Most Christians celebrate at least two holidays: Christmas and Easter. Christmas, of course, commemorates the birth of Jesus, and Easter remembers His resurrection. Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after the vernal equinox (which is March 20th). So it always falls somewhere between March 22nd and April 25th. Next year it will be on April 21st.
But there are other lesser-known holidays that should not be forgotten. All Saints’ Day is one of them. It always falls on November 1st, right after Halloween. Halloween has sometimes been labelled as the devil’s holiday (and there are some odd customs associated with it), but its origin lies in the fact that it is the day before All Saints Day. All Hallows’ Eve is similar Christmas Eve in that sense. In the Bible the saints of God are considered “hallowed” – i.e. they are consecrated for God’s eternal purposes. This is different from the idea of having a religious group of canonized individuals, which was a much later development. All baptized believers in Christ are “saints” in the broader sense. And All Saints’ Day is a celebration of these saints who have gone before us. We look back and remember their lives and contributions. We light a candle in their memory, and we learn from their faith as we ponder our own Christian legacy.
Ascension Day is another significant lesser-known Christian holiday. It’s on the 40th day of Eastertide (always on a Thursday). On Ascension Day we remember Jesus’ ascension into heaven (in Acts 1:6-11). Next year it will be on May 30th.
And then ten days later we have Pentecost, on June 9th of 2019. I noticed that many of our church members wear red on Pentecost. This is seasonally appropriate, since that’s when we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit on the disciples gathered in Jerusalem (in Acts 2:1-13). Red represents the fire of the Holy Spirit.
Those dates will come in the spring and early summer. Before them, we will be observing Ash Wednesday on March 6th of 2019. Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent, which was created originally for new confirmands being baptized on Easter Sunday. Mindful of the significance of 40 days as a standard period for spiritual movements/transformations in the Bible (e.g. Matthew 4:1-11, Jonah 3:4, etc.), Lent is a 40-day period of spiritual preparation before Easter. Eventually its observance was expanded to include everyone in the church besides the confirmands.
A common practice in the Old Testament was to wear sackcloth (i.e. burlap) and use ashes when practicing repentance (e.g. II Samuel 3:31, Job 42:6, Jonah 3:5-9, Matthew 11:21). Ashes also remind us of our mortality – since we are made from dust and we shall return to the dust (Genesis 3:19, Ecclesiastes 3:20). This points us to our need for God.
It took me awhile to figure out how Lent is structured. It consists of 40 days, but it excludes the Sundays. Each Sunday during Lent is considered like a mini-Easter. Perhaps for some it’s a bit of a reprieve from the Lenten disciplines. So, excluding Sundays, Lent is the 40-day season prior to Easter. And since Ash Wednesday is dated by its relation to Easter, its dates can range from February 4th to March 10th. Next year it will be on March 6th.
May God richly bless each one of you in observing these holy-days.
Pastor Andrew McHenry
There are many “hard passages” in the Bible. Sometimes they are difficult to understand. Other times they seem cruel and repulsive. But it’s important to study these texts and also to acknowledge these reactions. Ignoring them can be problematic in many ways. Sometimes skeptics will take advantage of the general unfamiliarity with these scriptures (since nobody puts them on bumper stickers) and then make attacks on the faith.
The best way to approach the Bible, including difficult passages, is to see them through the lens of our savior, Jesus Christ. Jesus re-interpreted the Old Testament laws radically (Matthew 5:21-48), and He also acknowledged that some passages were written because people have hard hearts (Matthew 19:8, Mark 10:5). What follows is a better understanding of scripture and application: Christian living is not a simple obedience to a bunch of commands – but a faithfulness of life rooted in love for God and love for those around us (including our enemies).
For a good example, we can begin with the Old Testament concept of “chērem”. This is sometimes spoken of as “the ban” against people-groups who were living in the Promised Land ahead of the Israelites. It involves both consecration and violent destruction. This is troubling in all its places – including in the book of Joshua. There it was incorporated into commands for the mass slaughter and destruction of the city of Jericho – including men, women, children, and animals (Joshua 6:17-19,21).
Some of this is mitigated by the offer of peace that was customarily made beforehand. The Israelites engaged in destruction only if it was first refused (Deuteronomy 20:10-18). But this is still a hard teaching; it invokes slavery even for those who accept the terms of peace. Slavery may have seemed like a better alternative at the time (as opposed to genocide), but today it’s completely unacceptable.
