing his power.  He then “sent” messengers to “take” Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11:4). To this point, David is the one with the power to “send.” 

Things take a dramatic turn in verse 5 with our first plot twist by identifying another person with power when it says,

“And the woman conceived, and she sent and told David, ‘I am pregnant.’”

Here we learn that “David is not the only character who ‘sends’ in this episode, for Bathsheba sends a succinct message (only two words in Hebrew) that changes everything: ‘I am pregnant.” David exercised power in chapter 10 and thus far in chapter 11 by ‘sending.’ But when Bathsheba ‘sends,’ David must deal with a different kind of power. The power of wronged Bathsheba, the power of David’s own sin.”[2]

This familiar account continues through the end of chapter 11 with David abusing his authority to “send” others to help him cover up his sin resulting in the eventual death of Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband.  

Just when David thought he had things under control and no one would find out about his sin, the ultimate plot twist is found in 2 Sam. 12:1 which says, 

“And the Lord sent Nathan to David.”

It is now God who sends! This simple statement shows who is ultimately in charge! David did not get away with his abuse of power!

Although this tragic story has far-reaching implications for David and his kingdom (2 Sam. 12:10-12), David owns his sin and confesses it to God. Unfortunately, David forgot that God is ultimately the one to whom he was accountable.  God alone is sovereign.  Any power David had was to be used in harmony with the character of God. He was just a steward of the power God had given him.

Father, you, and you alone are the exalted King.  Any “power” we have (work, family, ministry, etc.) is given from you and should be exercised in harmony with your character and under your leadership.  David abused his position of power, which resulted in grievous sin.  Even with the facts before him, he could not be persuaded from his self-destructive path.  Help us to see the deception and power of sin. Help us to be alert and not turn a blind eye to behavior that can lead us astray or that is inappropriate.  Help us to always remember that you are the One to whom we are accountable, and we are only stewards of all that you have given us.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

 

[1] Robert D. Bergen, 1, 2 Samuel, vol. 7, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 364.

[2] Bill T. Arnold, 1 & 2 Samuel, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 528.

The Billboard of Life

Have you noticed that some signs along the road catch your attention more than others? Some signs make me want more information while others I easily forget or even avoid. This morning I was impressed with the writer of Psalm 71 because he says that our lives are a “sign” to others.  Verse 7 says,

“I have become a sign to many; you are my strong refuge.” (NIV)

What is interesting about the word “sign” is summarized well by John Goldingay when he notes,

“A sign (môpēt) is an extraordinary act of God, usually associated with a national event such as the exodus (e.g., 78:43; 105:5, 27). Only here is the idea applied to God’s dealings with an individual . . . Here too it is not the suppliant’s affliction that constitutes the solemn sign . . . but the suppliant’s deliverance by Yhwh.”[1]

In our passage, the writer viewed his life as a “sign” or “example” of God’s protection and deliverance through his many troubles. In reality, he saw his life as a declaration of God’s faithfulness. This perspective impacted his attitude and how he lived his life.

What message is the billboard of my life telling others about my belief in God? If I believe my life, like the Psalmist’s is a “sign” or “example” to others of God’s extraordinary protective care, my life becomes the opportunity to declare that to others by the way I live especially when challenging times come.

Father, thank you for this amazing reminder of your faithful care of your children.  You have not abandoned us to live life on our own, but you walk with us through life.  When trouble comes, may I not complain or endure them with drudgery, but rather, may you help me to live above my circumstances knowing that you are my provider, protector, deliverer and faithful friend. May my life be another “sign” of your extraordinary care for your children.


[1] John Goldingay, Baker Commentary on the Old Testament: Psalms 42–89, ed. Tremper Longman III, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 370.

HE answered ME!

If you were going to write a Psalm, how would you start it?  The Psalmist in Psalm 120 started out with a simple declaration.  He said, 

“. . . I called to the Lord, and he answered me.”

The name of the Psalmist is unknown, but notice what he confidently said, “I called to the LORD, and HE answered ME.”

