Friday, November 19, 2021

Psalm 77

Psalms 77:19-20 (ESV)

[19] Your way was through the sea,

your path through the great waters;

yet your footprints were unseen.

[20] You led your people like a flock

by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

These verses are a reference to the time when the Red Sea was divided and the people of God were rescued from the Egyptians. When Israel arrived at the sea they saw no escape. The Egyptian army was bearing down on them. They were trapped between the Egyptian army and the Red Sea, with no way out. They were following the Lord’s lead, yet the footprints of God were unseen. The fact that they could see no way out did not mean that there was no way out. God miraculously opened a totally unexpected exit through the sea.

Similarly we sometimes find ourselves in a place where we can see no hope and no way out. We desire to follow God, but his “footprints” are invisible to our eye. We can’t see the way forward. It is in those times that we are called to trust. We sometimes can’t see even the next step. God’s way may be through the waters (think Israel and the Red Sea), or through the fire (think Daniel’s friends in the fiery furnace), or through the cave (think David hiding from Saul), yet God has a way through and we can trust him. In those times we stand firm in what we know and trust him to reveal the way in his time.

Friday, November 12, 2021

Psalm 12

Psalms 12:2, 6 (ESV)

[2] Everyone utters lies to his neighbor;

with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.

[6] The words of the LORD are pure words,

like silver refined in a furnace on the ground,

purified seven times.

We live in a time when you don’t know who to believe. “Experts” give us mixed messages and change what they are saying from month to month and week to week. Politicians are more interested in remaining in office than in serving the public, so they tell us what they think we want to hear. Their message is constantly changing. Media picks and chooses what stories to run and how to spin the stories so that they further a particular agenda. The result is that we don’t know who to believe so we choose to believe what fits with our own expectations and desires. Truth as truth has long disappeared, yet “The words of the LORD are pure words.” He can be believed.

 This Psalm concludes in verse 8, “On every side the wicked prowl, as vileness is exalted among the children of man,” yet God’s word will never fail. We have a digital thermometer that tells us the temperature inside and outside of the house. This morning my grandson insisted that the thermometer was broken because the temperature outside read 30.2. He didn’t understand what .2 meant. In his mind it was 30 and 2, or 32. He reasoned that it must be broken because it read 32 as 30.2. It made perfect sense in his mind, but it wasn’t true. It was thirty and two-tenths degrees outside. The thermometer was right, but his understanding of it was faulty. Similarly, God’s word is true and unchanging, but our understanding of it is sometimes faulty. In a world where nobody can be believed, God’s word remains true. Our task is to seek to understand it correctly. In a world where there is no such thing as truth, God’s word remains true. Listen to it. Meditate on it. Study it. Trust it.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Psalm 10

Psalms 10:17-18 (ESV)

[17] O LORD, you hear the desire of the afflicted;

you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear

[18] to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,

so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.

I have been noticing recently how many times the Scriptures address the issue of poverty. Throughout the Law, the Psalms, the Prophets, the Gospels, and the Epistles there are repeated references to those in poverty. The fatherless, the widow, the oppressed are all part of that group of impoverished. We unfortunately tend to read these passages through the lens of our own class, culture, and condition, missing God’s deep compassion for those in poverty.

Throughout scripture God brings justice to those in poverty. He provides and protects those in poverty. He judges those who oppress the poor. Jesus had compassion on the impoverished even as he turned over the tables of the moneychangers. He had little compassion on those who took advantage of others, but deeply loved those in need.

While I believe that capitalism is the best economic system in the world, it will only work when those who have show compassion to those who have not. Plans for helping the poor only hurt them unless the help incorporates a way to acknowledge the value of the person being helped rather than creating dependence and dominance. I am no expert in poverty, but I know that poverty breeds poverty. When the highest dream a child has is to be the one who collects the unemployment check from the mailbox, something is wrong.