Some interpreters have focused on the part of consecration – emphasizing that it was meant to keep people from using warfare to get rich (Joshua 6:18-19). Others have noted that the references to chērem alternate with references to Rahab’s family being rescued (6:17b,22-23,25) – the emphasis being similar to that of Romans 10:13, which says “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
These are helpful insights, but I think it’s more important to look at how Jesus appropriated this kind of teaching. He was probably drawing from this concept of chērem in Deuteronomy 20 when He gave His instructions for His peace mission in Luke 10:1-12. It’s ironic that such a violent passage would be used for peace, but the similarities are easy to notice. Like the Israelites of old, Jesus’ followers were wandering into new and hostile territory. And similarly, their work began with an offer for peace. Note what He said in His instruction…
These are some insights that have helped me in understanding the Bible. I hope they’re helpful for you as well. The Bible is a book like no other. It can transform lives when it’s interpreted in the right way.
May God bless you,
Pastor Andrew McHenry
There are a number of things that can be formative in shaping someone’s identity: career, activities, friendship networks, allegiances, location, etc. Family is one of these things – either with the immediate family or with one’s broader heritage. This is largely harmless, but there are some dangers to it.
Many people in Jesus’ time (and in the centuries before) placed emphasis on their lineage to Abraham, who was a founding father in the faith. Originally called of God when he was old and childless, he was promised a great legacy and multitude of descendants (in Genesis 15:1-6). In the New Testament era people were claiming this for a false assurance of salvation – which made John the Baptist take a confrontational approach: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children of Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 3:7b-10).
The apostle Paul had the same doctrine but he was more pastoral in his approach when he wrote his letter to the Romans. This is probably because he was writing not to confront but to introduce himself. He was making plans and hoped to visit the Roman church on a future missionary expedition to Spain (see Romans 15:23-24). Since he had never met the Christians in Rome, he wrote the epistle first to introduce his theology (in chapters 1-11), and also to explain his understanding of Christian practice (in chapters 12-15).
Recently I was studying Romans 4:1-8, and I thought of some questions that Christians have asked when it comes to evangelism: One of them is this: “If you were to die tomorrow, do you know where you’d spend eternity?” Another one is “How do you get right with God?” These are important questions, but they are not the ones Paul had in mind when he wrote to the Roman Christians. Instead, he was thinking of this question: Who are the real children of Abraham?
Paul was famous for his missionary outreach to Gentiles (i.e. to non-Jews), and some questioned the basis for bringing these new converts into the church. Remembering that Jesus was a Jew, they drew a hardline emphasis that basically said you have to be Jewish in order to be a Christian. This meant observing the numerous Old Testament laws, Jewish holidays, dietary scruples, etc. Paul disagreed with this approach: He taught that salvation is by faith alone, emphasizing that this was how it began for Abraham back in Genesis 15:6. Abraham (or “Abram” at the time) didn’t know God before his encounter with Him. He had no Torah, no circumcision, no temple in Jerusalem to worship at, no system of offerings and sacrifices. What he did have, though, was faith. God made a promise. Abraham believed it, trusting in God – and that was what brought him into right-standing with the Lord, since salvation comes to those who respond in faith to the revelation that God has given them (Romans 4:1-3).
Part of Paul’s pastoral approach was not to scold, but to help people see this as a great blessing. So he paraphrased and then quoted Psalm 32:1-2 (in Romans 4:6-8) emphasizing the experience and perspective of the Old Testament king David. There are many different beatitudes in the Bible; these ones speak of a happiness that comes from forgiveness of sins: “Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the one against whom the Lord will not reckon sin.”
I thought of this while reflecting on a popular quote from the Dalai Lama: “My religion is simple. My religion is kindness.” For Christians, the emphasis is different. Kindness is certainly a part of our faith (e.g. Galatians 5:22), but it’s seen more as a byproduct than as the central thing. So we might hearken to a natural follow-up question: “What do you do with all the times when you haven’t been so kind?” It’s important to be realistic enough to recognize our imperfection: no one lives up to their ideals 100% of the time. And this makes us realize our dependency on the grace of God. Martin Luther said it so well: “God does not accept the person on account of his works, but He accepts the works on account of the (believing) person. He first accepts the person who believes in Him and then accepts the works flowing from faith.”
