No Plague Near Your Tent: Reading Psalm 91 During a Global Pandemic

Today I’m sharing from Core Christianity.

No Plague Near Your Tent: Reading Psalm 91 During a Global Pandemic

By William R. Osborne 

It is not often in human history that words like plague and pestilence become household terminology, but here we are. As strange as these words feel on our tongues, they are not as uncommon in the Bible. For example, Psalm 91 speaks directly to the notion of plague or pestilence three times, boldly claiming, “For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence” (v. 3), “You will not fear . . . the pestilence that stalks in darkness” (v. 6), and finally, “No evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent” (v. 10). While we as Christians glory in the declarations of the psalm, we can’t help but notice the current “plague” creeping ever closer to our neighborhoods and homes. Does Psalm 91 make promises that are not being fulfilled? How do we read Psalm 91 during a global pandemic?

Images of Comfort

While the original setting that gave rise to this psalm eludes us, the first-person statement in v. 2 reveals that the author speaks these words of hope and comfort as one who has personally experienced refuge and security by trusting in God in the midst of fearful circumstances. Indeed, Psalm 91 opens with a beautiful picture of God’s people dwelling in the shelter and shadow of the Lord. We are thrust into a metaphorical world where God is a refuge, God is a fortress, God’s faithfulness is a shield, and God even has wings that provide security.

The important thing to remember here is that the psalmist is creating figurative relationships between God and the created world that forge a new reality for the fearful. These creative images draw us out of our fear-entrenched perceptions into a new world that redefines our source of protection and peace. Verse 3 plays into this figurative imagery by likening us to a bird that will escape the net of the “fowler,” a term used to describe a bird-catcher in ancient times. In a parallel line, we are told “he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler, and from the deadly pestilence.” Just as the first line of this verse should be understood as figurative language communicating a general picture of deliverance, so should the second.

The mention of pestilence in v. 6 is also imbedded in a poetic structure that leads us away from forcing the language into a straightforward reading. Verses 5 and 6 are in a parallel structure that looks like this:

A – You will not fear the terror of the night,

B – nor the arrow that flies by day

A’ – nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,

B’ – nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.

The intentional parallel between night and day in v. 5 is picked up and developed in v. 6 with the ideas of darkness and noonday. Poetically, phrases like “night and day” or “dark and light” are called merisms. A merism is when an author poetically uses opposite terms to figuratively communicate a total or complete concept. Consequently, like the reference in v. 3, the language of v. 6 should not be stripped of its poetic and figurative quality.

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Why the Ascension of Christ Matters For Your Life

Today I’m sharing from Core Christianity

Why the Ascension of Christ
Matters For Your Life

By Matthew Barrett

Christ’s ascension turns humiliation into exaltation.

Christ ascended into heaven, an event we too often overlook, thinking it has little significance. The last thing we read in Luke’s Gospel, and one of the first things we read in his sequel (the book of Acts), is that Jesus ascended into the sky after appearing to his disciples in his resurrected body. As Luke records, Jesus led his disciples as far as Bethany, lifted up his hands to bless them, and while doing so parted from them and was carried up into heaven (Luke 24:51). In response, the disciples worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy (24:52).

Prior to Jesus’s ascension in front of his disciples, he appeared to two of his followers on the road to Emmaus (Lk. 24). Believing that he was the one to redeem Israel, they were perplexed as to why Jesus could suffer defeat on a cross. Their confusion only grew when they heard the tomb was empty. Rebuking these two men for their ignorance, Jesus responded, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:26). Jesus then took them back to the Old Testament Scriptures and showed them how the entire Old Testament pointed forward to this climactic moment in redemptive history. 

Peter makes a similar point in Acts 3:19-21. He tells his listeners to repent, not only so that their sins might be blotted out, but also that God might send the Christ “appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago” (Acts 2:20-21). 

Both of these passages declare that the ascension was anticipated in the Old Testament as the very means by which the crucified Christ transitioned from his state of humiliation to his state of exaltation. The ascension, in other words, is the mechanism by which Christ is fittingly lifted up as the victorious king. As a result of this ascension, Christ now sits at the right hand of the Father, ruling and reigning over all (Eph. 1:20’21; Heb. 10:12Mark 16:19Acts 2:33). 

