Perspective On Persecution

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Around the world we hear of Christians being persecuted for their faith in Jesus: Afghanistan … N. Korea … China … even in the USA, Christians like Jack Phillips and Barronelle Stutzman are being persecuted for standing up for what they believe. 

Here’s an important principle to keep in mind: In times like these, we need to remember there have always been times like these. Especially because the psalmist Asaph, Jesus, and the apostle Paul all forewarned us about persecution (Psalm 83; Mark 13:9, 12-13; 2 Timothy 3:12-13). 

Jesus said that our persecution should only come “on account of Me.” And Asaph notices the same thing in his prayer, using phrases like “Your enemies,” “Your foes,” “they conspire against Your people,” and “they form an alliance against You.” 

Asaph also recognized that times like these call for a Selah pause—a pause to calmly consider. 

I think the first thing we need to consider is our part in bringing on the persecution. I need to ask the Holy Spirit to reveal if I may have been the trigger to the anger of these wicked people. If I have done something, I need to repent, ask forgiveness, and see what I can do to make restitution. 

Next, we need to Selah to consider this: It might look desperate, but God has handled these kinds of evil people before. Asaph mentions several enemies of God’s people whom God decisively defeated in the past. Our Selah pause will help us recall that God is the same today as He was yesterday—He is more than able to handle these persecutors. 

With all of these bullies ganging up on Israel, you can understand why Asaph cries out for God’s strong action against them. But I want you to notice that the call for judgment is NOT vindictive but redemptive. Asaph asks for punishment “so that men will seek Your name, O LORD” and that they may “know that You, whose name is the LORD—that You alone are the Most High over all the earth. 

In other words, this isn’t a “Get ‘em, God” prayer, but a “Save ‘em, God” prayer! 

We’re not looking for relief for ourselves—that’s only temporary—but we’re looking for glory for God—that’s eternal!

Jesus and the apostle Peter both tell us that God’s desire is for no one to perish apart from a relationship with Him through Jesus Christ (John 3:16-17; 2 Peter 3:9). 

The reason we need to Selah and ask that introspective question about our words or actions triggering our persecutor’s anger is because God will use our righteous response to persecution as a testimony. 

Jesus said our persecution should be because of Him, but He also told us that there would be a blessing in it (Matthew 5:11-12; Mark 13:13; Luke 21:17-19). And Paul tells us that this reward isn’t just a silver lining to a dark cloud, but a reward beyond compare (Romans 8:18). 

Asaph went to prayer when Israel was attacked, and that should be our first response too. 

But let’s Selah in that prayer to make sure we’re not the trigger, and then may our prayer be more for God’s eternal glory than it is for our temporary relief. 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in our series looking at the Selahs in the Psalms, you can access the full list by clicking here.

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Judging Like God

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible.

I may have heard more confusion, bad preaching, and even heresy based on Psalm 82 than almost any other passage! Most of the confusion comes from just verses 1 and 6, but if we read the entire psalm, I think confusions are quickly cleared up.

The biggest point of confusion is the use of the word “gods.” The Hebrew language doesn’t have capital and lowercase letters like we do. So the word God (with or without a capital “G”) is the same Hebrew word—el (singular) or elohiym (plural)—which means mighty One or mighty ones. Humans can be mighty ones, but only Yahweh is the Mighty One. 

Further adding to the confusion for some people is that Yahweh God is sometimes referred to in the plural in Hebrew: elohiym. This is understandable because we believe God is Three-in-One. Not three gods, but one God in three Persons. 

Bible translators have to use context clues to determine whether the biblical authors are referring to Yahweh or a pretend deity. Thankfully, English Bible translators have helped us out:

  • when the Hebrew word is Yahweh, most Bibles print it LORD 
  • when the Mighty One is implied in the text it’s God (with a capital “G”), and when it’s just a mighty person it’s typed god/gods (with lowercase a “g”). 
  • the NIV translators really helped us in Psalm 82 by designating the false deities in quotation marks (“gods”), almost as if they’re saying “the so-called gods.” 

When we were looking at the Selah in Psalm 81, I pointed out the importance of remembering that context is king. Clearly, from the context in Psalm 82, these are false gods (lowercase “g” and inside quotation marks).  

Asaph only speaks in the first and last verses of this psalm, but notice his commentary that “God presides…He gives judgment.” As in, God gets the final and decisive word. In fact, God does the most speaking in this psalm (in verses 2-7). God indicts wicked people for…

  • defending the unjust 
  • showing partiality to the wicked 
  • knowing nothing, understanding  nothing, walking around in darkness 
  • and notes “you will die like mere men” 

Now notice what the Selah pause connects. This is a pause for us to contrast two things: the righteous way and the wicked way. Or maybe we could say the contrast is between the way of the righteous Mighty One and His followers, and the way of wicked mighty ones. 

