The Lightning of the Almighty

“He also said to them, 

“This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead the third day, 47 and repentance for forgiveness of sins will be proclaimed in his name to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 

48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And look, I am sending you what my Father promised. As for you, stay in the city until you are empowered from on high.”

Luke 24:46-49, CSB (vv. 44-49)

Having His power is critical. These verses are packed full of really strong things. You can’t minimize any issue in this passage without damaging something that matters. I don’t intend to do that. For me, everything he says is crucial. I hope I won’t diminish anything that he has spoken to us.

  • There’s the issue of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We can’t minimize this. It’s the most astonishing event in history. It becomes our message.
  • There’s a critical need for repentance and forgiveness of sins. This is something that needs to be heard. The whole world must understand what has happened, and how they must respond.
  • The disciples of Jesus know this, they understand, and they’re the witnesses of everything Jesus did. All that they saw and learned, isn’t for them, but for others.

But the real significance only comes when these men are empowered by God. They must operate out of what God has promised to them. There’s power coming, God’s electricity is going to meet every circumstance they’ll face. People are going to be shocked by what’s going to happen.

They need to wait for Him though.

Power is coming–they need to hold on. They will witness, and testify about Jesus. They’re being sent, but not in their own strength or effort–but with the father’s power. The gift isn’t given for their enjoyment, but for his work.

The Holy Spirit is the electricity that gives the kingdom its power. Any substitute will mean failure and weakness.

We operate only when we are filled with his Spirit. There are going to be incredible obstacles, but we’ll have insurmountable power. The Word we preach must be done with his power, orders, and authority. The message is one of repentance and forgiveness, a proclamation of spiritual deliverance. And it begins in an upper room in Jerusalem.

What will happen there will be forever known as Pentecost.

The Holy Spirit is about to change the world!

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Putting Pain to Work

Some time ago I came across a story that connected. A visiting speaker stood in front of a congregation and shared a painful incident from his childhood. He wanted to bring healing. After he spoke, an elder came and spoke to him–

“You have learned how to become a proper steward of your pain.”

The visiting speaker was profoundly touched by this. Finally, something came together in his heart and soul. Yes, he did learn how to deal scripturally with those ugly things from his past. He was becoming a proper steward of his pain.

The word for steward in the original Greek is oikonomos. It literally means “a keeper of a home.” It describes a manager, a superintendent to whom the head of the house or proprietor has entrusted the management of his affairs, the diligent care of receipts and expenditures.

The issue for us is managing these awful things for the Kingdom of God.

No question about it, we live in a world of darkness. Each of us has been touched by hard things. Scars are part of our lives. When we come to Christ they come with us. All of these grim things are a real piece of us, we have been hurt (or maybe we’ve wounded others?)

Are you a good steward of who you are? Whether it’s a trauma, a physical, sexual, or perhaps a mental illness. It’s a scar you carry from your past, and no one is immune from them it seems. You’ll find freedom if you can use these things for Him and his Kingdom.

We must see and understand that Jesus has taken everything and redeemed it all for His glory.

He understands us fully–our past, present, and future. He ‘knows’ us–the real and hidden us. The challenge I suppose is to take these sad events to the throne. He alone can heal and then use that which has devastated us.

Satan has afflicted you in his dark attempt to destroy you.

Jesus intervenes to save. As we grow to accept this, the Holy Spirit comes as our comforter and guide. He starts to teach us true redemption, and the incredible healing that he brings with him. It really is his work, not ours. We finally understand. It’s then we become broken healers that God can use.

(Read how Joseph handled betrayal: Genesis 50:19-21.)

The light has truly overcome the dark.

We’re being taught (sometimes very slowly) to carry all of these things and plead the blood of Jesus over our past. He covers us completely. He has redeemed us. Luke 1:68 explains much clearer than I can:

“Blessed is the Lord, the God of Israel because he has visited and provided redemption for his people.”

Becoming a steward of our pain is his doing. We’re able to touch others with these things that would cripple and destroy others. He has made us “managers” of these things, and we are taught to teach others, declaring that God has completely saved us. He works miracles!

