Saturday, August 27, 2016

Horn of Salvation




The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, 
My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; 
My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
Psalm 18:2



Rock.  Fortress. Deliverer. Refuge. Shield. Stronghold.

The implication of strength and safety in these words are clear. Life is a battle and our source of rest, protection and strength is in the Lord.

But what in the world does it mean that the Lord is the horn of my salvation?  Is this a cultural thing that the psalmist is referring to?  I did some research and found that horns were used in battle, as well, and that it could be a symbol of strength just like the other words. Most commentators, however, point to the emphasis of "salvation" in this descriptor and believe it is talking of the horns on the brazen altar, meaning that the Lord provided salvation through His sacrifice.

While this is true, I believe the meaning is actually deeper. If you understand the construction of the altar in the Temple, on the four corners there were horns. These horns had a specific purpose.  They secured the sacrifices. Live animals were brought to the altar and then their heads were bound to one of the horns to hold the animal in place for the slaughter. It's neck would be cut open and the blood would be caught in a bowl. Sometimes this blood was painted on the horns, other times it was sprinkled in various places (i.e.. on the mercy seat, over the people) and other times it was discarded. Vast gutter systems ran from the Temple, out a back wall and down a hill behind the Temple wall that directed the blood out of the city.  It has been said that at times of festivals, the blood flowed from the Temple into the Kidron Valley, which is the valley in between the Temple and the Mount of Olives. The horns, then, held the animal in place so that the sacrifice could be made.

Years ago there was a gal who I was witnessing to for a few years.She was my hair stylist and whenever I was with her, I tried to talk about what I was teaching in Bible study or what I was studying. One day I came into the salon and she was anxious to see me. She said she and her husband had gone to see "The Passion of Christ," which was in theaters at the time. They had so many questions after seeing that movie, but the main one was this - If Jesus was God, then when He was nailed to the cross and the people were mocking Him to come down, why didn't He come down?

I loved that question! And here's the answer: Because Jesus is the horn of my salvation. Now, of course, I didn't say it like that, but that is the truth. Jesus Himself SECURED the sacrifice. The nails didn't hold Jesus on that cross - Jesus held Jesus on that cross.

In John 10:17,18 Jesus says, "For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again.  No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative.  I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.  This commandment I received from My Father."  Jesus willingly laid down His live - He not only willingly went to the cross, but He held Himself there to finish what He had started.  If you look at Jesus' actions leading to the cross, we see that this is true:

  • He met the guards in the garden, rather than running and hiding (John 18:1-4)
  • He didn't defend Himself in the trials (I Peter 2:21-24)
  • He prayed for those who crucified Him (Luke 23:34)
  • He lovingly put the needs of others before Himself in His final words (John 19;26,27)
The picture given to us in the descriptor "horn of my salvation" is the picture of what secures our salvation - what held our sacrifice in place.  It is a clear picture of Jesus.  He alone secured our salvation, He alone bore our penalty on the cross, He alone remained in place so that the sacrifice would be made.  

So here's an idea.  When you pray tonight and thank the Father for His love, care and provision for you, why not thank Jesus for being the horn of your salvation?  You understand what it means and it's a worthy description of our Savior, isn't it?









Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Shield

shield SHēld

noun   a broad piece of metal or another suitable material, 

held by straps or a handle attached on one side, 

used as a protection against blows or missiles


Proverbs 30:5 says, "Every word of God is tested; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him."  Building on our refuge post, this proverb tells us that if we choose to find refuge in the Lord, then He is a shield to us.  Let's first think about shields.

I didn't grab a shield as I headed to the grocery store today.  Neither did I grab a shield when I went to dinner the other night.  In fact, I don't think I own a shield, let alone can think of a time when I needed one.  This is because a shield is a tool of war.  It is battle garb.  It is for protection and I live a pretty safe life in Western Michigan.  So perhaps the shield that God is for me is spiritual rather than physical.

When Abraham battled against the five kings of the north to retrieve Lot and the citizens of Sodom, overnight he made some pretty big enemies.  This frightened him and the Lord calmed him down by promising him, "Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; your reward shall be very great." (Genesis 15:1)  You have nothing to worry about, Abram - I have made promises to you that I will keep.  Remember when I told you that you'd father a great nation? Yeah, we haven't even started on that, so I don't think these five kings are going to hassle you.  I will be your protection.  I will keep you safe.  If you find refuge in Me, you can count on me keeping you safe.

