Those who lie for power, influence, and gain, hate the gospel of the Lord Jesus. It is that simple. What is more, this Psalm could and should be applied to the life of Christ. He, in his own country, was not received. Though he was in Jerusalem it was like he was sojourning in Meshech and dwelling in Kedar. He was for peace but surrounded by liars. His peace is found in the truth of belief and repentance toward Him who is truth. And that is what our country needs today. It needs the peace of Christ through repentance and faith.
The Psalms are an invitation to experience the Psalmist’s experience. That must be clarified. The Psalmist often provides us with just enough information so that we cannot locate the Psalm in any given geography or time in history. Yes, there are those Psalms that set us down by the streams of Babel or in the courts of Jerusalem’s temple but then there are those Psalms, like Psalm 120, which provide us with little to nothing by way of sitz im leben. They invite us into the experience of the Psalmist.
For example, in Psalm 120, is the Psalmist saying that he sojourns in Meshech (Asia Minor) and dwells in Kedar (North Arabia)? Well, it would be impossible to do both. So perhaps he has something else in mind. Likely, he is describing his current location, unknown to the reader, as Meshech and Kedar to help the reader understand the religious and moral climate he is experiencing. This latter idea is best.
The opening of the Psalm gives even more insight. The Psalmist is in distress. Why? Because he is surrounded by lying lips and deceitful tongues (v. 2). Apparently, Meshech was known for being a warring people and Kedar for belligerence. They were difficult people. Most belligerent people are! Thus, he feels himself to be among enemies and treated as such in return.
Does that description invite you into the Psalmist’s experience? For me, it certainly does. An evening this past week, I watched President Biden tell the media gathered around him at an ice cream shop that the “economy is as strong as H–.”What is more, the President tried to blame our inflation on other countries instead of acknowledging that his administration printed money like there was no tomorrow! This is not the first time Joe Biden has mislead the public. And these are not the only lies that have come from his administration. Remember how NBC News anchor Chuck Todd asked the Vice President Harris, “We’re going to have 2 million people cross this border for the first time ever. You’re confident this border’s secure?” Her answer? “We have a secure boarder.” These examples of the current administration are not isolated. They could be multiplied endlessly.
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By Dean Arnold — 11 months ago
Jack Arnold, 69, was preaching in Orlando, Fla., [January 9, 2005] on his life verse: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” He quoted John Wesley and pointed upward: “As long as God has work for me to do, I am immortal, but if my work is done, I’m outa here.” Moments later he spoke his last sentence about heaven, stopped, grabbed the pulpit, swayed briefly and fell backward. Medics say the heart attack killed him immediately.
My father died instantly in the pulpit two weeks ago after uttering his final words: “And when I go to heaven.” I immediately left Chattanooga for Orlando.
The story hit the AP Wire and was listed by Yahoo as the most-read story. A high school friend who lives in Sweden emailed me after seeing the report on CNN.
Jack Arnold, 69, was preaching in Orlando, Fla., [January 9, 2005] on his life verse:“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” He quoted John Wesley and pointed upward: “As long as God has work for me to do, I am immortal, but if my work is done, I’m outa here.” Moments later he spoke his last sentence about heaven, stopped, grabbed the pulpit, swayed briefly and fell backward. Medics say the heart attack killed him immediately.
“He was just all there, and then not there at all, like a hand came through the roof and snatched him out of his body,” said Chris Williams who told me he was sitting in the front row only five feet from where Dad fell.
My family is certainly sad to lose our father, but we are also glad he went out precisely the way he would want. Nevertheless, we have scratched our heads regarding why it became an international story. Our best guess is that people are concerned about the next life. Most of us have some early childhood image of the preacher urging us to prepare to meet our Maker. And when the man connected to God gets snatched away after a final warning, it makes you stop and think.
Even Paul Harvey reported the remarkable event. But perhaps he will let me go ahead and tell the rest of the story, which is far more poignant when you learn that my father was weak, flawed, and glaringly human. You don’t have to be perfect to finish strong.
I watched him lay in a hospital bed for weeks after a nervous breakdown two decades ago. As a child I remember him singing triumphant hymns early in the morning before preaching. But as a teenager I heard him cry out in rage and weep profusely in despair at 3 and 4 in the morning.
