Seed of Faith – Lift Up Your Eyes By Pastor Dave
I lift up my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. Psalm 121:1-2
Dear Faithful Seed-Sowers:
We are in unprecedented and uncharted times; times of lock-downs, lockouts, shutdowns, shut ins, quarantines, isolation, closings and crisis. I spend time in prayer for you each day (and night). Jac and I are quarantined in The Villages, Florida, after her mom’s funeral on March 13th. We, along with Jac’s little sister, Patti, are doing our best to care for dad. At times, it takes all three of us to do what needs to be done. We are currently awaiting test results and another “drive through” lawyer appointment.
What are we to do in times such as these?
In times like these, turn to the Psalms. The Psalms are heart wisdom. John Calvin says, “Psalms are the anatomy of all parts of the soul.” When anxiety, fear, uncertainty, panic and crisis of this pandemic comes, we all need to lift our eyes up–to the Lord.
One of my favorite Psalms is 121. Today we will look at the first two verses.
Psalm 121 is a Psalm of Ascent. There are 150 Psalms in the Bible but only Psalms 120-134 are what we call “The Songs of Ascent.” The Jewish people call these 14 songs, shir hama’aloth. The first word, shir, means a hymn or song, but the second word, ma’alah (the singular of ma’aloth) means both a step or a stair and a “going up.”
The question that has been debated by theologians throughout the centuries is, “Going up where, how, and when?” Some scholars think that the Israelites sang these songs as the captives returned home from captivity in Babylon. Other scholars suggest that these songs were sung as the people climbed the 15 steps that led from the courtyard of the women to the courtyard of the men. Most scholars believe that these fifteen songs were sung by the people as they journeyed from their homes to Jerusalem for the three major festivals of Passover, Pentecost and Day of Atonement. The faithful Jewish people would leave homes and journey back to Jerusalem. The scholars believe that Mary, Joseph and Jesus sang these Psalms as they returned from Nazareth to Jerusalem to the high and holy festival days. Think about this, Jesus and His disciples would also have sung these songs as they climbed the hills from the Sea of Galilee to Jerusalem. Normally the trip took 3 days to walk from the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus had his home base, to Jerusalem. And that is only if they traveled through Samaria. If they avoided Samaria, it took five days. The Dead Sea is 1,412 feet below sea level and Jerusalem is 2,474 above sea level. The climb up from the Dead Sea, or the ascent, is 3,886 feet straight up winding, mountain trails.
I lift up my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord watches over you— the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord will keep you from all harm— he will watch over your life;
8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.
I decided to print the whole Psalm and not just the first two verses that we are studying. I encourage you in this time of lock downs, closeouts, shut down and times of slow downs, to read this Psalm. Read a verse, think about it, stop and pray. Read the whole Psalm and write and few thoughts on what the Holy Spirit is impressing upon your heart. These are some much needed words today. It feels like our foot is slipping with all the news of lock downs, shutdowns, quarantines, slow-downs and social distancing. Where can we find solid footing?
When the Israelites went up to Jerusalem, as they traveled the mountain pathways, they saw in the cleft of the rocks all of the pagan gods. As they passed them by, they would say, “I lift my eyes to the mountains. Where does my help come from?” Does our help come from all of these pagan gods? No, they lifted their eyes higher and shouted and sang, “OUR help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.”
Here’s a good thought for this SEED OF FAITH:
Where does your help come from?
Where does your help come from during the quarantine?
This is a powerful question. Where does our help come from in times like these? When a pandemic like Covid-19 comes and knocks on the door of our lives, where does our help come from?
We are facing shutdowns all over the USA. Closures of stores, restaurants, schools, universities, businesses and churches are closed. We are told to lock-down and stay in. Don’t have social contact. Stay home!
It’s a good question to stop right now and ask yourself:
Where does my help come from?
With our knowledge of Christ’s resurrection, we have a viewpoint that the early Jewish pilgrims did not have. We know Christ rose from the dead, over 500 people witnessed and recorded that fact. As we journey up the mountain path to our own Jerusalem, can we join and sing Psalm 121 together? I lift my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from? MY HELP COMES FROM THE LORD, the maker of heaven and earth.
