Do Not Fret

Psalm 37 is a Psalm of David that contrasts the ways of the wicked with the ways of the righteous. David is in a good position to comment on the things listed in this Psalm, for David really did face almost every high and low a person can experience in their life. He faced trials, violence, poverty, betrayal, and hunger alongside the wealth and power he would have later in his life. Many wanted him to fail. Many wanted him dead. Still, time and again in the psalm, David admonishes his readers to “fret not.”

We worry about the harm we perceive as possible from others. We sometimes become envious when we see those we perceive as less righteous succeeding financially where we struggle. Other times, we may feel we have no choice but to become like the wicked if we are going to be successful ourselves. Still, our admonition is the same: “Fret not.”

Purging the Stress of Comparisons

David first suggests to us that God is ultimately in control. We may look around and see a world spiraling out of control, but verses 7, 12-13, 17-18, 25, and 40 reinforce God’s involvement in upholding and preserving the righteous. It may be hard to remember, but our God is in control of eternity.

David also encourages us to take positive action. Verses 3 and 27 admonish us to actively do good. Instead of dwelling on all others are doing wrong, we can make an effort to be a light of goodness in this world, just as Peter tells Jesus did in the face of detractors (Acts 10:38). Romans 12:21 encourages to overcome evil with goodness, and Galatians 6:10 tells us to work good toward all. Finally, I Peter 2:12 reminds us that our good works glorify God, even in the face of persecution and discouragement. When we are engaged in active good, it’s all the harder to waste our time fretting over the evil we see in others.

We also to direct our minds to higher goals and higher ideals. Instead of focusing on succeeding in this world, we should be lifting our eyes higher. Psalm 37:4 tells us to delight in Jehovah, and Colossians 3:1-2 reminds us to set our minds on things above instead of upon this world. Our aim is not to get ahead in this life. Rather, it is to achieve a heavenly goal. If our eyes are lifted to Heaven, the burdens of this world way much less.

Psalm 37:5 encourages us to commit ourselves to God, just as Jesus said to seek God’s kingdom first above all things. Philippians 1:12-14, verse written by Paul while in jail, speaks of the progress Paul makes in the Lord’s work while in captivity. Instead of looking upon all he had lost, Paul focuses on the accomplishments he can achieve for God in the circumstances he is in. Regardless of our own circumstances – perhaps pressured to compromise morals, loss of income or friendships, alienation of peers – we can remain committed to God’s work.

In the end, we have to fall back on a foundation of patience in God. We are used to instant gratification, but God’s timetable is not our timetable. In Psalm 37:7, David encourages on us to wait in the Lord. We need to trust in Him and not let impatience derail our spiritual peace.

Conclusion

In Romans 5:3, Paul says that endurance is sometimes developed in times of trial. When we face difficulties, we find out what we are really made of. Paul goes on to remind us that those trials redirect our minds toward the hope we should have in Christ. When we are in pain, when we are worried, when we are facing trials, it is easy to lose sight of this. Our hope is in Him, though, and we can be patient in Him, keeping our eyes on things above.

Proverbs 3:5 encourages us trust God. Verse 7 admonishes us to reverently honor Jehovah, and verse 9 calls on us to honor Him. He will uphold us and protect us if we seek refuge in Him. Our minds should be set on Him, honoring and trusting in Him, rejecting the strains of this world so we can reach for a home above.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Soul Security

Note: This devotional was part of a song service centered around the song How Shall the Young Secure Their Hearts? It also contains references to other hymns if you pay attention and follow the readings.

What does it mean to us to feel secure? When we have a sense of security, we feel safe. We feel protected. We feel shielded from harm. We treasure our security. We value and protect it.

We wear seat belts to feel secure in our cars, have airbags and car alarms to increase that sense of security. We invest in GPS systems to make us feel secure in unfamiliar areas. We want to live in neighborhoods that make us feel safe. We install security systems to protect our homes. We even have a Department of Homeland Security to protect us on a larger scale, or we may give a special blanket to a young child to add a feeling of security in their small world.

We trust in these products, services, and infrastructures to provide a measure of security in the unpredictable lives we have while on this world. Those who seek Christ, however, seek a refuge greater than anything man can provide. More than seeking security for our bodies or our possessions, we look after Christ to secure our souls.

  • Hebrews 6:17-19 refers to our hope in Christ as an anchor that secures us against the storms of this life and calls Him our refuge.
  • Psalm 46:1-3 calls God a refuge and our strength in times of trouble.
  • In II Timothy 1:8-12, Paul places the foundation of our hope and refuge in God’s promises, His testimony, His word.