The Selah really begs an important question, “How long will your pride keep you doing these wicked things?” Notice what God calls on people to do in opposition to what the wicked are doing:

  • the wicked defend the unjust vs. the righteous are to defend the weak and fatherless 
  • the wicked show partiality to the wicked vs. the righteous maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed 
  • the wicked are concerned only about themselves vs. the righteous rescue the weak and needy from the hand of the wicked 

The Selah is intended to prompt us to ask ourselves: “Which are we? What am I doing or not doing?” 

The word for rendering a judgment is used four times in Psalm 82: 

  • God gives judgment on the activities of the “gods” 
  • the wicked defend the unjust, meaning that they condone their unjust activities 
  • the righteous defend the weak, meaning they speak up for those being oppressed by the “gods”
  • finally, Asaph declares in verse 8 that God renders the final and decisive judgement 

God wants us to exercise His righteous judgment on the earth. We have to Selah to examine ourselves first (see Matthew 7:1-5), but then we need to act boldly and righteously (see Micah 6:8; Leviticus 5:1; Proverbs 31:8-9). 

We can judge like we are “gods,” or we can judge, defend, and speak up like ambassadors of the Mighty One—the Ultimate Judge.

Wicked people are punished for judging like “gods.” Righteous people are rewarded for judging like God. 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in our series exploring the Selahs in the Psalms, you can access the full list by clicking here. 

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The Story Isn’t Over Yet

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

One of the things I enjoy about my Apple Watch is the connection I have with others who also use an Apple Watch. For instance, I get notified when my wife has finished a workout, and one of the pre-set replies I could choose is, “I’ve got questions!” That’s a funny way of me saying, “How did you complete that workout?!” 

In Psalm 75 and Psalm 76, Asaph tells us how God will deal with the wicked. But then Psalm 77 begins with Asaph using words like, “My soul refused to be comforted, my spirit is overwhelmed,” and then he launches into the tough questions like: “How long is this going to last? Has God forgotten me? Have I fallen out of favor with God? Has His mercy dried up? Can God keep what He has promised? Is God angry with me?” When I read all this, I feel like saying, “Asaph, I’ve got questions!” 

Yet, these complaints of Asaph ring true to real life. Like when a friend called me last week and started our conversation by asking, “Why can’t things just go easy for me?”

Here’s the simple answer: The Story isn’t over yet. We are in a battle, and the enemy of our soul is still trying to take us out, or at least shut us up. 

In Psalm 77, Asaph tells his story to Jeduthun (a Levite worship leader whose name means praising) in four chapters, with a Selah for each of the breaks between the chapters. 

Chapter 1—Distress (vv. 1-3)

The word distress means confronted by an adversary. Ever been there? Every follower of God has been, so Asaph invites us to Selah: pause to contemplate things like (a) Is this distress causing me to reevaluate the foundation on which I stand? (b) What is it God is shaking in my life? When God shakes things up, it is to cause us to remember and muse about the ONLY sure foundation that can withstand any storm (see Matthew 7:24-27). 

Chapter 2—Questioning (vv. 4-9) 

Notice the words Asaph uses: thought, remembered, mused, inquired. He is asking those tough questions, but he is asking them in a way that he can carefully consider the answers. That means he is really taking a Selah pause with each question. I think he has come to this conclusion: “Aren’t all these really just rhetorical questions? And isn’t the answer to all of them a resounding ‘NO!’?” If you aren’t sure the answer to all of these questions is no, please read Romans 8:31-39.

Chapter 3—Recalling (vv. 10-15) 

Notice the continuation of the words: thought, remember, meditate, consider. He also asks another question in v. 13 which he then answers in the next two verses. His call to Selah here is another pause to reflect: “Has God lost His power? Has He changed His mind?” And once again the answer is a loud and clear, “NO!” (see Isaiah 59:1; Hebrews 13:8) 

One of the important takeaways from this stanza of Psalm 77 is this: Looking back in gratitude at what God has done allows me to look forward in hope to what He is still going to do. My remembering what God has done in the past leads to: 

  1. Release from the darkness 
  2. Renewed praise 
  3. Recovered strength 
  4. Refocused outlook 

Chapter 4—Hope (vv. 16-20) 

Asaph says, “Look what God did! And since He is the same today as He was yesterday, guess what He’s still able to do!” We know this because the Bible says, “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through Him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 1:20). 

Remember I said earlier that God isn’t done telling His story yet? God isn’t done yet, He knows His Story, and His Story is still being told. But He’s also already told us how His story will end (see Revelation 21:4-6). And the end of His story is really just the beginning of the Real Story! 

C.S. Lewis said it this way in the closing words of The Last Battle:

“And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page; now at last they were beginning Chapter 1 of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read; which goes on forever; in which every chapter is better than the one before.” 