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come!”

2 Corinthians 5:17

We’ll sovereignly meet those who need to hear our story. We’re being transformed into authentic witnesses. Yes, at times these awful things still hurt, and I suppose that’s to be expected. But we’re learning to manage them. We’ve become real-life stewards of our pain.

That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.”

Romans 8:28, Message

Worshipping With a Knife

 by the Forward

In the doctrine of biblical hermeneutics, the ‘Law of First Mention exists. Essentially it means that the first time a word or a concept is mentioned should go on to determine the way it needs to be understood throughout scripture. It is a guiding principle more than anything, and a good one at that. The Book of Genesis, being the first book, is a blessed repository for many of these ‘first mentions.’

In Genesis 22, we have the story of Abraham and Isaac on Mt. Moriah.

Abraham has tied up his son on an altar to offer him as a sacrifice in obedience to God’s direction (v. 2). This is faith being tested to the ultimate extreme. And Abraham shows us how to enter in.

“Then on the third day Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you.”

Genesis 22:4-5

This is the law of the first mention of the word “worship” in the Bible.

It sets the singular tone for all the scriptures on this subject. I guess what is interesting is there were no musical instruments involved. There were just these needful things:

  • stones,
  • wood,
  • rope,
  • fire,
  • a knife,
  • and Isaac, (the would-be ‘lamb.’)

When the Hebrew word for ‘worship’ was used for the first time; it is interlaced with the idea of an incredible sacrifice. Abraham is the first ‘worship leader’ and he has no guitar. No piano, or drums either. No musical instruments whatsoever. No overhead lyrics to speak of.

Just a handmade altar, and a knife.

In the end, as Abraham raises that knife, he is stopped suddenly, to the relief of us all. His faith has withstood the test, and he has genuinely ‘worshipped.’

“But the Angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” So he said, “Here I am.” And He said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”

Gen. 22:11-12

Principle One:

There really can’t be worship without sacrifice.

Recovering this truth concerning worship would be beneficial. It seems we delegate ‘worship’ to a select few who are talented and gifted. We probably don’t do this deliberately, but sometimes we feel it makes a better presentation. We all want to look good, even Christians. (Perhaps this is more substantial then we know.)

Principle Two:

The first worshiper didn’t use a guitar, but a knife.

This difference keeps the idea of sacrifice in its definition. There isn’t worship without sacrifice. The knife thrust he was ready to wield wasn’t backed up by drums or piano. Yet Abraham understood worship every step to Moriah with the knife in his belt.

“The Scriptures include or allude to just about every approach to worship there is: organized, spontaneous, public, private, simple, complex, ornate or plain. Yet there is no comment anywhere about any one way being preferred over another. Rather, it is the spiritual condition of the worshiper that determines whether or not God is at work.”  

Harold Best

Ultimately, we must realize our sacrifice is the Lamb of God. It’s His blood on God’s altar for our sin. As believers, our faith firmly rests in this spiritual fact. We of all people have cause to really worship.

“So, brothers and sisters, because of God’s mercies, I encourage you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God. This is your appropriate priestly service.”

Romans 12:1

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The Pharisee & the Tax Collector

Luke 18:10-14

 “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a proud, self-righteous Pharisee, and the other a cheating tax collector. 11 The proud Pharisee ‘prayed’ this prayer: ‘Thank God, I am not a sinner like everyone else, especially like that tax collector over there! For I never cheat, I don’t commit adultery, 12 I go without food twice a week, and I give to God a tenth of everything I earn.’

13 “But the corrupt tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed, but beat upon his chest in sorrow, exclaiming, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’ 14 I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home forgiven! For the proud shall be humbled, but the humble shall be honored.”

Meet the Pharisee:

I had it all together. I had shaped myself to be the ultimate Pharisee–the Pharisees of the Pharisees. I understood the Law; I could quote whole books, forward and backward. I fasted twice a week, and tithed everything, right down to my herbs and spices. I had it all together.

I made sure everyone saw my commitment.

