The Pilgrim’s Petition for Help: Psalm 123

Have you ever been ridiculed for your faith? What about being mocked or slandered? Christian pilgrims are like salmon swimming upstream against the current of the world’s culture. Each month 322 Christians are killed; 214 churches and their properties destroyed; 722 forms of violence are committed against Christians (i.e. beatings, abductions, rapes, arrests, and forced marriages). According to the Pew Research Center, over 75% of the world’s population live in areas with severe religious restrictions. The U.S. Department of State tells us that Christians in more than 60 countries face persecution from their governments or surrounding neighbors because of their faith in Jesus Christ.

What are Christians to do when persecuted for their faith in Christ? The writer of this Psalm reminds us to humble ourselves before the Lord, to look up to Him in prayer as our only source for help and mercy, and to patiently wait as we volunteer our service to Him for His glory and His kingdom.

The posture that pilgrims must demonstrate is humility. This posture shows dependency on God as expressed by the psalmist when he writes: “…as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, until He is gracious to us.” (Psalm 123: 2b) It does not take much effort to look up. It is the simple movement of your eyes. To be a servant of God is not a position to dread but a place of humility before His presence as his servant.

Next, dependency on God leads us to prayer. It is possible that the writing of this Psalm took place when the post-exilic Jews came back from Babylon to rebuild the Temple of God. Psalm 123:3-4 is a plea to the Lord for grace and endurance. These pilgrims were being scoffed at by those who had taken over the land, sitting back and laughing at the Israelites as they attempted to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple. Because of their dependency on God through prayer, the pilgrims endure because they know the Lord is on their side.

For the Christian pilgrim today, the same truth applies. Humility is the posture that leads to prayer to the Lord for help in time of need. While scoffers may taunt you, the Lord will give you grace to endure so you may reach the prize of the upward call of Christ as you press on toward the goal (Philippians 3:14).

WHERE DOES OUR HELP COME FROM?

“I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; from where shall my help come?” – Psalm 121:1

One of the mistakes people make while traveling is not asking for directions. There have been many intensive negotiations between married couples on trips, mainly because the husband would not stop and ask for directions. Fortunately, we now have the technology to help us via our smart phones or GPS. You just punch in the information of your destination and then click start and the device gives you step by step directions guiding you to your destination.

Similarly, we learn from this Psalm that a weary sojourner wisely looks for help. But where will his help come from as he looks up to the mountains? Eventually he will look to the Lord as his ultimate source for help as he can see in the distance the hills of Zion, the place that the Lord, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, loves more than “…all the other dwelling places of Jacob.” (Psalm 87:2).

Psalm 121 is part of a collection of Psalms (120-134) called “The Psalms of Ascent.” They were given this title as they were selected to aid the worshipping Israelite on his pilgrimage toward God as they went up to Jerusalem for the three annual festivals. This Psalm directs the thoughts of the pilgrim to God as his source of help. Giving him the assurance that Israel’s Keeper will maintain vigilant oversight to protect His people.

There is always risk in traveling. Even today there are the risks of weather, mechanical failure, terrorists, health, and thieves etc. This pilgrim takes the initial step as he looks up to the hills towards Jerusalem and proposes the important question, “Who is going to help me safely journey to my destination?” The pilgrim thus looks beyond the hills and looks to the Lord who created the hills as he writes, “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:2)

This proposes a very important question. As you sojourn through this life, with all its dangers that come along the way, what help do you seek? Do you seek help from the hills or from the One who made the hills? Eventually, when the pilgrims journeyed and could see Jerusalem up ahead on a hill, they knew this was by God’s design. They could see His sanctuary which would provide the help they needed in life. I pray that you will look to the Lord as the One true source for help. He is your Creator. His Word is your spiritual compass to point you in the right direction. His Spirit is your guide. His Son is your hope of salvation. Your help comes from the Lord.

“Prayer for the Homesick Soul”

“In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me.” Psalm 120.1

What is homesickness? It is defined as “a feeling of longing for one’s home during a period of absence from it.” If you recall your own childhood, you might have been homesick once while visiting a relative, friend, or even a camp. Below are a couple of examples of parents who received homesick letters from their children who were at camp. (Spelling reflects the child’s grammar).

“Dear Mom and Dad,
Camp is terrible. I am homesick almost every minnut. I tried evrything, and nothing works. I need to come home rite now! Please, please, please come and get me today!” Love, Chuck

“Dear Mom and Dad,
This camp stinks! The cownsillers are all mean and so are the kids. All I want to do is come home. If you don’t come pick me up, I’m going to run away. I swayr. I hate this place!” Your son, Brandon

I remember when I was about six years old. I was overcome with homesickness while visiting my cousin for my first sleepover. Everything was fine throughout the day until bedtime. I guess it had not hit me until then that I would not be near my parents, even though my Aunt and Uncle were nearby. I remember making such a fuss that my dad had to come pick me up and take me home because I would not go to bed.

