A Trouble Free Life?

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Reading:                                     Psalm 34

(Verses 19-22)
The righteous person may have many troubles,
but the L
ORD delivers him from them all;
he protects all his bones,
not one of them will be broken.
Evil will slay the wicked;
the foes of the righteous will be condemned.
The L
ORD will rescue his servants;
no one who takes refuge in him will be condemned
(NIV).

Reflection
This final portion of Psalm 34 reflects David’s faith in a God who saves. He began this psalm with praise because he experienced the saving power of God. Now David states that the LORD delivers, protects and rescues. But for these words to be meaningful, the LORD must deliver, protect and rescue from various forms of trouble and adversity. There is no rescue if there is no danger. There is no deliverance if there is no oppression.

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Sunset photo courtesy of Liz Kranz

If you choose to follow the LORD, you are not guaranteed a trouble-free life. Jesus told his disciples, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Many of us believe that if we do our best to lead a good life, following the commandments as found in the Bible, God will exempt us from hardship and trouble. But Jesus, the sinless Son of God, did not have a trouble-free life. Why should we expect our lives to be trouble free? God has not promised me a trouble-free life; He has promised to be with me when trouble and adversity comes.

About three years ago a close friend of mine suffered a debilitating stroke. He lost his position as a teacher, his finances took a hit and he struggled mightily to get his mobility back. In an instant every movement became much more difficult for him—every step a monumental effort. Last week he made a startling confession. He said, “If I had it to do over, I wouldn’t go back. I wouldn’t return to my pre-stroke days. God has drawn me so much closer to Himself through this. I wouldn’t wish this on any man. But God has changed me and used me in new ways that wouldn’t have been possible unless this happened.”

All of us desperately try to avoid the furnace of affliction. It’s too hard—too unpleasant—full of things we cannot bear. But God meets us there. He bears us up on eagle’s wings. When our resources and abilities run out, He takes over. He becomes our help and our deliverer in ways we cannot fathom. God is present in times of trouble.

His promises are tried, tested and true: The LORD will rescue his servants; no one who takes refuge in him will be condemned.

Response: Heavenly Father, I can’t always see what is genuinely in my best interest, especially when that involves adversity. Be my sure help and protection in troubled times. May your unfailing love be with us, LORD, even as we put our hope in you. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

Your Turn: Has God met with you in a time of trouble? Do you know Him as your strength and rescuer in times of hardship and difficulty?

The Battle is Real

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Reading:                                       Psalm 60

For the director of music. To the tune of “The Lily of the Covenant.” A miktam of David. For teaching. When he fought Aram Naharaim and Aram Zobah, and when Joab returned and struck down twelve thousand Edomites in the Valley of Salt.

You have rejected us, God, and burst upon us;
you have been angry—now restore us!
You have shaken the land and torn it open;
mend its fractures, for it is quaking.
You have shown your people desperate times;
you have given us wine that makes us stagger.
But for those who fear you, you have raised a banner
to be unfurled against the bow.
Save us and help us with your right hand,
that those you love may be delivered.
God has spoken from his sanctuary:
“In triumph I will parcel out Shechem and measure off the Valley of Sukkoth.
Gilead is mine, and Manasseh is mine; Ephraim is my helmet, Judah is my scepter.
Moab is my washbasin, on Edom I toss my sandal; over Philistia I shout in triumph.”
Who will bring me to the fortified city? Who will lead me to Edom?
Is it not you, God, you who have now rejected us
and no longer go out with our armies?
Give us aid against the enemy, for human help is worthless.
With God we will gain the victory,
and he will trample down our enemies
(NIV).

Reflection
David was Israel’s great warrior king. Through conquest he expanded and secured the nation’s territory against enemies who for generations had ravaged the land. His success as a warrior is fully reflected in the words of Psalm 60. Conquerors often boast of their accomplishments, but David does not take the credit for his victories. He attributes his success to God. He asserts, “With God we will gain the victory, and he will trample down our enemies.”