I strenuously kept God’s Law. I was consumed by understanding it, I tried to grasp all its nuances and complexity. The 10 commandments were emblazoned on all that I did. I wanted everyone to know that I was one of “the pure ones,” for that was the meaning behind the word Pharisee. I knew that I was pure.

I went to the Temple every day to pray, I stood holy and set apart, standing before a real and holy God. I was always the truest example to the people of Israel. I always stood when I prayed, for I was completely committed to doing all that the Law demanded of me.

One day I saw a wicked man in God’s holy temple. I had to thank God that we were total opposites. He was a tax collector and an evil person. I really was nothing like him. I rejoiced that I had become a true example of a righteous man.

I knew I was righteous, and certainly not at all like that sinful tax collector.

———————-

Meet the Tax Collector:

I didn’t have it all together. I understood this and was horrified that I had become so evil. I came to the Temple, driven by my guilt and shame–no one had to tell me this, for I knew my sin and I was deeply ashamed.

Why I came, I don’t know. I honestly didn’t belong here, and I kept a distance from the front. I guess that’s where I belonged. On the fringes before the Holy One. It seemed now that I was drawn to this place, and I’m still not sure why I came that day.

I knew that I breathed evil and had become evil.

I fell to my knees, and I begged God to forgive me. I saw the Pharisee standing in the presence of God, but I knew I wasn’t at all like him. He was righteous and I knew I was not. Oh, how I wanted God to forgive me for all the sins I had committed.

I must tell you that my spirit was in agony.

“Humble men are very fortunate!” he told them, “for the Kingdom of Heaven is given to them. Those who mourn are fortunate! for they shall be comforted. The meek and lowly are fortunate! for the whole wide world belongs to them.

Matthew 5:3-5, LB

Jesus clearly told us who was truly forgiven that day. When we think we have it all together, we’re deceiving ourselves.

Let’s not pretend otherwise, okay.

alaskabibleteacher.com

Art: Eugene Burnand, 1850-1924, litho; Scripture used here is from the Living Bible.

You’re a Steward of Your Pain

Some time ago I came across a story that connected. A visiting speaker stood in front of a congregation and shared a painful incident from his childhood. He wanted to bring healing. After he spoke, an elder came and spoke to him–

“You have learned how to become a proper steward of your pain.”

The visiting speaker was profoundly touched by this. Finally, something came together in his heart and soul. Yes, he did learn how to deal scripturally with those ugly things from his past. He was becoming a proper steward of his pain.

The word for steward in the original Greek is oikonomos. It literally means “a keeper of a home.” It describes a manager, a superintendent to whom the head of the house or proprietor has entrusted the management of his affairs, the diligent care of receipts and expenditures.

The issue seems to be of management, how can God use these awful things for building His Kingdom?

No question about it, we live in a world of darkness. Each of us has been touched by hard things. Scars are part of our lives. When we come to Christ they come with us. All of these grim things are a real piece of us, we have been hurt (or maybe we’ve wounded others?)

Are you a good steward of who you are? Whether you’ve experienced trauma–something physical, sexual, or perhaps a mental illness. It could be any scar you carry from your past, and no one is immune from them it seems. You’ll find freedom if you can use these things for Him and his Kingdom.

We must see and understand that Jesus has taken everything and redeems it all for His glory.

He understands us fully–our past, present, and future. He ‘knows’ us–the real and hidden us. The challenge I suppose is to take these sad events to the throne. He alone can heal and then use that which has devastated us. What was intended to destroy is now meant to build.

Satan has afflicted you in his dark attempt to destroy you.

Jesus intervenes to save. As we grow to accept this, the Holy Spirit comes as our comforter and guide. He starts to teach us true redemption, and the incredible healing that he brings with him. It really is his work, not ours. We finally understand. It’s then we become broken healers that God can use.

The light has truly overcome the dark.

We’re being taught (sometimes very slowly) to carry all of these things and plead the blood of Jesus over our past. He covers us completely. He has redeemed us. Luke 1:68 explains much clearer than I can:

“Blessed is the Lord, the God of Israel because he has visited and provided redemption for his people.”