Psalm 120 is a psalm for a burdened believer who is far from his spiritual homeland and is living among ungodly people who are only for war. In this Psalm, the writer cries out to the Lord in prayer like a child would by writing or calling home from camp. He cries out to the Lord because he depends on no one else but God (vv. 1-2). He seeks deliverance from God from the deceitful tongues that harass him (vv. 3-4). Therefore, he tells God all about his troubles. He is honest about what troubles him, yet he also confesses his sin and repents of his journey with those who hate peace (vv. 5-6). Then, finally, he leaves his burden behind and seeks the peace of God and proclaims it (v. 7).

Being at peace with God means to completely trust in all that He does and says. It’s knowing He is the Great Shepherd who is always there to provide and protect (Psalm. 23). It means letting His peace rule your heart (Colossians. 3:15). It also means to live at peace with all people (Romans. 12:18) and not be anxious about anything (Philippians 4:7).

Trusting in the Lord is the sure cure for anxiousness and fear while waiting to go home to be with Him. Therefore, be dependent on the Lord through prayer. Be patient. Be steadfast. Be a peacemaker and be excellent in your behavior. Remember, Christians are sojourners in this world. We are just passing through. Make the best of it and trust in the Lord and lean not on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5).

“Giving Thanks, Rather than…”

“And there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.” Ephesians 5:4

Those who remember the Disney classic movie, “Bambi” may remember Thumper the rabbit. In one scene Thumper is caught by his mother saying something about Bambi’s inability to walk. His mother reminded him by saying, “Thumper, what did your father say?” Thumper replied, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.”

Thumper’s words may not exactly express what Paul was trying to communicate here, but the point is similar. James also reminds us that using our words, especially those which come from our tongue, can have destructive effects on others. James writes: “But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it, we bless our Lord and Father, and with it, we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing.” (James 3:8-10)

Paul is instructing us to change the way we speak to one another in Christ. Instead of using obscene words (filthiness), buffoonish speech (silly talk), or poor humor (coarse jesting), we should RATHER speak to one another with kind words that express the grace and favor of the Lord in our lives (giving of thanks).

The word for “thanks” that Paul uses here in the Greek language (eucharistia) is made up of two words. One is “eu” which means “good.” We know this word as a prefix to “eulogy,” which means “good words.” The person who delivers the “eulogy” at a memorial service is speaking “good words” about the deceased with the purpose to honor them.

The other word that makes up “eucharistia” is “charizomai” which means to “grant as a favor” or to “show kindness” or even “to forgive.” Essentially the word “thanks” used here by Paul means to speak kind words towards one another, whereby we demonstrate God’s grace as we honor one another in the Lord.

Speaking to one another by “giving of thanks” communicates God’s unmerited grace towards us. What is this grace? Paul David Tripp states that God’s grace “rescues us from our spiritual blindness. It releases us from our bondage to our rationalism and materialism. Grace gives us the faith to be utterly assured of what we cannot see. It frees us from refusing to believe in anything we cannot experience with our physical senses. Grace connects us to the invisible One in an eternal love relationship that fills us with joy we have never known before and gives us rest of heart that we would have thought impossible.” The whole purpose for the “giving of thanks” is to freely bestow the goodness of God’s favor upon others with the purpose to build others up in Christ, thereby glorifying Him.

Therefore, as you celebrate Thanksgiving with your family or friends, seek to share God’s grace through Christ by the “giving of thanks” RATHER THAN filthy and unbecoming speech or bad humor. If all else fails, follow Thumper’s example: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.”

“Why is the World So Evil?”

“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned−” Romans 5:12

Lately we are hearing in the news not so good news. One example is the recent shooting in Las Vegas. From one’s perspective it seems like evil is on the rampage and chaos is out of control. Why is this? Why does it seem like the world is so evil and a dangerous place to live? I believe the verse above and others like it in the Bible provides insight and hope for the weary soul who is greatly concerned about the world that seems so evil.

First, the choice to sin by one person brings about death, chaos and pain. It took only one man, Adam, to make it his choice to disobey God. His choice introduced sin and death into the world (Genesis 2:17, 3:3, 6, 17, 19, 21). When evil events like the shooting in Las Vegas take place, it is because of the action of one person that brings about death and destruction.

Second, the choice to sin by one person affects the lives of others. When Adam chose to sin against the Lord, his decision not only affected himself, but all other human beings down through history. Because of this, we all feel the effect of Adam’s sin through death (Genesis 3:3, 19; Hebrews 9:27). Similarly, when we choose to sin, our sin not only brings harm to ourselves but affects the lives of others.

Third, the choice to sin by one person is a personal decision. No one makes you sin. Excuses are plenty and blame is widespread when it comes to personal sin. When Adam sinned against the Lord, it was his own choice. Adam could have chosen to be obedient. Adam attempted to blame God for his sin by saying, “‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate’” (Genesis 3:12). As if to say, “Lord, if you had not given me this woman, I would not have sinned against you.” When we sin we blame others. Sometimes, we blame God or even accuse God of lying for saying we sinned (1 John 1:10). Sin is sin. Only the person who committed the sin is solely responsible for their sin. They must own up to it (Psalm 51).