He had a temper. But to his credit, he would always come back to his kids and ask their forgiveness after losing it. He lightened up over time. He also had a streak of ambition and a desire for greatness that never quite materialized. He played basketball for the legendary coach John Wooden at UCLA, just before they won an unprecedented 10 national championships. But Dad never started and didn’t get much playing time. He earned his doctorate from the premiere Dallas Theological Seminary, won the award for theology, and later wrote volumes of material on Christian living. But it was classmate friends like Chuck Swindoll and Hal Lindsay who became household Christian names after publishing a multitude of books. Dad could never get his church beyond three or four hundred folks, and it was this failure in his own eyes to rise above mediocrity that contributed to his mid-life crisis and deep depression.
Nothing changed immediately. But over the years Dad accepted his role – fame was a privilege, not a right – and he learned to serve his Lord as a simple, faithful pastor and then missionary to third-world countries. He struggled in his marriage, but he and mom fought through the tough times and both said their last 10 years together were their best. Early on a staunch Calvinist, he still never compromised on the basic tenants of his Christian faith, but later in life he graciously worked side by side with Anglicans, Pentecostals, Baptists and many others. He was a presbyterian with a little ‘p,’ he said, and calvinist with a little ‘c.’ To the shock of me and my siblings, he even allowed us to store our small portions of wine and beer in his refrigerator the last year of his life. He, however, never drank any.
He did struggle. He would fall and get up again. Yet he also improved and persevered. Yes, his final moments were glorious, but his journey also involved much pain and failure. Ironically, he finally made national and international headlines 24 hours after his death. But this too should encourage all of us who believe our reward is most likely on the other side of the river. And even the more secular folk can be encouraged that their labor and love may finally find its fruit and fulfillment in post-mortem fashion.
When I grabbed a handful of cold dirt and threw it on my father’s grave last week, my sadness was superseded by joy. The story could have been very different for the suicidal man in his forties. I trust God’s mercy for any of us who may not finish as sensationally strong as my father did. But he provides great inspiration for all of us to persevere during our life.
Words sent by Mr. Wooden were read aloud at the memorial service. “The circumstances of Jack’s passing was consistent with how he played the game of basketball as a member of the UCLA team. He always gave everything he had right down to the very last second. He was not blessed with as much physical ability as others, but no one worked harder or was more highly respected than Jack.” Paul Harvey reported that “Pastor Jack Arnold’s last words were, ‘And when I get to heaven,’ . . . and he went!”
If Paul Harvey reported it correctly, then my father won a great victory that day – even better than 10 NCAA Championships. I’m sure Mr. Wooden would agree.
Dean W. Arnold is a journalist and author in Chattanooga. He can be reached at [email protected].
By Al Gooderham — 1 year ago
We were not made for loneliness we were made for love, not romantic love but love from God, love by neighbours, love by a redeemed community that meets us again and again with the welcome of grace and the rest of the gospel.
Perhaps the biggest barrier to our building friendships comes from our idolatry of marriage in the church. If you’re single you experience it as people in church trying to matchmake you with any eligible Christian of the opposite sex, and that makes you weary of friendships especially those with the opposite sex. All of us imbibe it in the relationship talks we’re given at youth groups and camps which are often well meaning but focus on marriage as the thing that will save you from your struggle with sexual sin and provide you with the intimacy and friendship you so long for. And that often means when people get married they so with unhealthy expectations. They also tend to pull away from previous friendships, almost as if a close relationship with anyone else will endanger their marriage. Pastorally I’ve dealt with many who have been badly wounded by just that unloving act and now feel fearful of building new friendships because what if they meet someone….
The churches idolatry of marriage is partly the result of our overreaction to the world’s idolatry of sex. Sexual love is viewed as the highest form of love in the world, it’s the ultimate hence the mantra that love is love and nothing should get in the way of that. It is the highest good, the ultimate expression of love, the goal to aim for. And so the church doubles down on the teaching that marriage between a man and a woman is the only right context for sexual love and intimacy, without challenging societies mantra on sexual love being the ultimate, the place you will find fulfilment. But in so doing I worry that we write cheques marriage can’t cash. The bible’s picture of love is so much broader and more beautiful and bountiful than that. It’s much more multifaceted and we lose something when we shrink love down to sexual love, we lose friendship and end up overburdening and overexpecting of marriage and naturally as a result we will find our churches full of people struggling with loneliness whether married or single and marriages creaking under the strain.