If we take our faith seriously, then it is time that we stop praying for God to make us rich, and start reaching out to help the poor. A few years back a speaker at a conference challenged his people to stop being a mission field and start becoming a mission force. How can we help those in poverty make that transition? I know that there are no easy answers. We can’t just wave a magic wand and make everything better. Jesus said that we would always have the poor with us. But it is impossible to live out the heart and mission of God in the world without compassion for the poor. This is not a call to abandon the gospel for a ministry of compassion. It is a call to both proclaim the gospel, and to help those in need with the compassion of Jesus.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Psalm 9

Psalms 9:20 (ESV)

Put them in fear, O LORD!

Let the nations know that they are but men! Selah

 

In 1887 Lord Acton wrote, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” One of my seminary professors, Howard Hendricks I believe, said, “Never believe your press reports.” What he meant by that was that someone at some point in your ministry will say, “You are the best preacher I have ever heard.” What they mean is that God used you in their lives that day. But our tendency is to hear the “best preacher” part and get a big head. That is what power does. Whether we are talking about political power, the power of influence, or spiritual power, the position is heady. Internally we know that we are but men, but we begin to believe our press reports. If you sit in the White House you begin to believe that you truly are the most powerful person on earth. You forget that you are there to serve. If you are an organizational leader the tendency is to judge your personal significance by the size, influence, growth, or success of the organization. When you are a pastor or leader of a Christian ministry the temptation is the same. We can easily forget that any power or authority we have is simply a stewardship from God. If we forget that we are “but men,” God has a way of reminding us, and it is not a fun process. Effective leadership comes from a heart of humility, not from pride and arrogance. “Let the nations know (oh Lord) that they are but men!” And don’t let me forget it either.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Psalm 3

Psalms 3:3 (ESV)

[3] But you, O LORD, are a shield about me,

my glory, and the lifter of my head.

This verse has been put to modern music, but I wonder what we think it means. Because God is my shield, my glory, and the lifter of my head, does that mean that bad things won’t happen to me? Does that mean trouble can’t touch me? The context of this verse is the time when David fled from his own son, Absalom. He fled for his life and hid out as his son attempted a coup. Bad things were happening to him. People were saying that God had abandoned him, yet he trusted God.

The Psalm goes on in verse 5, “I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.” David slept, but not in his own bed. He woke, but not in his own house. Bad things happen to good people. Bad things happen to those who follow Christ. A shield is not intended to protect you in your own home. It is not designed for the dinner table. It is intended to protect you in battle. In the fierce thick of war shields are used. If the LORD is a shield about me, that implies his protection in the face of opposition and attack.

I fear that today many American believers read these verses and expect that they promise peace and prosperity. We spiritualize them. God will protect me in spiritual battle. Which is true, but we fail to recognize that spiritual battle might be physical attacks by real people. I think of the believers in the Chin district of Myanmar who are being burned out and killed by Buddhist extremists. I think of believers who lived through the opposition toward the church by communist Russia, or those who are currently opposed by communist China. I think of believers butchered by Idi Amin in the 1970s. I think of my friend who has been lying in a hospital bed for months praying for the restoration of movement in his arms and legs, or my friends who recently and unexpectedly lost their mates. Has God abandoned them? No! God preserved them even if through pain or even death.

No matter what the world says, no matter what difficulties, opposition, or oppression we face, God does not abandon his people. Psalm 3 is not a promise of peace and prosperity. It is a promise of protection in the face of pain, opposition, and attack. We have no promise that God will preserve our way of life as we desire, but we have the unchanging promise that no matter what we face, or what we experience, God will preserve his people. Trust him!

Monday, November 1, 2021

Psalm 121

Imagine a young married couple in ancient Israel travelling to Jerusalem for one of the three annual Holy Days. This is your first trip as husband and wife. Perhaps you’re the husband. It is your responsibility to love your wife. To protect her. To be the man. You could be the wife. You look to your husband wondering if he’s strong enough to stand up to the bandits often encountered on such a trip.

You stand there together hesitating to take the first step, yet anxious to be on your way. Your eyes drift to the mountains ahead and in your mind’s eye you see the gates of the Holy City ahead. You envision the singing, the celebration, the noise and activity. The prayers, sacrifices and feasts. You have prepared for this Holy Celebration. The money for the  sacrifice is safely tucked away in your belt. At least you hope it is safe.

