Our Refuge & Strength



The book of Psalms is a collection of 150 songs composed by various authors over a period of many years.  A large number of the psalms were written by David, who had a special gift for music and verse.  Others who wrote psalms included in this collection were: Solomon, Moses, Asaph, and the sons of Korah.  Thirty-four psalms have no attribution, and are sometimes called “orphan” psalms.  The psalms cover a variety of themes and circumstances in Israel’s history, from times of great joy to times of great despair.

An oft-repeated theme in the psalms is the providential care of God for His people.  One of the most notable in this regard is Psalm 46, which is attributed to the sons of Korah.  The opening stanza says, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains quake at its swelling pride” (Psa. 46:1-3).

We do not know the circumstances that prompted the composition of this song, and there may not have been any specific instance that motivated its creation.  One of the pillars of Jewish faith was the fact that their God was their protector and provider.  Therefore they often acknowledged this in songs of praise to Him.  Psalm 46 extols this fact and encourages the reader to trust in God’s providential care, no matter what life may cast before him.  This truth makes Psalm 46 timeless, for there will never be a time when God will cease being the refuge of His people and the strength by which they persevere through life.

The fact that this providential care did not cease with the Old Testament era is attested by our Lord Jesus Christ, and by His apostles.  In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord exhorted His audience to not be anxious about the necessities of life, because their Father in heaven is well aware of their needs and will provide them if they seek Him first (Mt. 6:25-33).  In Jn. 10:27-29 the Lord said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.  My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”  Later, Paul the apostle echoed this truth in Rom. 8:28, where he said, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

These assurances do not mean that we will never be tested, or that we will never suffer at the hands of the wicked.  Rather, they mean that no matter what befalls us from the evil one, God will provide for us and enable us to persevere through it, if we put our trust in Him and obey His word.  This was the confidence of the first century Christians, and we should have it still today.  This world is not our home.  What happens here is nothing compared to the glory awaiting us in heaven (cf. Rom. 8:18).  If we remain faithful to God, then even the loss of our lives means nothing, because our souls are secure in His hands.

As we face times of trial, whether due to our own unwise decisions, or due to the assaults of the wicked one and his angels, we are never alone if we belong to God.  His desire is for us to be blessed on the earth, and to live with Him in heaven at the end of time.  If we trust in Him, He will provide for our needs.  Therefore, now, and until He takes us home to heaven, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”

Sufficiency & Finality



One of the hallmarks of true New Testament Christianity is its insistence that the scriptures are the complete revelation of God’s will, and that they alone are sufficient for us to know how to please God.  This principle is often stated as our belief in verbal, plenary, inspiration.  This means that every word of scripture is inspired by God, and the scriptures are complete as He revealed them through the Holy Spirit.  For many generations this fundamental belief underscored the practices of every church that called itself Christian.

In the last century, however, some have forsaken this principle.  There are now some who deny this principle in favor of what they call “new” or “latter-day” revelations.  In some churches supplementing the Bible with additional revelations, whether written or oral, is central to their belief systems.  Indeed, in these churches many of their doctrines and practices can only be justified on the basis of these additional revelations.  The very existence of such a point of view casts doubt on the veracity of the Bible, although proponents of it seem oblivious to this truth.

In order to justify new revelations from God one must believe that the Bible is somehow incomplete.  If these new revelations are necessary for us to please God, then the scriptures cannot be truthful, and cannot be depended upon for any aspect of our faith.  This may seem a radical conclusion, but there is no alternative because of what the scriptures say about their sufficiency.

Before Jesus went to the cross He promised the apostles that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all the truth (Jn. 16:13).  If the Lord fulfilled this promise, then there is no further truth necessary, or forthcoming.  On the first Pentecost after the Lord’s resurrection, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the apostles (Acts 2:1-4).  The scripture says they were “filled” with the Holy Spirit.  This power enabled them to preach the whole gospel from that day forward, and to record God’s will in the books that we call the New Testament (2 Pet. 1:20, 21).

The testimony of the apostles is that they received and communicated, both orally and in written form, the whole purpose of God (Acts 20:27).  In the letters of Paul and Peter the sufficiency of the revelation they received is asserted in unmistakeable terms.  Paul said that all scripture is inspired by God and equips Christians for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16, 17).  Peter said that God has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3).