The Bible is full of stories of the joy of love that is not sexual. Sexual love is only one type of love we were made to enjoy. Marriage is the only context in which God says we’re to fulfil that love, yet marriage itself has limits, it points beyond itself to the eventual eternal joy of the union between Christ and the Church. And that means we must see marriage for what it is. A signpost, a precious covenant signpost that can bring much joy, yes. A good gift of God, yes. But also one that is given not to be an idol but to be part of a process of growing Christlikeness spurred on by those entering it. It is not the only form of love we were made to enjoy, that we need. Even in the garden the image of Adam and Eve isn’t it, it’s not complete. They aren’t sat snuggled up and loved up on a sofa with a Rom Com or Action flick blissfully content to find all they need in each others eyes, they have a job to do to create a community of worshippers, with a web of other relationships, other types of love, that is what they were made for.
By Kendall Lankford — 4 months ago
The reason the church of Jesus Christ is still standing strong today is that a generation of rock-hard believers endured ultimate sufferings with great joy and great hope, turning the world upside down with their great faith. Instead of kicking up our feet and being repulsed by discomfort, I am praying this generation of Christians will learn from our elders, get ice in our veins, and turn this world upside down for Christ once more. They probably will not kill us for doing so, but we should give them every reason to want to.
THE RUINING OF GOOD WORDS AND THE EPICENTER OF CRAZY
Amid a bounty of red-capped toadstools, psychedelic peace signs, and long-haired hippies, the word “gay” lost its mirth and merry undertones morphing into the new moniker for sodomy in the 1960s. This same kind of word assassination has taken place today changing common sense words like mother into “birthing-person” or cold-blooded murder into “women’s health.” If I had to guess one of the top job skills on Satan’s resume, I might be inclined to say word-shifting, but that is the topic for another blog. For now, let it suffice to say that good words often lose good meaning and when that happens “the crazy” ensues.
In the evangelical world, our little rotten apple hasn’t fallen far from Babylon’s big tree. Instead of mythologizing what a woman is to fit a transgender agenda, we have mythologized what a tribulation is to fit a left-behind storyline. And, as a result, a century and a half of Christians have become necessarily confused by what Jesus meant in His Olivet Discourse. Today, we want to continue unraveling this mangled cord and share a sober Biblical view that reclaims this forgotten Biblical word.
“Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name” – Matthew 24:9
A BRIEF WORD ON OUR METHODOLOGY
To begin, I will not be gratifying the popular seven-year super-cycle of future cataclysmic phenomena as a viable option for what this word means. The Bible tells us not to answer a fool according to his folly and taking that approach would certainly be akin to groveling in the eschatological pig slop. Further, we will not be citing newspaper articles about Israel, hunting down red heifers, or treating isolated Bible passages like bread crumbs in a forest leading us to grandma’s house. Or, however, those metaphors go.
In this blog, we will look at the words that are on the page, ask some common sense questions, assume a very helpful body of data that has been covered in previous episodes and blogs, look at some Scriptures that prove the point, and provide a Greek reference on the side to make sure we sound really smart. To that end, let us gayly begin.
THE MEANING OF WORDS
The first word of importance in this sentence is “they”. In this context, “they” does not refer to a YouTube social influencer’s ever-changing pronouns, but to a specific group of people. That group is not a 21st-century cohort of liberal American God-haters, but a first-century cadre of Jewish and Gentile God-haters who were scattered throughout the Roman empire.
Remember, Jesus is educating His disciples on when their temple would be destroyed. He is helping them understand what signs they are going to see that will accompany this event and showing them how it will change the course of redemptive history (See Matthew 24:1-3). Jesus is not lapsing into a moment of temporary ADD to harangue about a future seven-year tribulation that was irrelevant to His disciples. He is appropriately warning them that “They” will be beaten, bruised, killed, and persecuted. He is telling them what they will soon be facing in their service to Him.
