In gods They Trust (Psalm 115)

In 1859, before a crowd of 25,000 people, Charles Blondin stepped out onto a tightrope strung across Niagara Falls. He was one of history’s most famous ropedancers and that day in June was a master performance. Not only did he walk the rope, he also ran on it, sat on it, lay down on it, and somersaulted along it. He carried out an old-timey camera on his back 200 feet over the span and snapped a picture of the crowd. He even took out a small stove so he could cook an omelet, lowering it to passengers on the famous Maid Of The Mist boat below.

If we saw David Copperfield or David Blaine doing it today, we’d assume it was some sort of camera trick. But, Charles Blondin was the real deal. You can look at photographs of him performing some of these feats, including carrying his manager Harry Colcord on his back from one side to another.

It’s reported that, on one occasion, after carrying Harry across the rope, Blondin “turned to a man in the crowd and asked him, ‘Do you think I could do that with you?’ ‘Of course,’ said the man. ‘I just saw you do it.’ ‘Well then,’ said Blondin, ‘Hop on and I’ll carry you across.’ ‘Not on your life,’ said the bystander.”

Psalm 115 is a song about trust. It compares the gods of this world to the God of heaven and confidently declares that Jehovah is not only trustworthy, but generous and caring and giving attention to you. Though many scholars feel that the song was written during a time of national distress, by the time the music ends, any singer would have their hearts filled to the brim with joy and confidence and excitement about what God was up to and what was still to come – that God was going to continue His gracious, extravagant work in their midst.

But the Psalm gives us this image: While God’s people sing of His greatness, outside there’s a crowd of unbelievers mocking God and His people. After all, how could an invisible God do anything?

How do we respond to a world that ridicules faith in the unseen? More importantly, how can we hang the weight of our lives, full of very real difficulties and obstacles on a God we cannot see? Psalm 115 not only gives us assurance, but sends us on our way with it rejoicing, so that the phrase ‘In God we trust’ isn’t just some tired slogan, but something we apply to the steps of our lives.

We begin in verse 1.

Psalm 115:1 – 1 Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory because of your faithful love, because of your truth.

This song includes request for deliverance, excitement about God’s blessing in our lives and anticipation of our future eternity in heaven, but along the way we’re never to lose sight of the fact that it all comes from the Lord. He is the fount of all good. There’s nothing in us that merits what God graciously gives. It is He Who is Sovereign, it is He who deserves all glory.

We notice that they repeat that phase, “not to us.” Have you ever had someone say, “Thank you,” then when you say, “Oh, don’t mention it,” they stop you and look you in the eye and say, “No…thank you.” There’s a sincerity in this opening line. The singers truly want all glory to go to God. When a person gets saved, God does a work of conforming Christians to be like Jesus Christ, but we admit that there’s still a part of us that wants glory for ourselves. There’s a fundamental change that needs to happen in our minds. In fact, humans have been so ruined by sin that we need a new mind given to us – the mind of Christ. Right from the beginning of this moment of worship, the singers jettison any desire for glory and instead offer their hearts to the Lord alone.

The opening of the song also reminds us of God’s love and truth. These are not only aspects of who God is, they are demonstrations of His incredible generosity. It is by God’s mercy, His faithful love, that we are not consumed. It is by His revealed truth that we are set free from bondage to sin.

Some of you are contemplating retirement and what you’ll “do” once you’ve clocked out for the last time. We can’t fathom all the things God could be doing with His ‘time’ and power. What has He decided to do? He has decided to be God with us.

Psalm 115:2 – 2 Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?”

Sometimes the world asks this question as a taunt and an insult. Sometimes it asks in anger and frustration, like when people say, “If God exists, why is there suffering?”

From our perspective there are two ways to think about verse 2. One is that it’s a prayer to God, asking Him to make Himself known in the world. In Acts 4 the disciples pray that God would do great and dramatic things in their midst so that the world would know that Jesus is Messiah. But we can also see verse 2 as a rhetorical question. Any objective observer has to admit there is a God outside our universe. One who designs. One who intervenes. One who revealed Himself when He came in human flesh. “[God’s] invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what he has made.” We can see the miraculous work of providence in every generation and every place throughout history.

Here is the simple answer to the question, though:

Psalm 115:3 – 3 Our God is in heaven and does whatever he pleases.

There is a sureness in this declaration. God is not just some sort of force. He’s a Person and He is in charge. No one can outmaneuver Him. No one can overthrow Him. No one can hide from Him. No one can lay a hand on Him or remove Him from His throne. He does whatever He pleases.

What does He please to do? Again, we consider all that God could be doing right now and then examine what He says brings Him pleasure. The Bible says it pleases God to interact with us. It pleases Him to deal with the problem of sin. It pleases Him to watch sinners repent. It pleases Him to adorn His people with salvation. It pleases Him to be with you. It pleases God to hold every atom of the cosmos together by His power, to raise up kingdoms and put down kingdoms, to change times and seasons in order to accomplish His unstoppable plan of grace in our lives and in this world. While the world mocks and ignores, this is what God does.

So now, let’s look for a moment at their gods.

Psalm 115:4-7 – 4 Their idols are silver and gold, made by human hands. 5 They have mouths but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see. 6 They have ears but cannot hear, noses, but cannot smell. 7 They have hands but cannot feel, feet, but cannot walk. They cannot make a sound with their throats.

Modern man may see himself as much more sophisticated than these ancient pagans who bowed down to statues of silver and gold, but the gods they worship today are just as powerless. Martin Lloyd-Jones wrote:

“A man’s god is that for which he lives, for which he is prepared to give his time, his energy, his money, that which stimulates him and rouses him, excites, and enthuses him.”

Today, the gods of man are often possessions or systems that make promises of security or a better world, yet they are just as powerless as a statue made out silver that tarnishes or gold that melts.

In 2013, the US government spent $2billion to build, a website that promised a healthier future for anyone and everyone in America. Its performance at launch was so abysmal that only six people in the entire country were able to sign up on the first day. As a political idol, it was just like what’s being described in these verses. If your god can be stolen or conquered or crash or voted out of power, then what sort of god is that?

We can contrast the gods of this world with the God of the Bible through each point in these verses. Our God was not fashioned out of materials mined from the earth. He made creation from nothing. Our God does speak. He speaks life into existence. He speaks commands to His people. He speaks kindness to the undeserving. Our God sees everything. His eyes roam to and fro, with nothing hidden from His gaze. We’re told He never takes His eyes off of us at any moment. Our God also hears. He hears our prayers and our praises. He’s listening for us, even for our groanings. He hears cries for help and calls for justice. Hearing the cries of the needy, He brings comfort. Our God even smells! Our praises rise like incense to Him, bringing Him pleasure and the smoke of His wrath billows from His nostrils. His hand is mighty to save and is placed in loving care on each one of His people. His hands are open to receive us. With His feet He walks with us, lighting our way along the path. With His voice He comforts and supports, He roars in victory and with it He thunders His decrees. He speaks and it is done.

Psalm 115:8 – 8 Those who make them are just like them, as are all who trust in them.

Ultimately, those who serve some other god end up the same: Tarnished, vulnerable, dead and wasted. If you’re not a Christian you’re headed for this same end. Looking back, it’s easy to say there’s no difference between Ra and Baal, Zeus and Ganesh. But the truth is, there’s no difference between them and any modern system that you’re trying to hang the weight of your life upon, not when it comes to your eternity. No difference between Vishnu and what men blasphemously call the almighty dollar. If your God is not outside time and space, you’ve got a real problem. Because this life will soon be over and you are going to stand before your Creator and be judged.

Psalm 115:9-11 – 9 Israel, trust in the Lord! He is their help and shield. 10 House of Aaron, trust in the Lord! He is their help and shield. 11 You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord! He is their help and shield.

James Montgomery Boice writes:

“If God tells us something once we should listen very carefully, because He is God. If He says something twice we should pay the most strict attention. How then if He repeats something three times? In that case, we should drop everything else we are doing, give our full attention to, study, ponder, memorize, meditate on and joyfully obey what God has said.”

Trust the Lord! In the Bible, to trust means that we are to boldly, confidently make God our refuge. To hang the weight of our lives on Him as Protector and Provider. To rely on His guidance for our courses and choices.

In Israel there were different levels of separation among God’s people that we see delineated here. You have the nation, the priests and then ‘God-fearers’ who weren’t ethnic Jews but had joined in with their assembly. And, under the law, there were distinct rules and privileges for each group.

Now, Jesus Christ has brought us into a new covenant. All those walls of separation and distinction have been broken down. Now we are, altogether, a family, a single generation of royal priests. It doesn’t matter if you work behind a pulpit or a pipe fitter. All have been unified in grace and purpose. Applying these verses, we are reminded that God is not simply to be acknowledged, but He is to be trusted. That He is the help we need for our nation, for our ministry, for our personal lives. And not only is He our help, He is our shield. In battle, it is the shield that sustains the blows, guarding the one behind it. Instead of you taking the impact from the sword or arrow, the shield does.

In How To Train Your Dragon, one of the Viking warriors is training young recruits in how to defend themselves against the attacks of their fire-breathing foes. He says, “Your most important piece of equipment is your shield. If you must make a choice between a sword or a shield, take the shield.”

With God as our help and shield, we don’t need to pay attention to the noise of the world. Whether it is mocking or threatening, we can persevere in confidence because our God is with us. And, as we saw in our study of Psalm 138, we need not be afraid of any foe, whether earthly or supernatural, because God is with us and for us and shields us with His limitless love and strength.

Psalm 115:12-13 – 12 The Lord remembers us and will bless us. He will bless the house of Israel; he will bless the house of Aaron; 13 he will bless those who fear the Lord— small and great alike.

God had given the nation of Israel covenant promises for physical blessings. He will not cancel out those promises. But to us different promises are made. When God speaks to us about the blessings He intends for our lives as Christians in the Church age, they aren’t for physical health and wealth. Rather, the promises are spiritual and eternal in nature. We learn in the New Testament that God blesses His people with spiritual growth and the development of spiritual fruit by which we bless others and build up the Church. We’re told that God’s promises to bless us with wisdom and increased faith and expanding joy and a greater capacity to serve others and endure hardship and bring honor to God. We also find that God’s blessings for us include a future plan for us to inherit the Kingdom, to see God, and receive heavenly rewards once this life comes to an end.

God’s heart has not changed. As He remembers Israel, He remembers us. Jesus promised He would never leave us or forsake us. Instead, He busies Himself in a constant effort to accomplish His unbreakable promises. And those promises will not only be kept to a certain few who seem significant or important from our way of thinking, they will be kept to all, both small and great alike.

Psalm 115:14-15 – 14 May the Lord add to your numbers, both yours and your children’s. 15 May you be blessed by the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Scholars tell us that the language used here indicates that God heaps blessings on His people. Piles of them. The Lord isn’t stingy or withholding. He’s extravagant in His gifts and kindness.

There’s an important contrast here: The Israelites were all too familiar with the gods of Canaan which demanded people burn their own children in sacrifice. The same thing happens so often today. People sacrificing children on the altar of convenience or career. But then we see the God of the Bible, who loves you and your children. Who invites your whole family to be brought together in a life of hopeful faith, filled with spiritual blessings. A God who lavishes love on a thousand generations. He’s not some sort of God who is only effective at harvest time or in certain geographical locations. He’s not only effective for four years at a time. He is always powerful, always King, always working.

Psalm 115:16 – 16 The heavens are the Lord’s, but the earth he has given to the human race.

As we trust God and go His way, He then trusts us to steward the world. He has given it to us as a gift that we might enjoy it and live in it and use it, but along with that we have a responsibility to tend it as God would. He has shared dominion with us, because He is generous. We should approach our relationship to the physical world in a Godly way, which means prioritizing compassion toward people, not being needlessly wasteful, and cherishing God’s creation.

Psalm 115:17-18 – 17 It is not the dead who praise the Lord, nor any of those descending into the silence of death. 18 But we will bless the Lord, both now and forever. Hallelujah!