The Puritan Thomas Watson drives this point home in his book A Body of Divinity. While on earth, Jesus lay in a manger, but now he sits on his throne. On earth, men mocked him, but now angels adore him. On earth, his name was reproached, but now God has given him the name above every name (Phil. 2:9). On earth, he was in the form of a servant (John 13:4:5), but now he is dressed in the robe of a prince and kings cast their crowns before his throne. On earth, he was the man of sorrows (Isa. 53), but now he is anointed with the oil of gladness. On earth, he was crucified, but now he is crowned. On earth, he was forsaken by God (Matt. 27:46), but now he sits at God’s right hand. On earth, he had no physical beauty (Isa. 53:2), but now he is the radiance of the glory of God (Heb. 1:3). Without the ascension, there can be no exaltation of our crucified and risen Lord. Without the ascension, the king returns victorious from battle, but no ancient doors open to receive him into glory. 

Christ’s ascension assures us of our past, present, and future redemption.

Not only is the ascension the indispensable means by which Christ is exalted as Lord and king, but it also demonstrates that his priestly work of redemption is secure. We tend to think of Christ’s priestly work on our behalf as limited to the cross. However, Scripture says his priestly work as mediator continues in heaven (Rom. 8:33:34; 1 Cor. 15Eph. 4; 1 John 2:1). 

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3 Keys to A Christian Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic

Today I’m sharing from Core Christianity

3 Keys to A Christian Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic

By Ryan Thomas

“There is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). That was easier to believe a couple of weeks ago. Although this certainly isn’t the first time a crisis has captured the world’s attention, few to none have had the sort of global impact as the advent of Covid-19. Maybe you have noticed a change in your mood. Going to the store makes you anxious. Troubling questions have begun to surface with greater regularity and intensity. Why has God allowed these events to happen? Where is this all headed? How do I find him in the midst of this madness?

In times like these, it is easy to become so glued to our televisions that we effectively mute God. Coronavirus and its deadly impact have flooded mainstream media coverage. Social media is awash with humorous memes about social distancing. And living somewhere between the humor and the horror, perhaps you are wondering, what am I to do?

Unless we are careful to peel our eyes from our screens and open our Bibles, inclining our ears to hear the Lord’s voice speaking to us from his Word, other voices will dominate the conversation. That doesn’t mean that the Bible should be our only source of guidance. It won’t answer every question about the Coronavirus—or any virus, for that matter—because even if the Bible does encourage handwashing (upon penalty of death, no less; Exodus 30:21), its purpose lies elsewhere. We still need experts to weigh in on the various medical, social, political, and economic factors. In other words, Christians should be diligent hand washers, not because of Exodus 30:21, but because infectious disease specialists say it is one of the best ways to prevent viral spread.

What we will find in Scripture to help us through this unique time is everything we need to know in order to glorify God and enjoy him forever. We’ll find guidance that applies whether our best-laid plans go awry or the world turns upside down. In fact, as Christians, you and I face the same difficult choice today that we faced yesterday, and will face again tomorrow. That is, will we trust in and follow Jesus?

So what does that look like in the face of rapidly changing response plans, ominous projections, and much uncertainty about the future? What, in short, should characterize your response?

1. Faith, not Fear

The point isn’t that we never feel afraid, but that we act in faith rather than react in fear. Fear is consumed by circumstances. It sets its gaze upon the horizon in a tireless search for trouble. “I hear the whispering of many—terror on every side!—as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life” (Psalm 31:13). Fear always looks out, but never up.

That doesn’t mean that faith is ignorant. No, it knows the trouble that surrounds it, but nevertheless chooses to look up to God in faith. “I had said in my alarm, ‘I am cut off from your sight.’ But you heard the voice of my pleas for mercy when I cried to you for help” (Psalm 31:22).

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True vs. False Repentance: What’s the Difference?

Today I’m sharing from Core Christianity

True vs. False Repentance:
What’s the Difference?

By Adriel Sanchez

According to the Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Louw & Nida) the word repentance means, to change one’s way of life as the result of a complete change of thought and attitude with regard to sin and righteousness. In repentance, a person is given a true sense of the heinous nature of sin and, hating it, they turn to God through Christ with the desire to part ways with it. It is a gift that God gives to us and true repentance leads to eternal life (2 Tim. 2:25).