Abraham knew the promises of God and it was in those promises that Abraham needed to find his security.  The same goes for us today. You can search on the word "shield" and find many great promises in the Word, but the reason I love this particular proverb is because of the first phrase - "Every word of God is tested..."  This word tested means proven or pure.  If something is pure, it is undefiled - it's strength comes in the fact that it's not contaminated. If a bridge is proven, it is tested and found strong enough to support the loads that will cross it.  In essence, it is not contaminated, it is not compromised, it is pure and sure.

Every word of God is tested - every word is pure, is proven.  If we are to find our refuge in the Lord, if He is to be our shield, then the strength of His Word is what will uphold us. The protection of the Lord is the truth of His Word.  If God were a deceiver, then His Word would not be trustworthy, but because He is good and cannot lie, because He is immutable and never changes, because He loves me and is sovereign over all, then I can have confidence in what He says.

Within the daily spiritual battlefields:
  • I can be confident that my sins have been forgiven because of what Jesus did, not because of what I need to do (Ephesians 2:8,9)
  • I can choose the safety of submission in a world that thinks I'm crazy (Ephesians 5:22)
  • I can lovingly discipline my children, knowing that foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child (Proverbs 22:15) and that if I love my child, I will discipline them (Proverbs 13:24)
  • I can sleep at night, knowing that nothing can come between me and my Savior (Romans 8:38,39)
  • I can confidently stand in trials, knowing that God is at work in the midst of them (James 1:2-4, Romans 8:28)
  • I can do the hard work of forgiveness because Christ is living within me (Galatians 2:20)
  • I already know that what I do and say, and how I act are foolishness to the world and I'm okay with it because obedience has become a power source in my life (I Corinthians 1:18)
Knowing the Word of God is what protects me.  When I make choices because of the boundaries God has placed around me, I am in the safest place possible.  When I step outside of those boundaries, I am asking for trouble. So the key to God's protection is knowing His Word and standing firm upon it.

Do not take refuge in God in ignorance.  Take refuge in confidence that God's truth, which is tried and proven trustworthy, is a protection and a shield for you on a daily basis.  



Saturday, August 20, 2016

Refuge



refuge |ˈrefˌyo͞ojˈrefˌyo͞oZH
nouna condition of being safe or sheltered from pursuit, danger, or trouble
Where do you find shelter?  We all do it.  We get ourselves in a bind or find ourselves in a crisis, and we seek shelter from the storm.  Whether we see the storm clouds rolling in or are caught in a downpour, it is our nature to find safety, to keep dry, to limit the damage. Refuge comes in many shapes and sizes.  Sometimes it looks like a husband. Big, strong, confident - he will be the answer to all my problems.  Other times it looks like a doctor.  Educated, experienced, compassionate - he'll make everything better.  Another refuge comes in a bottle - a medicine bottle, a liquor bottle.  Something to numb the pain, to soften the harshness of this world.  Still others find refuge in relationships - parents, friends, employers, pastors, teachers, judges. People who can make things right.  People who will be fair and trustworthy.  People who are supposed to be safe.So what happens when a refuge fails?  What happens when the roof caves in or the storm is too great for the refuge to bear?  Then what do you do?You do what most of the world does - turn your eyes towards heaven.  It is common for people of all beliefs to cry out to God when all else fails.  Because we have eternity in our hearts - we know there is something out there much bigger than ourselves - during times of trial or struggle, we hope against all hopes that the Something is actually paying attention and willing to step in, willing to heal, willing to be justice when justice is far, willing to stop the pain.  Here's the truth - humanity was not made to bear the weight of being a refuge.  As a mother, I would like to think that my children can find shelter and safety in my care, but I can't solve all their problems.  I can't make the world treat them fairly and I can't build walls around them that are high enough to spare them the struggles of life.  I am not their savior.  Spouses aren't perfect, friends come and go, employers can be unjust, pastors can fall into sin, teachers can have bad days and judges can be corrupt. The only true refuge, the only true place of safety is in that heavenly "Something" - within the capable, eternal, unchanging arms of God.The psalmist understood this in Psalm 73:25-28, when he penned, "Whom have I in heaven but You?  And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.  For, behold, those who are far from You will perish; You have destroyed all those who are unfaithful to You.  But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all Your works." The nearness of God is my good.  What a great line!  If you're not sure what he means, let's put it in the negative - when God is far away, that's really bad.  Those who are far from from God and are unfaithful will perish and be destroyed.  Another powerful truth. The psalmist is looking beyond the here and now and setting his heart on eternity.  The God of the universe, the almighty, all present, all powerful and sovereign God who has everything under control is my portion - He is mine.  He's all I need and I recognize His presence and strength in all of life.  Even if my flesh (physically) and my heart (my mind) fails, it doesn't change the truth about God.  This is how the psalmist chooses to live his life.The psalm ends with a choice - I have made the Lord God my refuge.  Which leads me to my opening question - where do you find shelter?  You have a choice.  You can numb yourself with substances or put the weight of protection on the shoulders of those you love but who are not able to bear that weight in their humanity.  You can watch your strength and heart fail, as well as your earthly refuges.  Or you can find your strength, your purpose, your protection and your unconditional refuge in God, whose shoulders are broad enough, whose strength is unending and whose nearness is good.  No matter what you are going through today, as redeemed children of God, we know that our God is good, that He loves us and that our eternity is secure.  We know that He is working all things together for our good, conforming us into the image of His Son. We know that He says the struggles of this world are but a vapor and that in eternity the suffering is over.  We are confident that He is near, even when we don't see Him or feel Him - we CHOOSE to stand firm with confidence that God is in the midst of our suffering and that He indeed is our refuge and salvation.  We do not simply cry out to the heavens for help, but we intimately know who we have in the heavens and He knows us by name.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Grace upon Grace