Becoming a steward of our pain is his doing. We’re able to touch others with these things that would cripple and destroy others. He has made us “managers” of these things, and we are taught to teach others, declaring that God has completely saved us. He works miracles!

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come!”

2 Corinthians 5:17

We’ll sovereignly meet those who need to hear our story. We’re being transformed into authentic witnesses. Yes, at times these awful things still hurt, and I suppose that’s to be expected. But we’re learning to manage them. We’ve become real-life stewards of our pain.

That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.”

Romans 8:28, Message

alaskabibleteacher.com

Burning Bush Believers

“Some Christians are called to endure a disproportionate amount of suffering. Such Christians are a spectacle of grace to the church, like flaming bushes unconsumed, and cause us to ask, like Moses: ‘Why is this bush not burned up?’ (Exodus 3:2-3)

“The strength and stability of these believers can be explained only by the miracle of God’s sustaining grace. The God who sustains Christians in unceasing pain is the same God — with the same grace — who sustains me in my smaller sufferings. We marvel at God’s persevering grace and grow in our confidence in Him as He governs our lives.”

— John Newton, author of “Amazing Grace

 

We all know a brother or sister who seems to be a target of an undue amount of suffering. It looks like they’re always in the furnace. All we can do really is to shake our heads and then give them double honor for their faith in God’s grace and providence.

Ministering to these sufferers can be a challenge.

What can we say to those who seem to be on “God’s anvil?” How can we bless those who are in pain?

Perhaps a simple word of calm encouragement is the most effective. In the midst of some awful difficulties, I once had a dear brother who gently and carefully quoted Philippians 1:6 to me over and over whenever we met and whenever we parted:

 “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”

Philippians 1:6

It was a precious thing that he did. I didn’t mind it all, as a matter of fact, I grew to like it. At first, I’ll admit it was strange, but my faith began to ‘mix’ with the Word and I began to believe it. It’s now my favorite verse in the Bible.

He refused to preach (or counsel) at me.

He had the maturity to see what God was doing and to make himself available to God on my behalf. Perhaps that patience he showed should be for us the method of choice? I look forward to seeing him someday, someway.

“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.”

Romans 5:3

A keyword in this verse is “rejoice.”

It is a good reminder that the pain we feel is not the end. These trials have a limited duration (although it seems far away). There is coming a day when we can navigate through these issues and come out on the other side. “We will shine like the stars” (Daniel 12:3).

Much wisdom is needed in our ministry to disproportionate sufferers. We should have a fear of intruding on the work the Lord is doing. We must be patient and humble in this matter. There is no rushing God, after all, it’s His work. Most importantly we must be very much ‘present’ for our friend.

“But not only that! We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance”

Romans 5:3

A “word” spoken out of place can cause even more ‘heartache’ for the sufferer. Let us be careful. At times it’s better not to say anything, and that’s alright. Job’s friends were best sitting in the ash heap, saying no word.  

“The Lord God gives me
the right words
    to encourage the weary.
Each morning he awakens me
    eager to learn his teaching.”

Isaiah 50:4, CEB

Trust Jesus to show you how to love, and serve those who seem to struggle so. Ask the Father to give you the right words–He will if you only ask.

 

alaskabibleteacher.com

A Stone’s Throw Away

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“And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray,”

Luke 22:41

WHO KNOWS WHAT JESUS IS THINKING as he entered the Garden? His disciples followed Jesus but scripture states that he proceeded ahead of them. He knew He must find some much-needed strength through prayer— this verse tells us he went “a stone’s throw.”

Often we share in the sorrows of the people closest to us, and Jesus wants His disciples to follow him. And they do, but not all the way. They came very close but didn’t really understand the full nature of the pain that was beginning for Jesus. They slept while he agonized. He was for the first time perhaps, needing someone close.

Some who are reading this will make the same trip to the garden.

Perhaps every believer makes the trip to ‘Gethsemane,’ but not as mere observer or tourist. The garden is a distinct place of testing and of sorrow. And each disciple will experience it for themselves. The servant is not above his master.” We must follow the Lord Jesus, and it’s not going to be easy.

