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.

Set Not Your Heart On. . .

As I was reading in Psalm 62, verse 10 stood out to me.  It says, “if riches increase, set not your heart on them” (ESV).  The NLT translates it this way, “if your wealth increases, don’t make it the center of your life.”

When I read that I asked myself if my heart had drifted to things so that they have become too important to me? The more I thought about this, the more I realized that the older I get, the more I view creature comforts as necessities.  I certainly appreciate all the Lord has given us, but I want to make sure those things have not become an inappropriate focus of my heart.

Jesus discusses this concept in Luke 12:15 when he was talking to a man who had lost perspective about the value of money. He had allowed riches to become the center of his life. To that person, he said, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own” (NLT).

It appears that this man had allowed the strong desire to acquire more and more stuff, to become the priority of his life.  Jesus shows him why this is wrong when he said, Life is not measured by how much you own.”  To better understand the meaning of that statement, it is helpful to notice that Jesus uses a special word for “life.” It is the Greek word zoe (ζωή).  Jesus uses this word in the Gospel of John to describe the eternal relationship with God that is possible for those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and God (Jn 17:3; 20:30-31).

So, what is the point Jesus is making to this man? Possessions have no impact on my relationship with God and, therefore, should not be the focus of my heart. Lenski clarifies this well when he says,

“One striking reason for the futility of all covetousness is the simple fact that a man’s ζωή (“life,” relationship with God) . . . is not drawn from his earthly possessions. He will not have a bit more of actual life when he has much or a bit less of that life when he has little.[1]

My relationship with God is not based upon “stuff.”  Yet, how easy it is to focus on the temporal because we cannot see the spiritual.  Jesus is showing us that we must be careful not to pursue riches since they cannot add value to our relationship with him.

Father, thank you for this reminder that I must guard against allowing my heart to be drawn away toward things that promise a fulfillment they can’t provide.  You and you alone need to be the primary focus and allegiance of my heart.  Thank you for the abundance of riches you have given me, may they not become too important to me.  Help me to keep my heart focused on you and what truly makes my relationship with you flourish.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

 

 

[1] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Luke’s Gospel (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961), 685.

Awaiting My Invitation

After a very traumatic weekend with the death and resurrection of Jesus, Luke 24:13-25 tells us about two disciples of Jesus who started to head home from Jerusalem to Emmaus which was a seven-mile journey. As they walked, they were having a debate about the events they had experienced.

At that moment, Jesus approached them and began walking with them to their village.  He asked what they were discussing and that led to what I am sure was a profound discussion!

As unfathomable as the details are related to who Jesus is and what his death and resurrection accomplished, I was intrigued by a secondary issue in verses 28-29 which says,

“So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.’ So he went in to stay with them.”

It appears that the two disciples had reached the turnoff for their home and Jesus acted as though he would go on alone without them.  Why would Jesus do that? Why would he give the impression that he was going to continue on his journey?

Jesus was giving them the chance to express their desire to want to know him better rather than assume that was true or force them to spend time with him.  As a result, these disciples responded to his action by taking the initiative to continue their discussion by inviting him to their home. 

What does this tell us about Jesus?

Jesus does not force himself upon any of us.  He has made a relationship possible for all of us but he awaits our invitation to pursue and develop that relationship.  He wants a relationship with those who want one with him.

Klaus Issler describes this concept when he says,

Perhaps God could have designed humans so that our hardware and software programming would cause us to love him, so that we would automatically love God whether we wanted to or not. Yet what permeates a friendship relationship is a voluntary and mutual decision for each other. God could have a made a toy factory in which all believers mechanically proclaimed prerecorded praises. Pull the string and we chirp in unison, “I love you, God,” “I thank you, God.” But a genuine relationship must be entered into freely and not under coercion of will.[1]

Father, you want to have a relationship with me and have provided for that possibility at great personal cost. Thank you for helping me see that you are always waiting for my invitation to develop my relationship with you. I do want to know you better and ask that you would help me do that.  Let me not take you for granted and enable me to make you a priority in my life.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

 

[1] Klaus Issler. Wasting Time with God: A Christian Spirituality of Friendship with God (Kindle Locations 1432-1435). Kindle Edition.

 

“Friend” Are You Sure?