Second, the next very technical word we must understand is “you.” In this sentence, “you” is not referring to “us” or some future audience of post-moderns who will rip this passage clear out of its context. “You” meant the very disciples Jesus was speaking to since that is how conversations work. Think about it, when you are looking right at the person you are speaking to, answering specific questions they directed at you, and then pull “you” out of your repertoire of available words, the only conceivable reason for doing that would be if you were talking to them and about them. In this scene, Jesus is talking to His disciples about a tribulation they will face in their lifetimes. This point is essential for us to grasp.
Third, knowing this, we must understand what the word “tribulation” means if we have any hope of understanding what Jesus is saying. According to our really smart Greek lexicon, the English word for tribulation comes from the Greek word “θλῖψις” (Th-lip-sis). Instead of a plague-filled future septennial, the word means troubles or trials that will inflict distress, and suffering on men (See the following passages where the word θλῖψις is used: Matthew 13:21; Mark 13:19; John 16:33; Acts 11:19; 14:22; 20:23; Romans 5:3-5; 8:35; 12:12; 2 Corinthians 1:4, 8; 7:4; Philippians 4:14; Colossians 1:24; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; 3:3-4; 2 Thessalonians 1:4; Revelation 1:9). This is precisely what Jesus was prophesying over His disciples and this is exactly what happened to them in the years ahead.
THE LABOR MOTIF
Now, before citing some examples of tribulation from the New Testament, I want to share a brief reminder about the Labor motif that is found within this chapter. Like a woman in labor, the birth pangs will begin with a certain level of intensity. Then, as time moves along, the pain from her contractions will inevitably grow in magnitude and frequency as the pregnancy nears its terminus. In much the same way, the signs Jesus has been forecasting begin with increasing intensity until everything Jesus predicted comes true (Matthew 24:8).
So far, we have looked at signs like earthquakes and famines which increase in intensity from the time Jesus is raised in AD 30 to the downfall of Jerusalem in AD 70. We have also shown how the proliferation of false prophets and messianic figures only became worse as the hour drew nearer to the fall of the city. Now, we will look at how the sign of persecution and tribulation went from bad to worse in the Church’s first forty years of existence.
THE INFANT CHURCH IN TRIBULATION
Like all good evangelicals, I affirm that life begins at conception in the womb. Yet, the joy of a plus-signed pregnancy test will soon come with morning sickness, foot aches, hormone imbalances, and forty weeks of discomfort and bloating, all eclipsed by the tremendous pain of human life moving her way down the birth canal to make her appearance known. In much the same way, the church was conceived at the resurrection of Jesus Christ and grew rapidly during those first 40 years of gestation. But it wasn’t until the great pains associated with the downfall of Mosaic Judaism that she was thrust upon the world, as the only way to know and approach the one true God, Yahweh. In this prophecy, Jesus gives signs that will cover the whole forty-year period, but like labor will increase in intensity as the event draws near.
For instance, Jesus told the disciples, even before He went to the cross, that they would soon be arrested, betrayed, persecuted, murdered, and handed over to Jewish synagogues where all these abuses would take place (Matthew 10:17-25; 23:34-37). Jesus even warns the disciples that a future hour would come when the murder of Christians will be viewed as religious piety by the apostate Jews (John 16:2). Those tribulations would begin in a matter of days from the crucifixion.
For instance, not many days after that first Pentecost, the apostles were arrested by the Jews for teaching about Jesus in Jerusalem (Acts 4:1-3). After being released from prison, they were jailed again just one chapter later (Acts 5:17-20). On this occasion, an angel from the Lord helped them escape so that they could go on preaching Christ in the city. That day of preaching caused the apostles to be arrested a third time, whipped the same way Jesus was whipped before He was crucified, and released with injuries and scars that would cling to their bodies for a lifetime. This was the beginning of their tribulations.
Soon the Jews would take to murdering Christians in the street as they did with Stephen (Acts 7:54-60). They would send young zealots like Saul of Tarsus as hitmen to find, arrest, and even kill believers who were hiding in various cities (Acts 8:1-3). When one of those hitmen converted to Christianity, the Jews sought to have him murdered as well (Acts 9:23-25). The book of Acts even calls this a period of “great” persecution (Acts 8:1), or maybe one might be tempted to call it a “great tribulation” for the church.