This is not suggesting soul sleep or that there’s no worship in heaven (much the contrary). It’s simply saying that, for this life, once we die, we no longer offer God praise on the earth. The opportunities and responsibilities for worshipping God, giving Him glory, doing His work and spreading His word are for the living. And so, the song ends with a loud call of “hallelujah,” which means “Praise the Lord!” We’re to be like all the people involved in passing the olympic torch and keeping it aflame. We are to see what God has done for us and turn around and bless Him back. Of course, we cannot do for Him what He has done for us. But we can turn back and bless Him with loving, obedient, joyful hearts, full of praise and confidence.

Verse 17 gives us one more thing to think about: It’s a way for us to judge whether we’re spiritually dead or not. To be spiritually alive means we not only believe God and trust Him, but that we are praising Him, blessing Him, diverting the flow of our lives to bring Him glory. Are you on an ascending path, leading to heaven or a descending road, leading to death?

All around us there is difficulty, darkness, not to mention the jeers of the unbelieving world. We can still be sure God is good, that He is with us and that we can trust Him.

When Charles Blondin invited his manager, Harry Colcord onto his back for what seemed an impossible journey, he gave his manager the following instructions: “Look up, Harry.… you are no longer Colcord, you are Blondin. Until I clear this place be a part of me, mind, body, and soul. If I sway, sway with me. Do not attempt to do any balancing yourself.”

God invites us to rest securely in Him on this death-defying walk from shore to shore. He can do what no other god can. He can and will deliver us across. We want to be people who don’t simply watch with the crowd, but join Him in the fantastic, bringing Him glory through the offering of our lives. He’s ready to take us on and He can be trusted, both now and forever. Hallelujah!

Prophecy Update #636 – Build Back Better Worry

These are exciting times for believers in Christ. Especially if you are interested in Bible prophecy. Oddly, many believers are ignoring prophecy, even ridiculing those who think it is relevant to current events.

The Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA) changed its position on end times doctrine. The denomination recently voted to drop the word “premillennial” from its statement of faith.

We reserve a few minutes Sunday morning to suggest news, or trends, that seem to be predicted by the many yet-to-be-fulfilled prophecies in the Bible.

We are careful to use recognized, reliable sources for news. It helps not to be accused of sensationalism – sadly, something all too common among some who talk about the End Times.

We’re not saying the things we report are the fulfillment of prophecy – only that they are the things you’d expect in light of the Bible’s unfulfilled prophecies.

The final book of the Bible, the Revelation, predicts what the world will look like in the End Times – especially during the seven year Great Tribulation. The world will be under the rule of one government, one economic system, and one leader.

A global, one-world order, is being openly pursued by many of the world’s most powerful men.

The movement has a name – the Great Reset. It is described as “a proposal by the United Nations and the World Economic Forum (WEF) to rebuild the [global] economy sustainably following the COVID19 pandemic.”

The Resetters openly admit that they are taking advantage of the global pandemic to implement their ominous agenda. They see it as their opportunity to correct a world that was broken.

There are certain catch-phrases being used by those in support of the Great Reset. One of them is, Build Back Better.

You might recognize it as the Joe Biden campaign slogan. He has created a website,

Truth is, the slogan was already in use by Resetters. Biden’s use of it is a deliberate alignment with this movement.

Frank Hill of the North State Journal wrote, “Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” slogan, of which no one knew the meaning or purpose, is a direct lift from The Great Reset Manifesto, let’s call it, concocted by the dreamy-eyed elites of the world who attend annual ritzy, star-studded winter retreats in Davos, Switzerland under the auspices of the World Economic Forum.”

I read a good article about this on Reuters titled, The Great Reset is Trending.


Put simply, [the Great Reset] is the blueprint for a complete transformation of the world economy. There will be no money, no private property, no democracy. Instead, every key decision – what you do for a living, how much stuff you consume, whether you can take a vacation – will decided for you by unaccountable ‘experts.’

The people pushing for the Great Reset are perfectly open about their plan. Indeed, they can scarcely stop talking about it.

One of these people is Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Trudeau says: “Building Back Better means giving support to the most vulnerable while maintaining our momentum on reaching the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This pandemic has provided an opportunity for a reset. This is our chance to accelerate our pre-pandemic efforts to reimagine our economic systems that actually address global challenges like extreme poverty, inequality and climate change.”

It sounds innocuous enough. But in fact, there is deeper meaning to the phrases [Trudeau] uses: ‘Building Back Better’; ‘2030 Agenda’; ‘Sustainable Development; and ‘reset’ are all buzzwords for the complete transformation of the global economy in order to create a New World Order.

Radical changes are coming that some pundits have referred to a ‘before coronavirus’ (BC) and ‘after coronavirus’ (AC) era. We will continue to be surprised by both the rapidity and unexpected nature of these changes.

Many of us are pondering when things will return to normal. The short response is: Never. Nothing will ever return to the [so-called] ‘broken’ sense of normalcy that prevailed prior to the crisis because the coronavirus pandemic marks a fundamental inflection point in our global trajectory.

I don’t know what is going to happen with the Great Reset. It seems as though we are on the brink of the changes that will prepare the world’s population for the Great Tribulation.

I’m simply pointing out that this was predicted over 2000 years ago by John in the Revelation. Simultaneously we’re seeing the implementation and widespread acceptance of invasive biometric technologies that could be the precursors of the socio-economic system that will eventually be usurped by the antichrist.

The apostle Paul noted that the god of this age has blinded the eyes of nonbelievers. They need the light of the Gospel. That needs to be priority one with us. The church’s mission never changes: Go, and as you are going, make disciples.

We believe the resurrection and rapture of the church is imminent. It could happen any moment; nothing needs to happen before it. It will definitely happen before the Tribulation.

Jesus will return in the clouds. He will raise the dead in Christ. He will transform the bodies of living believers to glorified, resurrection bodies.
We will all join Him in Heaven while the earth endures one final seven-year campaign of severe evangelism.

Are you ready for the rapture? If not, Get ready; Stay ready; Keep looking up.

Ready or not, Jesus is coming!

The Bold And The Worshipful (Psalm 138)

Writers call them “time jumps.” It’s when the story they are telling jumps forward, or backward, in time.

The Christmas movie season is upon us. You will likely encounter a new or old version of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. You’ll jump with Ebenezer Scrooge to Christmas past, and to Christmas future. The things Scrooge witnesses in the past and future radically change his life in the present.

Psalm 138 seems to have been written by David at his coronation, on account of which he worships the LORD, who had made good His promise to him.

The psalm has time jumps within it:

There is a time jump to the future. In verses four and five we read, “All the kings of the earth shall praise You, O LORD, When they hear the words of Your mouth. Yes, they shall sing of the ways of the LORD, For great is the glory of the LORD.” I don’t think that happened during David’s reign. It hasn’t happened yet. It sounds like something that the Bible says will happen, in the Millennial Kingdom of God on the earth after Jesus’ Second Coming.

The psalm time jumps to the past. In verse three David spoke of a previous day “when I cried out, You answered me, And made me bold with strength in my soul.”

David chose to utilize time jumps to underscore what he would say in verse eight: “The LORD will perfect that which concerns me.”

God had begun a great work in David in the past; God was performing the work in the present; He would perfect it in the future.

Same with us! “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).

When you receive Jesus Christ, God saves you.

Everyday after that, He works to sanctify you – to make you more-and-more like Jesus.

At the resurrection and rapture of the church, your salvation will be complete as you receive your glorified body.

I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 Jesus Will Complete The Work He Has Begun In You Despite Supernatural Opposition, and #2 Jesus Will Complete The Work He Has Begun In You Despite Human Opposition.

#1 – Jesus Will Complete The Work He Has Begun In You Despite Supernatural Opposition (v1-3)

God’s great work of grace in changing us does not go unchallenged. We can expect opposition. And not just from other human beings. As Nick Fury said, “We learn that not only are we not alone, but we are hopelessly, hilariously outgunned.”

We’re introduced to supernatural beings in the unseen realm in verse one.

Psa 138:1  A Psalm Of David. I will praise You with my whole heart; Before the gods I will sing praises to You.

The Hebrew word translated “gods” is elohim. Isn’t that the name of Almighty God? Turns out, “No,” it is not the name of Almighty God.

One resource says,

“The word elohim occurs more than 2500 times in the Hebrew Bible, with meanings ranging from “gods” in a general sense (as in Exodus 12:12, where it describes “the gods of Egypt”), to specific gods (e.g., First Kings 11:33, where it describes Chemosh, “the god of Moab”), to demons, seraphim, cherubim, and other supernatural beings, and even to the spirits of dead humans (e.g., Samuel in First Samuel 28:13). There are also frequent references to YHWH, the Almighty God of Israel.”

Satan, fallen angels, demons – these, too, are elohim. Any being who lives in the unseen realm is an elohim.

The Almighty God, the God of Israel, YHWH, is an elohim. But note: While YHWH is an elohim, no elohim is YHWH. They are created beings; subordinate beings. The Bible always makes it clear no other is like Him.

If you want more on this, check out our study in this series on Psalm 82.

Let’s return to verse one:

Psa 138:1  A Psalm Of David. I will praise You with my whole heart; Before the gods I will sing praises to You.

At his coronation, David’s heart was filled with praises, and this was just the song for the occasion.

Exactly who the elohim in the audience were is not specified. But since later in this song he refers to crying out, needing help, I think we can safely say that evil elohim were involved.

You’d expect interference against David and Israel. There are elohim at work behind the scenes of the nations of the world. Here are two references that bear this out:

The prophet, Daniel, was praying. The angel Gabriel was dispatched to give Daniel information about the Last Days. Upon arriving, Gabriel explained, “from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard… but the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; and behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left alone there with the kings of Persia” (Daniel 10:12-13). A supernatural being, an elohim, was a “prince” assigned to Persia, and he sought to interfere with God’s plans and purposes for Daniel, and for Israel.

In the Revelation of Jesus Christ, we read that “Satan’s throne” was in the city of Pergamum (2:13). It may be a reference to an altar to Zeus that was there. But I see no reason not to take it literally. Elohim were headquartered there.

Satan has principalities and powers, rulers of the darkness of this world, in key positions behind the scenes of the nations to interfere with God’s plan in general, and God’s plan specifically for you.

If you stop there, it’s terrifying. In a battle with sinister elohim, by ourselves we are “hopelessly, hilariously outgunned.”

But we are not by ourselves, are we? Not by a long shot. God the Holy Spirit dwells within us. Greater is He that is in us than the elohim against us.

Psa 138:2  I will worship toward Your holy temple, And praise Your name For Your lovingkindness and Your truth; For You have magnified Your word above all Your name.

The “Temple” wasn’t built in David’s lifetime. He was either referring to the Tabernacle, or time jumping to the future Temple.

The attribute of God that was especially on David’s heart when he penned this psalm under inspiration was “lovingkindness.” David mentioned it in connection with “truth.” God’s lovingkindness is a truth to be held despite any feelings to the contrary.

The LORD’s lovingkindness was just as true during the years of David’s exile as they were at his coronation.

All of God’s attributes are “truth” regardless my circumstances or experiences.

“You have magnified Your word above all Your name” needs a better translation. Derek Kidner writes, “The meaning of [this phrase] can only be that God has fulfilled His promise in a way that surpasses all that He has hitherto revealed of Himself.”

For a long time, more than a decade at least, God’s promise that David would be king seemed improbable, if not impossible. Yet here he was, despite all supernatural interference.

Does it seem strange that evil elohim would be in a heavenly audience hearing David sing? We get a glimpse of something like this in the beginning of the Book of Job. In the ISV, we read, “One day, divine beings presented themselves to the LORD, and Satan accompanied them” (1:6). Strange as it may be, there was Satan, in Heaven with other elohim.

Psa 138:3  In the day when I cried out, You answered me, And made me bold with strength in my soul.

David cried out, and God answered it by strengthening what we call the inner man. That strengthening of soul produced the boldness David needed in order to wait on the promises of God. Though he stumbled along the way, he never lost sight of the LORD’s lovingkindness.