"For of His fullness we have all received, 
and grace upon grace."
John 1:16


Looks kind of like a Christmas tree, doesn't it?  Nope - it's just laundry, the necessary evil in all our lives.  I can remember my mother saying that she loves laundry because you start with the messy pile and when it's done you have a neat, folded stack.  And I added, "Yeah, but then you turn around the the messy pile is already forming again when you haven't even put away your neat stack!"  It never ends, does it? Even if right now your laundry is finished, you have dirty clothes on your body that will begin the pile all over again…

So what does this have to do with grace upon grace?  Grace is a lot like dirty laundry - it never runs out.  Just when you think you've exhausted God's goodness, you turn around and there is a whole new pile to pick up and enjoy.  

John 1:16 tells us that we have all received the fullness of Christ, so let's first think about what that means.  Colossians 2:9 says, "For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form…"  This is a reference to Jesus Christ, that God is fully known in the flesh through Jesus Christ. Colossians 1:19 tells us, "For it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him…", so Christ in the flesh was a pleasing thing for the Father.  And Ephesians 3:17-19 says, "…so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God."  Christ in me is the only way to know the fullness of God - the breadth, length, height and depths of His love are all-consuming and all-filling.  Of this fullness, we have received - Jesus is God incarnate and believers have received God when they put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ.  

We have to start with the fullness to understand the grace upon grace - when you are indwelled by the Holy Spirit, now you see life through spiritual eyes.  A near miss on a wet road is no longer a lucky coincidence, but God's loving protection.  In the same manner, a cancer diagnosis is no longer reason to question God's goodness but rather an opportunity to draw near to the Father and trust in His sovereign will.  As believers, we should see grace all over the place - in every breath, every new sunrise, every opportunity to hold a baby in church, every homework assignment and yes, even every load of laundry.

It's a matter of perspective.  When you know Christ, you understand that there is a much bigger story in the works.  You know that redemption came at a high price and that God wants an intimate, personal relationship with His image bearers.  You know that every new day is common grace extended to the unbelievers - another day to humble themselves and cry out for mercy before the day of judgment.  You know that even the mundane chores of life are an opportunity to steward responsibly for God's glory the tasks He's placed in our care.

So the next time you look at that pile of laundry (like in the next few hours), remember the never-ending supply of grace and goodness that God showers on your daily, because you have received His fullness through Christ.  As you fold, thank Him for individual blessings and before you know it, it will be time to do the laundry again...