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Photo courtesy of Liz Kranz

On a personal level, we too have enemies who ravage and sabotage the excellent plan God has for our lives. Many a Christian is fighting a personal war with lust and pornography, pride, greed and envy. These are enemies of the soul that rob us of spiritual vitality, leaving us bereft of the fruits of the Spirit. The battle is real. We are in desperate need of victory, but many lack even the will to fight. Over you God speaks from His sanctuary. Victory is available. Hear and believe these words: With God we will gain the victory, and he will trample down our enemies.

Response: LORD God, help me to put on the armor of God and voice the battle cry. You are my strength. Victory is mine in my personal battle through the all-powerful name of Jesus. Amen.

Your Turn: Have you identified the personal enemies of your soul? Have you taken up the battle cry?

Prayer is not the Answer.

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Reading:                                      Psalm 59

 (Verses 10-17)
God will go before me
and will let me gloat over those who slander me.
But do not kill them, Lord our shield,
or my people will forget.
In your might uproot them and bring them down.
For the sins of their mouths, for the words of their lips,
let them be caught in their pride.
For the curses and lies they utter,
consume them in your wrath,
consume them till they are no more.
Then it will be known to the ends of the earth
that God rules over Jacob.
They return at evening, snarling like dogs,
and prowl about the city.
They wander about for food
and howl if not satisfied.
But I will sing of your strength,
in the morning I will sing of your love;
for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble.
You are my strength, I sing praise to you;
you, God, are my fortress, my God on whom I can rely
(NIV). 

Reflection
David began Psalm 59 in great distress, fleeing for his life, and calling out for God’s deliverance. But as is often the case in the Psalms, there is a transition point. What began with desperate pleading on David’s part, ends with confident faith and praise to God for His unfailing help. Apparently, David met with God. The LORD heard his cry and answered him. David makes this assertion, “God will go before me…”

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San Remo Towers viewed from Central Park, New York — photo by David Kitz

Can you make that assertion too? Have you met with God in prayer? Have you poured out your heart before Him? What is more important, has God answered you? Above all, true prayer is a two-way communication. Have you taken time to listen for His voice? Is He going before you?

There are many who assert that prayer is the answer. That’s nonsense! Prayer is not the answer. God is the answer. What we need is God. We need to hear the Holy Spirit speaking into our spirits. Prayer is simply a means to connect with God. Prayer is part of the divine equation. But it’s God whom we seek. He is the solution—the eternal amen—the reward at the end of the quest.

David learned how to seek God through prayer, praise and worship. He was taught by God. God will teach us too, if we will take the time to seek Him with all our heart. Then we can say, “You are my strength, I sing praise to you; you, God, are my fortress, my God on whom I can rely. 

Response: LORD God, teach me to pray like David prayed. Give me ears to hear your voice when I come before you. I seek after you. Reveal yourself in my life because I pray. Amen.

Your Turn: Has God spoken to you at various times in various ways?

Riding on the Wings of the Wind

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I will praise Him!

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The LORD wraps himself in light — photo by David Kitz

Praise the LORD, my soul.

LORD my God, you are very great;
    you are clothed with splendor and majesty.

The LORD wraps himself in light as with a garment;
    he stretches out the heavens like a tent
 and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters.
He makes the clouds his chariot
    and rides on the wings of the wind.
He makes winds his messengers,
    flames of fire his servants.

(Psalm 104:1-4, NIV)

His Kingdom Rules Over All

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I will praise Him!

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Autumn color — photo courtesy of Liz Kranz

The LORD has established his throne in heaven,
    and his kingdom rules over all.

Praise the LORD, you his angels,
    you mighty ones who do his bidding,
    who obey his word.
Praise the LORD, all his heavenly hosts,
    you his servants who do his will.
Praise the LORD, all his works
    everywhere in his dominion.

Praise the LORD, my soul.