The Bible indicates that Christians will one day rule and reign with Jesus on the earth. Right now, we seem more like David in exile, hunted down as fugitives by the malevolent supernatural beings in Satan‘s army. Pray that God grant to you strength of soul by his indwelling Holy Spirit. Be bold in believing His promises to you.

#2 – Jesus Will Complete The Work He Has Begun In You Despite Human Opposition (v4-8)

Our physical battleground isn’t in the unseen realm. It is at home, at work, out in the world at large. The world is currently held captive by the god of this world, Satan. Without the need for possession, he takes captive nonbelieving human beings, enlisting them to do his will to interfere in your life.

Some things defy explanation apart from supernatural interference. So many incredible, nonsensical, things are happening right now on account of COVID19. A California judge ordered San Diego to reopen strip clubs while the county carries on with its crackdown on churches. Don’t even try to figure out the logic.

There is something supernatural going on behind the scenes of a decision like that.

For the sake of argument, let’s say the governing authorities have no malice in targeting churches. Don’t you think that devils do have malice, and want to take advantage of this opportunity to close churches?

An early church father said, “Nothing ordinarily so repairs the soul, and makes a person better, as a good hope of things to come” (Chrysostom). David’s “good hope of things to come” began in verse four.

Psa 138:4  All the kings of the earth shall praise You, O LORD, When they hear the words of Your mouth.
Psa 138:5  Yes, they shall sing of the ways of the LORD, For great is the glory of the LORD.

That’s gotta be future. I can’t remember a time in human history when “all the kings of the earth” praised the LORD. Or when all of the earth heard the Word of God.

That time is coming. At the end of the Revelation, the apostle John wrote concerning the New Jerusalem, “And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it… And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it (Revelation 21:24 & 26).

In Zechariah 14:16 we’re told, “And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.” This happens after the Great Tribulation, after the Second Coming of Jesus.

It’s reasonable to ask, “How does hope of the future help me now?” Hold that thought…

Psa 138:6  Though the LORD is on high, Yet He regards the lowly; But the proud He knows from afar.

The “lowly” are believers who are being opposed.

The “proud” is our opposition.

The “proud” seem on top, in power. Believers are oppressed – sometimes with no end in sight. David was no stranger to this kind of treatment:

His own family excluded him when the prophet Samuel came to their house to anoint the next king of Israel.

His brothers mocked him when David expressed shock that no one would accept the daily challenge of Goliath.

King Saul threw spears at David, then chased him, seeking his life.

All the while, David held to the hope of the future God had promised him.

The “LORD” “on high” condescends to involve Himself against those who oppose us. Think of it: Almighty God is for you.

The apostle Paul boldly said, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32).

Right after Paul said that, he rattled off quite a list of beings who are against us. What, then, gives us the victory now, not just in the future?

Psa 138:7  Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me; You will stretch out Your hand Against the wrath of my enemies, And Your right hand will save me.

The next time someone does asks, “How are you?”, tell them, “I walk in the midst of trouble.”

“I walk in the midst of trouble” could describe a believer pretty much any time. During times you might feel free from trouble, plans are being made against you by the ruler of this age’s accomplices.

“Revive.” It has a lot of possible meanings, including “preserved from the wrath of my enemies.” Your ultimate enemy was death. I say ‘was’ because death was defeated by Jesus as He died on the Cross, then rose from the dead. If you are in Christ, “to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

“To live is Christ” means, among other things, that everything He promises you is available. You have the Holy Spirit living in you, and you have every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies. All that you require to live out your life in godliness is yours.

I asked you to hold a question – “How does hope of the future help me now?” Hope in your future revives you. It breathes new life in you by the Holy Spirit.

“You will stretch out Your hand against the wrath of my enemies, And Your right hand will save me.”

Sorry lefties, but the “right hand,” in the Bible, is the power hand.

I like that I’m saved by God’s right hand, and that my enemies can easily be defeated by His left. It’s like He’s saying, “The LORD can beat my enemies with His right hand tied behind His back!”

Psa 138:8  The LORD will perfect that which concerns me; Your mercy, O LORD, endures forever; Do not forsake the works of Your hands.

If the LORD “will perfect that which concerns me,” why ask Him to “not forsake the work of His hands?”

Do you have a project that you started but have yet to finish? Maybe you have no time; or you ran out of money; or you simply lost interest it it.

You are a project that the LORD started but has yet to finish. He has all the time, and unlimited resources, for Project Gene. More importantly, He cannot, will not, lose interest in me.

Albert Barnes said,

He will complete what He has begun. He will not begin to interpose in my behalf, and then abandon me. He will not promise to save me, and then fail to fulfill his promise. He will not encourage me, and then cast me off. He will complete what He begins. He will not convert a soul, and then leave it to perish. “Grace will complete what grace begins.”

When David said, “don’t forsake me,” he was expressing a proper impatience for the LORD to accelerate His work in his life.

Truth is, progress in making us, in molding us, is often interrupted not by the LORD, but by us. Charles Ryrie said, “ A Christian of longer standing may not be spiritual not because he has had insufficient time, but during the years of his Christian life he has not allowed the Holy Spirit to control him.”

David would example this in his life. After he committed adultery with Bathsheba, and arranged for her husband to be killed, he made no spiritual progress.

He would say of that time, “When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away by my groaning all day long. My strength was exhausted as in a summer drought” (Psalm 32:3-4).

David repented, and David was revived. He experienced that the LORD’s mercy endures forever. It means He won’t quit. He won’t give up on us. He will finish what He has started.

Some of you may have experienced this. You were walking with Jesus, in the Word, in prayer, in fellowship. You fell away. For weeks… months… years… decades. The moment you repented, the LORD’s mercy was abundant.

Paul, Peter, and John were guys who jumped time in their writing:

Among the time jumps in Paul’s letters, he described the day that Jesus will, “Present [the church] to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27).

Peter jumped to the future when he wrote, “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up” (Second Peter 3:10).

John jumps in chapter four of the Revelation to show us the Great Tribulation, the Second Coming of Jesus, the Millennial Kingdom, and the New Jerusalem – and everything in between and after.

Peter does some time jumping to the past, talking about Noah and the global flood.

All of them apply their jumps to the present. Peter is a good example, saying, “what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness” (Second Peter 3:11).

Your hope in the future makes all the difference in your walk in the present. It revives.

Prophecy Update #635 – No Credit For You!

We reserve a few minutes Sunday morning to suggest news, or trends, that seem to be predicted by the many yet-to-be-fulfilled Bible prophecies.

We are careful to use recognized, reliable sources for news. It helps not to be accused of sensationalism – sadly, something all too common among some who talk about the End Times.

We’re not saying the things we report are the fulfillment of prophecy – only that they are the things you’d expect in light of the Bible’s unfulfilled prophecies.

The final book of the Bible, the Revelation, presents what the world will look like in the End Times – especially during the seven year Great Tribulation. The world will be under the rule of one government, one economic system, and one leader.

Furthermore, it describes a system of participation in society and the economy that can be totally controlled by the the government. In its most extreme form, we read, “no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.”

I’ve talked before about China and what is called, “Social Credit.” It is a system that, quite literally, controls the participation of citizens in everyday purchases and activities.

Each citizen is given a social credit score, with rewards for those who have a high rating and punishments for those with low scores.

Millions of Chinese individuals and businesses have been labelled as untrustworthy on an official blacklist banning them from any number of activities, including accessing financial markets or traveling by air or train, as the use of the government’s social credit system accelerates.

In 2018, for example, China’s Global Times proudly reported that its social credit system had blocked more than 11.14 million flights and 4.25 million train trips of people who were behind in their debts.

The idea, according to China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), is to make sure that “discredited people become bankrupt.” The ultimate goal is to “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step,” according to the Chinese government.

You expect a system like that in China. It could never happen here, could it?

I read an article this week titled, Uh-oh: Silicon Valley is building a Chinese-style social credit system.


Many Westerners are disturbed by what they read about China’s social credit system. But such systems, it turns out, are not unique to China. A parallel system is developing in the United States, in part as the result of Silicon Valley and technology industry user policies, and in part by surveillance of social media activity by private companies.

The New York State Department of Financial Services announced earlier this year that life insurance companies can base premiums on what they find in your social media posts. That Instagram pic showing you teasing a grizzly bear at Yellowstone with a martini in one hand, a bucket of cheese fries in the other, and a cigarette in your mouth, could cost you. On the other hand, a Facebook post showing you doing yoga might save you money.

Airbnb can disable your account for life for any reason it chooses, and it reserves the right to not tell you the reason. The company’s canned message includes the assertion that “This decision is irreversible and will affect any duplicated or future accounts. Please understand that we are not obligated to provide an explanation for the action taken against your account.” The ban can be based on something the host privately tells Airbnb about something they believe you did while staying at their property. Airbnb’s competitors have similar policies.

It’s now easy to get banned by Uber, too. Whenever you get out of the car after an Uber ride, the app invites you to rate the driver.
What many passengers don’t know is that the driver now also gets an invitation to rate you. Under a new policy announced in May: If your average rating is “significantly below average,” Uber will ban you from the service.

There’s something brewing called “The Equality Act.” It is described this way:

The Equality Act is a bill in the United States Congress, that, if passed, would amend the Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, public education, federal funding, credit, and the jury system.

An article in The Federalist was titled, Equality Act Would Be A Big Nudge Towards A US Social Credit System.

The Equality Act builds on most of the elements needed to establish something very much like China’s social credit system. It undermines individual freedom of expression. It extends government direction and control over speech. And it provides for government and private punishment, both material and social, on citizens who don’t comply.

I don’t know what is going to happen with the Equality Act. I’m simply pointing out that the world predicted in the Bible 2000+ years ago is ready for launch.

We believe the resurrection and rapture of the church is imminent. It could happen any moment; nothing needs to happen before it. It will definitely happen before the Tribulation.

Jesus will return in the clouds. He will raise the dead in Christ. He will transform the bodies of living believers to glorified, resurrection bodies. We will all join Him in Heaven while the earth endures one final seven-year campaign of severe evangelism.
Are you ready for the rapture? If not, Get ready; Stay ready; Keep looking up.

Ready or not, Jesus is coming!

Don’t Go Breaking My Heart (Acts 21:2-16)

In World War 2, the Eager Beavers were a ragtag B17 crew in the Pacific theater. They were known for volunteering for dangerous recon assignments, some of which would even be considered suicide missions. On the morning of June 16, 1943, the Eager Beavers accepted a mission no one else wanted. They were to fly to the islands of Buka and Bougainville to gather photo intelligence for the upcoming Allied invasion. There were some problems, though: They’d have to fly hundreds of miles unescorted into enemy territory. And, to get usable pictures, they would have to fly steadily for 20 minutes, undoubtedly while being engaged by enemy fighter planes.

At 4am the beat up and battle-scarred bomber took to the sky for what General George Kenney would later call “a mission that still stands out in my mind as an epic of courage unequaled in the annals of air warfare.” They reached their target, were engaged by at least 20 enemies, and fought through 45 minutes of continuous combat. 2nd Lt. Joseph Sarnoski was one of two men to receive the Medal of Honor for his efforts on that flight. The pilot did as well. The rest of the crew received the the Distinguished Service Cross for their part and nearly all of them were awarded Purple Hearts for injuries sustained. Lt. Sarnoski gave his life in the fight, even waving off medical attention so he could stay at his gun. Two minutes after he downed one of the enemy fighters he succumbed to his wounds. Sarnoski would’ve been sent home just 3 days later. Records show that he didn’t have to join the mission, but he felt it his duty to go and do his part, not counting his life dear to himself.

In war we understand that stories like that. We honor the courage of those who do not make personal safety their life’s goal. We accept that, at times, people will be sent to make the ultimate sacrifice because there is a greater mission being accomplished. And, if every soldier, sailor, marine or airman said “No, my personal security is more important,” then there would be no victory.