But as you imagine the Holy City, Jerusalem, your mind drifts back to the roads which lead up the mountain. The path to the Holy Place. Dark valleys lie between you and your destination. Steep climbs, treacherous trails, dangerous passes. Wild animals, thieves and bullies. You will be as likely to encounter an unruly gang as you will a band of pilgrims. A pilgrimage can be a  dangerous thing. With excitement you anticipate your arrival at Jerusalem. With an anxious heart you consider the dangers of the trip. And so you begin to sing:

To mountain top I lift my eye

My help shall come from where? I cry.

My help comes from the LORD of love

Who made the earth and heav’n above 

The very source of danger also holds the reminder of our hope. It is in our weakness that He is made strong. It is in our failures that he is shown to be faithful. It is in our sin that His grace shines brightest. We must see past the danger to the gates of the City and the temple that lies within. We must look past our fears, our weaknesses, our failures, our sins, our struggles. We must look past the political dangers we face, the threat of the virus, the losses and hurts we have experienced. We must look past all of that to the presence of the God who is ever faithful.

Friday, October 29, 2021

Psalm 29

Psalms 29:1-4 (ESV)

A Psalm of David.

[29:1] Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings,

ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.

[2] Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;

worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness.

[3] The voice of the LORD is over the waters;

the God of glory thunders,

the LORD, over many waters.

[4] The voice of the LORD is powerful;

the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.

Psalm 29 is a song of pure worship. There is not a single request in the psalm until the last two lines, “May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!” (Ps 29:11). The request flows naturally out of twenty-one lines expressing the greatness of God, the majesty of God, the power and authority of God.

Throughout the psalm, a central idea is the voice of the Lord. YHWH, the covenant keeping God speaks and things happen. He is powerful. He speaks and a storm shakes the forests and mountains of Lebanon that strips the trees bare and snaps the cedars in two.

To “ascribe” literally means to give. But we do not give glory and strength to the Lord. We acknowledge his glory and strength. To ascribe to the LORD glory and strength is to recognize and acknowledge it. It is to give voice to his power. That is what worship is. It is giving voice to the greatness of God.

Worship often stimulates emotion. The problem is that we then begin to equate the emotion with worship. Soon, rather than worshipping we are chasing an emotion. Emotion usually requires a certain setting or certain conditions. Worship requires only that we acknowledge through voice or action the glory of God. Worship should never be evaluated on the basis of how it made me feel, but the extent to which we appropriately expressed and responded to the greatness and glory of God. True worship leads to strength and peace. “May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!” (Ps 29:11). Do you want to know the strength and peace of God? Stop chasing after strength and peace, and learn to worship the LORD.

Monday, October 25, 2021

Psalm 55

Psalms 55:12-14 (ESV)

[12] For it is not an enemy who taunts me—

then I could bear it;

it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me—

then I could hide from him.

[13] But it is you, a man, my equal,

my companion, my familiar friend.

[14] We used to take sweet counsel together;

within God’s house we walked in the throng.

 

An attack by an enemy is one thing, but an attack by a friend is something else altogether. I read a disturbing article yesterday that confirmed my warning at the beginning of the Covid pandemic. The Enemy’s strategy is not to stop us from meeting as a church. It is not to make us wear masks. It is not to make us get vaccinated. His strategy is more devious than that, and it is working. His strategy is to divide the Church over these issues.

The article that I read was from a secular magazine, written by a self-identified conservative Christian. It pointed out that pastors are leaving the ministry, churches are dividing over issues like masking, and church leaders are being viciously attacked by those within their own churches. Between the violent political divide in our country and the angry response to Covid regulations not only is our country divided, but the church is divided.

The disturbing part of this is that Jesus said that the world would know that God sent him because we have love for one another. What does our division demonstrate to the world? If a Christian leader gets vaccinated they are branded as one who has given into the government. If a Christian leader expresses compassion for immigrants they are branded as sellouts to wokeism. If a Christian leader does not jump on the bandwagon of a certain political party or political figure, depending on the political leanings of their accusers they are accused of being either evil and closed minded, or evil and opposed to Christian liberty.