The writer is describing a very personal and real experience with God!  He is not saying, “I wish God would answer me like he does other people I hear about.”  He simply said, I called to the LORD and he answered ME.” A simple statement of fact.  It is as though; everyone knows that is how it works in our relationship with God.  God is involved with each of his children individually. He knows what is happening in my life and loves me just like he loves all of his other children.  He cares, is concerned, listens and wants to help me!

In our transition to my new role with Uniontown Bible Church, we have prayed about so many things. As you can imagine, there were many things that needed to happen to allow us to move including the sale of our home, a new home, place to stay in Maryland as we wait for our new home to be built, etc., etc., etc.  As we have seen each need fulfilled, are those things simply coincidences?  Or, is there a loving God who is intimately involved in my life that cares for me and helps me according to his plan?  God has used this time to remind me that he enjoys meeting the needs of his children! 

This does not imply that God will answer everything exactly the way we asked, but that he cares, is involved and answers according to his will.  Some things in our transition did not go exactly as we had hoped, but we can now look back and see his hand everywhere in meeting our needs in his timing.

You and I can still proclaim today the very thing the Psalmist said hundreds of years ago, “I called to the LORD, and he answered me.”

I hope this simple reminder of God’s care for us individually gives you renewed hope and encouragement to continue talking to your Father and praise him for his concern and provision in your life.  

Father, thank you that I can call to you, you hear me, and you care.  You alone are able to intervene in my life and I thank you for allowing me to see how much you care for me by leading us to Uniontown and for meeting all of our needs.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

Where Does The Power Come From?

Where does the power to live the Christian life come from?  This question was proposed to Eric Liddell in the movie, Chariots of Fire.  Liddell was asked that question because he seemed to have an inner strength that set him apart from other runners.  His answer was, the strength comes from “within.”  He was describing an inner strength that God gave him not his own ability.

That scene came to mind when I read Isaiah 40: 30-31 which says,

“Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion. But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.” (NLT)

In the context, we see that God is the only one who does not grow weary or tired (vs 29).  Isaiah is encouraging the readers to trust in God instead of their own strength as they considered the possibility of their imminent physical captivity by the Assyrians.  They needed to trust in God to find the strength needed to live through those difficult times.

What does it mean to “trust in the Lord” (NLT) or “wait for the Lord” (ESV)?

This concept of “trusting in God,” or “waiting on God,” is described by Gary Smith as “an active dependence on God that patiently awaits his timing with confident expectation.”[1]

John Oswalt describes this concept as “not simply to mark time; rather, it is to live in confident expectation of his action on our behalf.”[2]

So, this passage is telling us that “trusting in God” or “waiting on God” is not being passive but being actively dependent upon God as I eagerly anticipate his action on my behalf instead of relying upon myself.

There is tremendous freedom in letting go and trusting God to lead our lives. An example of this truth is Philip Melanchthon, a friend of Martin Luther.  Philip was known to be a terrible worrier.  It has been said that there were often times where Luther would have to put his hand on Melanchthon’s shoulder and say, “Let Philip cease to rule the world.” I experience anxiety when trying to rule my life, don’t you? Instead, we need to let go and trust God to care for us in his time.

How does this choice to trust in God give me strength?  Isaiah tells us that trusting in God will “renew” those who are worn out. This word is describing the “exchange” of weariness for new and better strength. A strength that only comes from God.

Smith summarizes this concept well when he says,

“This trust in God will replace any false leaning on a person’s own strength. . . This act of trust will enable God to replace human weakness with the powerful metaphorical soaring wings of an eagle (cf. Exod 19:4; Deut 32:11). Their weary legs will be transformed into strong legs that run fast; the fainting person will be able to walk for miles. Trust is never easy, but it is the key to unlocking God’s power. Trust enables people to walk the path (40:31) that God has chosen for their lives (whether it be pleasant or unpleasant) without growing weary or wanting to quit.”[3]

How are you doing this morning? Are you weary? Are you trying to rule your world?  Do you need to replace fatigue with God’s strength?

Father, thank you for the amazing promise to exchange my weariness with your strength.  This simply comes from my choice to stop depending upon myself, trust in you, and your plan for my life and is demonstrated by yielding to your leadership.  Help me to choose to trust you today and may my life reflect such trust in you.