I’ve gone to the Garden myself, sitting in the dark, waiting for Him to come. And He does. And He is my light.

Jesus is very close. He stands by us. He listens and watches.

He completely understands what it means to be alone with sorrow. The believer can lean on Jesus as the pain continues. He sends his “Comforter” to each, as He personally escorts us through this time in the “garden.” He comes in grace and is completely kind. He truly is just a stone’s throw away.

“God is our refuge and strength,
    always ready to help in times of trouble.”

Psalm 46:1

“No physician ever weighed out medicine to his patients with half so much care and exactness as God weighs out to us every trial. Not one grain too much does He ever permit to be put in the scale.”

   Henry Ward Beecher

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God’s Night Shift, Psalm 134:1-3

A song of ascents.

“Now bless the Lord,
all you servants of the Lord
who stand in the Lord’s house at night!
Lift up your hands in the holy place
and bless the Lord!

 May the Lord,
Maker of heaven and earth,
bless you from Zion.

Psalm 134:1-3

Not every Levite labored during the day. The night shift continued their work. Granted, no sacrifices were offered, but the “night priests” stood to protect the Ark, gather wood, and keep the incense burning and cleaned up the blood. But most importantly they must worship and pray for Israel.

“Servants of the Lord” is a phrase that resonates in my heart. Those words are both a comfort and a responsibility and that seems to open this passage up. We’ve got a Master, and we serve Him only. And I know and believe that worship was the main responsibility of the night watch!

“Christians believe that true worship is the highest and noblest activity of which man, by the grace of God, is capable.”

-John Stott

Worship is the central work of the disciple, it’s what we’re called to do. Evangelism, missions, and preaching are fine. But prayer and intercession must be the heartbeat of each believer. It’s the holy calling of the Church. When does the church service end? Never!

The service really gets going Monday through Saturday!

In this short Psalm, (just 3 verses!) we’re introduced to a group of Levites who are working the night shift. What they do is hidden–it’s not seen by others. They keep the fires stoked, gather wood, and patrol the walls. But more importantly, they stand and worship and intercede for Jerusalem.

No real recognition is given, and the spotlight is rarely shined on them.

They serve at night, vitally essential but seldom seen. And yet they intercede for the nation. They “bless” the Lord and the people of God. That’s their place and position. They must do this. Israel must be blessed. These night shift workers insist on it!

The church needs nursery workers and Sunday school teachers. So many are working behind the scenes. Often the deacons and elders of a church are rarely seen and seldom acknowledged. So much is concealed. Their work is a hidden one. But the Father sees.

In a church, someone has to clean the bathrooms and take out the garbage, and others will make coffee or shovel snow. They vacuum and straightened the chairs. They are the ones who collect the mail and prepare the overheads. There’s always something to do. And it’s a hidden work carried out with no one watching. No one, but God.

“It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
    to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
to declare your steadfast love in the morning,
    and your faithfulness by night,

Psalm 92:1-2

Serving at night can be a challenge, not all can lead worship or preach the sermon on Sunday morning. Those called to do those tasks serve in the day. But those who serve the Lord at night also labor, and sometimes that hiddenness behind the scenes has its own special challenges.

This may come as a surprise, but it takes as much of the Spirit to work the night shift as it does to stand behind the podium and preach the Word. I believe that this is true! These hidden ones carry out much of the ministry of the Church. Few notice, but God Himself sees them.

“They [Levites] are exhorted to fill the night with prayer and watchfulness and to let their hearts go up in blessing to Jehovah. The voice of praise should echo through the silent night and float over the sleeping city.”

Alexander MacLaren

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Jumpstarting a Prayer Life

We must (MUST!) pray as believers in Jesus.

Prayer is the oxygen of our spiritual life. We must breathe, or else. When I go to my doctor she puts an oximeter on my finger so she can assess how my lungs are using oxygen.

I suppose if we would put it on our “spiritual finger,” might it reveal something?