The problem for us is that so often it doesn’t feel like we’re on the front lines of an all-important war. Day-to-day life with its many distractions can keep us from seeing how God is leading us. And, as we live our regular lives, we can start to forget what our spiritual objectives are. We start to focus on safety, security and success in a way that might actually hinder the advance of the Gospel and discourage others in their walk with Jesus.

These were issues in play as Paul moved ever-closer to Jerusalem in Acts 21. As we read through the travel log, we sense that the story is building to a dramatic climax. At the same time we also see a lot of Christians, Godly Christians with grace and gifting and passion for the Lord, living out their regular lives, but in this case, losing a bit of perspective when it comes to how they were counseling Paul. There are a lot of places where we could insert ourselves in the story tonight. And we can see how God can use regular Christians, doing regular Christian things to accomplish His amazing providence. At the same time, we’ll see that a loss of perspective can lead us into wrong steps which contradict God’s leading and discourage others along the way.

We begin at verse 2.

Acts 21:2 – 2 Finding a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, we boarded and set sail.

Keep your eyes open for providence in this section. Providence is God providing for His will to be done in this world. Dr. J. Vernon McGee defines it as “the means by which God directs all things.” How is it possible that Israel was able to survive and produce the Messiah when Pharaoh systematically tried to destroy them and Haman and Herod and all the rest? God provided the way. Providence, however, does not mean that God causes everything to happen. God is not the author of evil. God does not tempt you. God, in His strength, has given human beings a freedom to choose. He freed the wills of Adam and Eve and He has freed the wills of each human afterward. But, despite our freedom, He will accomplish His purposes. And we find that, in God’s will, there are areas of wiggle room. For example: Mordecai said plainly to Esther: “God is giving you the opportunity to be used to deliver His people, but if you won’t do it, then deliverance will arise from somewhere else.” That’s providence as opposed to what we would call determinism. Think of Moses, also used by God to deliver Israel. Yet, at one point before Moses even made it back to Egypt, God confronted Moses and planned to kill him because he had failed to circumcise his son.

In this passage, we’ll see some wonderful, tender providence. Wherever Paul lands, God provides shelter and supply for him in the homes of loving Christians. But, here in verse 2 we see that they hadn’t been told which ship to take. They went and found one. Would they take a smaller vessel that hugged the coastline? Or would they board a larger liner that would sail straight across the sea? They made a choice and then through it God provided what was needed.

Acts 21:3 – 3 After we sighted Cyprus, passing to the south of it, we sailed on to Syria and arrived at Tyre, since the ship was to unload its cargo there.

Paul knew he was headed for arrest and suffering. He had said so in the last chapter. Knowing that he was definitely headed for hard times, maybe to his own death, it probably was a hard thing to pass Cyprus without stopping. There were friends there – many people he was a father to in the faith. This route they were taking would also bypass Antioch, his home church, full of friends and family who he loved so much. But, this was the mission. Remember, God the Holy Spirit was compelling him to go. There was something for him in Jerusalem. Not to mention that he and the 8 brothers traveling with him were bringing financial aid to the struggling church there.

Paul didn’t prioritize his own emotional wants and needs. None of these guys did. These were not the kinds of guys who believed that line you hear sometimes: “You have to love yourself first before you can love someone else.” That’s an impossible formula, because real love always includes self-sacrifice. Instead, as they passed Cyprus and Paul, I’m sure, felt that twinge of disappointment or heartache, he was able to strengthen himself in the Lord and be reminded that he was following a trustworthy God, who is good and loving and full of grace.

Now, as we read this section, we note that sometimes Dr. Luke will skip over years of time and then sometimes he zooms in on a few days. That’s what’s happening here. And so much of it seems very routine. And that’s a good thing because we are not apostles. We do not find ourselves in the middle of some miraculous revival. We’re living what we would call regular lives. And that’s what we see happening among the Christians in these various cities. A lot is going on with Paul, but as he passes through we see believers in Tyre and Ptolemais and Caesarea living normal lives. People with homes and families and spiritual gifts and a desire to honor God. And what we’ll see is that even though we’re not apostles doesn’t mean we’re not an important part of God’s work.

Acts 21:4a – 4 We sought out the disciples and stayed there seven days.

Paul and his companions went and found the Christians living in Tyre. There’s a very simple devotional question for us to ask: Could someone find us as the Christians in our neighborhood? If someone was in need, whether they were fellow believers or nonChristians seeking help, if inquiries were made, would we be marked as disciples?

The Church in America has not been driven underground yet. And, certainly, in times of violent persecution things are a little different. But right now, despite the pressures we face, we are still allowed to be Christians. There’s no need for us to be camouflaged about it. We’re to shine like light in the dark, a city on a hill, radiating the love and the truth of Jesus Christ to the world around us.

The second part of that devotional question is: Once found, are we ready to serve? This was probably a surprise visit for the believers there in Tyre, but they were ready to extend help and support when it was needed.

Acts 21:4b – Through the Spirit they told Paul not to go to Jerusalem.

Some commentators suggest that Paul, throughout this whole portion of his life, was completely out of step with God. That he was actually in sin for his refusal to listen to the Holy Spirit. They use this verse as evidence. But, here’s what we know: We know that the Holy Spirit had authorized Paul to tell all the Christians of the church age: “Follow me as I follow Christ.” We know that the Spirit had compelled him to go to Jerusalem. And we know that, after he gets there, Jesus Himself will appear to him and say, “Take courage [Paul]! For as you have testified about Me in Jerusalem, so it is necessary for you to testify in Rome.” So Jesus signed off on this trip.

So what should we make of this statement in verse 4? Well, as Paul has already said, in every city he was receiving messages from the Lord, telling him that chains and afflictions were waiting for him at the end of the line. What the Spirit was sending as a “heads up” the Christians were delivering as a “hold off.” It’s going to happen again in a few verses.

Now, before we move on, let’s think about this: The Gospel came to Troas as a result of Paul’s pre-Christian persecution of the Church. That’s providence! The man who sought to destroy God’s people has now been redeemed, transformed, and is being ministered to by the very people who were driven out of Jerusalem by his violence. Sharing a meal and a room in the house might seem small compared to planting churches, writing Scripture and working miracles, but it was such a blessing and a help to Paul. You see, in towns like Tyre, the inns frequently doubled as brothels. Jesus promised that even a cup of cool water has eternal merit in heaven’s record books.

Acts 21:5-6 – 5 When our time had come to an end, we left to continue our journey, while all of them, with their wives and children, accompanied us out of the city. After kneeling down on the beach to pray, 6 we said farewell to one another and boarded the ship, and they returned home.

Some of the most meaningful ministry is done in the home. What a beautiful thing to see these families together in prayer and togetherness. If you have plans for how you want to serve God and they don’t include your family or your local church, you’re missing something essential. We want to be creating opportunities for our kids and families to pray and serve together.

Acts 21:7 – 7 When we completed our voyage from Tyre, we reached Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and sisters and stayed with them for a day.

God provided another group of caring friends at the next stop. Our culture tends to be more skeptical and standoffish. It’s good for us to be reminded that the world will know we are Christians by our love for one another. It’s ok to have differences of opinion and certain boundaries and all that, but we want to let the Lord grow a kind of love in us that gives food and shelter to the guy who killed some of our friends. That’s what’s happening here. That’s who Paul was.

Acts 21:8-9 – 8 The next day we left and came to Caesarea, where we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the Seven, and stayed with him.

It’s been 20 years since we last saw Philip in Acts. He’s already been such a fine example to us of faithfulness and boldness, but here he shines again in his forgiveness and humility. Paul’s sin had personally impacted Philip’s life. And now that Paul had become the great apostle! Philip doesn’t complain or withhold or make passive aggressive comments. He brings Paul into his house and introduces him to the family.

As the team relaxed in his house, Philip would’ve been an incredible resource to Luke, who was gathering accounts and testimonies for the books he was writing. To Timothy, who was called to be a pastor and would be told by Paul to “do the work of an evangelist.” Around the table they would’ve heard the stories of revival in Samaria and the conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch. At the same time, we realize that, despite his history and the amazing way that he had been used by God, despite his gifting as an evangelist, Philip wasn’t too important to still wait tables. His house became a B&B for 9 weary travelers, headed toward Jerusalem.

Acts 21:9 – 9 This man had four virgin daughters who prophesied.

Again, Luke draws our attention to the family ministry. Raising kids in the Lord isn’t less important than being an evangelist. We don’t need to rank service to God. And it’s not about picking one or the other saying, “I did this, so I did my part.” It’s about calling and gifting and God’s leading in your life. God called Philip to evangelize and raise kids. He called Paul to evangelize and write Scripture. He calls you and I to certain duties and opportunities. And they will not only be outside the home. Our service to the Lord begins in our own house.

A word to young people before we move on: Seek out your gift. If you were being listed in the book of Acts, how would you be described? Would you be included as a prayer or a servant of God?

Acts 21:10-11 – 10 After we had been there for several days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 He came to us, took Paul’s belt, tied his own feet and hands, and said, “This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews in Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him over to the Gentiles.’ ”

We’ve met Agabus before when he gave an earlier prophecy that a famine was coming to the Roman world. And then you know what happened? A famine came to the Roman world. He was bona fide. Leading up to the election some of our brothers and sisters in more charismatic circles were making a bunch of specific prophecies about Donald Trump that didn’t come true. One prominent pastor made a public prophecy, then apologized for it being wrong, then removed his apology and now has said, “If the outcome remains the same, I will repost my apology video. If my prophetic word turns out to be right, I will do the chicken dance in my spandex.” The Bible is pretty clear that if you say you’re a prophet, make a prophecy and it doesn’t come to pass, then you’re not a prophet. And you should be very thankful you don’t live under the Mosaic Law!

Now, what Agabus said here was not news to Paul. But it was shocking to the other Christians at the meeting.

Acts 21:12 – 12 When we heard this, both we and the local people pleaded with him not to go up to Jerusalem.

The reaction was the same the fine folks at Tyre had, only this time it included Luke and the other guys traveling with Paul. They were desperately trying to convince Paul to not go to Jerusalem so he could avoid suffering. And what we learn here is two-fold: First, that personal safety, security and success is not the end goal for a Christian life. And, second, what we want for the people we love is not always what God wants. They wanted Paul safe and doing ministry throughout the world. But God did not want that at this point. God wanted Paul in front of rulers and kings, ultimately the emperor of Rome. The price for that opportunity was going to be high. It was going to cost Paul a lot of hardship and suffering and loss of freedom. But that’s what the Lord wanted.

Now, we’re seeing here that even dedicated, Godly, Spirit-filled Christians can make a mistake. As students, we can look at see that they were focused on a wrong priority. God had just spoken through Agabus about what was going to happen, and then they said, “Let’s avoid that.” Jesus Himself had said “Remember Lot’s wife: whoever seeks to save their lives will lose it.” While He was speaking of the end times, He was also clearly teaching that having a temporal, material set of priorities would lead to disaster for a spiritual life. Instead, God’s people are commanded to take up their cross daily, dying to self.

When we turn the wheel of our own lives or when we give advice to others, the highest goal of a Christian is not “whatever you do, avoid suffering and instead try to be successful.” This is an important word for parents who have a duty not to raise their kids into material wealth, but into faithful service to the Lord. Don’t tell your kid not to do something just because you think the paycheck won’t be big enough. Teach them to follow the Lord, no turning back. Paul’s friends, out of love, were pressuring him to change course, and it was a huge discouragement to him.

Acts 21:13 – 13 Then Paul replied, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”

People around us are headed for suffering. The Church needs to rally together to strengthen each other for it, not undermine each other’s stability. We need to have a Biblical approach to difficulty and a Biblical perspective on life so that we can support one another when we’re weak.

Acts 21:14 – 14 Since he would not be persuaded, we said no more except, “The Lord’s will be done.”

These believers are mature and Spirit-filled, so despite their short lapse, they snap out of it quickly and once again have a right perspective. They weren’t angry. They surrendered to the Lord and trusted that His will was good and worth pursuing.