When you find yourself saying, “I’ve got questions: How long is this going to last,” Selah to remember that the Story isn’t over yet. The Storyteller knows how it ends, and He promises us: But what of that? For I consider that the sufferings of this present time—this present life—are not worth being compared with the glory that is about to be revealed to us and in us and for us and conferred on us! (Romans 8:18 AMP)

If you have missed any of the messages in our Selah series, you can find the complete list by clicking here.

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Poetry Saturday—Truth

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on Apple or Spotify.

Since the dear hour that brought me to Thy foot,
And cut up all my follies by the root,
I never trusted in an arm but Thine,
Nor hoped, but in Thy righteousness divine:
My prayers and alms, imperfect and defiled,
Were but the feeble efforts of a child;
Howe’er perform’d, it was their brightest part,
That they proceeded from a grateful heart:
Cleansed in Thine own all-purifying blood,
Forgive their evil and accept their good:
I cast them at Thy feet—my only plea
Is what it was, dependence upon Thee:
While struggling in the vale of tears below,
That never fail’d, nor shall it fail me now.
Angelic gratulations rend the skies,
Pride fall unpitied, never more to rise,
Humility is crown’d, and Faith receives the prize. —William Cowper

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Obvious Consequences

I think these correlations are pretty visible in the life of King Jehoshaphat. See if you can spot them too. 

Jehoshaphat “followed [God’s] commands” and “the Lord established the kingdom under his control.” 

Jehoshaphat sent Levites out to teach the people God’s law and “the fear of the Lord fell on all the kingdoms of the land surrounding Judah.” 

Jehoshaphat cried out to God while being pursued by enemies, “and the Lord helped him.” 

Jehoshaphat allied himself with Israel—marrying Ahab’s daughter and going to war with Israel—and he was told, “the wrath of the Lord is on you.” 

“Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord” when the enemy was poised to attack and God gave him assurance of victory. 

Jehoshaphat appointed worshipers to lead the army and “the Lord set ambushes” to defeat the enemy, causing His fear to once again fall on the surrounding nations. 

Jehoshaphat allied himself with Israel again and their joint sailing venture ended in shipwreck. 

[check out the biblical texts for all of the above examples by clicking here] 

It seems to me that the blessings of following God and doing things His way, and the consequences of ignoring His commands, are so plainly visible. There really is no excuse for my ignorance on this.

The question is: Will I do things God’s way and enjoy His blessings, or will I continue to try to do things my way and risk God’s wrath?

Jesus Says

Jesus says, “I will… 

…make you fishers of men” (Matthew 7:23; Mark 1:17) 

…acknowledge in Heaven those who acknowledge Me on earth” (Matthew 10:32-33) 

…give you rest” (Matthew 11:28) 

…build My church” (Matthew 16:18) 

…give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 16:19) 

…show you whom you should fear” (Luke 12:5) 

…drive out demons and heal people” (Luke 13:32) 

…never drive away those who come to Me” (John 6:37) 

…give My life for your life” (John 6:51) 

…rise again from the dead” (Matthew 27:63; Mark 14:28; John 2:19) 

…raise up believers to eternal life” (John 6:40, 44, 54) 

…come back to take you to be with Me forever” (John 14:3) 

…do whatever you ask in My name” (John 14:13, 14; 16:28) 

…not leave you as orphans” (John 14:18) 

…ask the Father to give you an Advocate” (John 14:18) 

…give you words and wisdom that are irresistible” (Luke 21:15) 

…see you again and give you eternal joy” (John 16:22)

Oh, what a Savior!

Thursdays With Spurgeon—A Christian’s Waiting Activity

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

A Christian’s Waiting Activity

They were looking intently up into the sky as He [Jesus] was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:10-11)

     Despisers tell us nowadays, ‘Your cause is done for! Christianity is spun out! Your divine Christ is gone! We have not seen a trace of His miracle-working hands, nor of that voice that no man could rival.’ Here is our answer: We are not standing gazing up into heaven. We are not paralyzed because Jesus is away. He lives, the great Redeemer lives, and though it is our delight to lift up our eyes because we expect His coming, it is equally our delight to turn our heavenly gazing into an earthward watching and to go down into the city and there to tell that Jesus is risen, that men are to be saved by faith in Him, and that whoever believes in Him will have everlasting life! We are not defeated! Far from it—His ascension is not a retreat, but an advance! His tarrying is not for lack of power, but because of the abundance of His long-suffering. …  

     It is clear that He has not quit the fight nor deserted the field of battle. Our great Captain is still heading the conflict! He has ridden into another part of the field, but He will be back again, perhaps in the twinkling of an eye [Revelation 22:12; Matthew 25:21]. … 

     Brothers and sisters, do not let anybody spiritualize away all this from you! Jesus is coming as a matter of fact—therefore go down to your sphere of service as a matter of fact. Get to work and teach the ignorant, win the wayward, instruct the children, and everywhere proclaim the sweet name of Jesus! … Jesus is not coming in a sort of mythical, misty, hazy way. He is literally and actually coming—and He will literally and actually call upon you to give an account of your stewardship. Therefore now, today, literally not symbolically, personally and not by deputy, go out through that portion of the world that you can reach and preach the gospel to every creature according as you have opportunity, for this is what the men in white apparel meant—be ready to meet your coming Lord. … 

     If you would meet Him with joy, serve Him with earnestness! 