God bless you, Pastor Andrew
I remember when I was young and was first learning about global Christianity. It was interesting to find out that there are basically three different groups of Christians:
God bless you, Pastor Andrew McHenry
This past year has been marked by striking a number of natural disasters: significant storms in different parts of the country, hurricanes and tornadoes, fires ravaging our state and other western states. The commentary has ranged from discussions of global warming to end times phenomena.
As a general rule I try to avoid making theological assumptions about other people’s suffering. Eventually such talk ends up looking either arrogant, stupid, or cruel. This is one of the major lessons of the book of Job in the Bible: Even when you’re armed with the best theology, it’s easy to make unsafe assumptions when you don’t know what’s going on behind the curtain.
But there are places for discernment, and we see this in the book of Jonah. The author was confident that God hurled the wind that created the storm (1:4). Jonah said flatly that he knew his presence on the ship was what caused the mayhem (1:12b). When people understand their life events through the lens of their faith and experience of God, I’m less apt to question their conclusions.
For our part, it’s probably best to spend our discerning-energies in trying to understand which efforts are wasted and which ones are well-spent. This is seen with the sailors on the ship (in 1:5-16). Searching for answers in an intense storm, they resorted to casting lots (1:7). They were just trying to understand the situation, and their first efforts didn’t work out so well. Faced with a no-win situation they engaged in a failed effort to row to shore (1:13). And all throughout the storm conditions worsened (1:11,13).
Have you ever been in a situation where you felt like you were spinning your wheels to no good end? What should you do? The narrative gives some clues on how to respond…
Jonah was a prophet in the 8th century B.C. with messages for both his nation (II Kings 14:25-27) and for a foreign nation (Jonah 1:1-2). Many years later God sent His son, our savior Jesus Christ, to be the redeemer for the people of all nations. Jesus declared that God’s house should be a house of prayer for all people (Mark 11:17). And Jesus calmed the storm when His disciples were out at sea (Mark 4:35-41). Putting your faith in Jesus is no guarantee that you won’t have to face storms; Jesus, after all, had to endure persecution and crucifixion. But knowing Jesus and having a healthy prayer-life can give a peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7). And it’s all a part of our faith that serves as a foundation for making good decisions in the stormy seasons of life.
God bless you,
Andrew McHenry, Pastor
A few months back we heard a sound one night coming from our backyard. It was dark, and something was rummaging around back there. We couldn’t see what it was. My wife was a bit concerned. I couldn’t hear anything and was oblivious to the problem. I wondered if it was just her imagination.
Eventually some movement triggered the motion detector, and a light came on. It was a skunk. I saw it by looking through our living room window. Hillary was in the bedroom, looking at it through the back window. Both windows had been opened to let the cool air in, but that increased the risk of skunk-odor coming inside too. So I got nervous when I saw the skunk raise its tail as it moved in the direction of Hillary’s window. Fortunately Hillary used good verbal de-escalation. She said, “Hello there Mr. Skunk,” and her pleasant voice must have calmed him down. He moseyed on his way and moved on.
We’re hesitant to let our cats outside because they don’t know all the dangers they could get into – dangers from wildlife, from predators, and even skunks. I heard a story from my mother recently about a dog who never learned the lesson about skunks. Each time he saw one he would run up with eager doggy curiosity, and each time he would get sprayed head-on. What a mess!
Sometimes animals aren’t aware of dangers, and the same thing can happen with people on the spiritual plane. So when Paul gave the Corinthian Christians permission to eat meat that had been offered to idols in I Corinthians 8:4-6, 8 he became concerned in the sense of that old expression that says “Give them an inch, and they’ll take it a mile.” He was concerned that some of them would start attending the idol feasts that took place in the temples of the gods/goddesses of the ancient Greco-Roman pantheon. That would be bad news. Just as the Lord’s Supper is a communion for Christians (that is, a participation in body and blood of Jesus Christ), and just as the Old Testament priests participated in the sacrifices they offered to God in the Jerusalem temple, so participation in these temple feasts was a dangerous dabbling with the demonic (10:16-20). This led Paul to give a pointed warning in 10:21: “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons.”
All of us have to make decisions at some point about where we draw the line. I’ve known people who did this with casinos, pornography, alcohol, illegal drugs, tobacco, extramarital affairs, violence on TV, racism, bad business dealings, unethical investments, and a host of things. It all depends on each person’s unique susceptibility to the sinful nature. There are things that we won’t do, things we won’t consume, events we won’t be a part of, and perhaps even people we won’t see anymore.