On what do you rely for security? How do you secure your heart? In what is your anchor fastened? Upon what foundation is your refuge built? Christ and His word are our strong foundation. He is the rock in which we can secure our anchor of hope. In Him, we can truly find that peace surpassing all understanding, that peace of mind that can only be found in spiritual security.

A Faithful Hope

The Bible is full of individuals who stand up and declare the word of the Lord in the face of public and political opposition. People like Moses, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, and more – these face threats, persecutions, and ridicule for delivering a message that the people do not necessarily wish to hear. Among these great messengers is a man named Jeremiah, commonly known as the weeping prophet for the bitterness of his message to the prophet.

In Lamentation 1, we see Jeremiah writing a song of mourning, told from the perspective of the city as it is being besieged. He calls the city a widow. He writes of Jerusalem’s enemies mocking the city and taking joy in her demise. Jerusalem mourns her lost children. Then, in chapter 3, the prophet begins to insert his own voice, bemoaning the tragedies he is forced to witness. It is a book of sorrow and pain over the destruction of God’s holy city.

A Glimmer of Hope

In the midst of this, in Jeremiah 3:21-25, the prophet remembers hope:

But this I call to mind,and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;

they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

The LORD is my portion, says my soul, therefore I will hope in him.

The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.

In the middle of sorrow and despair, Jeremiah remembers God’s mercy and the renewal available in Him. He remembers hope in God’s faithfulness. All of us face failure in our lives. We face difficulties, sorrow, and ridicule. Like Jeremiah, we can remember the portion we have in Jehovah.

Hope in God’s Faithfulness, Mercy, and Renewal

Jeremiah calls God’s mercies unending. Psalm 136 repeats again and again that God’s steadfast love endures forever. His mercies, His compassion, His love is faithful and enduring. In Luke 1:76-79, Zechariah praises God for the endurance of His tender mercies, and Romans 15:1-9 exults God for His mercy and calls the Lord a God of hope, of endurance, and of comfort. Ephesians 1:1-7 says God makes us alive in Christ because of His mercy and love. We know the God’s mercy does not fail, and we can trust in those mercies to deliver us.

Jeremiah also speaks of having hope in his God. In Psalm 130 calls on God’s people to hope in Him, in His love and His mercies. Psalm 31:24 and Psalm 38:15 both express hope in God’s deliverance and His mercy. I Thessalonians 5, Paul contrasts hope with hopelessness, and he writes that we should wear hope of salvation like a helmet in verse 8. Romans 8:24 simply states that our salvation is based upon hope, and Paul goes on to make the case that hope sustains us in the face of every trial this world can throw at us. Finally, Hebrews 6:17-20 speaks of our hope anchoring our souls. In the middle of this world’s tragedies and difficulties, this is the hope we can have.

We hope for renewal in God, and II Corinthians 5:17 calls those who live in Christ new creatures. Chapter 4:16-18 of the same book tells us we look away from our former physical concerns to spiritual hopes. We are renewed in the image of our Creator and Savior, and Romans 6 tells us we raise to walk in newness of life after our conversion to Christ. Ephesians 4:17-24 calls on us to clothe ourselves in newness and renewal, discarding our former selves and replacing that with a new creation. We all want a fresh start, and God promises we can be renewed in Christ when we sacrifice self and allow Him to transform our lives.

We can hope these things because God is faithful, and, if He is faithful to us, we should be as faithful to Him. I Corinthians 1:9 begins a very difficult letter with the assurance that God is indeed faithful. Hebrews 10:22-23 calls on us to hold onto our hope in a faithful God, and I John 1:9 assures us God’s forgiveness is faithful. If we place our hope in Him, if we trust His mercy, if we are faithful – then we can trust His faithfulness to us.

Conclusion

Jeremiah 3:21-25 stands as a testament of faith in a faithful God. God is good to the soul that seeks Him and waits on Him. Our renewal is found in Him alone, and our responsibility then is to seek Him and come to Him on His terms. He is available to us. The Jerusalem of Jeremiah’s time never turns to embrace God’s mercy and deliverance. They fall into captivity because of their slavery to sin. We, however, do not have to share that fate. We can take hold of the hope we have in God. We can trust His mercies and find renewal in Him. He can be our hope if we faithfully trust in Him.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Modern Golden Calves: Negativity

We love to complain. We want to complain about service being too slow at a restaurant; about the food being too hot or too cold; about seeing the bottom of our coffee cups; about the loudness of the radio. We complain about the person who cut us off in traffic; about construction; about light timings; about people in the wrong lanes. We complain about politics; about the “liberal media;” about so-and-so’s policies that we disagree with (unless our favorite party does the same thing); about taxes. We complain about the people in line at the grocery store; about the slow clerk who has an accent; about the register ringing up the wrong price; about the bagger putting the eggs in the wrong bag. We complain, and we complain, and we complain.