(Psalm 103:19-22, NIV)

My Fortress

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Reading:                                       Psalm 59

For the director of music. To the tune of “Do Not Destroy.” Of David. A miktam. When Saul had sent men to watch David’s house in order to kill him.
(Verses 1-10)
Deliver me from my enemies, O God;
be my fortress against those who are attacking me.
Deliver me from evildoers
and save me from those who are after my blood.
See how they lie in wait for me!
Fierce men conspire against me
for no offense or sin of mine, L
ORD.
I have done no wrong, yet they are ready to attack me.
Arise to help me; look on my plight!
You, L
ORD God Almighty, you who are the God of Israel,
rouse yourself to punish all the nations;
show no mercy to wicked traitors.
They return at evening,
snarling like dogs, and prowl about the city.
See what they spew from their mouths—
the words from their lips are sharp as swords,
and they think, “Who can hear us?”
But you laugh at them, L
ORD; you scoff at all those nations.
You are my strength, I watch for you;
you, God, are my fortress, my God on whom I can rely
(NIV).

Reflection
The back story to Psalm 59 is an episode of high drama, betrayal and treachery. Despite winning several battles as a loyal warrior for King Saul, in a fit of jealous rage Saul attempted to kill David by pinning him to a wall with his spear. David fled to his home, but his wife, Michal warned him, “If you don’t run for your life tonight, tomorrow you’ll be killed” (1 Samuel 19:11). 

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The Statue of Liberty — photo by David Kitz

David made good his escape, while Michal put an idol in his bed to deceive the men who were sent to kill David. Undoubtedly, this deception bought David some precious time as he fled. It is within this context that David makes this double plea for deliverance,Deliver me from my enemies, O God; be my fortress against those who are attacking me. Deliver me from evildoers and save me from those who are after my blood.” 

Saul’s murderous attack was demonically inspired. See 1 Samuel 19:9. Christian believers today should not assume they are immune from demonic attack. Peter gives us this warning, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Fortunately, we have a fortress. God is that secure fortress to whom we can flee in our time of need. Hallelujah!

Response: LORD God, when I am under attack, you are my help and defender. I run to you. Surround me and protect me by the blood of Christ. Amen.

Your Turn: Do you need the safety of God your fortress today?

The God Who Judges the Earth

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Reading:                                      Psalm 58

For the director of music. To the tune of “Do Not Destroy.” Of David. A miktam.
Do you rulers indeed speak justly?
Do you judge people with equity?
No, in your heart you devise injustice,
and your hands mete out violence on the earth.
Even from birth the wicked go astray;
from the womb they are wayward, spreading lies.
Their venom is like the venom of a snake,
like that of a cobra that has stopped its ears,
that will not heed the tune of the charmer,
however skillful the enchanter may be.
Break the teeth in their mouths, O God;
L
ORD, tear out the fangs of those lions!
Let them vanish like water that flows away;
when they draw the bow, let their arrows fall short.
May they be like a slug that melts away as it moves along,
like a stillborn child that never sees the sun.
Before your pots can feel the heat of the thorns—
whether they be green or dry—the wicked will be swept away.
The righteous will be glad when they are avenged,
when they dip their feet in the blood of the wicked.
Then people will say, “Surely the righteous still are rewarded;
surely there is a God who judges the earth”
(NIV).

Reflection
The overall title of my devotional posts is, ‘I Love the Psalms’. Do I love Psalm 58? Ah, not so much. There is a term for this type of psalm. It’s called an imprecatory psalm. According to Wikipedia imprecatory psalms “are those that invoke judgment, calamity, or curses, upon one’s enemies or those perceived as the enemies of God.”

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San Marino Towers as viewed from Central Park, New York — photo by David Kitz

Currently, I don’t feel an urge to call down curses on others. I am at peace with those around me. That’s a good thing and I praise God for the joy and security I experience. In such an environment imprecatory psalms are completely out of place. They do not reflect my current reality.

But what if my reality was completely different? What if my son had been killed by ISIS militants? What if my daughter had been kidnapped and raped by jihadists? Or closer to home—what if my unarmed, teenage son was shot by police? I would be outraged. I would call for divine justice. In times such as these, the imprecatory psalms have profound resonance. We want and need a God who will judge the earth. At such times, we call on a God who cares to rise up and act on our behalf. In the face of injustice and cruelty, anger can be an appropriate response—a godly response. Our God is angered by cruelty.

Response: LORD God, in a world filled with injustice, we call on you to help and defend the innocent. Help the victims of violence and war and bring the perpetrators to justice. Amen.