Following Jesus with you,

 

Jeff

 

[1] Gary Smith, Isaiah 40-66, vol. 15B, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2009), 122.

[2] John N. Oswalt, Isaiah, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2003), 448.

[3] Ibid.

Living the Dream

Have you noticed that there are times and events in life which are surreal when you go through them?  It is like you are “living a dream.”  I was struck by this very description in Ps. 126:1-3 which says,

“When the Lord brought back his exiles to Jerusalem, it was like a dream! We were filled with laughter, and we sang for joy. And the other nations said, ‘What amazing things the Lord has done for them.’ Yes, the Lord has done amazing things for us! What joy!”

This description relates to the time when the Jewish exiles were allowed to return to Jerusalem.  After a 70-year captivity, on one day that probably seemed like any other, God intervened to fulfill his promise! Those who lived through that time are described as though they are living a dream.  They were filled with laughter and joy and others noticed that God had done great things for them.

I am sure you can think of times like that in your own life.  Events in life, that upon reflection, could only have been God’s goodness to you.  I would encourage you to take a moment and list what your “dream events” were in your life that only God could have done. This will give you a sense of awe at God’s goodness and personal involvement in your life. It will also lead to your desire to praise him just like the Psalmist.

For me some of those dreamlike events would include proposing marriage to Donna (and her saying, “yes”), our wedding and the birth of our children.  Recently we have had another display of God’s supernatural intervention and goodness through his provision of a new position as the Equipping Pastor at Uniontown Bible Church.  As a result of this opportunity, it feels as though we are currently living a dream!

As we prepare to transition to Maryland this Fall, it is a time for the Benda family to celebrate God’s goodness.  “Yes, the Lord has done amazing things for us! What joy!”

Father, thank you for being the author of so many good things in my life.  The most recent is the privilege to join a great staff team and church family at Uniontown Bible Church.  We are so excited and know that you are the One who has done this for us.  May you continue to prosper the work there as we partner together. May you also continue to work out all the details to transition us there.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

Spiritual Vigor

Can you recall times in your life where you felt that you had all the energy and strength you needed for a task?  At what age did you feel the most vigorous? 

The older we become, our bodies fade, and vigor seems to dissipate. Yet with the Christian life, it is possible to be vigorous all the way to the end of life.  In fact, we all can probably think of someone who we admire because of their spiritual vitality in spite of their age.

This morning I was struck by Ps. 103:2-5 which says,

“Let all that I am praise the Lord; may I never forget the good things he does for me. He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases. He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies. He fills my life with good things. My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!” (NLT)

Do you see David’s formula for spiritual vitality?  He reminds himself that God is the one who forgives, heals, saves from death, crowns us with his love and fills our lives with good things.  In fact, the word “fill” is describing a filling that completely satiates. We are filled until we are fully satisfied.

As David remembers these things and meditates upon them, his vigor is renewed.  He compares this rejuvenation to the eagle which is famous for is strength and long life.  As Tom Constable notes,

“Eagles remain strong to the end of their lives. Likewise, God enables His people to remain spiritually vigorous until death.”[1]

As I am following Jesus, I want to remain spiritually vigorous all the way to the end of my life.  David has shown us that the way to do that is to stay close to God and remember all that he has done and continues to do for us.  These truths will restore our spiritual vitality so that we can soar like the eagle all the days of our lives.

Father, thank you for being the one who forgives, protects, provides and fills me with your love and mercy to the point that I am fully satisfied.  No one can do that for me other than you.  Help me to stay close to you and think deeply on these things for this will renew my strength to soar like the eagle as I follow you all the days of my life.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff


[1] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Ps 103:3.

When in Crisis…

How do you respond to a crisis?  David was a man used to life-threatening danger.  In Psalm 57 he is running again for his life from King Saul.  This is an amazing Psalm that gives insight into how David responded to such situations.

In verse one, David said,

“Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by.”

His very life is threatened and yet he chooses to let God fight his battles.  The grammar in this passage more literally says that “in the past, I have taken refuge in you God, and now I take refuge in you.”  David was presently taking refuge in God because of his experience of God’s faithful protection in the past.