From The Ascension And The Second Advent Practically Considered

Jesus was about His Father’s business the whole time He was on earth. As He ascended to heaven, He promised us His authority and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit so we too could be about our Father’s business. 

In one of His parables about stewarding our Master’s gifts and resources until He returned, Jesus said, “Occupy until I return” (Luke 19:13). I love Spurgeon’s remind: “If you would meet Him with joy, serve Him with earnestness!” 

Yes, we are waiting for Jesus to return, but our waiting is an active waiting. With one eye toward the heavens and one eye toward earth, we actively tell others about our soon returning King. Occupy! Stay active! Stay alert! Meet Him with joy! 

Poetry Saturday—A Man With An Aim

Give me a man with an aim,
   Whatever that aim may be,
Whether it’s wealth or whether it’s fame,
   It matters not to me.
Let him walk in the path of right,
   And keep his aim in sight,
And work and pray in faith alway,
   With his eyes on the glittering height.

Give me a man who says,
   “I will do something well,
And make the fleeing days
   A story of labor to tell.”
Though the aim he has be small,
   It is better than none at all;
With something to do the whole year through,
   He will not stumble and fall.

But satan weaves a snare
   For the feet of those who stray,
With never a thought or care
   Where the path may lead away.
The man who hath no aim
   Not only leaves no name
When life’s done, but ten to one
   He leaves a record of shame. 

Give me a man whose heart
   Is filled with ambition’s fire;
Who sets his mark in the start,
   And keeps moving it higher and higher.
Better to die in the strife,
   The hands with labor rife,
Than to glide with the stream in an idle dream
   And lead a purposeless life. 

Better to strive and climb
   And never reach the goal,
Than to drift along with time
   An aimless, worthless soul.
Ay, better to climb and fall,
   Or sow, though the yield be small,
Than to throw away day after day,
   And never to strive at all. —Anonymous

Consequences For Children

Dr. Kathy Koch has some great insights in her book Start With The Heart for anyone who works with children.

“Rather than using the words ‘rewards’ and ‘punishments,’ I recommend using the word ‘consequences.’ This small change helps children own their responsibility in changing negative behavior and maintaining positive behavior. Rewards and punishments are things we give children. Consequences are what children earn because of their choices.” —Dr. Kathy Koch

Check out my book review of Start With The Heart by clicking here. You can also read some other quotes from this book here and here.

Toot! Toot!

Do we begin again to commend ourselves?… (2 Corinthians 3:1)

Paul didn’t bring letters of reference to Corinth, nor did he ask the Corinthians to write any testimonials on his behalf.

A mark of a godly leader is one who doesn’t feel the need to toot his own horn.

 Paul’s focus was not on what he could get now, but on what would be his in eternity—

  • any “letters of recommendation” would be written on peoples hearts (v. 3)
  • any skills he had came through Jesus (vv. 4-6)
  • he had hope that God was keeping accurate records (vv. 7-11)
  • he had the freedom to speak boldly in love because he wasn’t trying to win man’s approval (vv. 12-13, 18)
  • he saw transformed lives as his real trophy (v. 18)
  • his ministry was through God’s mercy so he remained humbled and encouraged (4:1)
  • he didn’t feel the need to concoct a “marketing plan” nor leverage his pulpit for personal gain (v. 2)
  • he focused on glorifying God alone (vv. 3, 4, 6)
  • his sermons weren’t me-focused, but always others-focused as he became a bondservant to those to whom he ministered (v. 5)
  • he worked only for eternal rewards (vv. 7-12, 16-18)
  • he spoke only what he had already appropriated and faithfully applied to his own life (vv. 13-15)

Our prayer could be very similar to what Paul taught and probably prayed for himself—“May I lead by serving. May I not look for human praise—nor even be tempted to toot my own horn—but lead and minister only to hear applause from the nail-scarred hands of Jesus.” 

As R.T. Kendall reminds us—

“Every day we breathe in and out—in and out—thousands of times a day. There is a day fixed, that unless Jesus comes first, you and I will only breathe out. No amount of money, power, or prestige can alter the date that we each have with death. And at that moment the only thing that will matter is whether we have known Christ and served Him well—that our lives have made a difference. In short: that we are popular in heaven—and famous in hell.”

This is part 37 in my series on godly leadership. You can check out all of my posts in this series by clicking here.

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