Finally, sin affects all of us, personally and spiritually, but we are not without hope. Romans 3:23 says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and Romans 6:23 states, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” God warned Adam that if he sinned, he would die. This death affected Adam physically and spiritually. Physically, because Adam eventually died. Spiritually, because Adam lost his spiritual connection with the Lord. There was a separation between God and Adam. This is what sin does. But, all is not lost. God chose not to take Adam’s life at that moment. The Lord provided hope through a promise (Genesis 3:15) and a covering for Adam’s sin through the sacrifice found in Genesis 3:21. That sacrifice became the future hope of Adam and his race through the perfect sacrifice found in Christ Jesus our Lord (Hebrews 10:14). This is the same hope for anyone who repents from their sin and commits themselves to Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior. The Bible says they will be saved (Romans 10:9-10; 13).

All this to say, why is the world so evil? It’s because of sin. Is there hope in the world? Yes, it’s found in the person of Jesus Christ. One day, the Lord will create a new heaven and earth that is without sin and evil. But, only those who have trusted in Him alone for salvation will occupy that place. Choose Christ today for the blessed hope of heaven tomorrow.

“Finding Joy in Suffering”

“In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:6-9)

When it comes to suffering as Christians in this world (i.e. for the cause of Christ, physical, emotional, or spiritual), our God and Savior can sympathize with us (Hebrews 4:15-16). He knows our sorrows, pain, rejection, loneliness, and loss (Isaiah 53). Jesus knows physical pain, what it’s like to be rejected, to be abandoned by His own friends and family, and to know the loss of a parent (His earthly father). Jesus knows what it is like to suffer and to be crushed and persecuted for His beliefs. He even knows what it is like to be cut off from the Heavenly Father when on the cross, to be falsely accused, and to be unjustly tried. The list can go on. No matter what you have suffered, Jesus knows your sorrow.

So then, how can one find joy in suffering? How does one, as Peter stated, “…greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory…?”
First, Peter says you have obtained an inheritance which is imperishable and undefined and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you (1 Peter 1:4). You will not find any lasting comfort or satisfaction in this world. Your joy, hope and security is found in being “…born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). It’s knowing that your faith in Christ is the most precious thing that you have. Peter says that it is more precious than gold which will perish.

Second, you will be tested in this life. Jesus told His disciples to expect persecution. Why? Because this world hated Him first. Jesus never promises us that we will escape suffering. This world has suffering because of sin and because of the devil, the prince of this earth. Therefore, your joy is this; if God is for you, who can be against you? It’s knowing that there’s nothing that can separate us from Christ’s love for His own (Romans 8:28-37).

Finally, you can have joy inexpressible when you don’t focus on present suffering, but the future outcome of your soul. Paul knew what it meant to suffer and encouraged his readers with these verses he wrote while in prison. “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14)

One of the greatest benefits in being a believer is knowing that suffering in this world is temporary. The glories of heaven are eternal. Place your faith in Christ for eternal joy in the midst of present suffering.

“Food for the Glory of God”

“Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
1 Corinthians 10:31

Summer break is almost over. Soon the kids will be back to school. Gone will be the road trips, campouts, and outings at the beach. Along with this is the food that comes with summer. The BBQ’s, desserts, eating out, trips to the ice cream parlor, and, oh, did I mention desserts? At the time of this article, I have actually lost seven pounds since the beginning of July. Partly because I just did not like the way I was feeling, and partly because I couldn’t figure out why. I felt bloated, fatigued, had heart palpitations, and everything else that goes with those symptoms. I knew I needed to change something so I started my diet. After experimenting with several things, I came to the conclusion the problem was too much sodium. I hadn’t realized how much sodium I was consuming on a daily basis.

To maintain a healthy heart, the National Heart Association recommends just 1500mg daily, an allowance of 500mg per meal. I started with the 2300mg recommended by my fitness app. Now I am keeping my sodium level at around 1500mg. The results have been amazing. Outside of losing seven pounds in just weeks, I also feel better. I have more energy. I am not tired throughout the day. My palpitations have gone away. My mountain biking has gotten better. Truthfully, I feel I am honoring and glorifying the Lord by being a good steward with this vessel He has given me.

Just to give you an example of how hard this is, most Americans consume around 3000-4000mg of sodium a day. That’s over one and a half teaspoons of salt per day. Imagine getting up and swallowing one to two teaspoons of salt in the morning. Basically, that’s what I was doing. At most restaurants we can easily exceed our daily recommended intake of sodium in just one meal, sometimes with one item. Foods we purchase from grocery stores are filled with sodium.

My point being, like all things, it’s about moderation and awareness. “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable…” (1 Corinthians 10:23). I am reminded of Daniel when he made up his mind not to defile himself with King Nebuchadnezzar’s choice of food. Instead, he offered to test and compare their own appearance to those who were eating the king’s food (Daniel 1:12-13). The result was that they glorified the Lord by not defiling themselves, and their appearance seemed better than those who consumed the king’s food (Daniel 1:14-16).

Be mindful of what you eat. Glorify the Lord in all things, including your diet. Like sin, we can get used to those things in our culture, and before we know it we are hooked. The way we thought was good was actually leading us to destruction. Food is the same. I started at 202 pounds, and this evening I weigh 195. The goal for my age and height is 175, but my personal goal is 185. I will report later on my progress.
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