Your Turn: Have you been praying for Christian communities ravaged by war in countries like Nigeria, Iraq and Syria? Do you bottle up your anger or release it to God through prayer?

Pre-Christmas Sales Begin

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This week I noticed something different when I checked on the status of The Soldier Who Killed a King on Amazon. The price has dropped from $14.99 to $12.59US. There has been a similar drop on the Canadian website from $19.99CAD to $15.92CAD.

Since I have no control over prices, I can only guess that the corporate world wants to increase the sales volume, and as a result we the reading public can enjoy the benefit of a great book at a reduced price. The best deal I have seen online for a new edition of this book is at Christianbook.com where the list price is $10.99US.Soldier book

If you have been considering purchasing this historical novel, this is an ideal time. Here’s the book descriptor:

A stunning story of Holy Week through the eyes of a Roman centurion

Watch the triumphal entry of the donkey-riding king through the eyes of Marcus Longinus, the centurion charged with keeping the streets from erupting into open rebellion.

Look behind the scenes at the political plotting of King Herod, known as the scheming Fox for his ruthless shrewdness.

Get a front-row seat to the confrontation between the Jewish high priest Caiaphas and the Roman governor Pontius Pilate.

Understand as never before the horror of the decision to save a brutal terrorist in order to condemn the peaceful Jew to death.

If you’ve heard the story of Passion Week so often it’s become stale, now is the time to rediscover the terrible events leading from Jesus’s humble ride into the city to his crucifixion. The Soldier Who Killed a King will stun you afresh with how completely Christ’s resurrection changed history, one life at a time.

Now discover for yourself the transformational power of the cross and the resurrection.

I Will Sing and Make Music

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Reading:                                      Psalm 57

 (Verses 6-11)
They spread a net for my feet—
I was bowed down in distress.
They dug a pit in my path—
but they have fallen into it themselves.
My heart, O God, is steadfast,
my heart is steadfast;
I will sing and make music.
Awake, my soul!
Awake, harp and lyre!
I will awaken the dawn.
I will praise you, Lord, among the nations;
I will sing of you among the peoples.
For great is your love, reaching to the heavens;
your faithfulness reaches to the skies.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
let your glory be over all the earth
(NIV).

Reflection
As with many of David’s psalms, Psalm 57 turns on a dime. By that I mean the psalmist begins in a state of worry and trouble. In his distress David cries out to God and the Lord answers him. Suddenly, desperate pleas are replaced by wholehearted praise. The psalm ends with rejoicing over the goodness of God. David invites us to join in his rejoicing. I will sing and make music. Awake, my soul! Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn. I will praise you, Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples.

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Bethesda Fountain in Central Park, on a misty New York City morning — photo by David Kitz

There is tremendous power in music. When I am discouraged—trapped in the Christian pilgrim’s Slough of Despond—a song of praise can lift me out like nothing else. Perhaps you have had a similar experience. When I am drowning in a sea of regrets, music brings buoyancy. Worship helps me set my eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith. See Hebrews 12:2. Faith gives us eyes to see beyond our current set of circumstances.

Most often we want to see God’s deliverance before we praise Him. In the introduction to Psalm 57 we read that David hid in a cave from King Saul. David called out for God to deliver him and He did. Therefore, David bursts out with music and song. Can you picture him strumming on his harp and singing with a smile you can see for a mile?

But there are times when I believe God wants us to sing His praise before deliverance comes—before the healing appears. He is our good and faithful God whether we have faith to move mountains or are troubled by doubt. Whether we live or die, He is faithful and worthy of our praise. In all the circumstances of life our help comes from Him.

Response: LORD God, even in the midst of trouble fill my heart with praise for you. You are good and faithful. You are my help—my steadfast help—through Jesus Christ your Son. Amen.

Your Turn: Can you recall a time when you praised God before He brought the answer to your prayer?