These statements raise serious questions about faith in Jesus Christ if additional revelation is needed today.  If additional revelation is needed today, then Paul and Peter have misled us.  But, if they have spoken the truth, no additional revelation is necessary.  Consider this:  If the scriptures equip us for every good work, then what good work is there for Christians to do that might come from some other source?  If God has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, what else is there that we need to know?  If additional revelation is necessary today, then the assertions of Paul and Peter cannot be true, and if they are not true, then nothing in the scriptures is trustworthy.  If, however, God has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, as Peter proclaimed, and if the scriptures are sufficient to equip us for every good work, as Paul testified, then there is no further revelation forthcoming.

Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would lead the apostles into all the truth.  The scriptures testify that the apostles received and communicated all the truth.  Therefore, the Bible is complete and inerrant (that is, it contains no errors).  All we need to know in order to please God is within its pages.  It is sufficient for all our needs and complete in every respect.  Therefore, it is God’s final word for mankind.

In Jn. 12:48 Jesus said that the words He spoke will judge us at the last day.  He communicated His word to the apostles and inspired writers of the New Testament though the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:20, 21), and it is all we need in order to please God.  The Lord told some believing Jews to continue in His word and they would know the truth and the truth would make them free (Jn. 8:31, 32).  Instead of looking for new revelations, we would do well to follow the Lord’s command and continue in His word, which was handed down once for all time to the saints (Jude 3).

Fiery Trials



When Peter wrote his first letter in the early 60s AD the first stirrings of Imperial persecution against Christians were beginning to be felt.  Peter had personally experienced persecution at the hands of his fellow Jews, and was aware of the sufferings his fellow apostle, Paul, had experienced and was even then enduring.  In anticipation of the more widespread persecution that would follow, Peter warned his readers to not be surprised when such things occurred.  In 1 Pet. 4:12-19 he encouraged them to expect to suffer for the Lord’s sake, and to do so as faithful members of the body of Christ.  Uninspired historical records suggest that Christians of that era mostly lived up to this exhortation.

Those of us who have grown up in the United States have been uncommonly blessed with an absence of persecution in our country.  For nearly 240 years we have enjoyed the protection of the First Amendment and have been free to practice our faith without governmental intervention.  This constitutional protection has also sheltered us from attacks by unbelievers, at least until recently.  The increasingly militant homosexual lobby has now been joined by other anti-Christian forces, including a surprising number of judges and politicians, to try to restrict the free expression of Christian beliefs.

It is clear that no one in the larger Christian community foresaw the consequences of the years-long propaganda war that has been waged under the banner of tolerance.  We have unwittingly gone along with the scheme that has brought us to where our First Amendment rights can be taken away by a lawsuit, or by a city or state ordinance.  Practicing Christians are now the open targets of activists whose sole purpose is to silence the voice of God’s word that condemns their ungodly behaviors.  At the same time, the fearful evil of Islam is being ignored by these same activists.  As a result, believers need to be prepared to suffer persecution as we have never experienced it before.

It is impossible to foretell exactly how this persecution will manifest itself, but only a seismic shift in the political climate in our country can forestall it.  As American citizens we have recourse through the election process and through our courts.  In the same way that Paul used his Roman citizenship to protect himself and to facilitate his ministry, we may use our American citizenship toward the same ends.  We should not, however, place all our trust in these means.  After all, the very Roman government that at one time protected Paul because he was a citizen, eventually took his life in spite of his citizenship.

Peter’s warning from nearly 2,000 years ago still rings true today.  “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you . . . but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name . . . Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful creator in doing what is right” (1 Pet. 4:12, 16, 19).

In spite of the fiery trials that are now upon us, we must not bow to this pressure.  We must continue “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15), and to “not shrink from declaring the whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:27).  Only in this way will we glorify God in the midst of persecution, and thus preserve our home in heaven which our Lord and Savior is preparing for those who obey Him.

A Perfectly Good Conscience



Those of us who grew up in the 1950s remember a character created by Walt Disney whose name was Jiminy Cricket.  He was the companion of Pinocchio, the marionette who wanted to become a real boy.  He was such a popular character in the animated movie that he became a regular on the Mickey Mouse Club television program.  His signature advice to young people was, “Always let your conscience be your guide.”  As children we were led to believe that conscience was the part of our character that sought to keep us on the right path.  As we grew into adulthood we learned that it wasn’t quite as simple as that.

The incontrovertible truth is that one’s conscience is only a safe guide if it has been trained in the right way.  An excellent example of this in the New Testament is Paul the apostle.  In Acts 23:1, as he stood before the Jewish Council to make his defense, he said, “Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day.”  The high priest, Ananias, was so offended by this statement that he ordered Paul to be struck on the mouth (v. 2).  This action was not authorized by the Law of Moses because Paul had not yet been convicted of any crime, but it reflects the genuine outrage the high priest felt at this remark.

