You May Not Know It, But You’re a Refugee

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The metaphor in this post is drawn from the wise and very helpful writing and teaching of David Powlison, including the opening sentence. If this post serves you, find anything Dr. Powlison has written and read it!

You’re a refugee.

Does that surprise you? We tend to think of refugees as people caught in horrible circumstances beyond their control – political upheavals or natural disasters, things decidedly out of the ordinary. But here’s something even more surprising.

You were made to be a refugee.

This is not the result of circumstances, nor a situation to exit as quickly as possible. No, you and I were always intended to be refuge-seekers. It is hard wired into us, and it is good for us. Why? Here’s the deepest reason. We are by nature meant to be refugees, because God by nature is a refuge. Consider these psalms:

“Wondrously show your steadfast love, O Savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at your right hand.” (Psalm 17:7)

“God is our refuge and strength…” (Psalm 46:1)

Finding refuge in God is a vital part of our relationship with him. It’s a dangerous, unpredictable, harsh world – we need somewhere, Someone to flee to. Because we are hard-wired to be refuge-seekers, we can’t not turn to someone or something. But here’s the problem. Sin perverts this instinct. Instead of running as refugees to God, the only safe and sane place to turn, we run to countless false refuges: addictions, pleasurable fantasies (think: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty), success in some other area of life, new gadgets or toys. Any created thing that we turn to for protection and security instead of God becomes a false refuge.

But how do you actually find refuge in God in your situation? Let me suggest three things.

Talk to the Lord about what’s pressuring you. Get specific. Is it your child’s health? Your retirement plan? An unidentified lump the doctor just found? Don’t let the pressures of life remain vague and undefined. It’s much easier to turn to God as a refuge when you know exactly what you’re turning to him with. Think about the specific station that’s buzzing in the background of your consciousness. What is it saying to you? That’s where you need to begin going to God as a refugee.

Obey in the small things before you. Perhaps obedience seems like a harsh word to someone in distress. But it’s not – in fact, it’s dignifying and ennobling. You’re a refugee – but God, your refuge, doesn’t expect you to live a pointless life huddled in a tent in the middle of a refugee camp. He gives you work to do: specific acts of obedience and love. But here’s how he works: the greater the problem pressing on you, the smaller the acts of obedience he calls from you in response. You can’t save your kid, no matter what you do; that’s far too great a problem for you. But you can love him by setting aside time to throw the football after work, or praying with her before you put her to bed, or any number of small but significant acts of obedience. It’s the same with any other challenge. You take refuge in God because the situation is way beyond your pay grade. God then calls you to express faith by obeying in the small things.

Be faithful in your other callings. Here’s the good news. God doesn’t leave you to obsess over one single area of difficulty. There are always – always – other things God calls you to in the midst of pressing circumstances. In the midst of challenges, God provides other sources of relief. When work pressures seem insurmountable, maybe you need to obey Psalm 34:8 – “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!” – by taking your wife to dinner and a movie. When a relational conflict wears you down, perhaps God is calling you to obey 1 Timothy 6:17’s command to set our hope on God “who richly provides us with everything to enjoy” by laughing your head off running through the sprinklers with your kids. Don’t let your problem expand to consume all of life. It’s significant, but it’s not supposed to be consuming. Find the other areas God is calling you to give yourself to.

When God as our refuge, every created thing can potentially be secondary refuges: good gifts sent to sustain us by our kind, loving Father. When created things are our refuge in place of God, even the good gifts turn sour. So run to refuge to your Creator, your Savior, your best and heavenly friend – it’s what you were made for.

 Photo by Mikhail Esteves

The Blessing That Sets Us Apart From Everyone Else

Christianity is completely different from all other religions. No other religion teaches there is one God who exists as three persons. No other religion teaches that the God who created the universe became man and personally paid for the sins of his people. No other religion teaches that we are not saved by works but grace.

But the one thing that particularly sets Christianity apart is that it teaches that God himself personally dwells with his people. Moses said God’s presence with Israel was what made them different than all other nations:

And [God] said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”  And [Moses] said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here.  For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” (Exodus 33:14-16 ESV)

Again and again throughout the Old Testament God promised he would personally be with and tend to his people.

You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. (Exodus 19:4)

I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it. (Psalm 81:10)

God himself brought Israel out of Egypt; he bore them on eagles’ wings and brought them to himself. He didn’t delegate the job to an angel. And he didn’t merely bring them into the promised land, but brought them to himself.