In preparation for Good Friday, I was reading in Matthew 26. I was struck by the word Jesus chose to describe Judas when he betrayed him. It is a familiar story. Judas had agreed to give the authorities Jesus in exchange for money. When Judas and the mob approached Jesus, Jesus said,

Friend, do what you came to do.” (Mt 26:50)

Are you not puzzled that Jesus would use the word “friend” to describe Judas? How could he use such a word?

Unfortunately, in English, we only have one word to describe associates. The Greek is more specific. Jesus uses the word philos to represent his real friends. Notice the following example:

“You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” (Jn 15:14-15)

Jesus did not use the word philos, “true friend” when he talked with Judas. He used another word, hetairos. What is the difference between these two words?

“The study of the word hetaíros causes us to conclude that it could not be used as synonym with phílos, a true friend who seeks the other’s good. Hetaíros is one who only projects his own interest. The inference, therefore, is that hetaíros means a selfish acquaintance, one who seeks his own interests above the interests of others.[1]

So what does this word choice mean in the confrontation of Jesus and Judas? Zodhiates continues his insight by saying, “the Lord called him hetaíre, indicating that while Judas was giving Him a kiss pretending that he was a friend, all he was interested in was the thirty pieces of silver. Therefore, the meaning of the word is a person who attaches himself to another for what he can get out of him, a leech or a phony friend as we would say in our culture today, a selfish comrade.”[2]

Isn’t the Bible amazing?! Jesus’ word choice reveals the true intent of Judas,  I can only imagine that such a term used to describe Judas would be condemning for him to hear. Jesus understood his motive for following Him. Judas only followed Jesus for personal gain.  He had not embraced Jesus as Savior and God. Even so, and for our benefit, Jesus allowed this betrayal to happen!

Father, may I be a true friend of yours. One who seeks to do your will for your benefit and not selfishly try to use my relationship with you for my own interests. Help me to live in constant fellowship with you.

Following Jesus with you,

 

 

[1] Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000).

[2] Ibid.

Decisive Moments

As we all know, we are living in a time where there is a great amount of uncertainty, fear, and anxiety.  Much of this is because we have never experienced the current circumstances in which we find ourselves.  Where can we go for hope and guidance?  Fortunately, the Bible is a timeless book that God has given us and covers enough history that it has very practical things to say for a time such as this.

This morning I was impressed with the way David responded to great difficulty in his life.  In fact, he says in Ps 31: 9,

“I am in distress!” (NET)

Many of us today are echoing the words of David.  In his situation, he had people seeking to kill him.  He was in danger and he felt it.  His situation impacted all of him.  His emotions were aroused, and he was alarmed because of the danger surrounding him and he was not afraid to tell God about it.  The question for us today is how do we respond under the pressures of life as it is impacting our emotions?  We should not ignore how we feel, instead, we need to follow David’s example and talk to God about it.

After expressing himself to God, in Ps 31:14-15 David shows us how he chose to respond to his circumstances.  He says,

But I trust in you, O Lord! I declare, ‘You are my God!’ You determine my destiny! Rescue me from the power of my enemies and those who chase me.” (NET)

The grammar in that passage is very emphatic.  To help clarify the meaning here, this passage could be understood to say,

Contrary to what one might expect under the circumstances, I do not despair, but I surrender in trust to the hand of God” . . . naming Yahweh as the only source of hope.”[1]

Even though his circumstances were screaming for him to panic, David chose not to despair and instead, he chose to trust God with his life regardless of the outcome. Like David, we must choose surrender and trust rather than despair.

Gerald Wilson makes a great observation about this passage when he says,

Underlying the psalmist’s surrender is an understanding of life as made up of a series of DECISIVE MOMENTS in which a person can take either appropriate or inappropriate direction, depending on how he or she responds to the circumstances. One response is to seek to control and manipulate the situation to one’s advantage. That is clearly what the psalmist’s opponents are doing. The other way is to surrender one’s personal will to the power and authority of God…”[2]

Like David, you and I are at a DECISIVE MOMENT in time. Will we stress and try to control, or will we simply surrender our will to God’s and trust him?  Together, let’s choose to yield to his leadership and trust him.

Father, my tendency is to try to make things happen when circumstances are not going as I expect.  I know that I must do my part, but when that is done, I need to surrender and trust in you as my God like David.  Into your hand do I commit my life.  Help me to live as someone who is trusting you with my life especially now.

Following Jesus with you,

 

 

[1] Gerald H. Wilson, Psalms, vol. 1, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 532.

[2] IBID, 532.