Even at first glance we can see why the high priest reacted so violently to Paul’s comment.  In his view, Paul was a blasphemer because he had forsaken the Law of Moses to become a follower of Jesus Christ.  As he saw it, it was not possible for Paul to have a good conscience.  His slap was intended to demonstrate that he considered Paul’s statement to be a lie.

Christians, however, take a wholly different view.  Paul was standing in defense of the faith in Jesus Christ, so of course he had a good conscience as he did so.  But, Paul’s statement was not just about his life as a Christian and an apostle of Jesus Christ.  He said he had lived his entire life with a perfectly good conscience before God.  When we consider the breadth of that statement, we begin to understand why one’s conscience may not be a reliable guide.

As Saul of Tarsus he had viciously persecuted Christians.  He held the robes of those who stoned Stephen to death (Acts 7:58).  He had gone from house to house dragging off men and women to put them in prison (Acts 8:3), and he had even traveled as far as Damascus in search of Christians in order to bring them bound to Jerusalem (Acts 9:1, 2).  He did all these things in good conscience because he believed this is what God wanted him to do.  Of course, he could not have been more wrong.  When the Lord appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus, Paul learned that he was not right with God, even though his conscience had not to that point convicted him.

So even though Paul’s conscience had been good all of his life, he learned that he was standing in opposition to God’s will when he persecuted Christians.  Paul humbled himself as a result of speaking with the Lord on the road to Damascus, and when the preacher Ananias commanded him to, “Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16), he immediately obeyed.  From this point forward Paul did what God actually wanted him to do and his good conscience was finally a safe guide.

The lesson is a simple one.  A good conscience is only reliable when it has been trained according to God’s word.  Let each of us strive to make our consciences good because they lead us to obey the Lord.

He Has Risen!



Every year at about this time much of the world gives special attention to what is arguably the most important event in human history.  That event was the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ from the dead.  Even though the Lord had promised His disciples that He would rise from the dead after His crucifixion, we know they were in the depths of despair when He breathed His last breath upon the cross.  They simply did not believe He would rise from the dead.  Some of the women who had been following Him and ministering to Him stood by watching as Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus took the Lord’s body from the cross, prepared it for burial, and then placed it in Joseph’s unused tomb.  This was late on the afternoon of Friday, just before the Sabbath began.

Early on the first day of the week, the third day since the Lord had died, some of these same women came to the tomb to administer additional spices to the body.  In Matt. 28:1-7 the scripture tells us that they found the stone rolled away from the tomb.  An angel was sitting on it, and the body of Jesus was gone.  The angel explained to them that he knew why they had come, but that Jesus was not there.  In v. 6 the angel said, “He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said.  Come, see the place where He was lying.”  These are the most pivotal words in the history of the world.  Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, the long-awaited Messiah, whom everyone knew to be dead only three days before, was alive, and would always remain so!

The importance of the resurrection cannot be overstated.  The Christian faith stands or falls on the fact of it.  Paul told the church in Corinth, “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain . . . . and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:13-14, 17).  Our hope for the resurrection at the end of time rests upon the fact that Jesus came forth from the tomb.  If He did not rise, neither shall we, but because He did rise, so shall each of us when He calls all the dead from the grave (Jn. 5:25-29).

The truth of the Lord’s resurrection was the central feature of first century preaching, beginning with the apostles on the first Pentecost after the Lord’s resurrection from the dead.  After reminding the crowds of Jews that they had killed Jesus, Peter said, “This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses” (Acts 2:31).  In v. 36 Peter added that God had made this same Jesus “both Lord and Christ.”  The power of these statements led the people to ask what they must do to be saved.  From that day forward, the fact of the Lord’s resurrection led countless others to obey the gospel just as the 3,000 did on Pentecost (Acts 2:38-41).

Others had been raised from the dead before Jesus was, but none of them was raised never to die again.  This was the point Paul made in Rom. 6:8-11, after telling the Christians in Rome that their baptism had united them with Christ in the likeness of His death, burial, and resurrection (vs. 3-7).  The imagery of replicating the Lord’s death, burial, and resurrection in baptism is not possible if Jesus was not raised from the dead.  Neither is the cleansing of baptism, which Paul calls the “washing of regeneration” (Tit. 3:5), possible if the Lord has not Himself been raised from the dead.

Christians of the first century acknowledged and celebrated the Lord’s resurrection from the dead every time they met for worship, and every time they preached the gospel.  They understood the power and significance of this wonderful event.  We would do well to emulate them in the exercise of our faith today.