David counted God’s presence as his greatest blessing:

For you make him most blessed forever; you make him glad with the joy of your presence. (Psalm 21:6)

When David repented of his sin, his biggest concern was losing the presence of God:

Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. (Psalm 51:11)

The worship of Israel was not offering sacrifices to a distant God, but coming into God’s very presence:

Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! (Psalm 95:2)

The Psalmist encourages us not simply to seek strength, but the strength that comes from the very presence of the Lord:

Seek the LORD and his strength;
seek his presence continually! (Psalm 105:4)

One of God’s greatest promises is not simply to rescue us from our trials but to be personally with us in them:

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you. (Isaiah 43:2)

Jesus promised to dwell in us by the Holy Spirit:

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.  Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. [20] In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. (John 14:18-20)

Paul’s greatest joy was knowing, pursuing and delighting in his Savior whose presence dwelled in him:

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me… (Galatians 2:20)

Today, if you know Jesus, you have the greatest blessing of all – Christ is living in you through the Holy Spirit. And because Jesus is in his Father, the Father is dwelling in you. Incredible! Today give thanks to Jesus for his presence. Seek his presence. He is nearer than the air you breathe. He hears your every sigh. He knows your every difficulty, large or small. He is intimately acquainted with you. And he loves you with an everlasting love.

An Incredible Promise Of Guidance

Are you at a major crossroads? Need God’s guidance for a challenging child or teen? Facing a big decision and don’t know the right way to choose?  This promise is for you…

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.  Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you.  Psalm 32:8-9

God desires to give us his wisdom and guidance. He longs to help us. He freely gives his wisdom to those who seek him. In Proverbs he portrays Wisdom as standing on the street calling out, practically begging people to receive it. There’s no reluctance on God’s part to guide us. It is only our failure to ask that keeps us from receiving.

Once when attempting to install a new toilet, I overtightened one of the bolts that attached it to the floor and cracked the toilet. When my wife heard my anguished “Argggggggh” she asked, “Did you pray about this before you started?” to which I replied, “No and I’m not going to.” It’s only our failure to ask for God’s wisdom that we don’t receive it, not any lack of desire on God’s part to give it.

God himself will counsel us – “I” will instruct you.” God, the only being in the universe who has infinite knowledge and wisdom, promises to personally instruct, teach and guide us. He knows all things. He knows all possible outcomes. He fashions the hearts of everyone. He knows what our child needs most. He knows what will happen if we take that job. He knows what choice will bring blessing into our lives.

God WILL instruct teach and counsel. It doesn’t say he might. We can be absolutely confident God will guide us and give us wisdom. He’s not playing games with us. He won’t fail to answer our requests for guidance.

The only requirement God puts upon us is that we stay near him. That he doesn’t have to force us to stay near with bit and bridal like a stubborn mule. As long as we continue to abide in Christ, he will direct us. As long as we regularly seek the Lord in his word and prayer, he will get his direction to us one way or another. We won’t miss it.

Heavenly Father, thank you that you have promised to guide us and give your children wisdom. I ask you for it today. Please teach me and instruct me in the way I should go. Please give me wisdom in the decisions I must make today. Thank you that you long to give me wisdom more than I desire to receive it. Thank you that you are generous and give wisdom without reproach. Please guide me for your glory. Amen.

Are We Missing Out On A Great Promise?

The Old Testament contains two wonderful promises from God that believers looked forward to under the new covenant.  Many of us emphasize the first promise.  But do we emphasize the second enough?

God’s first incredible OT promise was that he would send a Savior to redeem people for himself. The second great promise, the one some of us don’t seem to emphasize as much, was to pour out his Holy Spirit upon all believers.

John Owen says:

For when God designed the great and glorious work of recovering fallen man and the saving of sinners, to the praise of the glory of his grace, he appointed, in his infinite wisdom, two great means thereof. The one was the giving of his Son for them, and the other was the giving of his Spirit unto them.

Hence, from the first entrance of sin, there were two general heads of the promise of God unto men, concerning the means of their recovery and salvation. The one was that concerning the sending of his Son to be incarnate, to take our nature upon him, and to suffer for us therein; the other, concerning the giving of his Spirit, to make the effects and fruits of the incarnation, obedience, and suffering of his Son, effectual in us and towards us. To these heads may all the promises of God be reduced.