At times it seems the only people with which we show any patience for error are ourselves. Consider, however, this ministry advice from Peter:

But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

– I Peter 3:14-16

Many of us are proficient at being ready to “give an answer,” but we are less likely to do so in gentleness and respect. It’s even less likely that those around us would know that we have any sort of hope to share. Why? Simply because we live as if hopeless. We allow negativity to rule our lives in the place of a hope in Christ. In this, we make ourselves no different from the world. Why would someone ask me about the hope within me if all they see are my complaints about secular issues.

I’ve joked that my wife should write a self-help book entitles So What? because that tends to be her response to many issues and complaints that can tear one away from living in hope.

  • That light only let five cars through! So what?
  • I’m going to be late for this appointment! So what?
  • That TV show has an agenda I disagree with! So what?
  • This politician is doing something I don’t like! So what?
  • My coffee is cold! So what?
  • That cashier at McDonald’s doesn’t speak English! So what?

“So what?” indeed. So what if the worst dystopian nightmares of some political pundits come true? So what if this restaurant gives me the worst service of my life? So what if the clerk checking out my groceries doesn’t speak a lick of English? Does any of that change my relationship with Christ? Does any of that come between me and His salvation? Does any of that negate my responsibilities as a child of God? Is a man’s soul worth less to God because he speaks a different language than me?

Remember the words of Paul:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

– Philippians 4:8

Is it honorable to ruin someone’s day over a petty grievance? Is it commendable to treat someone unkindly because of the language they speak? Are political arguments and mudslinging worthy of praise? Is road rage a form of excellence? Of course they are not, but too many of us have set up a god of negativity in our hearts. We dwell on everything we see as wrong with the world and stifle our light as a consequence. We have replaced the Prince of Peace with a golden calf of contention and misery. It’s time we simply let some things go, purging the idol of negativity from our hearts, and concentrate on the things above (Colossians 3:2). Then, others might see an opportunity to ask us about the hope within us.

Do Not Be Afraid

In Matthew 28:5-6, when an angel of the Lord appear before a fearful set of guards and the women gathered with Mary, he begins his revelation of Christ’s resurrection with these words: “Do not be afraid.”. The resurrection is a core of the New Testament. In I Corinthians 15, Paul devotes most of that long chapter to the subject of our bodily resurrection, drawing parallels with Christ’s own resurrection. Acts 23:6 and I Peter 1:3 both refer to the resurrection as a hop that we have. Why, then, does the angel admonish those gathered to not be afraid?

In Matthew 26:56, Jesus’ disciples flee after the mob comes to seize Jesus. They are scared for their lives. After the crucifixion, only two – Joseph and Nicodemus – come to claim Jesus’ body. In Mark 16, after Mary and the other women see the angel of God, they flee in fear, and John 20:26-28 finds the disciples gathered together behind locked doors, fearful of the Jews (see verse 19). Jesus’ followers live in fear at this time, but the resurrection brings a reason to end those fears.

Driving Away Fear with Joy

In John 20:11-18, Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene, and she joyfully tells the other disciples what she has seen. Luke 24:13-35 records Jesus’ encounter with two disciples who are distraught because of recent events. His revelation to them brings them a joy that they begin sharing with others in verses 36-43. In John 20:20-28, Jesus’ appearance to the disciples behind those locked doors brings them gladness, and they bring the news to Thomas. Apart from Jesus, those disciples had many reasons to fear, but His presence brought joy.

We can see this transformation from fear into joy in the life of Peter. In Luke 5, Peter recognizes Jesus’ divinity, and his initial response is one of fear. He falls at Jesus’ feet, asking Jesus to depart from him and his sinful nature. When Pater comes face-to-face with God’s power, he sees his own shortcomings and wants to hide himself from divinity. Jesus response begins with familiar words: “Do not be afraid.” John 21 stands as a contrast to these events when Jesus repeats this sign after His resurrection. This time, instead of cowering from Jesus, Peter jumps into the water and swims to shore, desperately trying to draw closer to his resurrected Lord. He is no longer afraid.