Beneath Your Wings

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Reading:                                      Psalm 57

For the director of music. To the tune of “Do Not Destroy.” Of David. A miktam. When he had fled from Saul into the cave.
(Verses 1-5)
Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me,
for in you I take refuge.
I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings
until the disaster has passed.
I cry out to God Most High,
to God, who vindicates me.
He sends from heaven and saves me,
rebuking those who hotly pursue me—
God sends forth his love and his faithfulness.
I am in the midst of lions;
I am forced to dwell among ravenous beasts—
men whose teeth are spears and arrows,
whose tongues are sharp swords.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
let your glory be over all the earth
(NIV).

Reflection
Have you ever had one of those mornings where you just want to pull the covers over your head and hide away from the world? David was having one of those days when he composed Psalm 57. But in David’s case, he wasn’t just trying to avoid a snarly boss. His boss, King Saul, was hunting David down to kill him. Needless to say, there must have been some fervor in David’s plea for help. “Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me, for in you I take refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.”

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Late afternoon in Central Park, New York City — photo by David Kitz

The phrase ‘take refuge in the shadow of your wings’ reminds me of a story etched on my mind from my childhood. My dog, Champ, absolutely loved any newborn creature on the farm. He instantly became the newborn’s defender. Generally, this worked out very well and we appreciated his hovering affection. All was fine until one day our pet bantam hen brought her newly hatched chicks to our backyard.

Champ was thrilled at the sight of these tiny fluff balls.  He greeted them with a bark and vigorously wagged his tail to welcome these new arrivals. Mother hen misunderstood his intentions. She hastily gathered her chicks under her wings to defend them from this wild beast. Champ was outraged. Surely this hen had swallowed up these defenceless chicks. He began to bark at her fiercely, trying to get her off her brood. The hen simply tightened her wings down on the chicks. Laughing at the sight of this, we called off our well-intentioned dog.

Our heavenly Father is our wise and well-intentioned protector. Do we refuse His help? We are eternally safe in the shelter of His wings. Let Him draw you close today.    

Response: LORD God, you are my defender. Help me daily to appreciate your love and protection. When the cruelty of this world assaults me, I find shelter under your wings. Amen.

Your Turn: Do we sometimes push away from our secure place near the heart of God?

Praising the Trusted Word

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Reading:                                       Psalm 56

 (Verses 8-13)
Record my misery;
list my tears on your scroll—
are they not in your record?
Then my enemies will turn back
when I call for help.
By this I will know that God is for me.
In God, whose word I praise,
in the L
ORD, whose word I praise—
in God I trust and am not afraid.
What can man do to me?
I am under vows to you, my God;
I will present my thank offerings to you.
For you have delivered me from death
and my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before God
in the light of life
(NIV).

Reflection
Psalm 56 is a relatively short psalm. Yet in this short psalm, David repeats the phrase ‘whose word I praise’ three times. In today’s reading he states, “In God, whose word I praise, in the LORD, whose word I praise—in God I trust and am not afraid.”

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Light my path, Lord — Grey Nuns Park, Orleans, ON — photo by David Kitz

For me this phrase raises a question. Whose word do I praise? Do I praise God’s word? Do I appreciate and value the written word of God? Have I made it my refuge as it was for David? Is it my sustenance? Do I feed on it daily? While fasting in the wilderness Jesus answered the tempter, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4).

Do you trust the living, active word of God to help you today and every day? Trust really is crucial. If I don’t trust that God’s word will help, encourage, correct and sustain me, I won’t bother reading it or meditating on it. I’ll trust in my own abilities or seek direction from other sources.

Trust is crucial in election campaigns. During such campaigns politicians from a variety of parties make their pitch to the electorate. Again the fundamental question for each voter is whose word, do you trust? Politicians often promise more than they can deliver. Often I have been let down by a politician who promised to do things differently, but once in office failed to deliver, or became caught up in scandal after scandal. I presume the same disappointment holds true for many voters.

We need to remember that salvation won’t ever be achieved at the ballot box. It was achieved at the cross—only at the cross. The remedy for my sin is found there. The living word of God reminds us of that trustworthy, unchanging truth.

Response: LORD God, I put my trust in your word. I praise your life-giving word for it is good and completely trustworthy. Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path (Psalm 119:105). Amen.

Your Turn: Do you make it your habit to read and meditate on the word of God?