As we make decisions or share advice, the thesis of our thoughts should be: What is God’s will? From that point we advise and pray and plan.

Acts 21:15-16 – 15 After this we got ready and went up to Jerusalem. 16 Some of the disciples from Caesarea also went with us and brought us to Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we were to stay.

Though the prophecy centered on Paul, it’s good to see that these other Christians (both the locals and his gang of 8) didn’t chicken out. They knew that trouble was waiting in Jerusalem, and still they walked with him. Verse 15 says: “We packed our bags.” They were deploying with him. And once again God provided friends, shelter and help along the way. Through these verses we see there is a spot for everyone: Kids and dads and moms and wives, the young and the elderly. We’re all part of God’s providence. Our portion may not be “great” in the eyes of men, maybe we’re just providing a meal or two, but it’s great in God’s eyes. It’s part of the victory He’s winning.

The Eager Beavers weren’t the ones to drop the bomb and end the war, but their part was necessary. Luckily for all of us, they didn’t shrink from the cost. Some of them paid in full.

You and I may, in one sense, live a very regular, day-to-day life. But, on the spiritual level, we are part of God’s providence and part of a cosmic struggle. It may cost us dearly to do our part, but we can be sure that even the little missions matter. So, we must keep His purposes as our aim. Our lives are not about our own safety, security and success. They’re meant to be much, much more than that. We follow Him into eternal victory, fearing no evil, no turning back.

We Tone The Night (Psalm 134)

Those of you who are old enough… Do you remember when you would go to a theater to watch a movie? Those were good times.

I especially liked the trailers. You know, the previews for upcoming movies. They preceded the movie, but that wasn’t always the case.
When movies were sent to theaters on film, the previews were added to the end of the reel; hence, trailers.

End credits are another story. They have gotten longer and longer over the years. Ten… Twelve… Sixteen minutes is not unusual. Why not leave? We are forced to watch them because the producers have added mid-credit and end-of-credit scenes.

Gang Boss… Gaffer… Grip… Wrangler… Best Boy. Who cares, beyond their moms? No one ever says, “Look – isn’t that the Gang Boss from Rogue One?” Instagram isn’t blowing up with Best Boy selfies.

These folks are absolutely essential to the movie. Without them behind the scenes, there would be no scenes.

Psalm 134 introduces us to some end-credit-like servants behind the scenes of the annual feasts. Look at verse one: “You servants of the LORD, Who by night stand in the house of the LORD!”

We will see that this special unseen night shift included workers and watchmen.

Can we see ourselves in this psalm? Sure.

In First Thessalonians 5:6 we read, “Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober.”
In the Revelation, Jesus told us, “And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work” (22:12).

Don’t sleep; you’ve got the night shift and should watch and work, behind the scenes of the great drama unfolding, because the Lord is coming.

I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 You Are The Lord’s Behind-the-Scenes Worker, and #2 You Are The Lord’s Behind-the-Scenes Watchman.

#1 – You Are The Lord’s Behind-the-Scenes Worker (v1-2)

Those of you who are old enough… Do you remember when you could go to a magical place called Disneyland? Those were good times.

Over 1500 workers were employed on the night shift to get the park ready for the next-day’s guests.

The Temple in Jerusalem required a lot of night shift workers. It’s hard to be totally accurate about exactly what went on overnight. Both Jewish and Gentile sources are spotty at best; and they sometimes disagree on details.

We don’t need to know exact details. We only need to realize that there was a lot to be done. Whether it was the Feast of Passover & Unleavened Bread, or Pentecost, or Tabernacles, Jerusalem would swell with pilgrims coming to the Temple for the prescribed days of those festivals. The numbers of pilgrims is hard to calculate. At its lowest it had to be tens of thousands.

Sometimes at a large gathering, e.g., a dinner, the host will recognize the kitchen staff, or others, who “made it all possible.” That is essentially what happens in verses one and two.

Psa 134:1  A Song of Ascents. Behold, bless the LORD, All you servants of the LORD, Who by night stand in the house of the LORD!

As the returning pilgrims say, adios, to Jerusalem, we say, au revoir to the Songs of Ascent – Psalms 120 through 134. These going-up-to-worship songs, Israel’s festival playlist, end fittingly in 134.

The pilgrims pause to recognize those “servants of the LORD, Who by night stand in the house of the LORD!”

In the Old Testament book of Second Chronicles, in chapter nine, some of the general duties of workers in the Temple are listed. Let me read you an edited passage:

The gatekeepers were assigned to the four directions: the east, west, north, and south… in this trusted office were four chief gatekeepers; they were Levites. And they had charge over the chambers and treasuries of the house of God. And they lodged all around the house of God because they had the responsibility, and they were in charge of opening it every morning… Now some of them were in charge of the serving vessels, for they brought them in and took them out by count. Some of them were appointed over the furnishings and over all the implements of the sanctuary, and over the fine flour and the wine and the oil and the incense and the spices. And some of the sons of the priests made the ointment of the spices. [Some] of the Levites… had the trusted office over the things that were baked in the pans. And some… were in charge of preparing the showbread for every Sabbath. [There were] the singers… Levites, who lodged in the chambers, and were free from other duties; for they were employed in that work day and night.

The “gatekeepers” were the watchmen we will discuss in our second point. Notice some of the additional duties: Treasury security guard, those charged with the vessels and implements, those who oversaw the furnishings, perfumers, and bakers. It isn’t an exhaustive list. There was plenty of additional work to do.

Let’s see if we can make a biblical application to the church. The Jews attended the annual feasts. There were seven altogether, but only three were required.

We know that all seven of the feasts pointed forward to Jesus:

Jesus was the final Passover lamb, the Lamb of God slain for the sins of the world. He died on the Cross exactly when the lambs were being slain in the Temple.
Passover included the Feast of Unleavened Bread. It pointed to Jesus’ sinless life (as leaven is a picture of sin in the Bible), making Him the perfect sacrifice for our sins.

• First Fruits pointed to Jesus’ resurrection as the first fruits of the righteous. Jesus was resurrected on this very day, which is one of the reasons that Paul refers to him in First Corinthians 15:20 as the “first fruits from the dead.”

• Pentecost occurred fifty days after the beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread and pointed to the great harvest of souls and the gift of the Holy Spirit for both Jew and Gentile, who would be brought into the kingdom of God during the Church Age. The Church was established on this day when God poured out His Holy Spirit and 3000 Jews responded to Peter’s great sermon and his first proclamation of the Gospel.

• Trumpets was the first of the fall feasts. Many believe this day points to the rapture of the church when Jesus will appear in the heavens as He comes for His bride, the church. The Rapture is always associated in Scripture with the blowing of a loud trumpet (First Thessalonians 4:13-18 & First Corinthians 15:52).

• The Day of Atonement points to the Second Coming of Jesus when He will return to earth. That will be the Day of Atonement for the Jewish remnant when they “look upon Him whom they have pierced,” repent of their sins, and receive Him as their Messiah.

• The Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths) points to the Lord’s promise that He will once again “tabernacle” with His people when He returns to reign over all the world.

When we meet on the first day of the week, following the custom of the early church, it be like celebrating all four feasts that were fulfilled, and the three that will be fulfilled.

When the Lord died on the Cross, one of the miracles that accompanied His accomplishment was that the veil in the Temple, that kept the Ark of the Covenant out of view, was torn from top-to-bottom.

It forever signified that access to God was immediate and for everyone through Jesus Christ. It communicated that everything preceding the veil was now done away with. All the sacrifices and ceremonies were fulfilled in Jesus.

The gathering of the church to celebrate Jesus requires behind-the-scenes work and workers. Let me ask you this – not to burden you, but to make a point. Can you name all of our Children’s Ministry workers? I can’t!!

Yet they have prepared all week to minister to children Jesus desires would come to Him.

Back to our psalm… Verse one mentions those who by night stand in the house of the Lord. The passage we heard from Chronicles specifically mentioned “singers… the Levites, who lodged in the chambers, and were free from other duties; for they were employed in that work day and night.”

As I mentioned, details are spotty. But from these two passages I think it safe to say that there was singing in the Temple all through the night, every night.

Why not? We know that the earthly Temple was patterned after the Temple in Heaven (Hebrews 8:5). In the Revelation, in Heaven, we read that there is constant worship singing.

Commentator Derek Kidner wrote, “The Temple was never left without… Levites, to… sing praises in it.”

Should we form choirs that sing 24/7 while we are not having services? It’d be hard to fill some slots.

Not necessary IF we obey the apostle Paul’s exhortation that we each, “[speak] to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19). It is an example of what we mean when we say that everything is fulfilled in Jesus. The constant worship in the Temple is replaced by constant worship in our hearts.

Psa 134:2  Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, And bless the LORD.

A quick word regarding lifting your hands, and worship posture in general. A good rule to follow when you feel led to express worship in a more physical manner is this: Do not disturb. Will your movement disturb others, distracting them? Will it call attention to you, instead of to the Lord? In First Corinthians 14:32, in a passage about orderly worship, the apostle Paul said we can control ourselves; and we should, for the sake of others.

The bakers were baking for the LORD; the perfumers were perfuming for the LORD.

In the church, we are told, “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23-24).

That’s great – until you start to think that what you are doing for the Lord is menial, or that it doesn’t matter. If it is service for the Lord, and it is done as unto Him, it cannot be menial, and it does matter.

In one of the great movie sequences of all time, Daniel Russo was given three tasks:

Wax car.
Paint fence.
Sand floor.

Mr. Miyagi gives him very explicit instructions about how to perform each task. “Wax on; wax off.” Daniel despairs, thinking what he is doing has no connection to karate.

Until Mr. Myagi takes him through the sequence. “Show me wax car… Show me paint fence… Show me sand floor.” The repetitive motions had become second-hand reactions and functioned as defensive blocks.

I think sometimes the Lord says to us, “Show Me clean toilet.” “Show Me wash feet.”

#2 – You Are The Lord’s Behind-the-Scenes Watchman (v3)

Somewhere during our study of the psalms we mentioned that many are antiphonal. Loosely defined, that means they are written so that the singers are responding to one another.

In Psalm 134, it seems verses one and two are the good-bye recognition of the pilgrims directed to the night shift. That makes verse three the response of those tireless, mostly anonymous workers.

Psa 134:3  The LORD who made heaven and earth Bless you from Zion!

As if they had said, “We will lift up our hands and bless the LORD; now go in peace, and may God shower down his blessings upon you!”

The “heavens” is the universe God created. In it is the earth upon which He placed mankind.

In all of that created universe, in all its splendor and wonder, on the earth… “Zion,” Jerusalem, is arguably the most important geography. It is the spiritual center. It is the place God chose to dwell among His people in the Ark of the Covenant, in the Holy of Holies, in the Temple.

All “blessing” comes from God and thus, in a sense, it comes from “Zion,” from Jerusalem.

Jesus died on the Cross at Calvary just outside of Jerusalem. He was buried; He rose from the dead there. When He comes again, in His Second Coming, it will be to Jerusalem. He will rule over the world on David’s throne in Jerusalem.

The future seven-year Great Tribulation is a time when God will be dealing especially with the Jews; and much of it will focus on Jerusalem and the Promised Land.

Let’s talk specifically about the night watchmen at the gates. We have the most agreed upon information about them. One reliable source, the Jewish Encyclopedia, says the following:

A strict watch over the Temple was maintained, the guard being composed of three priests and twenty-one Levites. The Levites kept guard as follows: One at each of the five gates of the mount entrances; one at each of the four corners within the mount enclosure; one at each of the five important gates of the courts; one at each of the four corners within the court; one at the Chamber of Sacrifice; one at the Chamber of Curtains; and one behind the Holy of Holies. The captain of the guard saw that every man was alert, chastising a priest if found asleep at his post, beating him with his staff, and sometimes even punishing him by burning his shirt upon him, as a warning to others (Midrash i. 1).

The info about shirt-burning comes to us through what is called midrash, which is ancient Jewish interpretation of the Scriptures.