Living without Fear

In Acts 2, this same Peter proclaims Jesus’ resurrection before the Pentecost crowds. In Acts 3:14-15, Acts 4:10-20, and Acts 5:29-32, Peter continues to preach a risen savior before those who should otherwise bring him fear. His actions stand at contrast to the fearful man we see in Luke 5. He preaches in confidence because of the joy he has in Christ’s resurrection. This is the hope Paul writes in I Corinthians 15. Joy overcomes fear; forgiveness overcomes sin; confidence overcomes guilt; and defeat is swallowed up in victory.

When we approach Jesus, how do we react? We can shirk from Him in guilt and fear, or we can draw closer to him. We can be reconciled to Him and obtain a new life, free from guilt sin. We can live joyfully in the hope of resurrection.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Living Christian Joy

If a Christian from our time was transported to the First Century, how would he or she find other Christians. They would have no Internet, no pamphlets, no phone books. Would they be able to simply notice the individuals who had calmness of spirit, purpose in life, joy, and love for others. If they could find these qualities in someone then or now, chances are good they would find one who knows Christ. Do our lives reflect these qualities for others to see?

Romans 14 addresses how Christians handle personal convictions that are not addressed by scripture. In verse 16, Paul warns against letting our good works being seen negatively due to our emphasis on the physical over the spiritual. Anxiety, doubt, and guilt can crowd out the joy and peace of spirit we can have in Jesus. They hinder our ability to share Christ with those around us.

Peace of Spirit

Our Lord understands this struggle between peace and anxiety. Much of the Sermon on the Mount deals with this conflict. Matthew 6 repeatedly addresses the problem of anxiety over food, clothes, lifespans, and other everyday problems. Matthew 13:22, amidst the parable of the sower, acknowledges the draining power the cares of this world can have over our spiritual peace.

Luke 10:38 records Jesus visiting the home of Mary and Martha, and verse 40 records Martha as being distracted by her work. She is anxious and troubled about many things, but Jesus says Mary has chosen better things to worry about. Martha is drawn in multiple directions – just as we are. We worry about the economy. We worry about politics. We worry about our health. We worry about the speed of service at a restaurant. When these cares distract us from giving our best and having lives filled with peace and joy, there is a problem. The solution is in finding balance.

Balancing Our Lives

If I am to allow others to see Christ in me through my conduct, I have to find balance. Philippians 4:6 admonishes us to be anxious for nothing, rather turning to God for all things. We achieve peace in our lives when we learn to turn things over to God. Likewise, I Peter 5:6-7 encourages us to cast our anxiety on God in humility, allowing Him to lift us up. There are some things I can do, but there are other things only God can do. If we are to have peace, we have to let God do what He can.

Like there are things we cannot do, there are things we cannot know. We have doubts and worries, but John assures us throughout his first epistle that we can eliminate doubt about our spiritual state. I John 2:3-6, 3:19, 4:13, 5:13 – these verses and more assure us we can know our relationship with the Father. We can feel assured in our salvation and lose the doubt that plagues our lives.

Anxiety and doubt, however, may have a common foundation in guilt. Perhaps we have sought out God’s forgiveness, but we have not yet forgiven ourselves. In Jeremiah 31, the prophets speaks of a new covenant between God and His people, and verses 33-34 say a cornerstone of this covenant is forgiveness. God says He will forgive and forget. Isaiah 55:6 invites God’s people to call upon God in repentance for forgiveness. Thinking of the sinfulness the people of ancient Israel had descended, we ask, “How could God forgive them?” The answer is in verses 8-9: His ways and thoughts are higher than ours. He can forgive what we view as unforgivable.

Conclusion

We carry around too much guilt, anxiety, and doubt, making it impossible for anyone to discern us from those lost in worldliness. Galatians 5:22-23 reminds us what it means to walk spiritually. This is who we are to be if Christ is in our lives. Romans 15:13 encourages us to abound in the hope of our Father, a hope in which we can be assured and confidant. Philippians 3:1 and 4:4 remind us we can rejoice in our God. Finally Hebrews 12:2 calls on us to look to Jesus as our example, enduring trial after trial while remember in the joy waiting ahead.

Others should see Jesus in our conduct. We should be joyful based on the confidence we have in our relationship with our Savior. Do we have that joy? Do we have that peace? We can lay our doubts and fears aside, and we can walk in the spirit every day of our lives.

lesson by Tim Smelser