…when once that first work was fully accomplished, when the Son of God was come, and had destroyed the works of the devil, the principal remaining promise of the New Testament, the spring of all the rest, concerneth the sending of the Holy Spirit unto the accomplishment of his part of that great work which God had designed. (John Owen on the Holy Spirit)

The salvation Jesus provided on the cross is good news.  Forgiveness of sins, acceptance by God, adoption as sons of God, eternal life.  But Jesus promised us even more.  He promised to pour out the Holy Spirit on all believers to indwell and empower them to witness for Christ, teach them inwardly and produce much fruit.  The New Testament tells believers to walk by the Spirit, sow to the Spirit, continuously be filled with Spirit and seek the gifts of the Spirit.

Many of us tend to emphasize God’s first promise, salvation, far more than we do his second promise of the Spirit.

But John Owen says the doctrine of the Holy Spirit should be huge for New Testament believers:

Hence, the Holy Ghost, the doctrine concerning his person, his work, his grace, is the most peculiar and principal subject of the Scriptures of the New Testament, and a most eminent immediate object of the faith of them that do believe.

If the doctrine of the Holy Spirit should be the “most eminent immediate object of the faith of them that do believe” and “the most peculiar and principal subject of the Scriptures of the New Testament” then shouldn’t we emphasize His person, work and power more?

Just like Peter did on the day of Pentecost, we should promise the gift of the Holy Spirit to all who receive Jesus through faith and repentance.

Can I make a suggestion? Highlight the passages in the New Testament that talk about the work, gifts, power and fruit of the Spirit. Then begin to pray more frequently for his presence and power in your life and church.

Let’s pray that the Holy Spirit would convict and give new life to many every Sunday. While never neglecting the good news of all Jesus did through his life, death and resurrection, let’s emphasize the gift of the Holy Spirit for power and witness.  And may this be said every Sunday in our meetings – “surely the Lord is in this place.”

One Of God’s Most Amazing Promises (Part 2)

Last week I wrote about God’s amazing promise in Jeremiah 32:40: “I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them.”

But the second part of this verse is equally amazing: “And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.”

You’d think we’d naturally fear God. I mean it makes sense.  God is infinite, awesome, knows our every thought, word and deed, and promises to punish every sin.  He guarantees we won’t get away with anything.  He’s holy – Nadab and Abihu mix up their own incense instead of God’s formula, offer it, and next thing you know they’re smoking corpses (LV 10.1-2).  Uzzah reaches out to keep the ark of the covenant from falling off a cart, touches it, and God strikes him dead (2 SA 6.3-6).  You’d think we’d fear God.

But in our natural state we don’t fear God. Romans 3:18 says, “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”  As sinners under God’s wrath, we should be terrified of God.  Yet because we don’t fear God, we sin with impunity every day.  We party while a sword hangs over our heads.

But God changes all that when he saves us.  He injects the fear of himself into our hearts.

What a gift from God!  Now we don’t need someone to tell us to fear God – it’s embedded in our hearts, releasing its blessings continuously.  The fear of the Lord causes us to hate sin.  We know God will discipline us and expose us sooner or later, so we turn away from sin (PR 3.7).  The fear of the Lord leads us to know God (PR 1.7), prolongs our lives (PR 10.27), gives us confidence and brings blessing to our children (14.26), gives us wisdom (15.33) and peace (19.23) riches, honor and life (22.4).

And the greatest blessing of all is “that they may not turn from me.” Israel’s lack of godly fear led them to an endless cycle of turning from him.  God would bring judgment, they’d be miserable and turn back to him, he’d have mercy, they’d forget and turn away again.

The new covenant ended all that.  Jesus’ blood purchased an abiding fear that keeps us from turning from God. This doesn’t mean we don’t ever temporarily fall or stray.  But the fear of the Lord will bring us back.  It’s like a spiritual sheep dog – we begin to wander from the flock and along comes the fear of God nipping at our hearts to get us back in line.

I’m so grateful for the fear of God.  It’s not a slavish fear, but a freeing joy-producing fear that draws me to God.  And I’m so glad it’s not up to me to keep me from turning away – God’s put his fear into my heart.

O Gracious Father,
Thank you for putting the fear of you in me
Thank you for keeping me from turning from you
Thank you Jesus, for all you suffered
To purchase this wonderful fear.
Help me to hate sin and flee temptation
Help me to be humble
And fear you all my days.