That being said, there once was a time when I was too preachy for my own good. I saw the ministerial role as one of telling people what to do and what not to do. These days I’m more convinced that the role of the church is not to air-condition the outdoors. We shouldn’t be surprised at things that go on in the world; nor should we think that we can straighten everybody else out. So I don’t approach this like I’m some kind of a moral policeman.
But I do think it’s important for each Christian to think it over and draw the line as they feel God wants them to. And this has larger implications than any one of us. Rome didn’t fall in a day. Germany didn’t just slip into Nazism overnight. And slavery didn’t just begin one day. Great developments of evil seldom happen quickly. There’s a gradual evolution of spiritual darkness that eventually comes to dangerous proportions.
But remember: Jesus said the same is true with the kingdom of God. It’s “like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches.” And then He said it’s “like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough” (Luke 13:19, 21).
None of the churches I've served are big in numbers. But never underestimate the potential of a small group of people having a big impact on the world. People notice when a godly minority does something different. And in that way we stand to be light and salt in the world.
God bless you, Pastor Andrew McHenry
I was blessed to attend the annual meeting of the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches (the NACCC) in San Diego last month. I took the San Joaquins train down there, going through Stockton and Bakersfield to connect with the Pacific Surfliner in Los Angeles. Coming back I took the Coast Starlight, which brought me into Chico in the early morning hours. It was a beautiful trip!
But I went for much more than the train trip. Our family of Congregationalists has about 330 churches nationally, in most but not all of the U.S. states. It’s good for us to gather, to fellowship, to trade ideas, to worship together, to learn from each other, to celebrate our common heritage, and to look forward to the exciting future that God has in store for us. With this recent trip I thought I would take this opportunity to share my view of denominations.
Back in Lent I preached a series of messages on becoming a Christian. This can be a sensitive issue. There are always some people who emphasize a specific set of hoops – and if you haven’t gone through them, maybe you’re not really a Christian. Sometimes this is because they’ve had strong experiences and they don’t want others to miss out. But other times it’s because they have a very narrow view of faith, or they’re just very controlling types of personalities.
On the other hand, I can certainly remember a time when I would’ve said I was Christian if I’d been asked. But it wasn’t really true. Yes, I went to a church, but I didn’t have any personal sense of faith. At the time I didn’t care much for the church, and I certainly didn’t have any relationship with God. That changed when I began praying as a teenager. I didn’t know much about God, Jesus, or the Bible, but I knew that God was there. I believed that Jesus was His son, and I wanted to get right with Him. From praying the Lord’s Prayer in church I understood to pray for forgiveness of sins. All this led to an experience of the Holy Spirit when I was about 13.
I think it helps to move from personal experience to look at what the Bible says about becoming a Christian. There are lots of passages that could be referenced. Drawing inspiration from one of my seminary textbooks (by James F. White, a Methodist author who taught on liturgy and worship at Notre Dame), I’m looking at five images from the New Testament…
It’s important to have some kind of ownership over your faith. Martin Luther once said, "Every man must do two things alone; he must do his own believing and his own dying." And James F. White has written: “No one is born a Christian. One becomes a Christian through becoming part of a community with a distinctive way of life involving definite ethical and creedal commitments. This change in our being is marked by sacraments, which proclaim what God is doing to bring us to faith.”
Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are common acts of faith in the church, but we can remember them in light of this famous quote from Billy Sunday: “Sitting in your church won’t make you into a Christian any more than sitting in your garage will make you into a car.” True faith is more than just a shallow level of institutional involvement. And it’s something that no one else can do for you. This is part of the reason why Congregational churches emphasize the right of individual interpretation of scripture (among other things). No one should just believe something because the pastor says it’s true. A sense of personal ownership with faith and conviction is important.
God bless you,
Pastor Andrew McHenry
“When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, 2 ‘As you know, the Passover is two days away – and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.’ 3 Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, 4 and they plotted to arrest Jesus in some sly way and kill him. 5 ‘But not during the feast,’ they said, ‘or there may be a riot among the people.’”
- Matthew 26:1-5
In preparing this message I remembered a thoughtful quote from Brennan Manning, from his book The Ragamuffin Gospel. “The choice usually presented to Christians is not between Jesus and Barabbas [referring to Matthew 27:15-26]. No one wants to appear an obvious murderer. The choice to be careful about is between Jesus and Caiaphas. And Caiaphas can fool us. He is a very ‘religious’ man.”