We don’t know exactly know how to pray, and I don’t think communicating with God isn’t easy for us. We must be taught. The desperate disciples wanted to learn how to pray–they didn’t know how, (Luke 11:1-2). We also need to have Jesus teach us.

We can only learn how if the Spirit teaches us.

Also, we must practice praying. We may do it terribly rotten, but we shouldn’t give up–it’s not natural–I suppose it’s supernatural. We will learn by doing. We may get discouraged but we must keep at it. Even if you’re a pro, the Holy Spirit will make sure you keep learning new things. Our walk should always grow deeper. If you’re a good student He is happy to teach you.

For me praying the Psalms is good practice, and there are 150 of them. The Jewish people have a 4000-year start on us–they’ve used the Psalms as their prayer/praise book. My sense is that this covers every human need–the entirety of our spiritual walk!

I think that Psalms 103 might be a great place to get started.

I’ve been told by some that the “Lord’s Prayer” is quite useful as well. I guess if you honestly take it phrase by phrase, something good will happen. I’m still learning (and I suspect I still will).

Below we find a way to jumpstart our prayer life. I hope you can use it.

One more thought.Conversational Prayer” has been a good thing for me lately. Talk with Jesus as if He was in the same room with you (He is) and just converse. I once heard of a man who put an empty chair in his prayer closet, it helped him understand that Jesus was right there with him. He said it really helped.

Share with Him your ups and downs, and it’s okay if you feel like you’re screwing it up. Relax. He’s your Father. He loves you.

He wants to be with you so much. He has many things to show you.

alaskabibleteacher.com

Restore the Sparkle or I Will Die

Trials are hard, at times they seem to suffocate us and weaken our walk with God. David shares with us his own difficulty in these six verses.

Buckle your seat belt folks!

 

Commentary, Psalm 13

For the choir director: A psalm of David.
 

Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?
    How long will you look the other way?
How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
    with sorrow in my heart every day?
    How long will my enemy have the upper hand?

V. 1-2, David believes that he has been forgotten. A phrase is repeated an astounding four times, “How long?”  It seems that impatience is a significant issue for him. Often when it gets this bad, we desperately look around to find anything to fill the gap. Anything.

Something else struck me. Within these two verses, you’ll find five hard questions. Whenever you find a question in the psalms especially, you must stop reading and take a closer look–why is he asking this?

V. 2, “Anguish…sorrow, every day.” Somehow David is alert enough to recognize (and admit) that his life is saturated with real difficulty. It seems it comes and when it comes there’s  no relief– it’s a constant, gnawing, challenging pain which can be physical, emotional, or spiritual (or all three).

Turn and answer me, O Lord my God!
    Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.
Don’t let my enemies gloat, saying, “We have defeated him!” Don’t let them rejoice at my downfall.

V. 3,  Turn and answer me, O Lord my God! Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.” (I love this version–“sparkle). David knew that life could be exceptional, it was meant to gleam and shine. There is much more than just breathing in life. He speaks of being restored. He looks toward God to change his world again.

V. 4, Also, he is quite aware that his life is being threatened. The word, “gloat” is an interesting translation. It has the idea of relishing someone else’s failure. The dark prince savors your defeat. He has been looking forward to this desperate moment. The enemy rejoices at his failures.

But I trust in your unfailing love.
    I will rejoice because you have rescued me.
I will sing to the Lord
    because he is good to me.

V. 5,  But I trust in your unfailing love. I will rejoice because you have rescued me.” The Lord has covered David with His hand. His life has been saved by a love that never falters or weakens. Never! He knows that God has rescued him.

Notice how David responds to the wonderful goodness of God.

  • I trust. 
  • I rejoice.
  • I sing.

V. 6,  Tremendous verse; it is really wonderful. When we finally get to this last verse, we see that we have “run the gauntlet” with David. And we have learned how to sing.

Often good jewelers display their diamond necklaces on a black background. The darkness intensifies the brightness of the jewels. They become even more beautiful to look at. David is singing and praising the Lord in His nearness. The darkness has only strengthened his faith.

I truly believe that this is what we were made to do.