I believe that at a time like this we simply cannot allow fear and panic to overwhelm us. Just today Jac and I brought Dad to the podiatrist. Jac’s Dad is 6′ tall and weighs 125 pounds–fully dressed. He has no fat on his bones and he is freezing all of the time. It is not uncommon to wake up in the Florida heat with the heater turned on to 88 degrees. When we drive, he says he’s too cold and could we not turn on the AC? (This was all PRE-quarrantine.) After mom’s funeral, we had made many doctor appointments for Dad. Not one of them has canceled. Today we went to the podiatrist. As we walked in, the receptionist took Dad’s temperature. To be fair, he had just had a hot shower, drove 30 minutes in a hot car and trekked across the parking lot in the 90 degree heat. His temp was 100.8. You know when you go to the carnival and you play the game where you hit the stump with a hammer? And when you are superman, it hits the bell at the top and the dinger dings and the sirens go off and the lights flash? That’s a pretty accurate description of the receptionist’s reaction to Dad’s temp. She stood up and was yelling through her mask, and motioning for us to “get him outside!” Jac had her mask and gloves on, and tried to talk with the lady. She was having none of it. “GET HIM OUT! GET HIM OUT! WE ARE REFUSING YOU!” Jac said, “Mam?” and the lady said, “I’m calling the CEO, the manager, security and anyone I can right now. GET HIM OUT.” I took dad out and Jac tried her best to explain. The woman said, “Our CEO and building manager are on their way.” Jac said, “I’ll be right outside. Could they please step out and speak with me?” The woman agreed. Dad’s doctor came outside and talked with Jac. It ended up well but it was a circus for a brief while. I suppose what I’m to say is, be safe, go by the rules, but we can still find ways to say what needs to be said without screaming at one another. Lift those eyes to God. Lift your heart to God.
Once Jac got back in the car, I was able to share that EVERYTHING GOES THROUGH JESUS’ NAIL SCARRED HANDS. We may not understand the why but we can trust the maker of heaven and earth.
A few questions to think about:
Why do we take our eyes off of the cross and look at the crisis?
Why do we tend panic instead of resting in the peace that only God can bring?
Why do we tend allow fear to rule instead of allowing faith to reign?
Why do we tend worry instead of worship? (Alexa, play Christian music. It works.)
Maybe a good “so what” question for today is:
Who and what are you looking at during this crisis?
Where is your help? We need to be wise and listen to our leaders and take all of the necessary precautions but we are not to allow fear, anxiety and panic to rule and reign in our lives. (I get panic and fear and anxiety, we were down to napkins in the rest room!)
Philippians 4 has always been a wonderful verse for me throughout my life. Recently, (before the quarantine) I went with two faithful brothers to visit a dear friend and her husband. This young lady is only 48 years young and has been battling cancer for a long time. The cancer has taken a hard turn and weakened her body. She is at home on hospice. In our time together, we shared communion and talked about heaven. Our friend is getting ready to meet Jesus. When I asked her what Scripture she would like to have read she said — Philippians 4:4-8
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Hear these powerful words of comfort from a young woman battling for her very life: Don’t be anxious about anything!
Don’t be anxious about having no toilet paper, about having to stay in your home, about not being able to go out to eat, about not being able to go to school or work. Let’s not be anxious about corona virus, not even about death. Where does our help come from? Our help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth
In times when we are locked up and locked out, look up!
In times of crisis, look to CROSS.
In times of fear, let faith be your strength and hope.
The steadfast love of the Lord endures forever.
In times of terror, turn and trust in the one who created the heavens and created you. His promise is that he will never leave you or forsake you.
In times of panic, turn to Prince of Peace don’t turn to the prince of panic. We are told in Philippians 4 that the PEACE of God will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
If you need prayer during this time, go to our website www.theseedchristianfellowship.com and post a prayer concern. Our prayer team will be in prayer for you. You can also contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org — you are not alone!
Lift Your Eyes up to the Lord, the prince of peace who promises to be with you.
God loves you and so do I,
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The point of this study is difficult for most people to accept. The point is this: There is no such thing as absolute freedom for anyone. No human is free to do everything he or she may want to do. There is one being in the universe who is totally free, of course; that is God. But all others are limited by or enslaved by someone or something. As a result, the only meaningful question in this area is: Who or what are you serving? Since you and I are human beings and not God, we can never be autonomous. We must either be slaves to sin or slaves to Jesus Christ. But here is the wonderful and very striking thing: To be a slave of Jesus Christ is true freedom.