Life has unpleasant surprises in this category. Matthew 26:3-5 describe an assembly of religious leaders. I tend to think of that as a good thing. As long as God has been leading people, there have always been leadership offices of one kind or another. The priesthood from the Old Testament was distinct because it emphasized the mediatorial role of the clergy: These are the people you go to who will connect you with God. It is different in the new covenant, where we have what Protestant Christians call “the priesthood of all believers” Viz. we understand that we all have direct access to God through Jesus.
But either way there’s an air of godliness about it. And the gathering place was in the palace of Caiaphas. Those of us who watched Adam Hamilton’s 24 Hours That Changed the World might remember seeing this in the video. It was a well-fortified, elevated place. It’s easy to think of this as a good thing: religious leaders gathering to make godly plans, right?
But in this case they were discussing a deliberate act of cruelty. They were making plans to arrest Jesus – i.e. to take Him into custody. And they were making plans to have Him killed – this in order to get him out of the way.
And this was Jesus – not some mafia thug. This was the man who had healed the sick, fed the hungry masses, exorcised the demons, and taught a message of love for God and humankind. Why would they target Him?
Many reasons have been explored in both scripture and in history. One political variable that deserves mention was the tense relations between Rome and Israel at the time. Jerusalem had a reputation of a contentious populace. They were used to their own tradition of having an independent Davidic monarchy. They yearned for this freedom. So there was an independent streak rooted in popular sentiment that was dangerous. And it was close enough to the Palm Sunday parade. People loved Jesus; the religious leaders didn’t want some kind of backlash from them – and especially if it would trigger a crackdown from Rome. (And that’s exactly what happened in the year 70 A.D.). But at this stage there was some hesitation since all that was seen as avoidable. The text says that these men wanted to do it “in a sly way” or “with stealth”.
And that’s not much of a qualifier. Violence against Jesus was the ultimate goal. This was a conspiracy for an unreligious act by very religious people – a notion that is both surprising and tragic. It’s both sad and amazing when the people you expect to be doing good and right in the world are actually doing things that are evil.
Yet in the larger gospel narrative all of this is subsumed by the larger working of the will of God. This is one meaning of the grace of God: nothing catches Him by surprise. You and I may be stunned, but God has an eternal plan that’s always at work.
Jesus own words indicate that He saw what was coming. Matthew 26:1-2 are Jesus’ words at the conclusion of His final body of teaching. Back in chapter 23 He thoroughly denounced the Pharisees in a series of seven woes. Then in chapter 24 He gave his apocalyptic discourse, which segued into His three parables of judgment in chapter 25. A common theme in all of this is faithfulness in tribulation. What does this mean? We heed the warnings against hypocrisy. We keep our lamps lit. We persevere in trial. We do the works of righteousness, which include feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting prisoners and the sick, welcoming the stranger, etc. And we persist in faith even amidst trials until Jesus returns.
Then after all this Jesus gave a reminder to His disciples of what was to come. Previously (in 20:25-28) Jesus had contrasted this with the worldly tendencies for accumulating power: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 26 It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many”.
So in Matthew 26:2 Jesus makes reference to the Passover. This was a festive Jewish holiday – sort of like the combined meaning of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the 4th of July all put together. Like Thanksgiving, there was a feast – not with turkey and mashed potatoes, but with unleavened bread, roasted lamb, bitter herbs, and wine to drink. Like Christmas, there was lots of holiday travel, with pilgrims migrating into Jerusalem to celebrate. And like July 4th it was a day to remember national deliverance, looking back to the exodus from slavery in Egypt and the miracle that followed the anointing of the Hebrew homes with the blood of the paschal lamb. It was a celebration of their liberation from Egypt and their journey to the Promised Land.
One Passover tradition that still carries on is the singing of Hallel psalms, which are Psalms 113 through 118. (We read these psalms in worship back during Lent.) They give a sense of setting. It was a season of light, beauty, and all the festivity of a great holiday in a celebratory environment.
Yet in the midst of it there was this dark conspiracy against the Son of God. It involved violence; it involved plotting and trickery – and all by “good religious people”.