Likely neither is true, but we have stopped functioning as thinking, listening, caring followers of Christ and have become unthinking, unlistening, uncaring followers of political ideals and ideologies. Pastors hesitate to share even privately what they think about matters of Covid, politics, immigration, race, and poverty for fear of being branded something they are not and attacked without reason. It is time we start thinking. It is time we start listening. It is time we start caring. It is time we stop reacting to everything out of fear of what might be, and start acting out of love for our brothers and sisters in Christ. It was the united compassion of the early church that changed the world. It is the divided lack of compassion today that is undermining the very gospel we claim to hold so dear. David’s word seem all to real in our world today. “It is not an adversary who deals insolently with me—then I could hide from him. But it is you, a man, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend.”

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Psalm 137

Psalms 137:5-6 (ESV)

[5] If I forget you, O Jerusalem,

let my right hand forget its skill!

[6] Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth,

if I do not remember you,

if I do not set Jerusalem

above my highest joy!

 Psalm 137 is written in the context of Israel in exile. The song is a lament, “How can we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land?” (Ps. 137:4). While they cannot sing because of their grief over the destruction of Jerusalem and being carried off to Babylon, yet they will never forget Jerusalem. This makes me wonder about where our mental focus is. We are living in Babylon, a world that is not God-centered or even God-friendly. The World often claims to like Jesus, but it is a Jesus of their own making, not the Jesus of the Bible. While we live in this Babylon, we are called to be a blessing here, yet keep our hearts and minds are to be set “on things that are above” (Col. 3:1-4).

I wonder if we are able to say with the Psalmist, “If I forget you O Jerusalem [above], let my right hand forget its skill!” or “If I forget you, O Jerusalem [above] . . . let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth”? How heavenly minded are we in this Babylon in which we live? Can we sing and celebrate without any thought to “things above”? Do we go about our business, our work, our days off, our relationships and conversations without thought of things above? The Psalmist could not imagine life without Jerusalem in his thoughts. I fear we think too much of Babylon and too little on things above these days. Lord, teach us to love the things you love.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Psalm 73:28

Psalms 73:28 (ESV)

[28] But for me it is good to be near God;

I have made the Lord GOD my refuge,

that I may tell of all your works.

“It is good to be near God.” But what does that look like? What does it mean to be near God and how do you go about doing that? Part of the answer to that question seems obvious, but part of it may surprise you. We are near God when we read and reflect on his Word. The Bible is the voice of God to us. It is there that we hear him speak. “All scripture is God-breathed” (2Tim. 3:16). To be near God requires that we are reading and reflecting on his Word.

Secondly, James 4:8 says, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” We draw near to God through confession and repentance. To confess our sin is to agree with God that what we have done is in fact sin. To repent means to change one’s mind, and turn from one thing to another. In this case it is to turn from trusting self to trusting God, from sin to faith. It is through confession and repentance that we draw near to god.

Third, we are invited to “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). This is an invitation to talk with God in his very presence. In prayer the Holy Spirit helps our weakness by translating our prayer into the will of God (Rom. 8:26-27). Jesus intercedes for us as we pray (Rom. 8:34). At Jesus death the veil that separated us from God was torn in two (Mt. 27:51) allowing us direct access to God. We draw near to God in prayer.

Fourth, we are near to God through the indwelling Holy Spirit who takes up residence in every believer. No matter where we go, there is God. He is there because he is everywhere-present. We call that omnipresence. But he is also there because as believers the Spirit of God is dwelling in us. He has promised to never leave, and we cannot get out from around him. We draw near to God by simply remembering that where we are, there is God.

Fifth, we draw near to God through attending church and through Christian fellowship. 1 Peter 2:5 says that we, “like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house.” Ephesians 2:20-22 builds on this idea by saying that we are,

built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

We tend to talk about being a Christian as a personal relationship with God, and so it is. But it is also a corporate relationship with God’s people. Many have said that they worship best alone out in nature. I understand that. I have the same experience. But it is also true that we draw near to God by drawing near to his people. If together we are the temple of God, then connecting with God’s people is a way of drawing near to him. Therefore, let us take seriously the words of Hebrews 10:24-25, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” The Psalmist wrote, “For me it is good to be near God.” May that be true of us as well.

Psalm 77

Psalms 77:19-20 (ESV) [19] Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen. [20] Y...