Paul was answering objections to the doctrine of salvation by grace that were coming from two sides, just as they come to us today. On one side were Jewish traditionalists with a commitment to the Law of Moses. They argued that if law is rejected as a way of salvation, which Paul obviously was doing, immorality and all other vices inevitably follow. Paul shows that it doesn’t work that way. In fact, he shows the opposite. He shows: (1) The law does not lead to righteousness, for the simple reason that it is unable to produce righteousness in anyone. The law can only condemn. (2) Paradoxically, it is only by being delivered from the law and its condemnation, through union with Jesus Christ, that we are empowered to do what the law requires. The other objection came not from Jewish legalists, but from those who reject the law not only as a way of salvation but even as an expression of proper conduct. They say, “Since we are free from law, we can do anything we please. We are free to go on sinning. In fact, we can wallow in it. Paul answers both of these errors in this chapter of Romans. Paul writes in verse 15: “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” We may ask, “Why not?”
Paul gives five sound reasons in this section: (1) Sin is slavery. The first reason Christians must not sin, even though they are not under law but under grace, is that sin is actually slavery, and it would be folly to be delivered from slavery only to return to it again. The difficulty here is that sin is rarely seen by us in this way, that is, in its true colors. Instead of being presented as slavery, it is usually described as the very essence of freedom (see Genesis 3). (2) Sin leads to death. The second reason we must not sin, even though we are not under law but under grace, is that sin leads to death. Paul says this several times in these verses (vv. 16, 21, 23). Again, this is not what we are usually told (again in Genesis 3). (3) Christians have been delivered from sin’s slavery. The third reason Christians are not to continue in sin, even though they are not under law but under grace, is that they have been delivered by Jesus from sin’s tyranny if they are truly Christians. This is so wonderful that Paul actually breaks into“praise to God” at this point (vv. 17-18). (4) The same work that has delivered Christians from sin’s slavery has also made them slaves of God, which is true freedom. The fourth of Paul’s arguments for why Christians cannot continue in sin, even though they are not under law but under grace, is that the same act of Christ that has delivered us from sin has also made us “slaves of God: (v. 22). By His act of redemption, Jesus has purchased men and women for Himself, that is, to serve Him. (5) The end of this second desirable slavery is righteousness. This leads to Paul’s last point, the fifth reason why Christians must not continue in sin, even though they have been freed from law and are under grace. It is that the end of this second, desirable slavery to God and Jesus Christ is righteousness. True Christianity can never lead to license, the accusation refuted by Paul in this passage. Since it is liberation from sin in order to become a servant of God and of Jesus Christ, Christianity must inevitably lead to what God desires, which is righteousness.
We need to look at one more word: obedience. It occurs in verse 16 and it is amplified by the verb obey, which occurs three more times in verses 16-17. The reason Paul uses the word obedience is that it carries through the image he has been developing, namely that of being a slave either to sin or of Jesus Christ. It is the function of a slave to obey his or her master. But the use of the term goes beyond this, since obedience is an essential requirement of all who would follow Christ, and not just afterward, as if we are called first to believe and then obey. Obedience is the very essence of believing. It’s what belief is all about. There is no escaping it. Either we obey sin, which leads to death, and are enslaved by it, or we have been freed from sin to serve God. If we have been freed from sin, we will serve God. There is just no other option.
Romans 6:15-18 Reflection Questions:
What’s involved in becoming a Christian, and then living the life of God’s renewed humanity, is a change of master. How can we present ourselves to God when we still seem to be under sway of the wrong master?
Paul continues with the idea of slavery here, but exhorts his readers that they are “enslaved to God’s covenant justice.” How do these terms explain a fuller understanding of the life of the faith?
What does it mean that believers are to “become obedient from the heart to the pattern of teaching to which you were committed” (v. 17)?
I really enjoyed hiking in the mountains. There is a satisfaction laboring up a mountain to the top and then being able to see the beautiful vistas. In a sense, that is what has happened to us during our study of Romans. For more than five and a half chapters we have been laboring up the majestic mountain of doctrine concerning what God has done for us in salvation. Now, for the very first time, we have passed over the highest ridge to verses that tell what we are to do in response to God’s action. To put in other words, after many detailed studies, our tour has at last enabled us to cross from the high doctrine of justification-by-grace-through-faith to the doctrine of sanctification.