It is also important to see that David does not ask for the problem to go away, nor does he ask why difficulty has come to him.  Instead, he confronted the danger by simply taking refuge in God until the storm of destruction was gone. He chose to trust God to protect him and live accordingly.  That meant he had to yield to the leadership of God even when he did not understand his circumstances.  

Why did David confidently take his refuge in God? I see at least two reasons. Notice the first reason is mentioned in verse two,

“I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me.”

I like what Gerald Wilson says about this statement. He said,

“The psalmist’s desire to seek refuge is based on an understanding of God that inspires confidence. God is one who ‘fulfills his purpose’ for the psalmist. The precise nature of that purpose is not clarified here, but it is certain that God’s divine plans will not be undermined by the plots and attacks of the enemies.”[1]

David was resolute in his trust of God. He was confident that God would fulfill his purpose for him even though he was currently in a life-threatening storm. His circumstances implied that God’s promise to install him as king may not happen. Even so, David chose to trust God. He knew his God was able to accomplish his purpose for his life regardless of his current circumstances.

Do you struggle with whether God will accomplish his purpose for you?  Sometimes I struggle to trust God to accomplish his purpose in my life especially when circumstances imply that he forgot me and my desires may never be fulfilled. David experienced these things too and yet was able to live in such a way that he was content with God’s will for his life whatever the outcome. His relationship with God was more important to him than how he served God. I too must choose to be content with God’s plan for me regardless of my circumstances.

The second reason for David’s choice to take refuge in God is found in verse three which says,

“He will send from heaven and save me; he will put to shame him who tramples on me. Selah God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness!

David was convinced that God would once again express his steadfast, loyal, unwavering love, and faithfulness in his life.  Why? Because David walked in a love relationship with God.  He had a friendship that allowed him to completely trust God and his love for him.

Wilson again notes,

Finding refuge in God does not mean the psalmist will escape any vestige of suffering. Rather, as verse four makes clear, refuge is in the midst of trouble and provides an enduring confidence even in the face of all evidence to the contrary.”[2]

Father, thank you for the model of David.  He responded to crisis by taking refuge in you.  He did that because he experienced your protection in the past, was convinced that you would fulfill your purpose for him regardless of his circumstances and he believed that you would continue to express your faithful love to him.  May I trust you as he did. May I be more concerned about my relationship with you than with how I serve you. You will fulfill your plans for me and I can rest in that.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

 

 

 

 

[1] Gerald H. Wilson, Psalms, vol. 1, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 831.

[2] Ibid.

 

Ahithophel’s Revenge

Have you heard fo the saying, “Blood is thicker than water”? This truism reminds us that relationships within the family and their loyalties are generally stronger than those outside the family.

I could not help but think of that saying when I was contemplating an event in the life of David. The situation I am referring to is when his son Absalom tried to overthrow his kingdom with the help of Ahithophel. Notice what it says in 2 Sam. 15:31,

“And it was told David, “Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom.” And David said, “O LORD, please turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness.”

This coup attempt for David’s throne is compounded by the defection of Ahithophel. Ahithophel was the most esteemed advisor that David had. He is described as follows in 2 Sam. 16:23,

“Absalom followed Ahithophel’s advice, just as David had done. For every word Ahithophel spoke seemed as wise as though it had come directly from the mouth of God.

Why would David’s most trusted advisor leave him for Absalom? Ahithophel had been David’s right-hand man for years! This just does not seem to make sense! In fact, Ahithophel appears to be more than a casual conspirator because he wants to personally kill David. Notice what it says in the following passage,

“Now Ahithophel urged Absalom, ‘Let me choose 12,000 men to start out after David tonight. I will catch up with him while he is weary and discouraged. He and his troops will panic, and everyone will run away. Then I will kill only the king, and I will bring all the people back to you as a bride returns to her husband.’” (2 Sam. 17:1-3)

What is going on? What was driving Ahithophel to pursue this desperate course of action and counsel Absalom to violate the king’s concubines?

