By Jason Hanchey
Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
On the surface, this passage makes it so simple. I believe, therefore I am granted all these protections? Where do I sign?
This euphoria is short lived. As I read this again and again, I feel the guilt run deeper and deeper. I don’t deserve all these protections! I haven’t lived up to my end of the deal. I am a stronger Christian now than I have ever been, but my past is full of mischief and less than Christian behavior. How will this conversation go with my Savior when standing at the gates of Heaven?
Take a deep breath. I truly don’t think the bible, in any shape or form, is trying to guilt me into being a believer. My God knows I will face situations that challenge my relationship with him. Free will gets us in trouble from time to time. When needed, I often pray to God for his guidance. Lately, I’ve not felt that was good enough. I felt like He was missing from the conversation. Now, when I need God, I feel comfortable just saying “Lord God, you probably know already, but I need to share something with you.” Maybe not out loud in some circumstances, but when appropriate.
So, maybe it is that simple. For me anyways. I believe not only because of great scripture, but also because God is an actual participant in my life. I owe it to God to include Him in my life. Reading this scripture again, its abundantly clear that He is willing to be my protector and give me life beyond this one. What He is promising is much greater than what he asks of us. All He asks is that we believe.
By Benjamin Tyler
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flames shall not consume you. For I am your Lord and God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” (Isaiah 43:1-3)
My family and I had the opportunity to visit Northern Ireland a few years ago. Northern Ireland is a beautiful country full of long-standing culture, unique people, and stunning landscapes. But one of the things that stood out to me the most was the sheer amount of sheep (no pun intended) that grazed the northern hills. They could be found on almost any hillside in Northern Ireland and always looked so peaceful. I wondered why they were so peaceful; there are many dangers present, such as wild animals, harsh weather, and the towering rugged cliffs. But I realized that wherever there were sheep, there was always someone there to watch them and to keep them safe. This reminded me of the promise God makes to all of us. If we trust Him and put our faith in Him, He will always be there to protect us from whatever obstacle or difficulty we face. After all, isn’t He our Good Shepherd?
By Diana Bridges
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
In Isaiah 7:14, God gives embattled King Ahaz a sign of hope, whether he wants one or not. As followers of Jesus, we see in these words the foreshadowing of the Incarnation. These aren’t really words of hope to us because we live on this side of the good news that is the life of Jesus. That particular hope has been fulfilled. Our Advent hope is focused instead on the coming of God to us, our families, or our church in new, transforming ways, and also on the Second Advent.
When we’re experiencing a time of uncertainty or crisis, as the Israelites were in Isaiah’s day, we might have an acute need for words of hope. We might be constantly scanning Scripture or other resources, listening to sermons, or grasping for meaning in the events and conversations of our days for assurance that all will be well.
Our hope doesn’t rest in words, however, but in the one who utters them. Thomas Merton said, “We can either love God because we hope for something from Him, or we can hope in Him knowing that He loves us.” Our hope isn’t finally dependent on prayers being answered in a particular way or in circumstances that make life easier. Our Advent hope is deeply rooted in the God who loves us — always, completely, unconditionally — and has vowed never to leave us, even after the final promise has been fulfilled.
This Advent, may our hope be renewed in the One who loves us.
By Ellen Di Giosia
Like many Baptist children of my era, I was devoted to Bible Drill. While living in Mississippi, I studied each week and reveled in the opportunity to show my stuff. “Attention!” (Standing straight, Bible by my left side.) “Present swords!” (Bring Bible front and center, flat in my left hand, right hand on top of the Bible.) “Find — the Good Samaritan. Begin.” (Fingers scrambling, flipping to the New Testament – Matthew? No, Luke – page found, finger pointing to chapter 10, verse 25, stepping forward. Was I first? Yes!)
The competitive nature of Bible Drill (called “Sword Drill” in an earlier era) fit perfectly with my goody-two-shoes, perfectionist persona. (And yes, I did win the church drill, pass through the district drill, and compete at the state level.) Psalm 119:11 was one of the first verses we memorized: “Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against thee.” This, of course, was the real reason for Bible Drill. The competitions were just motivation to memorize the words of scripture, so that we could remember them as we grew and matured, as we faced new challenges and made hard decisions. Hiding God’s word in our hearts meant that in times of trouble, we could recall wisdom and act accordingly.
This was a beautiful beginning, but only that. For it would be many more years before I could say that “I delight in the way of [God’s] decrees as much as in all riches.” To be honest, on many days I still don’t feel delighted by the call of God on my life. Humbled, committed, passionate – but delighted? It can be hard to feel that way when I’m in the trenches. But maybe this psalm is not a command, but a promise. Because I have hidden God’s word in my heart, the delight will be an outgrowth of that early discipline. Like any practice, early hard work leads to freedom to enjoy later. I will claim Psalm 119:9-16 for my life this Lent. Maybe you can, too.
By Ed Twedt
This beautiful psalm is the story of Israel’s history, beginning with Abraham, and God’s promises to him, and God’s covenant with him. In this poignant psalm, the author asks the offspring of Abraham to remember God’s promises and God’s covenant. The author speaks of God’s covenant as a word God commanded for a thousand generations and as an eternal covenant.
Both of those things caught my eye and my heart as I read through this psalm. Imagine a thousand generations and an eternal covenant. Of course the “thousand generations” is a metaphor intended to reemphasize the eternal covenant. And what, after all, could this have to do with lent? This season should remind us of the promises of God, a season of looking back and looking forward.
The psalmist closes by reminding us that God remembered God’s holy promise, AND God’s servant Abraham as God brought God’s people out “with joy”, “his chosen ones with singing.” We look back on our lives and the history of the church, our church – the church universal – and are reminded that all of that history is our shared history with Israel, and lent points us forward to being brought out with joy and with singing as we anticipate the glory of that Sunday when we will all greet one another with those ancient words of the Church, “He is risen”, and the answer will come back strong, “He is risen indeed.”
It is no accident that the author closes the psalm with that powerful phrase, “Praise the Lord” or Hallelujah, a transliteration of the Hebrew which means literally, “Sing praises to” or “Praises to” and ending with the short form “Jah” for the personal name of God. So let us all sing praises to our God as we remember God’s everlasting covenant with us which points back to God’s promises and forward to God’s finishing of God’s work.