Since this is the first direct teaching about sanctification in Romans, it’s important that we understand what is being said. To do that, we need to look at this passage as a whole to see what principles about sanctification are taught. Then we need to apply those teachings in the most practical terms possible.
The principles are: (1) Sin is not dead in Christians, even in the most mature and pious Christians, but rather is something always to be struggled against. We have already said this in a variety of ways in our previous studies. (2) Sin’s hold on us is in or through our bodies. We cannot miss noticing how directly, literally, and strongly Paul emphasizes our actual physical bodies in these verses. In verse 12 he refers to our “mortal body,” that is, the body of our flesh that is dying. In verse 13 he twice refers to “the parts of” our bodies, that is, to our hands, feet, eyes, tongues and so forth. It is through these physical parts of our bodies that sin operates and through which it maintains its strong hold on us. (3) Sin can reign in or dominate our bodies. It cannot dominate or destroy that new person that I have become in Christ. That new “me” will always abhor sin and yearn for righteousness – and it will have it, because God is determined to produce the holy character of Christ is His people. But sin can certainly dominate my body. I can become a slave to its cravings. (4) Although sin can reign in or dominate our bodies, it does not need to. In other words, although it is possible for us to “offer the parts of [our] body to sin, as instruments of wickedness,” we do not need to do this. On the contrary, being now joined to Jesus Christ, we have His new life within and His power available to us. (5) This leads to the last and positive truth: As Christians, we can now offer the parts of our bodies to God as instruments of righteousness. This is the thrust of the passage. It is what Paul is urging on us.
There are many ways to approach the subject of sanctification. Paul himself does it in several ways. But I don’t know a more practical, balanced, or down-to-earth way of speaking about how to live a holy life or grow in righteousness than the way in which Paul does it here. He has given us one easy-to-grasp principle in verse 11: “Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Now he tells us how to give practical expression to that great principle. It is by what we do with our bodies. What does that mean? The answers come by considering the body’s parts and their potential for doing both good and evil.
The first body part Paul mentions is the mind. If you fill your mind with products of our secular culture, you will remain secular and sinful. On the other hand, if you feed your mind on the Bible and Christian publications, train it by godly conversation, and discipline it to critique what you see and hear elsewhere by applying biblical truths to those ideas, you will grow in godliness and become increasingly useful to God. Your mind will become an instrument for righteousness. The mind is not the only part of our bodies through which we receive ideas and impressions and which must therefore be offered to God as an instrument of righteousness. We also receive impressions through our eyes and ears. These too, must be surrendered to God. The tongue is also part of the body, and what we do with it is important. James, the Lord’s brother, must have thought about this a great deal, because he says more about the tongue and its power for either good or evil than any other writer of Scripture (see James 3:5-6). Our hands and feet determine what we do and where we go. So when we are considering how we might offer the parts of our body to God as instruments of righteousness, let’s not forget them. Paul writes of using our hands profitably so we might be self-supporting and not dependant on anybody (1 Thes. 4:11-12). What about our feet? Where do your feet take you? Paul writes in Romans 10:14-15 “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
What we are actually engaged in is spiritual warfare, an ongoing battle against sin, for our own growth in grace and for the good of others. And, like all soldiers who are facing some great conflict, we are to train ourselves physically and steel our wills for the enterprise. Paul thought in these terms, sometimes speaking of a warfare in which the followers of Christ are to cloth themselves with God’s armor (Eph. 6:10-18), sometimes speaking of a race. “Fight the good fight of the faith…” he says in 1Timothy 6:12. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith,” he says in 2 Timothy 4:7.
You have been waiting through five and a half chapters of Romans for something to do. Now you have that something. You know what it is. So do it. “Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of righteousness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to Him as instruments of righteousness.” Why should you submit to such rigorous training? It’s not because you are driven to do it. It’s because you have been liberated from sin by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and want to do it. You want to live for Him. This is why Paul ends by saying, “For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace” (v. 14).
Romans 6:12-14 Reflection Questions:
How can you improve on the use of the parts of your body to glorify God?
How is presenting or offering your limbs and organs to God different from presenting them to sin (v. 13)?