Our local church family was unable to gather on Sunday, March 15 for worship due to the local conditions related to the coronavirus crisis. Here’s the message I shared via video with them on this odd Lord’s Day.
May the Lord give us confidence to live intentionally and faithfully and missionally as His people in these strange days.
“The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.” (Psalm 16:5)
The Lord is …
Therefore, come what may, I can say: “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.” (v.6)
My father died yesterday.
When someone close to us dies it scrambles our thoughts and emotions. We have, of course, the hope of Jesus Christ. If they shared that hope we rejoice for their home-going. But we remain here and must deal with the void left because of their departure and the trauma of soul that is ours in the grief we endure. And it is a real void and a genuine trauma. So how do we go forward “in the land of the living”?
That phrase (“in the land of the living”) came to mind as we walked through my father’s final days here on earth. I recalled the phrase from a couple of Bible verses which I’d tucked away in my heart over the years. But today I went searching out that phrase and discovered it is found three times in the Psalms. Those three occurrences are instructive to me as I seek the way forward after the loss of my dad. Perhaps you’ll find some help here too, whatever your current challenges.
“I will walk before the LORD in the land of the living.” (Psalm 116:9)
That’s an important perspective for me. Dad is gone. I miss him. But I must “walk” through this life—which, because of his death, involves a mountainous pile of new decisions, actions and responsibilities. But I must “walk” each day – moving forward, dealing with stuff. And I must do so consciously “before the Lord.” He is my orientation, my loss need not be. I don’t deny the loss, but I am not defined by the loss. I am defined by “the LORD” who is my life. I am aware of being under His gaze. His face is turned toward me for good (Numb. 6:25-26). I am accountable to Him (Heb. 4:13). In the midst of all this I need both: His grace for me and His authority over me. I’m not in this alone. I am walking “before the Lord,” right here “in the land of the living.” What a grace!
“I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living!” (Psalm 27:13)
I have hope! Yes, for eternal life. Yes, for reunion with my Dad who died with his faith in Jesus Christ. But I have hope for here and now as well—“in the land of the living.” As I “walk before the LORD” I have every confidence that He is providentially arranging my life and all the affairs that make it up so that “I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD” right here “in the land of the living.” Real time. Real world. Tangible. Identifiable. He will do me good as I walk through all this. His promises to me in the Bible are true. He is good to every one of them. They are given to me so I can affirm that in Christ I am in present possession of all I need to do His will (2 Peter 1:3-4). I will be able to say as Joshua did, “Not one word has failed of all the good things that the LORD [my] God promised concerning [me]. All have come to pass for [me]; not one of them has failed.” (Josh. 23:14) What a grace!
“I cry to you, O LORD; I say, ‘You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.’” (Psalm 142:5)
As I sit here—emotions riding up and down depending on the moment—I am already in possession of my greatest treasure! The Lord Himself is “my portion.” That is to say, the Lord is “my inheritance.” Think on that: You’ve come into your inheritance “in the land of the living”! When someone dies we sometimes hear that they’ve “gone to their reward.” I get it, but I already have mine! He has given Himself to me as the best gift an infinite God could ever bestow on anyone. He has enriched me by the gift of His fellowship, favor, love, and presence. I’ve already come into infinite wealth! I sit here the wealthiest man I know—or ever will know. David was right, “I shall not want.” How could I when He is “my portion”? And if in a difficult moment I lose this perspective, the Lord is “my refuge” and keeps me with the promise of restored perspective again down the road. What a grace!
This three-fold perspective, of course, is applicable at all times, not just in times of grief. Would it help if you took a few minutes before the Lord and thanked Him for His presence and promises in your life, right now, right here “in the land of the living”?
And as you do, say a prayer for me and my family. Thanks.
PS — a picture from July 19, 1998 when I had the privilege of baptizing my father as a testimony of his faith in Jesus Christ.
New Testament scholar J.B. Phillips once wrote a book entitled Your God Is Too Small. The indication is that there is a direct link between our view of God and the way we think about and conduct ourselves in life. A.W. Tozer said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” He went on to say that the most foreboding and prophetic “fact about any man is not what he at any given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God.
How big is your God? The writer of Psalm 113 revealed something of his perception of God when he queried, “Who is like the Lord our God, Who is enthroned on high, Who humbles Himself to behold the things that are in heaven and in the earth?” (vv.5-6).
We are told that light travels at 186,000 miles per second. Were we to discover and board a vehicle that could travel at that rate of speed, after lifting off the face of the earth we would pass our moon in approximately one minute. Were we able to continue at such a rate of speed we would blow by our sun in approximately 8.3 minutes. If we wanted to continue on our joy ride it would take us approximately another 80,000 years to reach the far side of our galaxy!
With those phenomenal dimensions fixed in our minds, do with me as someone once invited me … in your mind travel to a far off place. Imagine yourself walking barefoot along miles of sandy beach. After a long walk you take your seat in the warm sand and with your hand reach down and draw up a handful of the grainy substance. You allow the sand to trickle out from between your fingers. They you blow, ever so gently, upon the surface of your palm until one tiny grain of sand is left in your palm. That solitary grain of sand would represent our earth and the grains of sand stretching out for miles on either side of you would represent the number of other planetary bodies in our Milky Way!
Now put your hands together and dust away that grain of sand. Start over. With a new handful of sand, again allow it to run through your fingers. Blow once again until you have one lone grain of sand left in your palm. Now consider that grain to be our Milky Way and all the grains of sand stretching out in the distance in either direction around you to be the approximately one trillion other such galaxies now estimated to exist by our scientists. It is believed that every one of those one trillion galaxies probably averages some one billion stars within it.
How far could you go into God’s creation if you traveled the rest of your days at the speed of light upon your marvelous vehicle? God tells us, through His psalmist, that He is so vast, infinite and beyond our measure that He must stoop to even behold the galaxies He has made. “Who is like the Lord our God, Who is enthroned on high, Who humbles Himself to behold the things that are in heaven and in the earth?”
The prophet Daniel lived in difficult days. He prophesied about even more difficult days yet to come. But in the midst of his troubles and with the revelation from God that even more difficult days were on the way he said that “Those who know their God will display strength and take action” (Daniel 11:32). Far from being overwhelmed by life’s circumstances, those who know their God will display strength and take action! What we think of when we think of God is the most important thing about us.
I hope that this summer you get the chance to be outdoors in God’s vast creation, to look up into a cloudless night sky, to gaze over some scene of natural beauty, to be still, observe, and be amazed. Not primarily at the creation—marvelous as it is—but at the One who created it all, providentially rules over and directs it, and who gave it as a hint at the vast greatness of His infinite being.
Take the moment to sing out from your heart: “O Lord, my God! When I in awesome wonder consider all the worlds Thy hands have made, I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, Thy power throughout the universe displayed. Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee. How great Thou art, How great Thou art!”