This all can be very confusing, but the key to understanding it is to know that the suffering has redemptive value. It was John the Baptist who used Passover language to point out that the Lamb of God takes away the sins of the world (in John 1:29, 36). As it was in the Passover, where the lamb was slain, His blood was applied, and deliverance came by the grace of God – so it is with Jesus in the New Covenant. He’s the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. This gives a better perspective on what Jesus endured.
Another quote I found for this message is from Marva Dawn’s book Powers, Weakness, and the Tabernacling of God: "In faith, we believe that the terrors of Lent and of our lives are purifying terrors, confounding clauses in a covenant we may nonetheless trust. While they are washing all our certainties away, it is hard to believe they may also be cleansing us of our illusions, but that is the dare."
So we take this dare. One illusion is the cloak of religious respect and authority – as it was with Caiaphas. Another is the perceived infallibility of certain of Jesus’ disciples. And another is the supposed vanity of undeserved suffering. And that all is rooted in the myth of the ultimate dominance of evil and violence in the world – as if evil were ultimately greater than good.
But we take the dare. We believe in the atoning death of Jesus. And when we look on the cross we prepare to absorb a great act of violence that was (and is) surprising in so many ways. But it didn’t catch God by surprise.
I can’t remember who explained it to me, but I know it to be true: The opposite of love is not hatred. There’s too much emotion involved in hate. This is why couples can go from very emotional love to having great contempt. The opposite of love isn’t hate; the opposite of love is apathy.
And there’s a similar relationship between anguish and thanksgiving. It’s easy to think of them as opposites – since in anguish we’re suffering and we’re crying out to God. We’re asking for help. Or we’re lamenting our agony. We may be asking, “Why is this happening?” We may feel like God and life are against us.
With thanksgiving it can seem like the opposite. We’re thankful, grateful, and expressive of our gratitude. God and life seem to be on our side. Sometimes we’re relieved because of what we’ve been through. Other times we’re pouring out our hearts with thankful prayers and expressions to others, and/or we’re just going about life with a spirit of gratefulness. This is the opposite of anguish, right?
Not necessarily. I thought of this while I was studying Psalm 6:1-10. There the psalmist prayerfully contemplates his anguish. He feels like he’s under God’s wrath (6:1). He repeatedly asks for deliverance from his suffering (6:2-4). He yearns to be saved from death so that he can spend more time on this side of eternity praising God (6:5). He talks about crying himself into physical exhaustion (6:6-7) – and in doing so he illustrates the relationship between physical health and spiritual health. Often depression accompanies health problems.
But then, suddenly, the psalmist shifts his tone. He repeatedly says that he knows God has heard his prayers (6:8-9). The language follows his previous petitions. He had spoken of his terror and had asked God to turn to him (in 6:2-4), but now he envisions all his enemies turning away from him in retreat, in terror and disgrace (6:10).
This naturally begs the question: What caused this shift from anguish to thanksgiving? Was there a change in his circumstances? Probably not. Our circumstances aren’t as important as the attitude that we face them with. Our faith is in Jesus Christ, with the knowledge of His death and resurrection. These are the lenses we put on as we look over our circumstances. This can help us to face our anguish, and to come away with a spirit of thanksgiving.
The gospel message is that God is a God of great love. The Hebrew word used to describe it is “chesed” (in 6:4b). It’s one of those words with no single English equivalent, so it’s variously translated as love, mercy, steadfast love, unfailing love, or loyalty. The most famous rendering of it is in Psalm 23:6, which says, “Surely goodness and chesed will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” This is the anchor on which we all lean – and it’s true in all of life’s situations, whether they’re good or bad.
And just like the 23rd Psalm tells us, it’s a love that is eternal. So this can help us to understand Psalm 6:5, which says, “No one remembers you when he is dead. Who praises you from the grave?” This is a yearning to praise God on this side of eternity, which is a good thing. Paul had a similar thing in mind when he wrote in Philippians 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
So we look forward to our eternal home – to the house that has many mansions that Jesus goes to prepare for us (cf. John 14:2-3). But as long as we’re alive and breathing there is praise to give and there are reasons for us to be alive to God’s purposes. This is something to be thankful for – regardless of what kind of anguish we have to go through.
God bless you,
Pastor Andrew McHenry
I am a husband, a Congregational pastor, and a native Kansan currently living in Thermalito, California. In the past I have also been a prison chaplain and a youth pastor. Interests include reading, railroads, prog rock, KU, and the KC Royals. Opinions are my own and are not necessarily those of organizations I have been with.