The Bible does make it clear that not all repentance is genuine, though. Paul said to the Corinthian church in 2 Corinthians 7:10-11, 

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point, you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.

Based on this Scripture and others, here are some of the distinguishing characteristics between true and false repentance:

True repentance does not regret parting ways with sin; false repentance does. 

Because God grants us a clear view of our sins in repentance, we don’t regret the loss of them. False repentance is characterized by a continual longing for the “old life.” Although a person may have made certain external changes in their life, their heart is continually drawn back to the sins they miss. Jesus said, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God”(Lk. 9:62). 

Now, it’s important to note that this doesn’t mean we won’t face old temptations as believers. There’s a constant struggle between the old and the new man (Gal. 5:17), and this conflict is itself an indication that we have been enlightened by God to see our sin as something we must fight against.  We don’t always experience victory on the battlefield though, and often the Christian life can feel like a string of defeats. The good news is when we sin, we have an advocate before the Father pleading our case (1 Jn. 2:1), and as he grants us victory, we rejoice over the death of our sin, rather than mourning its loss. 

True repentance hates sin; false repentance hates the consequences of sin. 

True repentance is often characterized by a godly anger about the terrible nature of sin. This zealous indignation is concerned with God’s glory and the flourishing of the image of God in humanity. False repentance is less concerned about the glory of God and more concerned with getting caught. This type of concern is what Paul calls “worldly grief.” True repentance often takes the initiative in bringing sin into the light (through confession) since it hates the sin itself, not just its consequences. Jesus said, “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (Jn. 3:20-21).

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God Doesn’t Help Those Who Help Themselves

Today I’m sharing from Core Christianity

God Doesn’t Help Those
Help Themselves

By Michael Horton

According to a Barna survey, 87 percent of today’s Evangelical Christians (the heirs of the Reformation) affirm that medieval Roman Catholic conviction, that “God helps those who help themselves.” Two-thirds of the Evangelical Christians in America said that we all pray to the same God whether we’re Buddhists, Muslims, Jews or Christians.

Through the middle ages, Christianity became entangled with the vines of superstition, ignorance and spiritual lethargy that same thing we see all around us today. When Luther uncovered the theological scandal, the fragile Roman scaffolding began to creak. The essentials of the Reformation were doctrinal. It was part of the Renaissance to call for a return to the original sources, so it made sense that Christian scholars returned not only to the great classics of Western civilization and to the early fathers, but to the biblical text itself.

The Reformation was the greatest back to the Bible movement in the history of the church since the death of the apostles. But they went back to the Bible not simply as an end in itself, but in order to recover the essential truths that the Bible proclaimed and that the church had either forgotten or actually rejected. Those essentials were Scripture alone, Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone and to God alone be the glory.

Why is the Reformation needed today?

What was so special about the Reformation in the first place that makes a second one so worthwhile? 

Well, do you believe that the Reformation got these doctrines out of balance with other doctrines as the Roman church believed? Or do you believe that the Bible teaches that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone to the glory of God alone and that this is the Bible’s central message from Genesis to Revelation?

If it’s the Bible’s central message, then it must be essential for us as it was for the Reformation in the 16th century. The problem we’re facing as a church today is that our situation is even worse than it was for the medieval church. Now just look at each of those slogans in the light of today’s realities, first of all the so-called evangelical, Bible-believing Christians in America are supposedly the spiritual heirs of the Protestant Reformation, and yet according to their responses to recent surveys, their views are actually much closer to those of medieval people before the Reformation.

The battle cry, “Scripture alone,” is rarely heard even in these conservative Protestant churches today as pop psychology, marketing, and management principles, pragmatism, consumerism, sociological data and political crusades tend to have the greatest authority and weight in the churches. Christ alone is challenged by the voices of those who are following our culture of religious pluralism insist that Jesus is the best, but not the only way to the Father. In fact, two-thirds of the Evangelical Christians in America said that we all pray to the same God whether we’re Buddhists, Muslims, Jews or Christians, two-thirds. Grace alone has fallen prey once more to the moralism and self-confidence of the human heart.

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