The watchmen – they didn’t know when their captain might visit their posting. Other reliable sources explain that the napping watchman would puff-up his outer garment as a pillow to rest his head upon. Caught napping, his captain would burn his puffy-shirt.

Watching, staying awake, not slumbering, are all exhortations given to us as believers in the Church Age. We’re the watchmen, the watch-women, the watch-children.

Our Captain is Jesus. He could come to resurrect the dead believers of the Church Age, and to rapture we who are alive, at any moment.

If He needs to chastise me for slumbering, I know that Jesus only chastens those He loves, for our own good.

Commentators see a devotional insight in Psalm 134. They compare the night watches with afflictions, sufferings, troubles of all kind.

I came across a quote attributed to C.S. Lewis that is appropriate. “Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say “My heart is broken.”

When you find yourself in a difficult night watch, be encouraged by Paul and Silas singing praises while in the disgusting, dismal, dreadful, dank, deep, dirty, dreary, dark, Philippian dungeon.

Transform your troubles into a sanctuary in which you bless the Lord.

Human history is a drama being played-out. It’s been called The Romance of Redemption. God’s love was spurned by our original parents. But they had no idea the length, the breadth, and the depth of His love. He would redeem them, restore them.

God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. The drama is one story, told in 66 books, that progressively reveals how God sent Jesus to woo us back to a relationship with Him.

There are a kind of end credits in the Bible. It’s the Book of Life. If you’re saved, your name is found written there.

If you die in your sins, without Jesus, your name won’t be found in the Book of Life. It will appear in other books, pertaining to the lost.

Rev 20:12 And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books.
Rev 20:15  And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.

The Lake of Fire, and an eternity of conscious suffering, need not be your end-of-credits scene.

Prophecy Update #634 – Go Global Or Go Home

We reserve a few minutes Sunday morning to suggest news, or trends, that seem to be predicted by a literal, futurist reading of the Bible.

We are careful to use recognized, reliable sources for news. There is a lot of sensationalism surrounding unfulfilled Bible prophecy, and we don’t want to add to it.

We’re not saying the things we report are the fulfillment of prophecy – only that they are the things you’d expect in light of the Bible’s unfulfilled prophecies.

The final book of the Bible, the Revelation, presents what the world will look like in the end times – especially during the seven year Great Tribulation. The world will be under the rule of one government, one economic system, and one leader.

I ran across a 2017 scholarly article in a business journal of the North American Business Press.

The author, from Georgia Southern University, wrote the following:

Until our generation, it has been impossible for any one person or government to completely control the worlds economic system. The changes that have taken place over the past 50-60 years economically and politically have paved the way for a unified government and unified economic system. The foundation has been laid for biblical prophecy to be fulfilled. The changes have been gradual, and in the eyes of the world, have just been part of the normal course of business. Globalization has become commonplace. Changes in technology excite the average consumer by creating conveniences never before experienced. The integration of global culture, politics, and economies are embraced worldwide. However, the prophecies of the writers of Daniel and Revelation are being fulfilled before our eyes.

Call it Globalization, or the One-World Government, or the New World Order – COVID19 has accelerated its progress, and made globalization desirable and possible.
Here are some excerpts from a Forbes article titled, COVID and the New World Order:

The COVID19 pandemic has resulted in unprecedented changes to our lives and the economy. The enforced switch to virtual work, changes to our travel and consumption patterns, and bans on social gatherings have generated a seismic shift towards virtual activity. Anything that can be done virtually is now done virtually.

The lockdown has us thinking about what the future will bring. Now is the time to be radical in our thinking about how to innovate society for the greater betterment of our citizens, and use to the new technologies we have at our disposal to achieve this innovation. New technologies include decentralized applications, artificial intelligence and machine learning, digital assets, and surveillance technology. It is a once in a generation call to create new global collaborations

COVID19 has also allowed governments to implement unprecedented levels of privacy infringement, with their use of technology, facial recognition, cameras, scanning and tracking technology, with little opposition or public resistance. More people globally are now conducting more transactions online, where their location and purchasing habits are observable to authorities for surveillance.

Climate change and social justice are no longer fringe issues, they have been brought squarely to the forefront of our attention. We cannot ignore the gross injustice and unfairness created by economies and financial markets focused on and driven purely by economic growth and profit incentives. Instead of putting efficiency first, policies must ensure society’s resilience to the full range of threats, including pandemic diseases, climate volatility, and economic and financial stress.

If humanity is to do more than merely survive, if it is to thrive in the future, then we need to aspire to greater outcomes, to collaborate as one human race, on one planet – the only one we have – in pursuit of a better future for all.

Here is what I’m saying: The globalism predicted by John 2000+ years ago, that seemed unlikely, is being forced upon the world on account of the response to the pandemic of COVID19. No one saw it coming, as a consequence. But those in power want to take advantage of it to alter the world.

You have undoubtedly heard the phrase, “the new normal.” Those who are advocating globalization now call it “the next normal.”

We believe the resurrection and rapture of the church is imminent. It could happen any moment; nothing needs to happen before it. It will definitely happen before the Tribulation.

Jesus will return in the clouds. He will raise the dead in Christ. He will transform the bodies of living believers to glorified, resurrection bodies. We will all join Him in Heaven while the earth endures one final seven-year campaign of severe evangelism.

Are you ready for the rapture? If not, Get ready; Stay ready; Keep looking up.

Ready or not, Jesus is coming!

COVID & Friendly Fire

You know what it is: When the weapons and strategies you employ to defeat your enemy end up harming your own people.

The weapons and strategies trained against COVID19, especially lockdowns and closures, are definitely causing great harm.

I want you to have some current facts, from secular experts in various field, about lockdowns and closures. Christians who decide to meet together in a worship setting are not ignoring medical science. In some ways, it is our governing authorities who are ignoring it, to the detriment of our society.

Dr. David Nabarro, envoy of the World Health Organization (WHO) now says, “Such restrictive measures should only be treated as a last resort. We in the World Health Organization do not advocate lockdowns as the primary means of control of this virus. The only time we believe a lockdown is justified is to buy you time to reorganize, regroup, rebalance your resources, protect your health workers who are exhausted, but by and large, we’d rather not do it.”

WHO initially supported lockdowns. Their current position isn’t a contradiction. They’ve had 9 months to learn about COVID19, and how best to control its spread.

In the October article, WHO listed two of the damaging effects of the lockdown strategy, including:

• A doubling of world poverty by next year.
• At least a doubling of child malnutrition.

In July, the UN released a report that estimated that the coronavirus pandemic could push up to 132 million people into hunger by the end of 2020.

“While it is too early to assess the full impact of the lockdowns and other containment measures, at least another 83 million people, and possibly as many as 132 million, may go hungry in 2020,” the agency added.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) noted, “By June 30, 2020, because of concerns about COVID19, an estimated 41% of U.S. adults had delayed or avoided medical care including urgent or emergency care (12%) and routine care (32%). Avoidance of urgent or emergency care was more prevalent among unpaid caregivers for adults, persons with underlying medical conditions, Black adults, Hispanic adults, young adults, and persons with disabilities.”

They are concerned that delayed or avoided medical care will increase morbidity and mortality associated with both chronic and acute health conditions.

Researchers say public health measures, like lockdowns, may have a “profound and long-lasting effect on mental health and will extend beyond those who have been affected by the virus.”

Federal agencies and experts warn that a historic wave of mental-health problems is approaching: depression, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicide.

The UN has described the worldwide increase in domestic abuse as a “shadow pandemic” alongside COVID19. It’s thought cases have increased by 20% during the lockdown, as many people are trapped at home with their abuser.

There has been a rise in the number of minors contacting the National Sexual Assault Hotline to report abuse. That’s according to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, which runs the hotline.

Let’s look at a few economic consequences of the lockdowns. Reported by in September, “More than 97,966 businesses have permanently shut down during the pandemic, according to’s Local Economic Impact Report.”

In that same article they noted that, “If economic trends continue at this rate, one in five business owners anticipates they won’t make it until the end of the year.”

Yelp data also shows that 60% of business closures due to the lockdowns become permanent.

The following iconic retailers are among those who have filed for bankruptcy:

• Lane Bryant
• Brooks Brothers
• Chuck E. Cheese
• J. Crew
• Men’s Warehouse
• Joseph A. Bank
• Neiman Marcus
• Pier 1 Imports
• California Pizza Kitchen
• Sur La Table
• Hertz
• Gold’s Gym
• Wendy’s
• Pizza Hut

You probably read that the Disneyland Resort laid-off 28,000 workers. They are about to lay-off a bunch more.

Last (but not least), in our weekly Bible prophecy updates, we have been quoting notable world leaders who want the strict measures to continue because it gives them an unprecedented opportunity to restart the world’s government and economy. Their words, not mine.

Lockdowns and closures are not the only, or the most effective, weapons. There are medically sound alternatives, e.g., the Focused Attention approach suggested in the Great Barrington Declaration.

The church is the single most essential “building” on the earth. I’m talking about the gathering of the local church as the earthly Temple of the Lord, Jesus Christ. I know; “The church is not the stick and mortar facility.” But when we meet in one:

We are each a living stone that the Lord places together with others present
(Ephesians 2:21; First Peter 2:5)

He walks in our midst, ministering to His people
(Revelation 1:12-13)

We are equipped by gifted men given to the church to go forth and do the work of the ministry
(Ephesians 4:11-12)

Our response to COVID19 has been measured according to actual expert recommendation, medically based, with this understanding that our gathering together is essential and that as we come together our Lord does also in a special way.

Call Of Duty (Acts 20:16-21:1)

Most of us can probably think of a movie where a character is about to escape some situation but, with almost no time to spare, they decide they have to go and settle one last score. If it’s the hero, it gives them one more chance to do something heroic before getting away just in time. In those scenes the characters make that choice because they feel like they must do it. They’ve got to sort out something that’s been left unfinished. It’s a matter of honor and duty and passion.

We see something a little like that in our text this evening. Paul is hurrying out of the Gentile world, trying to get to Jerusalem in time for Pentecost, but before the ship pulls out into the Mediterranean he decides he’s got to take care of something. And what follows is a very tender meeting between him and some of his friends from the city of Ephesus.

As they talk it’s clear that Paul felt it was his duty to give them this farewell. He testifies that he had faithfully carried out his duty toward them and then he charges them with duties of their own. Though this is a meeting of pastors there is still a lot for all of us to learn in this tearful goodbye.

We begin in chapter 20, verse 16.

Acts 20:16 – 16 Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus to avoid spending time in the province of Asia, because he was hurrying to be in Jerusalem, if possible, for the day of Pentecost.

It’s unusual for Paul to avoid something. We sometimes see him willing to go talk to violent mobs. Sometimes he was willing to be illegally beaten. So why was he hoping to bypass the province of Asia? Well, he wanted to be in Jerusalem by Pentecost. Scholars calculate that he’d have about 30 days to get there, which is not a lot of time when it comes to first century travel across the empire.

Throughout this section we see Paul making decisions. He decided to go back through Macedonia. He decided to walk, rather than sail, to Assos. He’s deciding to sail past Ephesus. Your life is full of decisions. Some of them are more trivial, some are monumental. But we can’t always tell which is which, right? So what should we do? On the one hand, we don’t want to live in such a way that we become paralyzed. I’m going to go out on a limb and say you don’t need to pray for an hour before deciding what socks to wear tomorrow. But, at the same time, we don’t want to swing the other side and live a life that neglects to include God in our decision-making. God has an opinion on where you live and where you go to college and where you work and how you fill your days. More than an opinion, our Lord has intentions and commands for us to follow. How do we do that? The believers in Acts did it by being Spirit-filled. We’re watching them do it, page after page.

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 7:

1 Corinthians 7:17 (ESV) – 17 Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches.

Jesus told us that the Holy Spirit is our Helper who will teach us all things and guide us in the truth. We have the Scriptures as a guide for how to live a Godly life. With these precious gifts, we can make decisions that keep us in line with God’s will and put us in position to be used for His glory. That’s how Paul was making these choices.