Notice the following insight,

“David had illicitly slept with a woman who was not his wife (cf. 11:4), and now his son is counseled to follow in his father’s footsteps.”[1]

It has been proposed by some scholars that Absalom violated the king’s concubines on the very roof that David violated Bathseba!  This is more than a coincidence! Ahithophel seems to have revenge on his mind. What motivated Ahithophel?

We do not know much about Ahithophel, but we do find a major clue for his possible conduct in 2 Sam. 23:34. There we learn that he had a son named Eliam.

This observation is very significant because of what we learn in 2 Sam. 11:3,

“He (David) sent someone to find out who she was, and he was told, ‘She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.’”

Do you see what I see? Ahithophel is the grandfather of Bathsheba! The daughter of his son had a tragic end to her marriage because of David. Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, was killed through the conniving plan of David in his desperate attempt to hide the fact that he was the father of the child that Bathsheba was carrying.

When David had learned that the woman he desired was married and the granddaughter of Ahithophel, his most trusted advisor, he should have come to his senses and abandoned his plans of taking advantage of her. Instead, he forced himself upon her in spite of this information. His decision to sin in this way had tragic consequences for him and many others.

As a result of these observations, it seems very possible that Ahithophel never got over this betrayal by David and he was waiting for his opportunity to get revenge because he had harmed his family. What a tragic story!

Father, thank you for helping us see that sin has disastrous consequences. David, controlled by passion, rationalized away obedience to pursue his selfish pleasure. You graciously let him know two facts 1) Bathsheba was married and 2) she was the granddaughter of his closest advisor.  This information should have stopped him cold in his tracks, but tragically it did not. Help me not to be deceived by sin and give me the ability to see my foolishness before I make mistakes like David.  Enable me to pursue simple obedience in following you.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

 

[1] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), 2 Sa 16:15.

 

My Soul, My Soul, My Soul

It is amazing that when we read the Bible that different things can pop out to us because we have not noticed them before.  That happened to me today when I read Psalm 63.  After reading that passage a couple of times, I noticed a phrase that was repeated and then a progression that helped me in following Jesus. The phrase is “My soul.”

In verse one David says, “my soul thirsts for you.” In verse five he says, “my soul will be satisfied.” And then in verse eight, he says, “my soul clings.”

The first statement is that David “thirsts” for God. This craving is because he understands that God’s “steadfast love is better than life” (vs 3).  This description is “a longing so intense that he is weak with desire: literally, my flesh faints for thee.”[1] This strong passion is because of the reality that God’s loyal and faithful love is better than anything else life can offer. Is my soul aching for God because I believe knowing him has more value than anything in this world?

 In the second use of this phrase “my soul”, David says that his soul is “satisfied” with God because he says, “I remember you…and meditate upon you (vs 6).  David’s thirst is quenched when he dwells on God and his goodness to him! “The psalmist’s intense devotion to God is therefore shown by the fact that “all night long” (tev), as he lies in bed, he remembers what God has done for him and thinks about him.”[2] David’s intentional mediation on God and his past goodness has caused his soul to be satisfied. Is my soul satisfied with God because I drink in the memory of his abundant provision for me?

The result of this seeking and satisfaction through meditating on God and his provision in the past leads to David’s choice to remain “close” to God.  He chooses to “cling” to him. “My soul clings to thee may be rendered, for example, “I hold on to you with all my strength.”[3]  Nothing could break David’s grip upon God as his provider and protector. Am I hanging on to God and faithfulness to him no matter what my circumstances?

David has shown us that the wise person is the one who thirsts for God. He is satisfied with his proven provision, and as a result, clings to him no matter what his situation.

Father, what a beautiful description of a man after your own heart. I want to be like David. I thirst for you because I know your love is better than life itself. I want my soul to be satisfied with you as I think of all you have done for me in the past.  I want to cling to you so that nothing could pull me away from faithfulness to you.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

 

[1] Robert G. Bratcher and William David Reyburn, A Translator’s Handbook on the Book of Psalms, UBS Handbook Series (New York: United Bible Societies, 1991), 548.

tev Today’s English Version

[2] Ibid, 550.

[3] Ibid.