Acts 20:17 – 17 Now from Miletus, he sent to Ephesus and summoned the elders of the church.

Their ship must have had a layover, so Paul squeezed out this one last mission before they left port. It was about 30 miles from city to city. I’ve never had to walk to the Fresno Airport, that’s about how far it would be. But, after receiving this sudden summons, these elders come straightaway.

Now, why was only Ephesus represented? What about the other cities in Asia that had churches? Well, it seems God placed an urgent message on Paul’s heart for this group, a prophecy in fact.

Acts 20:18-19 – 18 When they came to him, he said to them, “You know, from the first day I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, 19 serving the Lord with all humility, with tears, and during the trials that came to me through the plots of the Jews.

Paul is convinced that he’s never going to see these people again, though he would write to them the letter we have in our Bibles after this encounter. But even though he could write, there was a pressing need in his heart to have this talk with them.

God will sometimes set time-sensitive duties and opportunities before us. We think of the owners of the upper room in which Jesus had His last supper with the disciples. God had led them to make that room ready, and it was in a specific window of time. As soon as Paul finishes with these guys, they walk him onto the boat. We can almost see the crew loading cargo and drawing up the gangways as they huddle together, but this was a needful meeting.

As he begins, we see Paul being very personal and genuine. It’s hard to get a clear picture on what Paul was like when you interacted with him personally, but we get a glimpse here. He reminds them that he was emotionally affectionate and it was genuine. More importantly, he invites them to think back and consider how his life matched the Gospel he preached. His life was defined by humility and service to the Lord. And I think that’s an important note in his choice of words: What Paul did was not for the human community. It wasn’t for the cause of justice. It was service he was rendering to the Lord as his Master. Now, our God is a God of community and justice, but Christians sometimes get their own ideas about how to bring those things about and then slap the name of Jesus on it, when it wasn’t His idea at all.

Our duty in this life is to serve the Lord. As Master, He will send us to minister to others, but let everything we do be unto Him.

There are a lot of tears in these verses. It shows us that Paul wasn’t simply a traveling speaker or performer. He had a real connection to these people. God wants us to connect with Christians this way. We can’t build a personal relationship with every Christian we meet, but we are to be knit together with some local fellowship of believers.

Let’s pause to consider how amazing it is to see that all the hate Paul had for Christians earlier in his life has been replaced by God’s love. It’s incredible what God can do in a heart. Not that long ago, Paul had been a man who wanted every Christian destroyed. Now, he risked his own life to make more Christians and to serve them.

But this sort of brotherly love is not just a Paul thing. We each have a duty to cultivate and live out this sort of love for God’s people.

1 Corinthians 16:14 – 14 Do everything in love.

Colossians 3:14 – 14 Above all, put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.

1 Peter 4:8 – 8 Above all, maintain constant love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins.

Proverbs 10:12 – 12 Hatred stirs up conflicts, but love covers all offenses.

Part of the way the Gospel transforms us is washing the hate out of our hearts and replacing it with love. There are things that make us angry. People we would like gone. But the love of Christ compels us into the kind of caring compassion that took Jesus to the cross to die for His enemies.

Acts 20:20 – 20 You know that I did not avoid proclaiming to you anything that was profitable or from teaching you publicly and from house to house.

We see here that Paul wasn’t doing what he did in order to be popular or receive the favor of man. He was no politician. Yet, even though he was above all that, he was deeply devoted to people and he was devoted to fortifying them through the teaching of the Word of God.

When the Bible is taught, the goal should be that people are convicted of sin and are shown how to be strong in the Lord. Whether that’s for salvation or sanctification (the day-by-day process of becoming more like Jesus), God’s Word is not meant to bully. It does make demands on us and it reveals that we are sinners, but it does that so we can then realize why and how Jesus came to save us from our sin. When Paul taught, people weren’t depleted, they were enriched by the truth.

Acts 20:21 – 21 I testified to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus.

Faith without repentance is not genuine. In the movies they will use movie money. There are two kinds, depending on how close the shot is going to be and how realistic it needs to look. One of them is very close to real money on the front, but on the back it’s blank. The one side can seem as real as can be, but it’s of no value without the back also. The same is true with repentance and faith.

Ray Stedman has a good thought about repentance and how it is a duty we carry out not just once when we become born again, but continually as we walk with God:

“To repent means to stop thinking and acting and living the way you have been. Instead, step out in faith. Trust the living Lord who is in you to operate through you, and venture out, move out! The Christian life is intended to be exciting, compelling, always interesting, always different, always lived on the verge of adventure and danger. That is why it must be characterized by faith. So, you see, there are the two basic steps, and you must take them over and over again. The way you begin the Christian life is to repent and believe. And that also constitutes your walk through the Christian life.”

Certain jobs have ongoing fitness requirements or qualifications that must be kept up. I think the marines have 2 a year. As believers, we have a duty to continue in repentance and faith.

Acts 20:22-23 – 22 “And now I am on my way to Jerusalem, compelled by the Spirit, not knowing what I will encounter there, 23 except that in every town the Holy Spirit warns me that chains and afflictions are waiting for me.

It was humbling to see what Paul wrote here and then wonder when I last heard from the Holy Spirit. Have we interacted with Him lately? We never want our relationship with Him to be like one of those old friends that, if asked about, you say, “Oh I haven’t heard from that Guy in forever!”

Paul knew he was headed for trouble. The Spirit wasn’t warning him in order to stop him from going, but to prepare him for what was ahead. As believers, we have a duty to face the unknown and to accept the fact that sometimes suffering is part of the package. Subscription boxes are all the rage right now. Blue Apron, KiwiCo, Bespoke Post. You don’t always know what’s going to come in the box, right? It’s been curated just for you. In the spiritual life, it’s not all that different. “What’s in the box today? Ok…some encouragement and some new wisdom. I see we’ve got some suffering in there too!”

But, as one commentator wrote: “We should not shrink from danger or from death. Duty is to be done at all hazards. It is ours to follow the directions of God; results we may safely and confidently leave with him.”

Paul was at peace because he knew that, since he was walking with God, it didn’t really matter what he met on the road ahead. His Savior and Friend could be trusted to keep him in His loving care.

Acts 20:24 – 24 But I consider my life of no value to myself; my purpose is to finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.

Paul really wanted to finish his race. He wanted to finish it well, and he didn’t necessarily want it to be over early, but he was looking forward to the end. By this point he had already had his vision of heaven we read about in 2nd Corinthians, so we can sympathize. But, as he headed to that finish line, he wanted to play out every last second.

That doesn’t mean we can never stop doing something that we do right now for the Lord. Paul was about to enter a very different season of ministry, one where he didn’t travel the world establishing churches. But even when life changed, his purpose and desire to serve God did not. In that sense, no matter whether the terrain was a level sprint or a slow, rocky climb, he kept going.

Acts 20:25-27 – 25 “And now I know that none of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will ever see me again. 26 Therefore I declare to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, 27 because I did not avoid declaring to you the whole plan of God.

Paul reveals here that we have a duty to the people around us. To bring them the Gospel. Many of you have probably been in a safety training and heard the poem “I Chose To Look The Other Way” by Don Merrell. It opens:

I could have saved a life that day,
But I chose to look the other way.
It wasn’t that I didn’t care,
I had the time, and I was there.

I don’t want us to be condemned, but reminded that we do have a commission and command to go and preach to those who are lost. As we do so, both individually and as a church, like Paul we want to keep in mind the “whole plan of God.” God’s plan for a person or a family or all mankind is more than just the 5 popular topics that stock Christian bookshelves. Marriage, parenting, finances, those sorts of self-helps that are constantly churned again and again. God has a comprehensive and involved plan, spanning from creation to consummation and it’s all knit together. So, we want to be aware of it and learning more about it. We can be by systematically reading and studying the whole of the Bible. Paul believed that it was his duty to be well-versed in the plan of God and we do too.

Acts 20:28-31 – 28 Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which he purchased with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Men will rise up even from your own number and distort the truth to lure the disciples into following them. 31 Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for three years I never stopped warning each one of you with tears.

So now, he is giving the watch over to these spiritual shipmates. It wasn’t that he was tired of helping them, far from it. But the Lord was leading him on and so he had to lay the care of this church down for others to take up as their duty.

It would’ve been quite a loss, in one sense, to have Paul say, “This is it. I’m headed out. You’re on your own.” And then to be told that some very real threats were going to come against their church, specifically. But, Paul was telling them and had shown them how to equip themselves for the job ahead. What a great thing that God empowers us to continue the work of the church in an unbroken chain of growth from that time until now.

Part of their job was going to be resisting these wolves. Toward that end Paul told them to stay alert. Not paranoid, but watchful. There’s a difference between the two. And watchfulness is part of being on duty. Paying attention and using our minds and keeping a look out.

Acts 20:32-35 – 32 “And now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you an inheritance among all who are sanctified. 33 I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. 34 You yourselves know that I worked with my own hands to support myself and those who are with me. 35 In every way I’ve shown you that it is necessary to help the weak by laboring like this and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, because he said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”

So, we’re got a duty to love and to be alert and also, we see, to walk in grace. Grace is the way. It is able to build and repair and fortify. Though wolves would be doing their thing, we know there were also faithful men there. Men like Timothy.

We see in Paul’s example that we have a duty to be content. Paul had laid hold of contentment, both in blessing and in severe want. We can too, because we have the same Spirit within us. In Hebrews 13 we’re commanded: “Keep your life free from the love of money. Be satisfied with what you have.”

Along with that we see Paul saw it as his duty to provide for others. We would flesh this out to mean those who cannot provide for themselves. We know Timothy had many infirmities. He may have had long periods where he was unable to work. Today, we have many wonderful ways to provide for those who have no provision. And it is our duty to allow the Spirit to lead us into which of those He would like us to involve ourselves in, if we’re able.

Acts 20:36-21:1 – 36 After he said this, he knelt down and prayed with all of them. 37 There were many tears shed by everyone. They embraced Paul and kissed him, 38 grieving most of all over his statement that they would never see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship. 1 After we tore ourselves away from them, we set sail straight for Cos, the next day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara.

It’s a sad farewell, but as most of us know, this life has far too many sad farewells. But, though we may have to part ways with those Christians who are dearest to us in this life, we can know that we will be reunited with them again in heaven. Where there will be no more hurt, no more wolves, no more danger. Only joy forevermore, together with our Lord.

God has given us so much and part of it is duty. Duty to Him and then to others. Duty to love, to preach, to give, to watch, to face the unknown, to obey, to repent, to run the race. These aren’t thing we have to do in order to earn salvation or to make God happy with us. But they are part of the transformation the Lord accomplishes in us and the wonderful Kingdom work He has sent us out to be a part of. We have what we need to do all these things. Now we get to live them.

Running Down The Hair Of My Chinny-Chin-Chin (Psalm 133)

I doubt that most of us have ever heard of Jason Kiley – despite the fact that he was 2019’s US National Champion.

Or the 2019 World Champion, Lucio Battista (who, BTW, is an American).

They were the freestyle champions in the annual national and international beard & mustache competitions. Among thousands of competitors, their beards were voted the hairy-best.

Beards are back in a big way. Proctor and Gamble has publicly blamed the beard for slumping sales of shaving products.

Like everything else, beards & mustaches are a COVID19 public health concern. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has suggestions for those with facial hair. It’s a chart illustrating proper mask placement with thirty-three styles of facial hair.

I have to stop and read you a few of the beard styles they list: French fork… Garibaldi… Chin strap… Balbo… Van Dyke… Hulihee… Walrus… Tooth brush… and Zappa.

You bearded guys might want to check it out. (You bearded ladies, too, I suppose).

Beards can affect history; at least one beard did anyway. According to,

Abraham Lincoln’s beard is now an indelible part of his image. Lincoln decided to grow out his whiskers in part thanks to some well-meaning advice from a young supporter. In 1860, 11yr-old Grace Bedell wrote Lincoln a letter that said in part: “I have yet got four brothers, and part of them will vote for you any way, but if you let your whiskers grow I will try and get the rest of them to vote for you. You would look a great deal better for your face is so thin. All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President.”

Lincoln thus became our nation’s first fully-bearded president. Following Lincoln, our 18th, 19th, and 20th presidents were fully bearded. As far as I can tell, after them there were presidents with only partial facial hair.

I might need a fact-check on this, but it seems that Taft, #27, was the last US president to sport any significant facial hair.

A bearded man is prominent in Psalm 133. Let’s read it through, and meet this person.

Psa 133:1  A Song of Ascents. Of David. Behold, how good and how pleasant it is For brethren to dwell together in unity!
Psa 133:2  It is like the precious oil upon the head, Running down on the beard, The beard of Aaron, Running down on the edge of his garments.
Psa 133:3  It is like the dew of Hermon, Descending upon the mountains of Zion; For there the LORD commanded the blessing – Life forevermore.

Surveying the crowds of pilgrims jammed into and around Jerusalem during one of the annual feasts, David was impressed by their “good” and “pleasant” “unity” as they “dwell[ed] together.”

The LORD was going to inspire David to turn what he beheld in that moment into a psalm. The Holy Spirit whispered to David, “What you are seeing, compare to the oil running down Aaron’s beard, and the dew on Mount Hermon.”

Thus this precious chorus comes through time to us. Gathered together, in unity, is still God’s blessing for His saints.

I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 Dwelling Together In Unity Is A Sight For You To See, and #2 Dwelling Together In Unity Is A Scent For You To Diffuse.

#1 – Dwelling Together In Unity Is A Sight For You To See (v1)

I have a hard time with an abstract concept like “unity.” It’s hard for me to get a handle on it. I’m therefore thankful for what David did in Psalm 133.

He gave us a visual presentation of unity.

Ever give a PowerPoint presentation? You could present Psalm 133 with three main slides:

The twelve tribes attending a feast.
The High Priest being anointed for service.
Mount Hermon in the background.

We will fill it out more, but here is the nutshell version:

Israel was a diverse nation of twelve tribes spread out all over, and outside, the Promised Land. Three times annually they were invited to journey to Jerusalem to gather together and celebrate one of the feasts.
Their High Priest wore a breastplate with twelve stones on it representing each of the twelve tribes. He stood in the line of Aaron, as one of his descendants, anointed by the LORD to represent Israel.
In the background was majestic Mount Hermon. If we can trust the commentators, they say this tallest mountain was blanketed with heavy dew.

The priest & the people beautifully, visually, depicted Israel as one man, standing before the LORD to receive His blessings, poured out from Heaven like the abundant morning dew on Mount Hermon.

Unity was a snapshot David could “behold” in that moment. It was a unity all Israel could “behold.”

We can “behold” unity even more than David did:

We are described in the New Testament as being “in Christ.”
We are described as being members of His one “body.”
We are described as being stones in His earthly Temple, fit together as one building.

Jesus is described as our Greater High Priest. He carries us upon His heart – proven at Calvary, on the Cross where He gave Himself as a Substitute for your sins.

Our ‘Mount Hermon’ isn’t a place; it’s a Person, the Holy Spirit, by whose living water rushing into and through our lives we enjoy abundant spiritual blessings.

There are a lot of ways we could approach a talk about “unity.” Whatever else it is, in this psalm, unity was God’s people gathered together to worship the LORD as prescribed in God’s Word.

Same with us. As we gather together to worship Jesus as prescribed in the Word, we are “one in the Spirit; we are one in the Lord.” We are a visual of unity for ourselves and others to see.

Psa 133:1  A Song of Ascents. Of David. Behold, how good and how pleasant it is For brethren to dwell together in unity!

Psalm 133 is the next-to-the-last of the psalms (or songs) of ascent sung by the pilgrims going up to Jerusalem.

The spiritual unity David could visualize was something that ought inspire the Israelites to aspire to in practice. They were one; they ought to act like it.

Here is another way of putting it: They could (if they chose to) “dwell together in” relational “unity” with one another. They could be kind to one another, forgiving one another, preferring one another. They could get along. Could and should. So can we – only more so.

Dwelling in practical unity is “good” and it is “pleasant.”

The word “good” can be rendered better, best, and bountiful.

Unity is better than contention and strife.
Unity is best for everyone.
Unity’s blessings are bountiful rather than meager.

Dwelling in relational unity is “pleasant.” It may sound selfish, but the idea here is that you experience delight rather than difficulty. You’re not distracted from worshipping and serving the Lord.

The apostle Paul exhorted us,

Eph 4:1  … to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called,
Eph 4:2  with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love,
Eph 4:3  endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Unity is our default position. It is part of being a Christian. Jesus unites us as His body, as His building. Our practice can either maintain unity, or it can undermine it.

The qualities Paul listed are not exhaustive. He is essentially saying, “Act like a Christian should,” then reminding you of a few characteristics. You can act like a believer on account of being in Christ, and of His Holy Spirit being in you.

#2 – Dwelling Together In Unity Is A Scent For You To Diffuse (v2-3)

When we first relocated to Hanford in 1985, we noticed the area had its own peculiar fragrances:

There was (and still is) Dairy Smell, a sort of manurey, methane scent.
There was, seasonally, Garlic Smell, from the seed plant as you’d drive along the 198 entering or leaving town. I love the smell of garlic in the morning.
The aerial defoliant sprayed by the crop dusters has that distinctly sickly-sweet aroma of death.
The tap water smelled like rotten eggs. So did you after showering.
The holy anointing oil had a more aromatic scent. As it was poured upon the high priest, the fragrance would diffuse into the surrounding air.

Psa 133:2  It is like the precious oil upon the head, Running down on the beard, The beard of Aaron, Running down on the edge of his garments.

Did they really pour so much oil on Aaron’s head that it ran down through his beard and onto his garments? Seems so. Another reason I’m glad we aren’t under the Law.

Aaron had a beard. On the CDC chart, I’m guessing it was a Bandholz – a beard “attached at the mustache and allowed to grow freely.” Think David Letterman, if you’ve seen him recently.

There were lots of bearded Bible characters: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses. In fact, it’s hard to find ones without beards.

David sported a beard. We know that because in one episode he feigned madness, “and let his spittle fall down his beard.”
Ezekiel wore a beard, as we see in this passage where God has him to shave part of his hair and beard, as a symbolic gesture showing the shame that would soon come upon Jerusalem.
Jesus was bearded. Describing the sufferings of the Savior, Isaiah wrote, “I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting” (50:6).

Jewish men could be shamed simply by cutting their beards:

“So Hanun took David’s servants and shaved off half the beard of each and cut off their garments in the middle, at their hips, and sent them away. When it was told David, he sent to meet them, for the men were greatly ashamed. And the king said, “Remain at Jericho until your beards have grown and then return” (2 Samuel 10:4-5).

Should Christian men sport beards? Our answer in this New Testament Church Age of grace is that it isn’t mandatory.

A.W. Tozer talked about the anointing oil in a devotional. I quote him:

Going back into the Levitical priesthood, we discover a ritual of an anointing with a specially prepared holy oil. Certain pungent herbs were beaten into the oil, making it fragrant and aromatic. It was unique; Israel might not use that formula for any other oil. When a priest was set apart and anointed, the oil was a vivid type of the New Testament anointing of the Holy Spirit. The holy anointing oil could only be used for the anointing of men with special ministries – priests and kings and prophets. If someone went near an Old Testament priest, he could say immediately, “I smell an anointed man. I smell the holy oil!” The aroma, the pungency, the fragrance were there. Such an anointing could not be kept a secret.

The passage of Scripture that brings this to us in the Church Age is found in Second Corinthians 2:14-16: “Now thanks be to God who…through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death to death, and to the other the aroma of life to life.”

Bob Hoekstra said,

This spiritual aroma of Christ impacts every person we meet. For those who are enjoying life in Christ, Christ’s fragrance in us draws them to seek abundant measures of that life which they have already entered. This spiritual scent also influences those who do not yet know our Lord. They are dead in their sins, and this aroma makes them more aware of their deadness, more aware of their need for Christ. When this fragrance is emanating from our lives, we are not the cause. God is the active agent, working in and through us to bring forth this heavenly scent.

Jesus uses us as His diffusers, to give off a heavenly scent that is “smelled” by believers and nonbelievers.

Fragrances are achieved by carefully mixing together certain substances. The priestly anointing oil was made from myrrh, cinnamon, calamus, cassia, and olive oil. They weren’t to add or subtract from the recipe.

The fragrance we give off isn’t something you can smell; it’s spiritual. I wonder, however, if the things we add to, or subtract from, our lives changes the fragrance of Jesus?

Christians sometimes add things that they consider to be spiritual, but which are nothing more than the flesh seeking to do the work of the spirit:

Take a whiff of legalism. It is a term Christians use to describe emphasizing a system of rules and regulations for achieving both salvation and spiritual growth. It’s a deadly odor, a stench.
Take a whiff of license. In the Bible, liberty is the freedom to do right. License is the freedom to do wrong. Our salvation is not a license to sin. It is a deliverance from sin. When liberty turns to license, it first gives off an intoxicating aroma that numbs our senses. Then it turns to the stench of our flesh.

Likewise, we can subtract things from our walk with the Lord. Talking to God, reading His Word, gathering with his people, sharing the good news, are all things that we can overlook.

Psa 133:3  It is like the dew of Hermon, Descending upon the mountains of Zion; For there the LORD commanded the blessing – Life forevermore.

9,232 feet above sea level. It’s the star of the Hermon mountain range. We noted earlier it is famous for its ‘heavy’ dew.

What does dew, do? According to one source, “Though the Mediterranean climate of Palestine had no rainfall from May or June to September, it had dew. Dew was important in the summer and a supplement to rain. Zion was therefore a place of fertility which even in the rainless season has an abundance of dew, like that of mighty Hermon to the north.”

Verses two and three are what scholars call parallelism. They make the same point in two different ways. Oil runs down… Dew runs down. Both indicate abundant blessing from ‘above,’ in this case, from Heaven.

It also communicates how potent the anointing oil was. It may only be a few ounces running down on Aaron, but spiritually it is more like all the heavy dew running down from Hermon.

“For there the LORD commanded the blessing – Life forevermore.”

“There” is Zion, and Jerusalem in particular. It was and it is His city. In Psalm 132:13-14 we read,

Psa 132:13  For the LORD has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His dwelling place:
Psa 132:14  “This is My resting place forever; Here I will dwell, for I have desired it.

God “commanded the blessing” encompasses the whole Old Testament revelation of God’s redemption of lost humanity. To save mankind, God instituted substitutionary sacrifice. A slain lamb could temporarily take your place. Over time, God chose Abraham to father a new nation. Then He gave that nation a detailed system of substitutionary sacrifice. It was housed in Jerusalem, in the Temple. Then He sent Jesus, God-in-human-flesh, to be the final lamb Who takes away the sin of the world.

Salvation – “life forevermore” – emanated from the Temple in Jerusalem to the rest of the world. If you wanted to know God, you traveled to His Temple, to see His chosen people.

In the future, after the resurrection and rapture of the church, and after the seven year Great Tribulation, Jesus will return in His Second Coming to… Jerusalem. He will rule the earth sitting on David’s throne. Salvation will emanate from there. the prophet Zechariah wrote, “And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles” (14:16).

Any decent beard expert will tell you beardcare involves washing your face and applying beard oil.

From the moment we are saved, Jesus is at work making us “holy, cleansing [us] by the washing with water through the word” (Ephesians 5:26).

He gifts us with the Holy Spirit – our anointing oil.

When someone comes near me (or to you), do they get a whiff of something spiritual?
Or do we smell more like food rotting on our unkept beards?

I quoted Tozer earlier, saying, “If someone went near an Old Testament priest, he could say immediately, “I smell an anointed man. I smell the holy oil!”

Let’s put our names in there, with these changes: “If someone went near Gene, he could say immediately, “I smell ______.”

Fill-in the blank.